Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Cat Gut Your Tongue?

Some Cat Gut Trivia.

What are violin strings traditionally made from?

A)    Cat gut,
B)     Steel wire or
C)    Sheep intestine.

The answer, of course, is (c)  sheep intestine.
So why then are violins, stringed instruments and tennis rackets said to be strung with ‘cat gut’?
It seems the answer lies with a medieval myth about16th century saddle maker, Erasmo. (*)

The story goes that Erasmo, working in the Italian mountain village of Salle, heard wind blowing musically through a drying rack laced with sheep intestine. It occurred to him what a good string the gut would make for a musical instrument. He experimented with a form of renaissance fiddle, the forerunner of the violin, and the resulting sound was so good he worried his idea would be stolen. When competitors asked what his strings were made from, his answer was “Cat gut,” since it was considered extremely bad luck to kill a cat and he hoped to deter imitation.

PS - Dont breath a word of this to Widget!
 Erasmo was made the patron saint of string makers and Salle became the centre of Italian violin string manufacture for 600 years. The best strings were made by stripping the fat from warm, freshly removed sheep’s gut, which was then soaked in cold water. The best sections were then cut into ribbons, twisted and scraped until a string of the required thickness was made. As late at the early 20th century, the change to steel strings was made, because of a shortage of sheep intestine with the advent of the First World War.

(*) Some say that ‘Cat gut’ may be an abbreviation of ‘Cattle gut’, or indeed a corruption of ‘Kitstring’, where ‘kit’ refers to a folk term for a fiddle. However, to my ear, Erasmo’s story has the ring of human nature about it….

[With thanks to for the last image.]


  1. Thank you Rosemary. I just love the idea of people preferring cats to violins.
    Grace x

  2. Great story...

    Hey Grace, this is John from The Blog Farm.

    I just wanted to let you know that your article that was syndicated with us some time ago holds the highest number of reads to date:

    Cats and the Possessed. - 376 reads to date

    See it here:

    Congratulations, great stories go a long way...

  3. Great article Grace and happy to know it wasn't a cat really. Too bad about the sheep though.

  4. The cat in the case- aren't they the craziest animals? My kitty tries to sleep in the decor-bowl that he slept in as a kitten. We laugh so hard at him that you would think he would be humiliated.

  5. Funny thing is, I sort of knew that cat gut didn't really come from cats, but I never really thought about where it actually did come from.
    Thanks for sharing,

  6. Wow, thanks John (from The Blog Farm) - I'm stunned!
    Karen and Teresa, I suppose at least the rest of the sheep would be put to good use (meat, leather etc...and this is me writing as a vegetarian!)
    Debbie - cats are just the most amazing and fascinating creatures. There are some hysterical videos on You Tube of cats squeezing into bottles...yes bottles! Thank goodness they squeezed out again.


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