Measuring Bass Strings

Guide to Installing
Guide to Making Loops
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Guide to Gauges
Guide to Storage



The guide below gives instructions for ordering your bass strings ready to install on your instrument, with loops ready-made, and for ordering them without loops and twisting your own. I advise you to read the Guide to Making Loops and make your own, as this avoids having to accurately convey certain critical measurements. As a result, the directions for ordering them without loops are considerably simpler, as you will see below.

A single winding length calculation will normally accommodate all the bass strings of Menzenhauer or Schmidt zithers, ukelins, and Hawaiian art violins, since the bridges are parallel. Phonoharp zithers have the head bridge slanted and thus require separate length measurements for each bass string.

Ordering bass strings with loops ready-made requires you to make two measurements and two calculations for each bass string, regardless of the type of instrument you have, unless the distance from the hitch pin to both head and tail bridges is exactly the same for all of the bass strings. A method is given in the guide below for arriving at these essential measurements:

In ordering bass strings with loops ready made, you need to measure:

(1.) the distance from the hitch pin to the tail bridge, and

(2.) the distance from the hitch pin to the head bridge.

From these measurements, you need to make two calculations:

(1.) the winding length, and

(2.) the distance from the end of the loop to the point at which the winding is to begin.

In ordering bass strings without loops, you only need to measure:

the distance between the wire bridge saddles.

and calculate:

the winding length

The purpose of this guide is quite simply to ensure that your strings will fit your instrument, and measuring accurately is simple enough, following these directions, though you do need to be careful. This guide illustrates one way of doing it that works. You may either have or discover variations that work just as well or better for you.

In any case, please be aware that your measurements are your responsibility; the winder's is seeing to it that the strings you receive are in accord with them.

The model used for this guide is a chord-zither; the technique is essentially the same for a ukelin, though you may find it helpful to loosen the angled melody strings to do your measuring/marking, if you’re not replacing those too. Here is a photo showing the measurements you need to make for ukelin or Hawaiian art violin bass strings.

Instructions for ordering bass strings with loops ready-made


* about 2'-3' of soft, pliable wire of fairly fine gauge

* a scrap of wood about 30" or longer; a 1x4 or 2x4 is wide enough

* a nail as near as possible to same diameter as your instrument's hitch pins (no smaller)


* straight screwdriver

* pliers

* hammer

* square

* fine felt-tip marking pen

* ruler (18" min.) or tape measurer

* cutters capable of going through a nail


1. Let's get your measuring board ready first. Begin by driving your nail squarely into your board, an inch or two from one end. If your loop fits at all snugly around the nail, you'll want to cut the head off of it. (Even a finishing nail has enough of a head to cause trouble here.)

Then butt the edge of the square up to the side of the nail nearest the end of the board and mark a line along that edge. (Note: the ruler in the photo wouldn't be there yet; just thought I'd give you a preview of how it's going to figure into the procedure.)

2. Next, twist a loop in your wire that won't slip.

3. Now remove the hitch pin cover from the instrument. For most chord-zithers, this amounts to backing out two ordinary slot-head screws. Some, most notably early autoharps, have no hitch pin cover, and the bass strings of ukelins and Hawaiian art violins are of course also exposed, so this step is naturally skipped.


Hitch your wire to the appropriate hitch pin (Note: If the instrument has no strings, double-check that you're on the right one.) Pull it up to the head end, alongside the tuning pin for the string you're replacing. Pull the wire just tight enough that it makes a straight line without any major sags.

Make a mark on the wire at the edge of the tail bridge's wire saddle nearest the head end of the instrument, (the "inside" edge of the bridge saddle). The arrow points to the mark. If all you have is dark-colored wire, and/or if you're having trouble seeing your marks, you may want to use a sliver of masking tape instead, as shown in the inset below, making sure it doesn't move when you go to measure, of course.



Now do the same at the head bridge, again at the inside edge of the wire bridge saddle.




using a ruler

Now hitch your wire to the nail in your measuring board, and align the end of the ruler flush with the mark you made. (I'd call the tail-end measurement in the picture 1 1/4".) Now proceed to read your head-end measurement.

Note:Make sure your ruler begins at zero; some don't. If yours doesn't, be sure to align the zero mark (not the end of the ruler) with the line you drew, or your new strings will not fit your instrument.



using a tape

If you don't have an 18" ruler (18" is just long enough for most of these instruments), you can make these measurements with a tape measurer. But don't try to measure from the end of it; it's not accurate enough. Instead, make the 10" mark your "zero", as shown below. And (...I'll say it anyway...) don't forget to subtract the 10"

a few tips

* Always remember to write down your measurements and which string they are for.

* All measurements should be made to the nearest 1/16".

* If the tail-end measurement falls between sixteenths on your ruler or tape, round it off high.

* If the head-end measurement falls between sixteenths on your ruler or tape, round it off low.

