Help Re-stringing Wire Strung Harp

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    afamiliargrove on #211047

    A little over a year and a half ago, I purchased a wire-strung harp from James Skeen ( It is a beautiful instrument and wonderful to play, but the strings snapped on me and I’ve had difficulty trying to restring the instrument. I took a break from it for a while due to my studies at school, but now that I’ve graduated and am on a career path I’d like to try and fix/re-string my harp.

    I watched tutorials on youtube, but none of them really went into depth about getting the nails attached to the wire out of the soundboard. The harp only has four 1″ round holes in the soundboard. I was wondering if anyone has any tricks to getting them out? I haven’t tried a magnet yet, but maybe that’d work…?

    I’d also like to know where the best place would be to order new strings. They were brass. I’ve considered possibly experimenting with sterling silver strings, but that might be a project for later on.

    I’m new to wire-strung harps, so any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

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    hearpe on #211049

    You mean there are no openings the back of the sound box? I’d cut some. cutting is usually good for better sound and even lowering the weight for football Waifs who find their harps too heavy.

    afamiliargrove on #211051

    I was contemplating cutting a hole in the back, but I don’t have the equipment to do so at the moment. That and I’m unsure if clarsach/wire strung harps traditionally have openings in the back or not, and what it would do to the sound. The harp sounded beautiful before all the strings snapped.

    Biagio on #211060

    It appears that your harp experienced a “cascade” – this does not happen often – usually from a sudden change in climate – but it can be annoying (and alarming) when it does. Here is a good explanation of restringing such harps, from David Kortier:

    To remove them I use a telescoping magnetic “pickup” tool, which you can buy for about $5-$10 US at most hardware and auto supply stores. Assuming you live in the US you can buy new brass or bronze wires at The Instrument Workshop:

    For a lot more information, including wire resources see

    You might also consider joining the Yahoo wire harp group:

    Please DO NOT try cutting access holes in the back. A closed back on these harps is intentional for reasons of both tone and volume. The old harps which these were modeled after had closed backs that were removable in toto and some reproductions still do; but they also have a tendency to slip, stick, and rattle as the wood changes with humidity and temperature. You might also very possibly end up splitting the wood. Then the only option would be to buy a new harp.

    A few modern wire harps have access holes in the back – Triplett and Caswell, for example – but they are otherwise also designed for that. Here’s a general rule: do not physically alter any harp unless you yourself are an experienced harp maker.

    When they are desired we use half hard sterling silver wire, but again, you should understand harp making and string theory before experimenting. Silver is heavier than brass (or bronze) and is only useful for bass strings that are too short for the other two to ring – which is not the case with the Folcharp.

    Best wishes,

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by Biagio.
    andy-b on #211062

    If I were you, I’d just contact the harpmaker directly. There’s an email address on their website – That way you can make sure anything you do is correct for the model harp you have.

    Biagio on #211063

    Good advice, Andy – always a good idea to contact the maker directly with any questions!

    I know James well, he is a friend and well respected in wire harp circles. For others reading this thread it might be interesting to know that he has begun to make narrow spaced wire strungs – one of only a few makers in the US who do, nowadays.


    hearpe on #211068

    I have been looking at wire harps at this site- this page may help you-

    I was wondering if his harps had sound holes in the back- because they are never pictured- but here they apparently do- and at least two judging from where his hand appears through one.

    I just saw a video on youtube I think it was, that described the original Irish wire harps sound boxes as having been carved out of a single hollow tree trunk and that struck me s kinda wild!

    Siobahn Armstrong I think- sorry if I mispelled that first name.

    The idea of the magnetic parts retriever is inspired.

    hearpe on #211069

    If I ever decided to try and wire a nylon harp, I’d probably at least give the back of the soundboard a good coat of polyurethane clear coat- and whatever wood support there too- that I usually paint anyway as best as I can around the strings- and it resists bowing a little better. Probably a harp with a raised front soundboard support would be stronger too. Just saying.

