A string is the vibrating element that produces sound in string instruments such as the guitar, harp, piano (piano wire), and members of the violin family. Strings are lengths of a flexible material that a musical instrument holds under tension so that they can vibrate freely, but controllably. Strings may be "plain", consisting only of a single material, like steel, nylon, or gut, or wound, having a "core" of one material and an overwinding of another. This is to make the string vibrate at the desired pitch, while maintaining a low profile and sufficient flexibility for playability.
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The invention of wound strings, such as nylon covered in wound metal, was a crucial step in string instrument technology, because a metal-wound string can produce a lower pitch than a catgut string of similar thickness. This enabled stringed instruments to be made with less thick bass strings. On string instruments that the player plucks or bows directly (e.g., double bass), this enabled instrument makers to use thinner strings for the lowest-pitched strings, which made the lower-pitch strings easier to play. On stringed instruments in which the player presses a keyboard, causing a mechanism to strike the strings, such as a piano, this enabled piano builders to use shorter, thicker strings to produce the lowest-pitched bass notes, enabling the building of smaller upright pianos designed for small rooms and practice rooms.