Calculations for ordering strings with loops ready-made

With your measuring finished, you need to make a couple of simple calculations:

1. the length of the winding

First, calculate the length that the winding will need to be. The tail end measurement in the example above is 1 1/4”. Let’s say the head end measurement is 17 3/4”. This means the distance between the bridges is 16 1/2” (17 3/4” minus 1 1/4”).

From this measurement, subtract 1/2”, to allow the winding to clear the bridges by 1/4” at both ends. This gives you the length of the winding, which in this case is 16”. So:

Head measurement minus tail measurement minus 1/2” equals winding length.

2. the distance from the end of the loop the winding is to begin

Next, you need to calculate how far from the loop the winding is to begin. Here you must allow for stretch by adding only 1/16” to the tail measurement above. In this case, it would be 1 1/4” plus 1/16”, so the winding will need to begin 1 5/16” from the end of the loop.

That’s right; when you put the string on, the winding will only clear the bridge saddle by 1/16” at the tail end, while the end of the winding will be 7/16” away from the bridge saddle at the head end. As you tighten the string up to pitch, the winding will move toward the head end and nearly, if not exactly, center itself between the bridge saddles, terminating 1/4” inside them at both ends. So:

Tail measurement plus 1/16” equals the winding start point.

Note that this allowance for stretch is for bass strings only. For smaller gauge wound strings, the allowance is 1/8”, rather than 1/16”.

3. the gauge information

Your measuring and calculating are both complete now. The final thing the winder will need to know is the gauge information for the string. This is a simple matter of copying information from the gauge table. And remember to provide the letter name of the note, for easy identification when you receive your strings. Let’s say this string is a G bass string. Let’s consult the gauge table.

We see that the G bass is a double-wound string. As you would guess, this means that it is wound twice. First, a fine gauge wire (the inner winding) is wound onto a bare steel wire called the core wire. Then a heavier gauge wire (the outer winding) is wound onto the core wire, right over the top of the inner winding, and normally terminates about 3/8” beyond the ends of the inner winding at both ends. For a G bass string, the inner winding is .008" diameter wire, the outer winding is .024", and the core wire is .021".

So, after specifying that you want to order your strings with loops ready-made, here’s all the information you need to communicate to the winder for this string.

What the winder needs to know:

1. This is a G bass string.

2. The winding length is 16”.

3. The winding needs to terminate 1 5/16” from the end of the loop.

4. The core wire diameter is to be .021”, the inner winding .008”, and the outer winding .024”, for a total outside diameter of .085”.

It is handy to convey this information in table form. Just something like the gauge information table would work fine; but with the addition of two columns entitled something like “Winding Length” and “Distance from end of loop winding is to begin”. But do also explain at least briefly in text what you’re after; it's one more chance to avoid miscommunication and/or misinterpretation.

Also, if you’re ordering new bass strings for more than one instrument, a separate table for each instrument is a very good idea. “Instrument 1, Instrument 2, etc” serve fine for naming these tables, but make sure to write down what instrument corresponds to what number and to keep that information where you can find it when your strings arrive.

Finally, contact the winder of your choice and get current prices for the strings. All you normally need to ask is the going rate for single-wound and double-wound zither- or autoharp-type bass strings.

Once you receive your new bass strings, follow the instructions given in the Guide to Installing, if you don’t already have your own methods for installing new strings on instruments of this type.

Measuring for bass strings without loops

measurements and calculations:

1. Measure the distance between the bridge saddles

2. Subtract 1/2” from this measurement

3. Get the gauge information from the table, and…

…That’s it; you’re ready to order. As you can see, this involves less preparation than ordering bass strings with the loops ready-made.

Note: If you’re brand new to this, it would almost certainly be beneficial to still read the directions and view the illustrations given above (in addition to those given here), even if you intend to order your strings without loops.

So, just ask the winder to leave about 5” of bare core wire at both ends. Beyond that, here’s all the information you need to communicate to the winder if you’re ordering your new bass strings without loops. We’ll assume once again that our example is a G bass and that the winding length is 16”.

What the winder needs to know:

1. This is a G bass string.

2. The winding length is 16”.

3. The core wire diameter is to be .021”, the inner winding .008”, and the outer winding .024”, for a total outside diameter of .085”.

Once you receive your new bass strings, The first thing you’ll need to do toward installing them is to define the location of the loop at the hitch end. This involves allowing for stretch, but unlike the method above, this is done by eye, rather than by calculation.

You will want to position the string so that the tail end of the winding just barely clears the wire bridge saddle of the tail bridge (by about 1/16”, as above). We’ll assume you’re right-handed (if not, just reverse "handage" of the directions, of course).

With your left hand, grasp the string very firmly and bear downward on the instrument with just enough pressure to keep it from moving. With your right hand, grasp the loose end of the string by its bare core wire and pull it as tightly as you can around the hitch pin. Be sure to maintain the 1/16” clearance prescribed above. Pull the right hand wire on around the hitch pin, past 180 degrees, so as to clearly define where the loop needs to go. The sketch below may prove helpful; you should have something like this:



Then follow the instructions for twisting loops and installing, in the guides to those procedures, and you’re set.