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Harp Strings keep breaking – Help

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  • #76037
    Carlin
    Member

    Hi everyone. I have just recently purchased a new pedal harp. It’s only been here 4 months and I have around 10 broken strings already. This can’t be normal, can it? One particular string has broken 4 times in the last week, near the soundboard. What am I doing wrong and is there anything I can do to solve this problem?

    Thanks in advance everyone.

    #76038
    Tacye
    Participant

    When I bought a new harp I was told to expect to break more strings when it was new – and I have experienced worse than 10 in four months, admitedly mostly when hauling the harp around in interesting conditions.

    1) You may have a rough grommet where the string comes out of the soundboard if it is always breaking there – are they plastic or metal? Take the broken string and pull it back and forth through the hole over the edge – if it shreds this is your problem.

    2) How badly are you kinking the string when you tie the knot?

    3) You could just have a duff spare, it happens occasionally.

    4) How stable are the temperature and humidity in your harp room? It is winter which can upset some harps.

    #76039
    Carlin
    Member

    Thanks so much for the reply, Tacye…that really helps. I didn’t know that new harps are expected to break more strings, since it didn’t happen with my first harp. I have been transporting it a lot since it arrived, so that may be a problem as well.

    The grommets where the string comes out of the soundboard are plastic. I have tried what you suggested and the string comes out fine, it doesn’t shred. I have been kinking the string pretty badly though, as I’m really bad at tying knot ends.

    I live in a tropical country so we don’t have winter here, but the weather condition has been quite horrible lately. Lots of rains and some days are scorching hot. I guess the harp isn’t very comfortable at all right now.

    #76040
    Tacye
    Participant

    One of the few things broken harp strings are good for is knot tying practice. Obviously the string kinks at the knot and where it comes through the soundboard, but I have seen a few which were so mangled they were separate strands which isn’t good.

    Leaving aside the four in one week, which is a poor show and hopefully won’t happen again, six strings in four months in horrible weather seems quite good going to me. I think I lost that many in a week when I took my harp to Barcelona.

    #76041
    Steve Moss
    Participant

    Carlin,
    It’s normal for new harps to break more strings. The instrument takes a while to stabilize under constant string pressure. Add that to the bad weather you’re having and this amount of breakage is not at all surprising. Multiple breaks on one string are very frustrating, but not unheard of in this situation. I’d agree with Tacye that this is not an abnormal amount of breakage under the circumstances.

    #76042
    Carlin
    Member

    Thanks so much for the information, Steve & Tacye. That really helps…

    #76043

    When I bought my last new harp, it also broke a lot of strings, but it has settled down nicely since then. It surprised me, because I had not had that problem before with previous instruments. Strangely, in the last year, the 2nd-octave E has broken every two months on a different 7-year-old harp. I have just tried switching to nylon to see if this stops the problem. I have been playing the harp since 1970, and my knot-tying has never been an issue. Does it seem that strings are more brittle now than they used to be?

    #76044
    katie-buckley
    Participant

    Elizabeth! I’ve had HUGE problems with my strings lately.(The same ones breaking, again and again) If you are using bow brand, I heard they had a whole production of sub-par strings. Kinda makes me angry! I realize live in a dry climate, but use humidifiers and am quite careful. Grrr!

    #76045
    Peter Wiley
    Participant

    It is true that new harps can be expected to break several strings than everyone is comfortable with. Just be patient.
    A additional note regarding string breakage I hear little about, here is an example:
    Just today a 25 year old pedal harp came to me for regulation. To do a valid pitch control on a string required that I change it since the one on the harp was old and worn. Pulling NEW replacement string out of the string bag I noted this string (and most others in her bag) were old, maybe 7+years. (I swear the 5th A and B were original from the factory, the replacements in her bag were L&H Gold Label, remember those?) After an easy, even pull up to pitch this “NEW” string, the “HARP” broke it about 5 minutes later. Being a double length string I used the second half to replace it. About two hours later the “HARP broke the NEW string again”! Can you believe it! Well either the HARP has something wrong with it or the string was made poorly. Both of these answers are plausible but highly unlikely, I mean extremely unlikely. Let’s take the case that “something after 20 years has gone wrong with the harp?” Total freak out reasoning, enough said. The new string was made poorly? You have NO idea. The string is NOT NEW. It is old, has lost suppleness and has been trapped, trained into being in a circle for years and now is expected to be considered new, straight, strong? Gut strings are animal gut. They are not plastic; no matter how much you want to think they have an unlimited shelf life that thought is wrong. How about beef jerky that is ten years old?
    In far too many cases harpists own string museums, not a collection of decent healthy strings for replacement. You should not have more than one piece each of 5th or 4th octave in stock (if you own 1 or 2 harps). They do not break that often and you can replenish your stock in a matter of a few days via mail order even if you live in…Iceland. Why do harpists park hundreds of dollars in strings and then let them go unused for 10 or more years?
    I suggest you put a date on the string baggie when you receive them.
    If the date on the bag is 5 years ago, how old is the string on your harp? If a string is over 5 years old get it on the harp to straighten it out before it looses its suppleness. It will be bad in a year or two and on the harp you can get good use out of it now.

