Care and Maintenance

Strings and String Replacement

Strings are the voice of the harp. They are what make the harp sing. The soundboard amplifies the sound. So it is important to keep the strings in good condition.

Remember that harp strings do break. Although you can have your harp for years and never break a string, most likely you will have an occasional "pop". Even strings that never break will loose their tone quality, as they get older. Strings also have a shelf life even though they are stored properly. One of the simplest tasks to do on the harp is changing the strings. Unfortunately, it is also very easy to make a mistake.

If this is your first pedal harp, you need to know that string replacement is based upon the octave the string is in. On most lever (non-pedal) harps the highest string is #1 and string replacement varies by the maker and the model of the harp. You may have referred to a chart that was provided by the maker to get the proper gage for the replacement string. Octaves on a pedal harp are from E to F not C to C. Middle C is in Octave 4. As you approach the column, descending from Middle C, you have octaves 5, 6, and 7 respectively. From Middle C, as you go up, the octaves are 3, 2, and 1 respectively. Some larger pedal harps also have a ) Octave. If it would be easier to associate the octave with the note, you can refer to the chart included at the end of this section.

Bass Wires:

When you have to change the bass wires, it is best for the harp to change them one at a time as opposed to dropping all the wires at the same time. The biggest mistake when changing wires is not giving enough slack for the wire to wrap around the tuning pin. There are two methods to give slack. The first is to bring the wire through the hole in the soundboard and put the wire into the tuning pin. Then draw the center of the wire back towards you, one full octave and mark the length by bending the wire over the top of the tuning pin. This will give you enough slack so that you won't break the wire pulling it up to pitch. The second method achieves the same result, but it is accomplished differently. Pull the wire through the tuning pin until it is tight. Grab the wire at a spot equal to the top of the harp neck with your fingers and back the wire through the pin until your thumb touches the tuning pin. At this point, bend the wire over the top of the tuning pin. Now you can tighten the wire without it exploding just when you get the wire up to pitch.

Nylon and Gut Strings:

The gut and nylon strings do not need as much slack as the bass wires when pulling them up for the first time. Again there are two methods that you can use. The first, after bringing the string up through the tuning pin, is to draw the center of the string towards you for a distance of three strings. The second is to stretch the string before pulling it up to pitch.

Locking Strings:

The fifth octave strings are large enough that they will hold on the tuning pins without any help. Starting with the fourth octave F, the string should be locked over themselves, at the tuning pin so they won't slip. To do this, pull the string tight and slip the end of the string behind itself. Then hold the string while you pull it up to pitch. Also starting with the third octave F, the string needs to be anchored so that it won't pull through the soundboard. Cutting up old fifth octave strings into one-inch lengths can make the string anchors. First tie a traditional knot and slip the anchor into the center of the knot. Then loop the string over the anchor and the string end and pull it tight. Now insert the string into the harp and secure as you did with the fourth octave strings.

If you follow these easy instructions, you will be able to re-string your harp with very few problems.

General time line for string replacement:

Aside from replacing strings when broken, frayed or worn, a good rule of thumb is to replace the full octave as follows:

Octaves 1 and 2: Change yearly
Octave 3: Change every two years
Octave 4 and 5: Change every three to four years
Bass Wires: Although some harpists change them yearly, never go more than two years. The wires really drive the soundboard. If the wires are dead, the sound will not be rich and full.

Octaves by Note Strings and Octaves by LocationStrings and Octaves by Location

Click on thumbnails to determine strings and octaves on your harp model.

String Listings String Listings 2


You may wish to use the charts shown above to keep track of your string replacement. Click on image for a larger view.

Tuning Your Harp

Tuning the harp might seem like a very simple procedure, but a small misstep can cause harm to the harp and harp strings. When tuning in the key of C-natural. the pedals must be in the natural, or center position. It is actually better, though, for the harp to be tuned in the key of C-flat. When the pedals are in the flat, or top position, the discs won't grab the strings. Even though tuning is taught by all harp teachers, sometimes beginners can make mistakes. Just remember to check where the pedals are before tuning, and then tune your harp in the appropriate key.

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