Nylon vs. Nylgut for Lap Harp?

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    Aria on #202712

    I have a Double Strung lap harp, 22 strings (44 strings with the second row).    I bought it to have something really small I could take anywhere (to play outdoors in nature, or on my work breaks, or traveling).    I do love how portable this little harp is.   And it allows me to practice my improvisational skills wherever I am.   So I’m happy to say it does serve the purpose I bought it for.

    BUT…….  the one thing I’ve never liked about harps this small is the sound quality.  (I realize this is due to the very small sound box) They usually sound too much like “rubber bands in a tin can”,  or too nasal for my taste.   I chose a harp that I thought sounded better than much of what I’ve heard.    And I’m mostly satisfied with it.   However, the bottom six strings do have that “nasal quality” that I’m not fond of.    I am playing them with a light touch and with lots of finger pad on the string and that helps.    But despite this, they still don’t sound that great.    The tone lacks clarity and depth.   And maybe my expectations are just too high for what any lap harp can do?  Luckily, all the strings above these six sound great and ring out with a nice sweetness and clarity.

    My question is this:   Have any of you had succes with changing over from Nylon to Nylgut strings?  I’ve heard that Nylgut can sound less Nasal than Nylon.   I’m working with an expert who is doing the string conversions for me so that my Nylgut strings will be of equal tension to the Nylon.   Maybe it won’t make any difference, but  I figure it’s worth a try.    I’m even interested in trying Flurocarbon Strings.    I realize that they will be much thinner than the nylon….. but I’ll try anything at this point.    Who else out there has tried this on a small harp?

    hearpe on #202724

    I thinking about asking about nylgut not long ago, mostly for replacing some o the first nylon wound strings, because Ive had a lot of them break and I’ve never been thrilled with the sound.

    From some experience with ukulele, I think the nylgut might make more difference there- in bassier octaves.   cant say reallynd y txt x never works here- I’d like to hear some opinions.

    Biagio on #202964

    Hard to say without knowing the model and range, but here are a few thing to consider:

    -Nylgut has the same density as regular gut but a higher tensile strength (both are denser and higher TS than nylon).

    -Often when the lower strings on a small harp sound poorly it is because they are too loose for the frequency – higher density will help with that.

    -Fluorocarbon is higher than density than gut or Nylgut so that could work too.  Between the two in tensile strength.

    -Whether you like the tone of gut nylon or whatever – that’s rather personal taste all else being equal.  So give them a try and see if you like them.

    -My guess is that if you are only replacing the last few pairs or two  you are not in any danger of breaking the harp but of course have your string design guy take a look.

    -Finally, the soundboard might just be too thick.  If we knew the model and range that would help.



    Aria on #202977

    Thanks Biago.   This is 22 strings G to G, but double strung, so really 44 strings.   I talked to the manufacturer and he said not to go higher on the tension since the double rows are creating a lot of tension already.   So I’ll be getting the string tensions list and having the conversion done from that.   I didn’t mention which brand of harp this was because I don’t want to sound like I’m posting anything negative about them.   This is a well made USA harp though. And there’s only a couple of them who make a double this small…….

    Anyhow, if the Nylgut doesn’t work for me I’m interested to try flurocarbon.   Can you recommend anyone who is good with flurocarbon and can calculate a string conversion?  The person I’m working with is for Nylgut only. Thanks!

    charles-nix on #203011

    Biagio is right–tone between the various string materials is very subjective and hard to describe.

    You said you are keeping the tension constant.  At identical tension, and constant length, a denser string such as nylgut must have a smaller diameter.  Fluorocarbon will be smaller yet–and will take forever to stretch out at (we’re assuming) rather low tension.

    There’s no difference in calculating nylgut or fluorocarbon strings–same process, same spreadsheet, different numbers.

    All in all, I would look at getting the tension as a percentage of breaking strength up higher.  You can do that by increasing tension or by decreasing diameter.  NN wound strings in the bass would have higher mass  while keeping the %BreakingStrength high, if you can get them made fine enough for the pitch range of you harp.  They will cost a lot less than nylgut or fluorocarbon, and will go  through humidity changes similarly to the other nylon strings.

    Charles Nix



    Biagio on #203029

    Aria, I think I can guess the make so that’s all right – G to G would be typical.  The problem, as the maker could tell you, is that especially for the low G the percent of tensile strength  (%TS) is very low unless the string is wound (as Charles suggested).

    You may just have to use a lighter touch, as you mentioned, or even your fingernails down there.  You might have your expert look at raising the range one step (A-A) while keeping tension constant instead. New string set but it might mitigate the problem.

    Unless you change the composition, just increasing diameter will not change %TS – that’s just how the physics works out.  I can give you the physical specs for these that I use:

    Density  lb/in**3                             Tensile strength  lb/in**2

    Nylon                                         0.0385                                                       44,000

    Nylgut                                       0.0469                                                         72,000

    Fluorocarbon                          0.0562                                                          60,000

    Good fortune!


    Aria on #203031

    Well I really appreciate these technical explanations and I’m so glad I can come here and get feedback from knowledgable people!!    Yes, my understanding is that when I switch to Nylgut, the string diameter will be 10-12% smaller  (and even smaller if I do flurocarbon).    I’m really excited to hear what it sounds like.  If like it, I might re-string the whole harp with it.   I hadn’t thought about a wound string. That’s a great idea and I will look into that!  I’m also intrigued by Biagio’s suggestion of stringing it A to A.     I do own one harp that is strung partially in flurocarbon and I really love the tone quality.    In general I’ve never been a fan of the sound of the nylon string range on any of my harps, so maybe I just have a particular preference in what my ear likes to hear.    Thanks again everyone!

