nylon strings breaking like mad lately – weather, or pins?

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    Hi there.

    In the last few months, my newish 33-string nylon-strung lever harp (about 11 months old) has popped six strings, all in the upper range. My old harp, a lower-end Salvi, never broke a single nylon string in 20 years, so this is disconcerting for me and is making me even more nervous in performance than I am usually.

    The summer has been extremely humid and the weather volatile in my part of the world (Southern Ontario). I don’t have real AC, just a wall unit that I turn off and on according to how unbearable things are. Don’t know if that could be it. I try to keep the harp in a room that’s shielded from extreme changes (i.e. the AC unit).

    The harp maker says this amount of breakage is new for him, so I suppose other clients are not having the same problem. He says he has a design feature which normally means that the bellying of the harp doesn’t result in breakage. He therefore doesn’t seem to be able to suggest anything but the weather as a cause.

    I have noticed that the breaks are all occurring at the pins. I also therefore wonder if the pins are eating through the strings and this is why they’re all going at relatively the same time. He put about two windings in all the strings, so I wonder if using more windings would alleviate some pressure.

    Thanks so much for any ideas…

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Samantha,

    I have a wire-strung harp and live in Vermont. I had some issues with string breakage recently (read my post here: Great advice about keeping a hygrometer nearby! Mine lives on my music rack. This has been a tough summer in the northeast for temperature and humidity. 🙁 My tuning (and breakage) issues stopped after taking Robert’s and Sid’s advice about keeping an eye on the humidity. Someone else may have better suggestions for your particular instrument, but here’s a starting point. Hope this helps!


    It almost sounds as tho you are tuning to a pitch that’s too high. What would happen if you lower everything a half step, I wonder. Since it’s a folk harp, you might not need exact pitch.


    Some things to keep in mind–are you tuned in C or E flat? It shouldn’t matter but some harps don’t seem to tolerate being tuned in C. The windings can make a difference (see David Kolacny’s excellent book on Trouble Shooting your Lever Harp) There may be burrs where the strings exit the tuning pins. What kind of strings do you have? Flourocarbon take longer to stretch and need to be brought up to pitch slowly.


    Hi everyone, and thanks so much for your responses. Sorry for the late reply on my part, I used to get email alerts when someone replied to my posts and now that isn’t happening. I didn’t know you had all written in!

    Anyway, Sherri, I’ll try to keep the humidity levels constant, though oddly the summer before this the harp didn’t have any problems and the weather was just as bad.

    Sylvia, I agree, it does seem like the tension is too high but I did make sure that the harp is at 440 which is what it’s made for. Sometimes I do play with other people so lowering the pitch might be problematic. Still, it might be worth experimenting with that idea. I suggested it to the harp maker but he wasn’t thrilled.

    Jennifer, I’m tuned to E flat. The strings are plain old nylon. The pins where the strings broke don’t seem much different to the others. This is all the more mysterious because it’s happening all of a sudden after an almost trouble free year. You’d think if it was burrs or too-high tension it would have been happening all year. *Sigh*

    At least I’m getting lots of practice tying knots. I just dread it happening in performance. Thanks everyone.


    just for grins I’d sand the affected pins with some microfine sandpaper like 2000 grit (what they use on clear plastics) very carefully by hand, in case there is tiny corrosion that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Or get a jeweler’s loupe off Ebay and take a good long look at them – get a loupe that has a bright LED in it. That way you can detect really tiny flaws if any.

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Dee,

    Question about pin sanding: would that work to help reduce pin slippage? Some of my strings don’t like to hold tune on high humidity days (see my above post link) and I find I have to push in and turn… but still they slip. This is intermittent but seems to affect the same pins; two or three of them at different octaves on my harp. The pins are about four years old. Thanks!

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