    Dreamsinger uses a 1/4 soundboard instead of 1/8″

    Info on Queen Mary Harp:

    Queen Mary string chart link on this page where wires are sold:

    Allison Stevick on #211072

    I have one of James’ newer narrow-spacing harps, and I LOVE it! Please follow all of Biagio’s advice– he knows his stuff on wire harps. (Hi, Biagio!)
    Also, if you’re on Facebook, James Skeen is very responsive and helpful through messages. You can also join the Wire Strung harp group, and/or the Celtic Harp group- both of which have been really helpful to me.

    Biagio on #211073

    I’ll repeat, Hearpe with apologies if I offend: pray do not offer “advice” on issues of which you apparently know nothing.


    • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by Biagio.
    hearpe on #211081

    A little creativity never really hurt anyone that much. The best way to learn sometimes actually.

    I’m sure someone will try to rewire harps anyway, whether we discuss it here or not. My painting of soundboard supports, both front and back, actually works quite well to reduce bowing, with little to no loss of sound quality- The bracing is much involved only in the transfer of sound to the board and box. Urethane on the board will definitely reduce the volume but give strength for louder wire strings.

    sorry, physics aren’t owned.

    Biagio on #211111

    Agreed, the best way to understand something is to first study it, then try it. For this style of harp specifically, people such as James, Ann Heymann, Paul Dooley, Simon Chadwick and indeed yous truly have studied them extensively, and built them as well. Research first, then experiment, I suggest, would save a lot of time and expense!

    WRT to restringing a harp designed for nylon/gut with wire: steel interestingly enough, can substitute one for one with nylon (in smaller diameters, of course). Brass or bronze – no, you would have to lower the range several steps. The only way to determine this is to actually bite the bullet and do the analysis. Some that have been more or less successfully converted: The Musicmaker Limerick, Triplett Zephyr.

    Sorry if I offended you but honestly, urethane will not provide any strength to speak of for a harp such as this we are discussing, at a total tension of close to a quarter ton. You must brace the sides or they will bow in and eventually snap. Trust me on this.

    I don’t claim to “own” physics, just to understand it. You will have a hard time convincing me – or anyone – that 0.01mm of urethane – a plastic – will add any strength to 1/4″ of sound board. And BTW, contrary to your statement, bracing does NOT transfer vibrations to the board and sides – it inhibits that. Harps are braced solely to keep them from collapsing under the string tension. But don’t trust my word alone – ask any other harp maker.


    Biagio on #211118

    It’s interesting to consider different building techniques, and these ancient clarsachs especially, with respect to ancient and modern tools available. For instance, as Hearpe noted, the box was carved out of single slab – Why, I would hazard, because the glues available back then were pretty limited, By the same token we might ask, “Why did they add brass cheeks to the neck?” Well, OK for strength maybe but it would be stronger to put a brass strip underneath. However, they did not have routers which would make that easy, just chisels and planes.

    I’m inclined to think, however, that these cheeks gave a better grip to the pegs, which were irregular – no precise modern machining. How about the enclosed back? It would have been a lot easier to brace the body that way, and when you study the acoustics, putting sound holes in front provides better projection – adding access holes in the back negates that somewhat.

    This is not to say that Hearpe or another is wrong to consider different approaches of course! It is definitely easier to make a four-part body than spend a year carving and aging a 3″ thick chunk of willow, alder, or

    If interested in actually making one of these, it is not difficult IF you understand certain things that make a brass strung harp unique: tensile strength and density, narrow versus “standard” spacing, why we use a relatively thick hardwood board and why we usually do not add bridge pins.

    The wire strung harp website is great for all of this and more: if you can, also read Karen Loomis’ and Simon Chadwick’s in-depth analyses of the Queen Mary and Lamont harps.

    All very interesting!

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 7 months ago by Biagio.
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