From the Winter 2016 issue of Classical Guitar | BY MARK SMALL
Augustine Strings, the company that provided financial support for Tennant’s recording, enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Segovia. Most significantly, company founder Albert Augustine and Segovia worked together to develop the nylon guitar string in the 1940s.
For the first half of Segovia’s career, classical guitars were strung with catgut strings. Many wrongly assume that “catgut” means that the strings were produced from feline intestine. However, the “cat” in catgut refers to cattle, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as including bovines as well as sheep, goats, and other animals. The catgut strings Segovia is said to have preferred were made of sheep intestine by Pirastro GmbH, a string manufacturer that has operated in Offenbach, Germany, since the 1890s.
During WWII, catgut was in high demand for medical use as sutures, and to Segovia’s consternation, catgut guitar strings became difficult to obtain. Wallace Carothers, an employee at Du Pont, had invented nylon back in 1935. New York instrument maker Albert Augustine chanced upon some nylon at an army surplus store, and contacted the Du Pont Company with the idea of using the material for guitar strings. Augustine worked for three years with Du Pont, and brought Segovia onboard to advise them on refining the tone of the strings. After much experimentation, the first Augustine nylon guitar strings were manufactured with the assistance of Olinto Mari, president of E. & O. Mari/La Bella Strings, in Mari’s New York factory in 1948.
“It is my understanding from conversations with Rose Augustine,” states Stephen Greisgraber, president of Augustine Strings, “that Segovia played the black label sets and that these were the ‘original’ Augustine strings. Rose also told me that he later played Imperial/Red sets, which were also used by Julian Bream.” The string innovations of Albert Augustine and Segovia were quickly embraced by guitarists the world over.