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Aria.
    Biagio on #203058

    You are welcome indeed Aria.

    Most small harps, whether single or double, “suffer” in tone compared to larger ones.  The only exception in my experience in the Timothy Niamh which he designed specifically as a concert grade instrument: high tension, wide spruce SB, etc.

    On others we just have to accept their design limitations and modify our technique accordingly.  To quote Harper Tasche, “Play the harp in front of you.”  He means that kindly – I’ve heard him get sounds out of some harps I could never have imagined were in there!

    Best wishes,


    Biagio on #203384

    Aria, a couple of follow-up thoughts that occurred this AM:

    -If you like the upper range, why replace them?  If I’m right in guessing the harp make the upper octave is already quite thin with nylon and I’d doubt that changing to FC or Nylgut would make much difference.

    -I built a series of double 23s (46 total G up to A) and while the lowest 4 pairs (G-C) were acceptable as nylon monofilament I preferred having those wound NN.  This raised total tension about 60 lbs. total down there.  OK for my designed SB but dong that on yours would void the warranty, I’d expect.

    -If you want to give that sort of thing a try though, be aware that you might have to change the eyelets and levers to deal with fatter strings.

    -Changing those to FC improved them somewhat but not as much as I liked although they were somewhat more mellow.

    -It is true that FC takes a long time to stretch in but on the other hand it is less hydroscopic than nylon.

    Best wishes,


    Aria on #204895

    I  agree Biagio that one should settle in and play the harp we have   They really are all a little different in some way and we should learn to work with it!     I probably won’t change the upper octaves.    But someone I know did a complete nylgut conversion on a similar model to mine and liked the results, so I’ll see what happens.   My harp has Truitt levers.  I’m thinking if I use a wound string I might have to change the levers and I’m not sure I want to invest in new levers.   But it certainly is an option for me if the Nylgut doesn’t help!

    Overall, I think the thing that makes we want to try to improve this harp is that I’ve heard other harps of this same size and model and they do not sound quite so nasal at the bottom, with only the bottom G sounding like that.   I don’t know why my particular harp turned out different.  But it gives me incentive to think that my lower strings have the potential to sound better (maybe),  so I will try.   Again I really appreciate the feeback you gave.  Thanks!






    Biagio on #204901

    Aria, I very much doubt that you would have to change those Truitts, but check with Betty at Dragonwhispers.com.  At most you would have to change the fret (and add a stop if the new strings are wound).

    Best wishes,


    Elettaria on #205844

    I’m planning to put together a little lap harp with a cardboard soundbox, a friend will be building it for me, and Biagio was very helpful in working out the design.  This included helping me work out the best string gauges for the length and tension.  I looked into getting nylgut, and realised a snag.  If you order from Aquila in Italy, there’s a 50 euro minimum order and that gets in the way of ordering individual replacement strings.  If you order them from Bow Brand in the UK, they are called silkgut, as used on the Salvi Juno harps.  It is not entirely clear whether silkgut is nylgut rebranded or something very similar, but what is clear is that you can only get one colour in each gauge.  So if you are using different gauges to what Salvi uses on their Juno harps, you won’t be able to get strings the right colour.  Also I spoke to another UK luthier who generally uses nylon and tried nylgut, and he said that with nylgut, he had a lot of string breakages and wasn’t thrilled with the sound.  With KF, again Bow Brand are only selling one colour per gauge, but thankfully Mark Norris has all three colours available for each gauge, so that’s what we’re going for instead.  It may or may not make much difference on a harp of this size and quality, but at least the tuning will be more stable, and I’m hoping that it’ll improve the sound a bit.

    So whatever string materials you are going for, work out which gauges you need, and then check whether you can actually get the strings in the right colours and affordably for individual replacements!

    Double strung harps sound very nifty.  I don’t think they’re the most obvious harp for my needs, but I’d love to play around with one and see how I got on with it.

    Aria on #205845

    I would love to try Savarez Alliance KF strings.    I have the individual string tension list for how much tension my harp can handle.   But I need to know what the equivalent Savarez strings would be.   I don’t know how to find that information.  Biago mentioned some specs above that he uses for strings.  But my brain can’t quite wrap itself around what that means   🙁

    Fisher Harps lists an approximate “KF to Nylon conversion chart” on their website.  However, I don’t know how specifically accurate this is.  Or if I should use it as a reference for my harp.  So confusing. Does anyone have suggestions for how I can figure this out?

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Aria.
    Biagio on #205846

    Aria, Larry Fisher’s conversion is pretty good, or/and you could go to Rick Kemper’s (Sligo Harps) but understand that these are specific to their own harps. If you want to really understand what is going on you really have to delve into the mathematics.

    The Reader’s Digest summary is that for a given frequency and vibrating length tension is a function of the string density and diameter.  For a thorough discussion, see Rick’s “String Theory” on his website:


    You can take the intellectual approach above, or just cut to the chase by getting the analysis spreadsheet available from Musicmakers:


    This is a downloadable Excel spreadsheet and is free.  Musicmakers has changed their website and I did not see the instructions listed but I’m sure it is still available.


    Elettaria on #205847

    Aria, which country are you in?

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