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Installing the strings

There are no strings installed at your gusli and you don't know how to do it yourself. Or maybe you've ordered a gusli with strings installed, but once you got a string breaking.

This string installing technique was acquired from Donats Vucins (a legendary gusli-maker, that one, who started the rebirth of Latvian kokle at the late XXth century) and was worked out in detail and improved by me.

If you want to use my technique you need: 1) a gusli; 2) strings; 3) your fingers; 4) flat-nosed pliers and needlenose pliers. I'm always carrying flat-nosed pliers and needlenose pliers in my instrument case. I'm recommending you never part with these two tools.

Take the string and snap off all the eyelets, all the braid and any non-gusli attributes. Then take the 2.5-3 cm tail of a string and turn it with the help of your thumb about the tip of your needlenose pliers.

Make sure that the bend you've obtained is rather curved. You don't need a sharp bend. Grip the bend with the tip your flat-nosed pliers the way that is shown at the picture. The long tail of the string should be the closest to you and the short tail should be the farthest.

Take the short tail of the string with your fingers and turn it with the help of your thumb around the long tail from the upper side. When the short tail is half-turned the way that is shown at the picture, the whole construction will stop trying to unbend spontaneously. So you may relax.

Take the needlenose pliers with your right hand and with the help of the very tip of the needlenose pliers (from time to time getting a better grip near the root of a short tail the way that is shown at the picture) start winding the short tail around the long one. Steady, nice and accurately.

When the whole short tail will be layed in a spiral, you may say that you've got a string ready to installing. All the manufactures producing strings that I know, don't make such string braid by automated process. As it is an only form of string braid to my mind that is OK for gusli, so you have to make these eyelets-and-braids by yourself. Take a look at the picture. Isn't my eyelet rather nice? It is not a Photoshop, it is a six years of following and improving this string installing technique. :)

Pass the string eyelet ahead under the string holding metal rod. Then take the opposite tip of the string and pass it through the eyelet.

The result of previous manipulation is shown at the picture.

Pull this opposite tip of the string to its peg. Check the length of the string by pulling the tip with no stress over the peg. You need just 6-10 cm over the peg. The surplus should be snapped off with no regret. Don't leave the extra surplus. Even if it will be totally winded around the peg it will dirty the sound of the string.

Install the tip of the string in the hole that is made on the peg surface. You should put it into for the whole depth of the hole. But the tip of the string should not appear from the opposite side of the hole. This may dust the sound. Don't forget to weaken the peg before proceeding this operation. You should turn it over with no superfluous strength.

Drawing tight the string with the help of your thumb, start to turn the peg over to put each wind of the string in contact with the adjacent one. The next winds should be putted up-peg in the case of pegs with a hole. If you have split up pegs the next winds should be putted down-peg. While proceeding this operation you should permanently check the string eyelet not to be engaged with the adjacent ones. Sometimes it's rather problematic to disengage it.

When the string becomes straight between the string holding rod and the peg, you should fix the peg just to free your hands, but don't stretch the string strongly. Leave it relaxed for the next operation. Look at your eyelet. In 99 per cent cases it will look like the eyelet from the picture. It will be rather drunken. If you stretch the string to the work tension with such a drunken eyelet, the string could sound damped or dirty.

Take the long pointed tool (needle, knitting needle, thin nail), then carefully put it through the eyelet and align the eyelet perpendicularly to the string. Try not to make any inflection points on the string.

Your result should be similar to the pictured one.

Then move aside the last wind of the string at the peg with the help of our thumbnail (see the picture). If you leave the last wind in contact with others you may get very dirty sound. Don't forget to check all the strings to be equidistant from the instrument body.

That's all. After that you may stretch the string to the work tension.


Let us consider the nowadays most frequently used traditional tuning for 11-stringed gusli:

or the same with B natural:

Choose a chord from the listbox:

C major

This is the main major chord for the considered tuning. As a rule all major tunes are played exactly in this key. Often the melody of Belarusan and Latvian dances is plucked accompanied by only two chords: C major and D minor with bass G.

Often the variant of tuning with B natural is used for maroj key tunes.

The other popular major key for this tuning is F major.

D minor

This is the main minor chord for the considered tuning. Most minor tunes are played in this key. Many Belarusan minor folk ballads are played accompanied by only few chords. Usually they are D minor and G minor. As well as C major quite often follows D minor in Belarusan melodies.

Often the variant of tuning with B flat is used for minor key tunes.

The other popular minor key for this tuning is A minor (with B natural retuned).

Complete D minor

This variant of fingering for D minor is used when you need to pluck the high D string (the 11th string). For this you should contrived to damp two strings at once (the 9th and the 10th one) with you left hand thumb.

This chord is rather episodic one. It is not a frequently used chord, because you should wrench you left hand quite unnaturally for it.

D minor with bass G

This chord is rarely used, except major dance tunes, where common D minor seemed to be rather contrasting minor, while D minor with bass G sounds quite cheerfully.

It is traditional for most Latvian dance tunes.

A minor

This chord is rarely used, just except the A minor key tunes only. For building this chord you have to retune your 9th string to B natural.

F major

This chord is frequently used actually in all keys. Also F major is one of possible major keys for gusli of this tuning.

G minor

This chord is frequently used actually in all keys. The retuning of the 9th string could widen the capabilities of the instrument greatly. This could allow you to use G minor as well as G major chord in various pieces. Also G minor is one of the available minor tunes for gusli of this tuning.

Alieś Čumakoŭ. Minsk. 2010.