A new translation of a celebratory song brings to life the grisly business of gut string manufacture


In 1877, the string makers’ guild of Markneukirchen in Germany celebrated its 100th birthday. As part of the festivities, the town’s postal clerk August Wilhelm Jäger was commissioned to write a song in praise of the town’s gut string makers. The son of a string maker himself, Jäger chose to write new lyrics to a popular song of the time, Ich bin der kleine Postillon, and filled 17 verses. 

I am a gut string maker’s son 
I know just how the making’s done. 
And now this gut string maker sings 
Of how we make the strings. 

First, a skilful master must
Buy first-rate guts for little cost. 
Whatever’s holey, black or burned 
Should straightaway be spurned. 

Put them in a potash vat 
To make them softer than a cat. 
If they’re too weak, or else too strong,  
You’ve got the balance wrong, 

The soaking will be finished when 
You come in Monday morning; then 
You’ll pull them up – but with finesse 
So as not to make a mess. 

Then you scrape the guts about. 
You’ll slime them in and slime them out.  
‘Slime and slime! But make sure you 
Don’t rip a gut in two!’ 

Split the guts, but not in haste. 
Already there’s a lot of waste! 
Use great precision for each split, 
To get the ‘bone’ to fit. 

Winding takes a head that’s clever, 
A keen eye, well-trained hand – and never  
Let a strong, weak, rough or fine 
Gut across the line. 

When every part aligns the other,  
The Master checks them all together.  
What ‘A’ will be, or fifth, or ‘D’, 
It is for him to see. 

Each string is hung upon a loop 
Attached to a revolving hoop. 
Screech! Screech! And if you’re not too fast 
Then they’ll be unsurpassed. 

Upon a wooden frame they’re spun  
Before they’re taken off and hung. 
The heat, the wind and sunshine fair  
Will dry them in the air. 

Sulphuric gas will bleach them raw. 
Just twist them – that’s an easy chore. 
Then rub them with a pumice stone 
And lightly oil each one. 


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The strings should now be sparkling bright 
And quite incomparably tight. 
The master’s wife, content and wise,  
Will cut them down to size. 

It’s quick work, tying into rings  
And knotting every batch of strings. 
Of this, a Rossbach girl’s the queen  
And beats any machine! 

Line them all up, batch by batch, 
And wrap them in a paper patch. 
Off into the world they go 
To make a lot of dough! 

The world is desperate for strings 
For double basses, violins, 
Guitars and harps, and all because 
They tend to break, or buzz. 

Little David knew it all 
Too well when he would play for Saul. 
His harp sang at the king’s request. 
As everybody guessed! 

Now I must end my song (almost)  
So let me now propose a toast! 
To this, our flourishing and free 
String making industry!