New wire harp!

  • Participant
    Allison Stevick on #186920

    Hi all,
    I’m super excited because now I’ve finally joined the ranks of wire harpers. ๐Ÿ™‚ My new-to-me walnut Folcharp came yesterday, so much of my time has been spent tuning and noodling and wishing I had started growing my nails earlier than a few days ago. Now I get to navigate the fun and challenges of playing nylon and wire, short nails vs long… I’m looking forward to this new (old?) direction in harping, though. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’ll try to link to a photo-

    Janis Cortese on #186922

    1) That’s lovely.


    Allison Stevick on #186923

    Janis- thanks! And LOL!

    I am totally a person who hears about a new kind of instrument, and then immediately feels the need to acquire said instrument… Lack of funds usually helps me stave off the urge and/or makes me plan ahead, though. haha

    If this helps at all: I’ve broken and had to change 4 strings so far! Ugh! I knew going into it that brass strings are waaaaay different than nylon, but even trying to be very gradual with tuning it, it has been quite a challenge. So really, the harp and I are still getting acquainted, and we’re not quite friends just now. If I were to name it, and do so today, I might call it “bear” or “mule”… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Biagio on #186924

    I looks lovely Allison! True, they are more tempermental than nylon/gut but on the other hand no levers or pedals to worry about and what an incredible sound:-) If you haven’t found this yet, here is Cynthia Cathcart’s series of videos on introduction to the wire strung including a section on stringing:

    Contrary to what she and some others say, they are not under “tremendous tension” compared to nylon/gut. But…brass or bronze is far less elastic so just a millimeter turn on the peg can change the note by over two steps. Also since changing the tension on one can change all the others one must go very slowly at first.

    Hey, can I interest you in a small double strung???? Just kidding:-)

    Heh heh I know what you mean about the nails – never before was very interested in manicure!

    From the Dark Side,

    Allison Stevick on #186925

    Thanks, Biagio, I will check out the videos. Looks like a great resource!
    And yeah, I’ve noticed that it’s not necessarily higher tension–the lower range strings move more when plucked than I thought they would. They also sound the best right now, too, (this harp actually sounds really good when it’s in tune!) because the previously-broken-so-still-settling-in ones are in the high octave… ๐Ÿ™‚ Actually, the top 2 strings sound pretty bad (and they haven’t been broken) so I’m going to see if anything can be done about that once the rest are settled in. But the rest is great when it’s in tune ๐Ÿ™‚

    Haha-no thanks on the double. My hands are full! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    (…aaaaand I’ve still got my own double on the way that I ordered long before this wire deal came up… it’s a totally unexpected gluttony of new harps around here. It’s gonna be an interesting juggling act this summer, trying to tune and learn two new harps, and keep my chops on the original… What have I DONE?! Haha I’m not actually complaining. It’s totally a first-world problem, I know.)

    randal on #186926

    Congratulations Allison! Is this a brand new harp?

    FWIW, when I acquired my first wire harp, I did everything by trial and error. My first is an older harp that came to me with a couple of broken strings – and the rest appeared as if they’d soon break – as they were all well corroded and obviously quite old. Since I couldn’t even afford replacement strings when I got the harp, I kept everything tuned at least .5 or 1 step lower than normal – this reduced my string breakage rate as I was learning (from scratch). I filled in the missing strings with some extra hammered dulcimers strings – not ideal obviously, but it got me up and playing.

    This harp would no doubt sound even more beautiful with new strings and full tension, yet – as I’m still poor ๐Ÿ˜‰ – I still keep the harp as it is…it’s functional, and still beautiful-sounding. And, I still haven’t broken the old strings.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Allison Stevick on #186927

    Thanks, Randal! No, it’s not brand new, but it hasn’t been played much, apparently. The person I bought it from thought it might be easier on her joints than her other harps, but decided to go a different route. I think she bought it from someone else who changed their mind about wire, too. It’s in pretty good shape, and I was pleased it came with wire for new strings… I’m hoping my excessive string-breaking is coming to an end now! Like you, I’ve decided to keep it tuned just a little below pitch while I get used to it to help with that.

    I’m glad you have a string solution that’s working for you! If you have any recording of your harp, I’d love to hear it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Janis Cortese on #186928

    The harp I’m curious about is actually one that might be a bit lowbrow, but it looks charming and as if it has more potential than it seems to be associated with. It’s just a little egg-shaped thing that is tuned pentatonic (which has a lot more possibilities than people realize). The thing is, it’s portable; I continue my fascination with portable instruments!

    It’s definitely not something I’m getting ANY time soon, though. I’ve only scratched the surface on the lever harp, and I do tend to get bored quickly with instruments that don’t have much of a low range. Additionally, I’m anticipating a cross-country move before the end of the month, which is going to run me … well, a good amount of money. ๐Ÿ™ Definitely not the time for a somewhat useless vanity purchase.

