13/3/2022
Guqin Silk Strings by 清源 Qingyuan, from Changzhou.

Instruments, Strings, Silk Strings

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Guqin silk strings by 清源 from Changzhou, Jiangsu


清源 (Qingyuan) is a maker of silk strings in Changzhou, Jiangsu, just northwest of the famed silk string city of Suzhou. I tested the “normal” weight set on two paulownia/catalpa instruments but not the “heavy” weight version, over a seven month period. 


Their appearance is strikingly smooth and translucent, a light honey colour. Tying the knots can be  a little tricky as the over-wound strings are very tightly wound and a little practice might be needed. They are astoundingly smooth to play upon. Fingers glide on them. The over-wound strings particularly are surprising. The “breathing” sound of the finger moving in 吟 yin motions on the strings is not lost or compromised. With instruments tuned to have string 1 at a modern Western A, rather than C, in the hope of not suffering breakages and to allow for more instrument wood resonance and a sweet tone, there was no slap on the lacquer of the first and second strings, given that I play with my hand inclined to the outside, as van Gulik says “simultaneously half of the finger and the rim of the nail”, which normally reduces this problem completely. Pulling directly at the player with long nails may have a different effect though. 


The even nature of the tone of the strings, and the similarity of the over-wound strings to the non over-wound strings is surprising. There is no noticeable jump of timbre between the over-wound and the remaining strings but the transition is very natural. The purity of the harmonics also is surprisingly clear. It is easy to hear many tones of the harmonic series in any single plucked string. In fact, it is possible often to play a single string at a harmonic node and listen to a whole chordal triad. 


The strings 5-7 do fluff up a little by playing, as we ought to expect, but not sufficiently to need the application of glue or egg white. There is no buzzing of the over-wound coils on strings 1-4, meaning that the core and over-winding threads don’t separate, this not being the case with other strings I have tired before.


The diameters measured after seven months of use, by using a micrometer on the portions not played (i.e. under the guqin), under tension, and at pitch when measured, are as follows:


String 1: 1.58

String 2: 1.42

String 3: 1.37

String 4: 1.27

String 5: 1.15

String 6: 1.05

String 7: 0.84


The strings are very suited to tonally conscious and deliberate playing. They urge the player to a more open and pensive approach due to the extremely rich overtone purity and length of tonal resonance. Playing on them feels like playing on thin rods of jade or (dare I say it?) ice. The response always available, always alive and always calm. The resilience is also interesting in that the strings respond better than expected to quick finger movements on a single string.



Words from the maker:


“清源丝弦在工艺上还是依照古法制作,从胶水的配方和熬制上绝不使用现代化学品,更不会自以为是地添加其他传统上没有的中药材,蚕丝的处理和弦丝的捻制完全是自己完成,而不是发外代工,并且对工艺参数实行严格的数字化,保持质量的持续稳定,更为不断的质量改进提供保证,清源丝弦可以保证缠丝绝不脱滑,缠弦表面光滑不磨手,1至7弦呈半透明,而大部分其他丝弦是做不到7根弦全部光滑半透明的,这其实也说明清源丝弦整体的极至紧密,在这种状态下的音质是有金石之声,弹奏时右手灵动,回弹感觉不同于钢弦的生硬,更利于手的放松,而左手解决了一直以来对丝弦7弦如锯,1弦如锉的误解,又很好保留了走手音的气息感


“其实我现在对弦的直径已经不太注重了,这个只能是作为一种给弹奏者的参考,因为我可以用相同的直径的弦做出不同的手感和音色.


“其实,通过测量老弦获取的信息非常有限。或者可以说是错误的,因为在制弦的第一道工艺开始就已经影响到了结果,而最后一道工序结束时,已经无法测量出第一道工艺的数据,用中国的一个成语来总结,叫做盲人摸象.


