What are pedal harp bass wires actually made of? I know the center is different from the wire that’s wrapped around it, but I wonder what kind of metal they are.
The fiber bedding over a steel core will most likely be rayon; it has approximately the same density and tensile strength as gut. The metal wrap varies depending on the harp – usually copper or a copper alloy as Tacye suggests. Some older lighter tension harps such as the Grecian are fiber core (no steel) wound with silver in the bass.
I thought the silver-wrapped ones had different metal than the copper-wrapped ones. I don’t like the colored one or the tarnish-proof…I get traditional. To me the tarnish-proof don’t have as much resonance, and the colored ones are ambiguous on pitch.
I’m going to be doing a harp demonstration, and they always want to know what the strings are made of. I’ll probably just say metal.
Silver has the highest density of the metals commonly used for harp strings (not counting gold on a few ancient Gaelic reproductions). That is why silver may sometimes be used with fiber core strings for older harps and silver-fiber wound steel core on some modern ones. Usually though the metal wrap will be copper or bronze. Sometimes those are tinned so may look like silver. Howard Bryan says he uses fiber core silver wrap as the best transition from gut if that will work with the other strings for tension and feel.
This thread is very interesting, my friends! Options I have seen advertised say “tarnish resistant” and “silver.” I have always liked the tarnish resistant ones with the correct colors for the red C’s and black F’s. Also, my problem with bass strings in general is that they are too loud and resonant compared to the gut strings, so anything that softens them down a bit is nice! The phosphor/bronze bass wires covered in nylon wrap on my Dusty Strings FH36S are perfect, in my humble opinion. I like the mellow sound of old pedal harp bass wires so much that I hate to change them, ha, ha!
Balfour, I recently decided to switch those (formerly) SFB strings to BFN, after really listening to Phil Boulding’s Oranmore (same strings as your Dusty). The transition sounds much smoother and the bronze core (heavier than steel) give the harp a lot more “oomph” with shorter decay. Downsides are that they cost more and are more prone to breaking if you’re not careful when tuning.
Some people prefer SFB or SFC especially if overall tension is pretty high: BFN gets really “fat” if you want to keep the tension transition as smooth as possible. When people listen to sound samples it is worth the trouble to think about what strings are used when there may be several options. Dusty, and most other “folk” harp makers will be happy to consider alternative designs if one wishes.
One example: I wrote an article for the FHJ about alternatives to the Musicmakers Voyageur (which we decided was too esoteric to publish). The central point though was just that – to encourage people to consider alternatives rather than just buying a whole new harp:-)
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