    Can you string up wire harps with wire guitar strings, by any chance? I don’t know anything about where you’d get strings for something like that. Do they draw them or wind them, like the Romans used to make gold wire by winding a thin tape? I can’t see how that would tolerate much tension, though.

    randal on #186929

    Others with expertise will no doubt respond to the string questions – but I’d like to address the other, with respect and not wishing to derail Allison’s thread.. I think, Janis, that you’re referring to the “Reverie” harp from Musicmakers? I believe that was conceived and designed particularly for use with/by persons whom are restricted to supine positions…I think this is discussed on their website. I do a lot of work with folks in nursing home, and would love to acquire such a harp (or zither) – perfect for this application. As it is, I use a small Stoney End – which is nice too, but more cumbersome of course. I hope to eventually acquire a small kantele for this application.

    I understand what you say about the limited range of the smaller harps. However, in my view, if one IS going to limit one’s playing to simple melodies and figures available on such a small harp, the allure of wire is the best solution, as it conveys the most expression – with those few strings. IOW, it does the most with those few strings; every time I pick it up, I’m captivated by the sound – of just a single unadorned line or simple figure – on my small harp.

    (I’ve been a “small”/portable devotee in past years – already played fiddle/mandolins, then got into flute and concertinas to assuage this obsession…I packed two double-cases – one with fiddle/mandolin, and the other with English/anglo concertinas! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Janis Cortese on #186930

    I believe it is the Reverie harp, yes. I think part of my interest is in disproving the belief (even promoted on its website) that it’s not for making “real” music and is for people who aren’t musicians. I’m attracted to the idea of getting an instrument associated with, let’s say, low expectations, and actually pushing it to see how far it will go. I mean, a lot of top-quality music has been written in pentatonic, and a lot is played on instruments with relatively few strings. The kora, for example, is played by some of the most accomplished musicians on the planet, people whose families have been playing it for crazy numbers of generations, and that can have as few as 21 strings. (And of course, the stuff o’Carolan and other Irish bards wrote was on a smallish harp as well.)

    That little harp/lyre seems to sound pleasant regardless of what one does on it yes, but I’d love to see how far it can go if one wanted to really push it. That seems to be part of what I want to do with the lever harp as well — people say you can’t play Romantic-era music on it, and I’m enjoying deliberately arranging Rachmaninoff and bel canto for it.

    Sorry for the thread hijack!

    Biagio on #186931

    I’ll continue the hijack very briefly then get back to wire strings. HIJACK: I’d go for Music Makers’ 10 string steel lyre over the Reverie, you can do more with it. For that matter, buy my double strung 23 for the same price as the Reverie; you can do a lot with that too!

    Most if not all guitar strings are steel which don’t sound as good on a harp compared to brass or bronze, if you ask most clarsairs (me included). Thing about any wire string is that they snap very readily if not properly sized for the intended tension, so it is definitely best to stick with what the designer has put on it. Harps in any case only sound good at much higher tension relative to tensile strength than other stringed instruments. For the lower bass strings, some may be wound to keep the harp from being excessively tall (tension is a function of length and mass for a given frequency). Caswell’s Gwydion for example has five or six wound strings; gorgeous harp by the way! I don’t recall if they are bronze over steel or whatever. Patrick Ball’s harp of about the same size has solid mono bronze bass strings, but it is also taller.


    Allison Stevick on #186932

    I love the “hijacked” direction this has taken. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Janis- I like the idea of making real music with instruments otherwise perceived as “toys” or whatever. Very cool.
    Somewhat along those lines is a small, portable instrument I desperately want: a Sansula!

    It has such a beautiful, mellow sound. I tried one at a percussion workshop last year, and it was my favorite instrument in the collection–and that includes the Hang-Hang and the wooden tongue drum the instructor had there. (Did I mention I have this problem of always wanting my own of every new instrument I meet? Haha)

    Back to harp strings: my wire doesn’t have wound strings, and I like it that way. I’ve played some with wound bass strings before, and I just don’t like that sound with nails. My nylon harp has lots of wound metal and nylon strings, but that doesn’t bother me at all since my nails aren’t scraping the ridges when I play. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also love Patrick Ball’s harp. Biagio- you’re still working on a high-headed wire harp, right?

    Biagio on #186935

    Allison, I’ve finished the design, actually making it will have to wait until I’ve sold some of those I have. Space is getting tight here! Just for giggles, here is a picture of my 26 string wire harp before stringing and with F sharping blades installed:

    Sigh, it’s an addiction:-)


    Allison Stevick on #186936

    Ooo pretty! Well, I hope you are able to make room soon, so we can see the new one!

    randal on #186937

    “Primitive” harps, m’bira, the potential of sound… Most compelling subjects. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You all have probably seen the Harrari videos already – but I’ve just happened on it this evening:

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