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Pedal harp strings: Savarez or Bow?

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  • #78437
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    I restrung my harp last August to make sure during the busy Christmas season I didn’t have a problem with broken string. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many strings have broken in all the octaves – including a string during a Christmas Eve church service. The strings I am using are Bow Brand. I heard from another harpist recently that the Bow strings had been bad. I just went to the Vanderbilt Music website and they have an explanation of the issue – http://www.vanderbiltmusic.com. I also saw Vanderbilt is now selling Saverez strings.

    Does anyone have any experience with Saverez strings. How do they compare to Bow?

    #114901
    Sid Humphreys
    Spectator

    I can’t wait to hear the Savarez strings. I restrung with BowBrand back in Jan. and so far have had to replace 5th oct E 6 times. Just wen it’s about to start holding tune it breaks. Many of the other strings are either rough or have imperfections that remind me of Burgandy strings. Not a big deal if that’s what you pay for.

    #115949
    paul-knoke
    Participant

    I recently had a chance to restring a customer’s 23 with Savarez. The sound is dark, with less drop-off in volume immediately after the attack. The tone is more sustained, with a slower decay. The finish on the strings is less slippery, and the F strings are blue, which could be helpful if you’re seated next to a second violinist in black. However, one F string was shedding its blue coating onto my fingers as I was putting it on the harp, and another string was OK for half its length, but rough and dry for the other half. The supplier did offer to replace the defective strings ASAP. All in all, I liked the good strings very much, but I have some concerns about quality control.
    Hope this helps!

    #117663
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Thanks for your comments, Paul. I was shocked to see how much more expensive the Savarez strings are than Bow Brand. For the price, there should not be quality control issues IHO.

    #121046

    Savarez apparently makes two different kinds of strings, gut and the synthetic kind (I keep forgetting what they are made of). I have not tried their gut, but that’s what Vanderbilt is using to replace Bow, which is having hopefully temporary production problems. I cannot play on the synthetic strings, the tension is too high. I prefer nylon strings from Pirastro in the 0-3rd octaves (and 4th octave E), so I am not having any problems of any kind. And all of my gut strings from Bow were acquired before the problems, thankfully. Strings are much too expensive nowadays.

    #126861
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Saul, I am curious to know why you use nylon rather than gut on your 0-3 octaves. Does it make a difference to use Pirastro rather than other brands for the nylon strings?

    Also, does anyone use the gut Pirastro strings on their harp. If I thought Savarez gut were expensive, they are not compared to Pirastro! Are the Pirastro worth the extra money for the average harpist?

    #136114
    Bonnie Shaljean
    Participant

    I use (and am very happy with) Savarez from 4th E down to where the bass wires start, and Bow Brand gut from 3rd F up. I have done this on a number of different harps (both lever and pedal) over the past ten years or so, and have consistently preferred it to gut in the lower-middle range. Savarez strings are a harder material, and I find they give a clearer, more focused tone.

    The very top Savarezes are monofilament, but from about (? writing from memory) concert 3rd D down, they change to a braided multifilament. I have also seen these strands separate where they wrap tight on the tuning pin, but this has not affected the string itself, nor its tone, and – all logic to the contrary – does not seem to cause breakage. The ones on my harps that do this have lasted for years with no ill effect, and they stay in tune as well as the rest.

    So this is a tried-&-true formula for me. Gut tends to sound a bit dull in the thicker gauges, and I find the Savarez brighter and clearer. But: I prefer the dynamic response and subtleties of gut in the upper range. So I’m happy with the mix I use, and don’t notice any real difference in feel.

    If you’re going “octave-light” on a lever harp, remember that the monofilaments mean that you can’t (or at least I wouldn’t) start the Savarez higher than 4th E or D anyway – whichever of those is the cutoff point.

    It does take new Savarez strings much longer to settle in: they stretch and stretch and stretch, so if you do a lot of tuning, make sure you use a key with a comfortable grip that doesn’t strain your wrist or put undue pressure on any one part of your hand. Voice of experience on that one! I prefer the softer rubber-coated handles to plain wooden ones for this reason. I also find some of the plastic coatings as hard as the timber, so my preference is for rubber. I think it’s kinder to the harp (if you drop the key) as well as your hand.

    Re Pirastro: I’ve only ever tried their bass wires on a good-quality lever harp. They cost an AWFUL price, and no, I did *not* find them better. I actually prefer my far less expensive “ordinary” wound strings. I cannot understand why they’re priced so much higher. Never again. Don’t know anything about their gut, but of all the makes I’ve used over the years, I do prefer Bow Brand.

    #136115
    Bonnie Shaljean
    Participant

    Heyyyy… what happened to the Edit facility? I wanted to get back into my post above to point out that when I say “from 4th E down” in the opening line, I’m referring to concert harp.

    Why can’t I edit the above post? I’m logged in.

    [I seem to be able to edit this one]: I haven’t had the hassles with Bow Brand that I’ve been reading about here, and the harps in the school of music I teach in use them as well as my own instruments. I buy them in England, if that makes any difference…? (Tacye, any input on this?) But I’ve seen no drop off in tone quality or surface consistency or breakage. Anyway, Savarez in the lower octaves is great for not breaking, so perhaps that’s another reason to try it.

    I couldn’t see any explanation for Bow’s problems on that Vanderbilt link, which just seems to be a sale page.