    #76046
    Peter Wiley
    Participant

    Katie, regarding Bow Brand quality…working at the L&H factory for 20 years we used hundreds of thousands of Bow B strings. My experience was that they have a nearly spotless record with production. Better than I ever expected, I was actually looking for them to screw up and had to almost dream up little problems into big ones just to let them know we were paying attention. The harp world really owes that company of kudos.
    I know you to be kind sensitive person whom I respect.
    There will be exaggerated, unmerited backlash from saying that there were some quality issues. If the 3D strings made in the 2nd week of October 2009 WERE a problem almost everyone will think that ANY string that breaks was in that batch, even 4B made in July 2011. That is like saying back in October 2004 measures 38-45 were awful when Susie Creamcheese performed of Faure’ therefore any performance since then or before then was awful too. Everything else was brilliant that day but we will remember her for those seven bars? Quite unreal.

    #76047
    Carlin
    Member

    Unfortunately I have to admit that I do own a string museum as well. I have a full set that came with my first harp when I bought it 7 years ago. That and the fact that I’m using them on a new harp may be one of the reasons why my strings are breaking so often as well. It has broken about half a dozen more strings since my last post.

    #209136
    jane
    Member

    Is it possible that the retailer has kept the strings past their usable life? My L&H lever is ten years old and the weather is fine, but the brand-new 3F I put on broke the same day–first time that’s ever happened. (If they weren’t so crazy expensive, I wouldn’t mind so much.)

    Thanks to everyone who posted, btw…

    #209159
    Peter Wiley
    Participant

    Here is a possible scenario.
    The first string that broke was just at its normal end.
    You pull a double (or triple) length new string out. This new string breaks. Replace it with the second half of that new string and it breaks.
    This one string has broken three times. Once from normal age and the next two times because the replacement string is bad.
    I doubt the dealer had stock long enough for it to go bad on the shelf. It is possible but most likely it’s just a bad string.
    Since I posted on this thread back in Jan. 2013 the situation with Bow Brand Strings changed quite markedly shortly thereafter. Unfortunately the raw material they have been receiving has been weak and breakage is quite common and disturbing. There has been much outrage and gnashing of teeth on this situation. Harpists often think their “harp is breaking strings” when the truth is the “strings are weak and breaking” on my harp.

    #209193
    frances-duffy
    Participant

    Hi Peter

    Do you have any experience with the new Vanderbilt Classic strings that have come out recently? I tried the Premiere but hated them, they were too thin. I heard that the gauge was different from Bow Brand. Vanderbilt website says their strings are the same gauge as BB and I have tried some in my first and second octaves. So far so good! But they are a bit more expensive than Burgundy by Bow Brand so I am curious if anyone has been using them for a while.
    I have had the same issue with my burgundy strings as so many people, lots of false strings and breakage still, even after they have supposedly solved the quality issues.

    #209199
    duckspeaks
    Participant

    Hi Carlin,

    Australia is dry. But we had a few very unseasonally wet months. And string broke in matter of 20 minutes when door was kept open besides breaking much more often until I decided to dehumidify and check the hygrometer daily. Also overbending the vibrating part of the guy string (so that it becomes all white and non translucent) while tying the knot has been observed to facilitate breakage.

    So I can attest to both (humidity and bending).

    I am more trusting of manufacturers’ workmanship, to the extent of not checking because I had no suspicious repeated breakages.

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