Erard Harp 1802

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    Hi, i’m writing from Italy.
    I’m restoring a single Erard harp 1803 approx.
    I have two problems:
    1. Tuning pegs are missing
    2. Strings measure

    About the string I wanted to ask if somebody can help to understand the diameter for each of 42 strings. An English supplier wrote me this:

    Gut strings range from 0.45mm 1st D – 2.05 5thA and wound strings 1.42 5th G – 1.82 7th E.
    What does it mean?

    Also she wrote the range of strings I would need
    Gut 1st Octave D – 5th Octave A . Wound Grecian 5th Octave G – 7th Octave E Total of 42 strings

    Unfortunately I dont know nothing about harps, so words as Octave, or letters A G D, for me it’s useless!! is it possible to have diameter for each string?

    Also as secondo issue if somebody can help me on peg!


    Bonnie Shaljean

    Oh dear, if you don’t know anything about harps, should you really be restoring an antique pedal harp? There are so many things you need to be careful of, and if it’s that old (how did you find out its date?) the pedals & discs are likely to have seized up or need a lot of adjusting/repairs. Fortunately on an 1802 Erard it’s a simpler mechanical system (“single action” as opposed to his later “double action”). To be clear, if it really dates from 1802, it is not a Grecian.

    What does the capital – the “crown” at the top of the column – look like? Does it have a circle of ram’s heads around it? Or are they winged maidens holding wreaths? (If the latter, then the harp can’t be as old as that, and it would signify a more complex pedal system, which didn’t appear until 1810.) This would be the “Grecian” I mentioned above and which your supplier spoke of. Strings which will suit a Grecian are likely to be too heavy for a single-action. Also, Grecians evolved with the passage of time, so what would be right for one could overpower another.

    In any case, you must be sure NOT to use modern concert gauge strings, and even lever-gauge could be too heavy. You need to get gut, and for safety I would string “octave-light” – e.g. put the string that normally goes on the C above middle C (3rd-octave C) down an octave, at middle C position. (The alphabet letters refer to note names / musical pitches – you’ll really need to learn these, but it’s not hard. Any beginner’s piano book or web page will help.)

    The best thing would be for you to go by octave number rather than gauges (and don’t buy anything until you’re sure what you’re doing because gut is expensive). Then if you put each string one octave lower than what it says on the packet (as described above) you should at least be in the ballpark. If you’re in Italy, Salvi Harps are probably the best people to contact for *gut* strings (not the bass metal ones, which will require a specialist supplier), as long as you use them an octave lighter as I outlined.

    Whatever you do, DON’T attempt to string any of the bass wires until you’re sure what you’re doing! Modern bass strings (such as Salvi would sell) have a steel core, which exerts far too great a pull on the soundboard and neck. You need especially light floss-core wound strings, which can be made to order, though you really have to know what you’re asking for. But I don’t think you should put *any* strings on it until you know if the soundboard/disc-forks/neck are strong enough to take them.

    Also please don’t just slap gold paint on it! The whole issue of restoring a two-centuries-old harp is so complicated and delicate that you really REALLY do need to get a professional to advise you. If you make a mistake or do unintentional damage, it could well be irreversible.

    There’s another lady in this forum who is very knowledgeable about antique Erards, and she may be along to post here. The only trouble is, it’s beyond the scope of any internet page to give you the sort of guidance you need, if you really know so little about harps as you say. You could try joining the Yahoo group “AntiquePedalHarps” and post your query there. Someone is likely to know where you can get the pegs / tuning pins. (Not sure which of these you mean – pegs would be the little wooden ones that help anchor the string into the soundboard, and tuning pins are metal and fit into a hole drilled through the harmonic curve, which you wind the string onto.) Anyway, try this group:

    Best of luck!


    thanks for your reply!
    I have the register of Sebastian Erard London, so I read that patent 705 (mine) is around 1802.
    It has ram’s head around it.
    Regarding the gut strings, i found in Italy a company that makes them manually, but they want from me the diameter for each n°42 string!!! the problem is that even if I have some details sent by the other supplier, I dont undestand the meaning of octave or letters.

    The only missing parts of this harp are string and tunign pegs.
    For pegs I mean the piece that you use to give tension! the are only the holes in the wood, also they are conic holes!



    Bonnie Shaljean

    What a lovely-sounding harp! Lucky you… (Please make sure it’s strong enough to take *any* strings before you try to put them on. If it isn’t, the tension they add could break your harp.)

    Write to Mike Baldwin (who is based in England) to see if he can help you to source the pegs, and you might also ask for his input on stringing. I believe that commercially-bought octave-light gut would be about right, and this would save you having to calculate gauges. I thought Bow Brand (Salvi) published a table of their string gauges online, but have not been able to find it. If I do manage to run it down I’ll post a link. It should give a pretty clear idea of what thickness you’d need, as long as you’re careful to calculate for octave-light as I described above.

    Also do join that Antique Pedal Harp group on Yahoo that I linked to – a lot of its members are very knowledgeable and helpful. Mike’s website is:


    Bonnie Shaljean

    PS: Erat worked for Erard for awhile, and his harps are pretty much identical.


    What do you mean strong enought? with the restoring it has been obviosly checked and fixed where it seemd more weak, now look strong!
    What do you mean to calculate octave light? isn’t it possible to have a list of 42 diameters and I just order the gut strings?

    What do you think of this harp and about the date ? is it a rare piece?



    If it is still missing its tuning pins it clearly has not been restored to playing order and I would not trust ‘it looks strong’. What are you working on this harp for? If you want it playable I strongly suggest that you have it assessed by someone who knows harps and can determine if it is safe to string it. Old harps being pulled apart is a real and genuine risk. Salvi harps are in Italy and the experts who work on the Salvi Museum collection could probably help. The mechanism probably also wants work – the old oil will probably have gone hard. Please note that putting brass polish on the mechanism is also very dangerous.

    If you want a harp for aesthetics you can restring it with very thin strings not to tension more cheaply than proper gut.

    Thicknesses are on Howard Bryan’s website (in INCHES) – as is a cautionary photo For an early 19th century harp he suggests 2 octaves light- make sure you are working off the right column of the table.

    Bonnie Shaljean

    If Howard says two octaves light for an early 19th century empire-style, then I’m quite happy to be corrected! He’s a recognised expert.

    You really will need to get to grips with the concept of octaves and note-names, though, if you’re planning to play this (or any) harp. And if not, please follow Tacye’s excellent idea of putting on *very* light strings, even nylon, which only need to be taut enough to get the bends out of them; and don’t risk damage from over-tension. I second everything she has written, and have the same views myself. There’s not much more either of us can say.

    You need professional advice from someone experienced in restoring antique pedal harps (quite different from today’s instruments in a number of ways), which are very fragile and vulnerable. As suggested, a technician at the Salvi Museum would be an excellent person to ask. The fact that two octaves lighter than what is normally used on modern harps has been recommended by an authority in the field shows you how great the difference in their strength is. I’m worried that if proper care is not taken, you could end up with no harp at all.


    I would just add that these strings, 2 octaves light, are recomended only for a harp in good, repaired condition. If the glue has failed, there is woodworm, or even the wood has dried out too much and shrunk away from the screws the harp could look excellent, but be too weak for the tension of even thin strings. It is over 200 years old!

    Bonnie Shaljean

    Just some further information about the Victor Salvi Harp Museum, which I think you will find interesting, whatever you decide to do:

    Museo dell’Arpa Victor Salvi
    Via Rossana, 7, Piasco, Italy
    Tel: + 39 0175 2705101


    There is a downloadable PDF here:

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