Has anyone converted a nylon harp to wire?

Posted In: Coffee Break

  • Participant
    hearpe on #189781

    Just toying with the idea with my old Pixie 19 that has no levers otherwise-

    Obviously I think that some kind of reinforcement is needed at the soundboard- or possibly even a new soundboard or a supplemented thickened one. Probably some kind of reinforcing plate/s at the top pillar seam.

    Do wire harps strings have a ball end or what? Are there standard washers for the lower contact point inside the sound box?

    I’d probably lower the tones and start with a bass C instead of the current F and work my way up from there, both because I want lower tones and to take some stress off the frame.

    A big drawback I face is never having seen or played a wire harp- so I’m hoping to chase down some gauge charts and see if I can assemble some strings or buy a set. The strings are usually described as brass- I wonder if steel is ever used on the thinner ones?
    I have some rainbow sets of guitar strings with some nice wound basses I may be able to use on the lower C’s and F’s, but need to see about gauges. It’s a fairly small lap harp otherwise- it’s been up on craigslist for some time with no response.

    I’m always tired of working on my instruments- my piano needs more tuning and has an action issue or two I hope to get to soon, my 5 string viola needs the bridge cut down some more, and it’s been really difficult getting it set up- three even pegs on the same side are difficult to tune, but holding much better than when new- so feel free to discourage me with any and all lists of cons!

    Someone put up a link to some wire harps in another thread- If I wasn’t deep into new harp purchase already, I probably would have gotten one of those. Maybe I can make something cheaper until some future date.

    I would have put this in “wire harps” but I’m told I can’t post there. Don’t know why.

    anyway thanks for info in advance!

    Participant
    Biagio on #189797

    Hi Hearpe,

    Some harps designed for nylon or gut can be converted to brass or bronze with excellent results; usually the smaller ones. Some I’ve either seen or done include the Triplett Zephyr, Music Makers’ Limerick and Shepherd.

    Due to the different physical characteristics you have to drop the range as you have noticed; how much depends on the harmonic curve – usually about 4-5 steps. Your Pixie looks like a good candidate but before doing that you would be wise to run an analysis. Either have a professional string maker do that or download the free spreadsheet from Music Makers.

    Bronze and yellow brass are interchangeable; for some bass strings you sometimes need red brass or even wound strings – probably neither for the Pixie. You mentioned steel: that can usually be substituted for nylon without altering the range (but of course at smaller diameters). Steel has a very different sound from brass/bronze and most dedicated clarsairs don’t like it. But don’t let that stop you, it’s your harp!

    It is NOT true that wire strung harps are always at much higher tension than nylon or gut. It IS true that the strings are much stiffer, ring much longer, and that a board designed for nylon/gut might ring so long that you spend more time damping than playing. So the answer to your question is “no, you probably don’t need to reinforce anything.”

    There are different ways to “tie” the string end; several are described on the Wirestrung Harp website

    http://www.wirestrungharp.com/

    Others use a guitar ball end plus a nylon washer followed by a leather washer in that order. We think that wastes less of that expensive wire.

    There are only limited sources for brass or bronze music wire in reasonable lengths: two are Malcolm Rose in the UK and The Instrument Workshop in the US.

    Yes, one uses a different technique to play these but not terribly different unless you want to get really fancy. So don’t let that stop you either.

    Have fun!
    Biagio

    Participant
    Biagio on #189799

    On the subject of tension versus resistance – this is a common misconception, they are not the same thing. For the sake of clarification here’s a comparison between the Caswell 32 string Gwydion (bronze strung) and my Selchie nylon 34 (with the top two strings dropped off so same range as the Gwydion).

    Gwydion: range C2 to F6 total tension 992 lbs. average 31 lbs./string
    Selchie “32”: same range. total tension 1076 lbs. average 34

    Could I convert that “Selchi 32” to brass or bronze? Nope, the upper octave strings are too long for that. I might substitute steel wire there but – er, yuck. The Selchie is very responsive with nylon as it is; with brass or bronze there would be way to much sustain!

    Biagio

    Participant
    hearpe on #189813

    Hey thanks-

    I like a lot of resonance- that’s why I like the sound of wire strung harps.

    I dunno I’m still kicking the idea around, as I haven’t been able to get $50 for the old one- in fact no response at all. Prbably won’t happen until at least winter if it does at all.
    As I was looking around, I found this video interesting:

    Participant
    hearpe on #189896

    Here’s another idea I’m having- slightly related to string topic- so let me throw it out here

    I’m thinking about replacing most of the nylon monofilament strings on my 29 string Roosebeck harp- range C to C- eventually with a nylon set sold for their 31 string Ashley harp-

    at which point I also may drop the range down to F to F-

    This would give me 4 wound bass strings of .079 width. My harp at the moment does not have any wound strings and I’m feeling like the bass strings are just a bit too floppy and twangy sounding.

    On the other hand, if I drop it down any, this may compensate for the wound basses and cause them to flop just as much- I don’t know.
    I could put the 31 Ashley strings on, but they start with a blue string- so I’d either have to live with that as a “C” or find a comparative clear or red wound string individually- then I could also still use the F perhaps and then have 5 wound strings on the bass end. I haven’t researched much the other widths but assume I could work it all out, even using some of the strings already there but perhaps moving them up the scale if I want.

    I wouldn’t mind dropping them much I don’t think because the top end is very high, but the main drawback is that my 29 Heather harp is 38 inches tall while the 31 Ashley stands a full six inches taller at 44.

    When I got into playing smaller scale classical guitars, the rule of thumb is to then use higher tension strings to compensate on the short scale or they are too floppy- I’m guessing the harp may be the same? Will the thicker gauges deliver any decent sound with a shorter length? Will dropping down to F instead of C for the first just make that worse. Is there a minimum length for wound strings.

    Biagio, anyone know anything here?

    Participant
    Biagio on #189900

    Hearpe, what you suggest may work but first you really should do an analysis – it will save you a lot of trouble! Some people find the maths intimidating but thanks to computers you really don’t have to crunch through those with a calculator or even remember the formulas. So here’s a handy FREE Excel spreadsheet from Music Makers:

    http://www.harpkit.com/blog/string-analysis/

    For an excellent nontechnical discussion of string theory, I encourage anyone and everyone to read Rick Kemper’s at Sligo Harps:

    http://www.sligoharps.com/

    Just click the String Theory link and you will come away with a good idea of what goes through a harp maker’s mind, haha. We ALWAYS start the design with the strings.

    LOL, I always have thoughts. Some of them fairly bizarre, admittedly.

    Biagio

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