Carbon fiber versus nylon strings?

  • Participant on #211435

    I would like to know which would have a lighter string tension, a Grand harpsicle or a Camac Lite 32 Electric harp?

    The reason I am asking is I am a violinst who had tendonitis. I want to learn to play the harp but don’t want to hurt my hand again.

    One harpist I met on line told me the carbon fiber strings were lighter in tension, while another article I read on line said that the carbon strings were a higher tension.

    Could someone please help me out?

    Thank you!

    wil-weten on #211437

    One can have nylon strung harps as well as carbon strung harps with light, middle, or even more or less classic tension.

    In your case, as you mention a Camac harp, I would go to a Camac shop and try different low tension harps. A very low tension harp which has a clear but still rather warm voice, is the Camac Telenn Kadiou, very suitable for celtic music.

    There is also a Camac Llanera, mainly meant for South-American Music.

    There are other low tension strings as well. They vary in string tension.

    It may help a bit to listen to youtube clips and find out what kind of sound you like, but before you buy, go to a reputable shop and try these harps for yourself.

    wil-weten on #211446

    In addition, you may like to take notice to what Gretchen Cover and others have to say about harping with painful hands at the recent discussion thread:

    wil-weten on #211464

    In Europe we use to speak of ‘carbon strings’ but Biagio is right, they’d better be called ‘fluorocarbon strings’.

    Biagio on #211480

    Wil seemingly read my post although I don’t see it anywhere. Whatever…here’s the deal on tension: the type of strings does not matter in and of itself. Holding all else the same:

    Shorter strings = lower tension for any given note (frequency). Larger diameter = higher tension. Heavier string material = higher tension.

    You could take a “high” tension harp and lower tension by a) dropping the range a step or two b) using material with lower weight (substitute nylon for gut or fluorocarbon, e.g.) c) use a small diameter or d) any combination of the above.

    Fluorocarbon does weigh most of the three but it is also the most flexible which may be kindest to your hands. So following this logic you might want FC strings with fairly short lengths for the give frequencies in an ideal world. It’s more likely that you will find a small low tension instrument strung with nylon (and it will cost you less).

    I don’t know the Camac, but Harpsicles in general are lower tension than many others. As Wil mentioned, the best way to determine if a harp will suit you is to try it out.

    You might also take a look at Laurie Riley’s discussions on ergonomics – see “The Harper’s Manual” and “Harping with a Handicap”:

    Books, DVDs and Recordings by Laurie Riley

    Best wishes,

    wil-weten on #211493

    Camac harps have models meant for very low to very high tension. Several of their models are meant for carbon strings.
    Very low tension carbon strings: Camac Telenn Kadiou.
    Celtic tension carbon strings: Camac Hermine.
    Camac Isolde Celtic.
    Carbon strings with a tension between celtic and classic: Camac Excalibur
    Carbon strings with classic tension: Camac Isolde Classic.
    This is not a complete list, but it may give you an idea.

    As to the Grand Harpsicle, I heard one last year and it just didn’t not speak to me.

    Edit: I tried to find Biago’s response to which I replied, but it seems to have evaporated. I still have the posted response, so I could paste it here, if you like.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 9 months ago by wil-weten.
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #211504

    Nylon strings are by far the softest and most flexible, and most apropos in your condition. You should avoid carbon-fiber type strings, and gut strings above the fourth octave.

    Biagio on #211506

    Just as a followup note: there is no such thing as a “carbon fiber” harp string. People who use that term are speaking about what is essentially a carbonized synthetic related to nylon.

    Carbon fiber, per se, is composed of micron-thin strands of pure carbon, woven into a fabric. It’s great for auto body repairs, space crafts, even some harp bodies. But you would not want to use it as a harp string, believe me.


    wil-weten on #211507

    There’s a lot of confusion about the naming of strings. Clive Morley is a reputable harp shop in London. On the website it is stated: “Alliance Synthetic Gut
    These are used as a man made alternative to gut strings on both lever and pedal harps. They are sometimes caleld [sic] Synthetic Gut, Carbon Fibre, Alliance strings or fluoro-carbon.”

    Biagio on #211508

    Indeed, Wil, and not only the material naming but the string position. Even harp makers debate the latter: should we use the convention first used by Egan and now standard for all pedal harps? Or should we use scientific notation which is not harp specific? Or any of a variety of other?

    No wonder players can get confused! It would be a really good idea IMHO if teachers would add a little about these sorts of things to their lessons. Then we might at least avoid hearing things like “Gut is higher tension than nylon”. It ain’t. Heavier, yes, stiffer, yes, but not intrinsically higher tension. That depends on vibrating length, frequency, and diameter.


    wil-weten on #211509

    I think that the main problem is that people like to buy a complete (sub)set of strings, instead of ‘A C-string of material X and diameter Y’.
    And when they buy a set of strings meant for a harp built for heavier tension than the harp they own, things can go horribly wrong.

    But I degress. Here we have a violinist with tendon problems who wants to learn the lever harp. It looks like Robin needs some elementary information on how to proceed. Perhaps renting a low tension strung harp like the Camac Hermine (rather popular as a rental in Europe, don’t know about the situation elsewhere) for let’s say half a year or a full year may be a good start.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #211576

    It’s more important to learn healthy technique on strings that are not over-resistant. I had to practice for a week on a harp with Savarez strings, and by the end of the week, my hands felt very strained by it. They are noticeably tighter. They sound well enough, but don’t ring as much. I have tried gut and nylon, and much prefer nylon, though it is far from perfect.

    wil-weten on #211579

    I am very sorry, Saul, but one can get Savarez carbon strings in light, middle and hard tensions (and tensions in between).

    When a carbon strung harp doesn’t ring, it has to do with other factors than the string being made of carbon, perhaps because a too hard tension was used for that particular harp or because the player was not used to play hard tension strings.

    When you prefer the more clear sound of nylon, that’s quite a different matter, of course.

    Biagio on #211582

    I’m not sure what is being meant here by “ring”. Is that the actual tone, or the sustain? Whatever, it is unclear to me that “healthy technique” is limited to only one string material.

    As with gut, there is no such thing as light, medium, and strong tension for Savarez Alliance. If you want lighter tension for a particular frequency, use a smaller diameter. Unfortunately for pedalists who just go with the Egan naming convention, whatever Savarez has decided upon for that “3rd octave C” or whatever, that is what they get. Folkies have more reason to know and understand the diameters on offer.

    Same as with gut. Take a look, for example, at the gut string option that Dusty offers.

    wil-weten on #211589

    Yes, Biagio, I understand your point regarding ‘light, medium and strong tension’ but I wrote that in order make clear that an unhappy experience with a kind of string may have to do with the set of strings used instead of the qualities of the material.

    I will try to be more clear. Savarez Alliance C (so, now I am only talking about the red coloured strings) are available in a lot of different diameters. Something similar is the matter for the F-strings.
    0.52 mm
    0.55 mm
    0.57 mm
    0.69 mm
    0.71 mm
    0.74 mm
    0.77 mm
    0.81 mm
    etc. etc.

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