I bought a beginner's viola a while back with the intention of learning some, but we never really hit off. In the meantime I rented a bass viol for a while and really enjoyed this one. Since I can no longer afford the bass viol, but still have the viola, I thought of adding frets to it playing it as a viol (on the leg and with viol bow technique). However, even gut fret string is a bit unaffordable for me at the moment.

What alternatives to gut are there for fretting an instrument that are reasonably low cost and effective?

3 Answers 3


I have two options that both work pretty well, the first being zip ties and the second being electrical wire. Zip ties are probably the easiest since they're cheap and easy to tighten, but the downside is they're impossible to move and impossible to remove without destroying them, so you would need plenty of extras. Luckily they're cheap.

With electrical wire you could use them just like gut, but you need the right gauge/shape and you need to tie them quite tightly or they might slip. Roughing them up with sandpaper should give them more grip.

With either of these techniques you might have to raise the strings so the frets will fit under them, most likely at the nut since space is very tight up there.


PSA: Strings made for the modern pedal harp are gut and are far cheaper (especially per foot) than violin-family strings. I use a "first octave" E for my violin E string, and get two string lengths out of it with plenty to spare; it's probably around a meter, and could make plenty of frets.

Edit: Reviewing this question, I don't know why I didn't offer a warning that, regardless of material, the plan might have been doomed. The "action" (the height of the strings above the fingerboard) on a fretless instrument is lower than on a fretted instrument, since it doesn't have to allow for the height of the frets. The OP has no doubt discovered this long ago, but the first fret would probably buzz, if not stop the string entirely. (And there are other problems—violas of course have only four strings, and have a much thinner body than a tenor viol, which could make holding it more challenging.)


If you don't mind a little Do It Yourself, you can use Sausage Casing, which can be purchased by the pound. It takes some stretching and drying and possibly some twisting to make thicker strands.

Waxed cord for leather sewing work also works pretty well for frets. You can find it for saddle making and other leather work projects.

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