Once you have your knots tied at the head of the string (https://chwolfenbloode.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/a-treatise-in-tying-knots/), it is time to assemble to tuning system.
Sometimes, the tuning systems on lesser qins are inferior in quality and this can have an effect on how well one can tune on said qin.
Firstly, the tuning peg (軫 ‘zhen’) must be made of a hardwood and must not have any damage to it. There are many types of tuning pegs but the best type have ridges and grooves carved onto the body of the peg that allows the fingers to grip it so you can turn the peg more easily. Some pegs are made plain and polished. These pegs are not good as for the above reason. If you require a cloth to help you turn the peg then you know that it is inferior. Also, the top surface at the top opening of the peg should be slightly concave. The reason for this is because if it is flat, there is not much force of tension with all the surface area being in contact with the peg pool so it is likely to slip. With the concave surface, only the edges are in contact with the peg pool and thus all the force is situated on the edges making the grip more substantial and also makes turning the peg easier at the same time. If the top is flat, one can sometimes rectify the slippage problems by using some rosin.
Jade tuning pegs look good but they could break easily if you’re not careful, plus they can slip more easily than wood. The literati also found them vulgar and thieves could steal them (with the whole qin) if not careful! Of course, nowadays, jade is not that expensive and is sometimes not real but made of soap stone or the like so no one would steal them. Another type of material used to make the pegs is horn. You can often by the pegs with matching goosefeet as well.
Secondly, the tuning cord (絨剅, more commonly written as 絨扣 ‘rong kou’) must be made of good quality pure silk (not rayon or artificial silk). Many inferior qins have polyester or cotton threads for the cord. Silk is best because it can stretch, is more flexible and makes tuning easier whilst polyester or cotton have limits to how much you can tune. Indeed, you can twist the silk cord more than a polyester or cotton cord. Another type of cord which is even worse is one made of plaited cords. The interlocking strands and threads would restrict the twisting action of the cord making it even more difficult to tune! A way to tell if it is silk is to buy some silk thread and compare. Silk is more soft and subtle. Polyester and rayon are coarse, harsh and feel ‘plasticy’. Cotton is fuzzy, not shiny and is slightly warm to the touch. Pure silk thread will have very fine soft strands when you untwist the cut ends.
You must first find a few spools of silk thread to make the cord first. The thread’s thickness should be around Nr. 30 (the thicker the better but not too thick) and the colour should be appropriate. According to old handbooks, light green, incense yellow and light greys are elegant whilst vermilion red and purple are vulgar. Of course, this is all subjective and so you can choose whatever colour you like. Some might want to match the colour of the tassels and some might want something contrasting. Whatever colour you choose I would advise a subtle and tasteful colour that doesn’t clash or look odd.
The silk I use is Coat’s Seta Reale in nr. 30 size that come in 20m spools which is used for sewing buttonholes. Gütermann buttonhole twist is exactly the same but sold in 10m spools and in many more colours. I have also come across (in 2013) a UK silk thread company that sells skeins of silk thread 39m in long in total with 600 colours to choose from: http://www.thesilkmill.com.
How much you buy depends on the length and thickness of the thread. For an average thin cord, you’ll need at least 80m of thread. This will make seven thin cords around 9-11″ long when assembled. You should buy more than estimated as even though a spool says it has 20m of thread, they sometimes are less than what it is stated. You should increase the length if you want a thicker cord and/or you want extra for a tassel at the end. If you have separate tassels, your cords should be thick to avoid the tassels slipping off.
Once you have your threads, you must now calculate how long each strand should be. For an average cord, the strands should be around 30″ long. If you want a tassel, it should be around 40-50″ long. For a thin cord, you need at least 15 strands per cord. The more strands the less stretchy and more strong the cord will be. On average, there would be around 20-30 strands.
Once that is worked out, lay a tape measure on a flat surface and then unspool the thread out along the tape measure for whatever amount of times equal to how much stands you want. Better still, use a long piece of card to wrap the thread around so they will all be equal length and be easier to handle and avoid tangling.
Once the strands are measured gather them into one then secure one end with something and begin twisting the stands *anti-clockwise*. Keep twisting until it is taught and begins to curl when you slacken the tension.
The more you twist the smaller the twists will be. Once you are satisfied, locate the centre of the twisted strands and secure it with your left hand finger and thumb. Bring both ends together keeping the tension still and then carefully twist the two halves of the strands together on your lap to create the twisted cord.
If the head of the cord is untidy or knobby, you might have to do the whole thing again. When it is perfect, knot the tail end.
If your cord will make a tassel, knot the tail end first then once you have made all seven cords, locate the position where you want the tassel to begin, knot it, unknot the tail end and then trim.
Once you’ve made all seven cords, you may adjust the length and trim the ends.
With all seven cords made, you may now assemble the tuning peg.
First insert a thin fuse wire or similar through the loop at the head of the cord and fold in half. This will make slipping the cord through the holes possible.
If you are adding a separate tassel, now is the time to slip the cord through the central hole under the tassel and out through the top.
Next, get the tuning page and locate the bottom hole. Push the end of the wire through it until it comes out of the side hole of the peg. You may have to have bent the wire beforehand or use a pair of tweezers to pull the wire out of the side hole together with the cord with it.
Then, wrap the end of the cord around the neck of the peg anti-clockwise (when you look down on the peg from above) and back round to the front.
Now, tuck the end of the cord *under* the part of the cord that came out from the side hole. If you don’t do this the cord will slip. Doing this creates a knot that makes the cord secured to the peg.
Finally, push the end of the cord with the wire as aid through the side hole and out through the top hole.
Adjust the length and pull tight. The peg is assembled.
There is also another way to thread the peg that is easier for emergencies. But given that 2/3 of qin players have trouble with simple stringing, they are hardly going to need it given that if you are going to all this trouble, you might as well do it the proper way. I will pass on this.
Once the peg is assembled, push the end of the cord through the holes on the peg pool on the underside of the qin and through to the top holes of the dew collector.
Take the end of the string (already tied with the knot) and push the end through the loop of the cord. Afterwards, take the wire away.
Now, adjust the length of the cord so that the knot is more or less on the centre of the bridge. Note that the silk will stretch so it maybe better to have the knot further to the outer edge of the bridge.
When the strings are mounted, the pegs should look similar to this:
With all the pegs and strings assembled, you may now string the qin (traditionally, of course). That procedure will be the subject of the next treatise. See you then.