“《清源丝弦》ᅵ 古琴丝弦的使用与保养

《清源丝弦》新弦使用开始,会感觉略有粘手感觉,这是丝弦表面的浮胶的缘故,有手汗的人可能会感觉明显,属于正常情况,一般按弹数天后就会变得光滑。

《清源丝弦》使用传统鱼胶作为粘合剂,鱼胶干透后弦丝必然呈现一定的刚性状态,遇到锐角型的弯折时,会出现丝束开裂,失去原有的半透明状态,尤其是未缠丝的五、六、七弦比较容易出现这种情况。因此,在上弦过程中要避免出现较大的弯折,打蝇头结时,抽拉丝弦应尽量使用拇指和食指顺直用力,以免折弯丝弦。当然,出现折痕后也并不用过分紧张,可先将散开的丝弦重新拧紧,待丝弦在琴上张好后,用一小块布,在开水中浸湿(越烫越好),然后挤出多余水分,将湿布趁热包裹在丝弦的折痕处,停留数秒后拿开,折痕会基本消失。本方法只适用于采用鱼胶粘合的丝弦的修复,不适用于采用其他粘合剂的丝弦。丝弦的保养:

由于丝弦的主要材质是蚕丝,任何化学试剂,特别是有机溶剂类对弦丝都会造成不可逆的损坏,因此,不要使用比如润肤霜、护弦胶、以及各种植物类汁液去涂抹甚至浸泡丝弦以期改变丝弦的音质手感等,这样只会破坏弦胶的粘合力,丝质也会遭到破坏。更不要使用高目数砂纸对丝弦表面进行抛光,这样做只会将表面丝束磨断,降低丝弦强度,使用一段时间后丝弦表面会大面积起毛并且无法修复。

正确的保养应该是:每次弹琴前保持手指的干净和干燥,并且指甲修剪光滑。其次,按弹时左手大指按弦使用肉甲参半的按法,通常左手指法正确的情况下,丝弦在使用一段时间后会变的更加光滑和透明。右手弹拨处使用一段时间后如丝弦表面有少量起毛,可以少量蛋清对起毛部分涂抹,用手指顺着表面抹平即可,但不要整根涂抹,待充分干燥后便可继续使用。”


“Qingyuan silk strings are made using the process of, or according to, the ancient method of production, from the glue formula and cooking, while never using modern chemicals and without the addition of other traditional Chinese medicine ingredients. The silk processing, the twisting of fibres and winding, is completely holistic, rather than prescribed by the process of parameters of strict digitisation, in order to maintain the quality of continuous stability, more continuous quality and  improvement to provide assurance that Qingyuan strings can ensure that the over-winding never slips, that the wound string surface is smooth and does not scrape on the hand. All the strings from 1 to 7 are translucent, while most of the other brands of strings are not smooth and translucent. This also shows that the whole of the Qingyuan string is extremely tight, and the sound quality in this state is the sound of stone. When playing with the right hand, the touch is smart, the spring-back resilience feeling is different from stiff steel strings, it is more conducive to the relaxation of the hand. Playing with the left hand, string 7 does not feel like a saw, as so usually other strings do. It is a misunderstanding to assume the strings must be like files to be able retain a very good finger breath tone.


“In fact, I don't pay much attention to the diameter of the string now, it can only be used as a reference for the player, Because I can use the same diameter of the string to make different a feel and sound.


“In fact, the information obtained by measuring the old vintage strings is very limited. Or you could say it's wrong, because it affects the result from the very beginning of the first process. But at the end of the last process, the data of the first process can no longer be measured. This is summed up by a Chinese idiom, called the blind man touching an elephant.


“"Qing Yuan Silk String" at the beginning of the use of the new string, it will feel slightly sticky to the hand, the reason being glue on the surface of the string, people with sweaty hands may feel this more, yet it reflects the expected situation, and will become smooth after a few days of playing.


