Tuning the guqin

I’m basically done!!!!! And the experiment with the compound radius worked out well. The main aim in making the new instruments was to try to eliminate string buzz, and indeed, it’s gone.

Making the tuning cords required some trial and error. I bought tread, and for this luoxia guqin, I mixed two colors—maroon and brown—to match the multi-toned color on the instrument itself. According to 與古齋琴譜 (Abiding with Antiquity Guqin Manual, 1855, tr. Binkley), red is vulgar. After trialing different combinations and twists, I settled making the first ply three feet long using 32 strands each of maroon and brown. Then, I put in 120 right-helical twists by attaching it to a drill and running it in reverse. Once it was doubled upon itself, the plies wound into a nice left-helical cord of 128 individual threads. I threaded these through the tuning pegs with the aid of some copper wire.

Bringing the instrument up to correct pitch proved to be a challenge, because tension in the string has to be maintained while wrapping it around the feet. On Thursday, while trying to put on a string while keeping tension, everything slipped, and the tension hurled the guqin toward my forehead, making a deep gash right in the middle. After several attempts, I came up with a device to wrap the strings; this I made out of an old piece of cherry baluster.

Playing on the new instrument was a delight. The nut ended up being a little high, so I took the strings off and carved away some of the jatoba wood. Once the finish dries, I’ll replace the strings.

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