“"Qingyuan Silk String" uses traditional fish glue as the adhesive. After the fish glue dries out, the string will inevitably show a certain rigid state. When it undergoes acute angle bending, the silk  string will produce a crack and lose its original translucent state, especially prone to this being the  5, 6 and 7. Therefore, when installing the strings avoid significant bending. When making a fly  knot, pull the silk string with the thumb and index finger to avoid bending the silk string. Of course, there is no need to be too nervous about the crease, you can first stretch the strings to tension again, and after the strings are stretched on the guqin, use a small piece of cloth, soaked in boiling water (the hotter the better), and then squeeze out excess water. The damp cloth is wrapped upon the crease in the strings while hot, remaining for a few seconds, removing the crease which will basically disappear. This method is only applicable to the repair of strings bonded by fish glue, and not applicable to strings bonded by other adhesives.


“Maintenance of silk strings:

As the main material of silk strings is silk, any chemical reagents, especially organic solvents, will cause irreversible damage to the strings. Therefore, do not use such as moisturiser, string glue, or any kinds of plant juices to daub or even soak silk strings in order to change the sound quality of silk string feeling as such treatments will only destroy the adhesive force of string glue, the silk will also be destroyed. Moreover, do not use fine sandpaper to polish the surface of the silk string, which will only wear off the surface covering and reduce the strength of the silk string. After using sandpaper for a period of time, the surface of the silk string will be damaged and can not be repaired.


“Proper maintenance should be:

Keep your fingers clean and dry before playing, and keep your nails trimmed and smooth. Secondly, when pressing the string, the left hand finger uses the method of "half flesh and nails". Usually, if the left hand finger is correct, the silk string will become more smooth and transparent after a period of use. If there is a small amount of fuzz on the surface of the silk string after using the right hand plucking for a period of time, you can smear a small amount of egg white on the fuzzy part, smooth it along the surface with your fingers, but do not smear the whole string, and continue to use it only after it is fully dried.”



About the maker, in his own words:



“由于我是学药学专业的,曾从事过药物的色谱和化学分析以及中药提取工作,解决弦胶的问题并不是很困难,从2014年10月开始,用了将近3个多月的时间基本完成对胶水的研究。又由于我曾任公司的工程部经理以及质量部经理,对自动化电器设备有接触,所以同时用了4个多月的时间解决了缠丝易脱滑的问题。直到2016年底,我完成了对丝弦工艺的数字化,由此可以通过更加科学的试验方案去改进丝弦工艺。也是在这一过程中,经过三次较大的设备改进,设计和制造出了更加稳定可靠的丝弦生产设备,为丝弦的质量和进一步改进提供了保障,自此,实现了从蚕丝原料到成品的全过程研究。(因为在此之前,大多数的丝弦制作者都无法完成全工艺的研究,而极少数的全工艺流程却又使用非常简陋的设备,几乎是凭个人的经验和直觉在制作,质量无法保证。)”



“As I majored in pharmacy, I have been engaged in chromatographic and chemical analysis of drugs and extraction of traditional Chinese medicine. It is not difficult to solve the problem of string glue. From October 2014, it took nearly 3 months to basically complete the research of glue. And because I was the the company's engineering manager and quality manager, the automation of electrical equipment contact, it was possible, at the same time, with a little more than 4 months, to solve the problem of easily making the wrapped strings. By the end of 2016, I completed the digitisation of the string process, which allowed me to improve the string technology through a more scientific test programme. Also in this process, after three major equipment improvements, the design and manufacture of more stable and reliable silk string production equipment for the quality of silk string and further improvements provide a guarantee since then to process the silk raw material to the finished product as a result of the whole process of research. (Because before this, most of the string makers could not complete the whole process research, and very few with the whole process, using very rudimentary equipment, almost by personal experience and intuition in the production, and therefore quality can not be guaranteed.)”



Yin Xiao has released a solo album with both of my qin instruments strung with these strings which can be downloaded here or streamed by following this  link. This recording was made professionally in a studio environment and without post-production tonal adjustments of any kind. 






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