    #137518
    Gretchen Cover
    Participant

    Bonnie, I am not clear as to what Savarez strings you are using – gut or composite?

    If you click on the link on the Vanderbilt Music site – http://www.vanderbiltmusic.com – there is an explanation of the Bow Brand string problem.

    #138053
    Bonnie Shaljean
    Participant

    Ahh, sorry! I didn’t make it clear… I mean the composite fluorocarbon-based strings (I tend to just say “Savarez” as shorthand for those, as distinguished from gut). And I only use the multifilaments, lower down on the harp.

    In fact, I’ve never actually tried Savarez gut, nor their wound wire. I find the monofilaments better than nylon, but not as responsive as gut in the upper range of the instrument. Also the high harmonics seem to drop off so there isn’t as much “cut” nor (as far as I can hear) carrying power in those.

    Thanks for the link, which explains the Bow Brand situation clearly. Guess I’ve just been lucky in my timing!

    I still seem to be able to edit posts only once, after which the option disappears. I’ve asked Kim about this, and she’s looking into it. [Later: Fixed now!]

    #140580
    james-predovich–2
    Participant

    I am a big proponent of the Savarez KF strings. I’ve used them exclusively for the past 5 years now. I like them for a variety of reasons, mainly being once they stabilize with their pitch they hold it very well even for outdoor concerts and such. I use the KF all the way up to the first octave and finish it out with pirastro nylons. I second the comment that they stretch for an obnoxious amount of time so be sure to change them when you have nothing important coming up for at least two weeks. They also require zero slack on them when you put them on as they stretch a great deal once you start winding the pin. I enjoy the sound very much it has a very full sound and they do not decay as fast as gut strings. I receive compliments on my sound every single time I take my harp out, and it’s a Salvi. I know some folks don’t use the KF strings in the upper octaves but for me it personally opens up my top octaves beautifully with a nice zing to it and makes the whole harp brighter. Harmonics take a little bit more finesse but this is the case with most Salvi’s I’ve encountered regardless of the string choices. They are more expensive than gut but if I remember correctly I had enough left over for a second string change all the way down to the A below middle C which was impressive that never happens with gut. Hope this helps!
    JP

    #140842
    Bonnie Shaljean
    Participant

    James, re nylon (and Saul too, if you’re still following this thread): Do you find Pirastro significantly better than the other brands of nylon in that top octave? Also, it sounds as though you prefer nylon to Savarez up there – any particular reason why? I stop the gut after the second octave too, though I neglected to mention this above.

    Good point about not leaving slack on a Savarez string when you begin to wind it on. My main experience with this is in the 4th & 5th octaves, where if you do, it will soon fill up all the available space on the tuning pin as it stretches, and then start to double back on itself, giving you windings sitting on windings (which will probably encourage the strands to separate more than they would on the pin’s smooth metal surface). You’ll only find yourself having to undo the string again just to pull up all the newly-created slack.

    I know I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I’ve just spent a lot of time tuning up two newborn 34-string lever harps, fresh from the maker’s workshop, which are fully strung in Savarez (except for the wound-wire bass). Over the course of two and a half weeks, I was winding up a total of 52 strings, several times per day. And I began to be troubled by pains in my right hand from the key that came with the harps. I know this is an intense tuning load – though nothing unusual for harpmakers – but I started to develop R.S.I. so it’s worth keeping in mind. Fortunately (and sensibly), the pins on those instruments are the standard size, so my own keys fit them and I was able to switch. But it was a wake-up call, which is why I’m writing.

    Since your tuning key is your constant companion when you’re nursing new strings, make sure you have one that puts the least strain on your wrists, and doesn’t press into the heel of your hand too hard. The ones I personally prefer are either the Camac T-shaped concert-harp key, or the Salvi/Lyon-Healy asymmetrical “ergonomic” key. In both cases, their handles have enough length that they extend beyond your (or at least my) hand-span, which means its end doesn’t dig into you, and it also gives you better leverage. Both of these keys are covered in rubber rather than hard plastic, and come in an array of nifty colours.

    The problem with the original (T-shaped) key for those two new lever harps was that (a) its handles were too short to extend beyond my hand-width, so the lower end pushed into my palm and created a pressure-point which soon became sore; and (b) it was covered with hard plastic rather than the softer rubber. At one point the key slid off my lap and onto the floor, and made an almighty bang. Hate to think what it would have done to the soundboard!

    #141086
    james-predovich–2
    Participant

    Bonnie,
    I use pirastro for the simple fact that I bought a ton of octaves at once and I have yet to go through all of them! I did not take the savarez KF all the way up b/c I was told by Vanderbilt that the Savarez strings break up in the 1st/2nd octave. I will say that my second octave E and D have broken twice so I just swapped it out for nylon and problem solved, perhaps for my particular harp my “break” if you will happens to be around 2nd octave D and I’ve accepted that. I also think that the pirastro is slightly thicker than standard nylon, although I think Tom Bell from bell harp tech has said the thickness is very very minimal it still feels thicker to me. Just my two cents!

    James

    #141146
    carl-swanson
    Participant

    What nobody seems to be taking into account in this string discussion is the tension on the soundboard and the damage that higher tension strings will do to the life of the board and neck. Given the three choices that every harpist has on the strings they use, nylon, gut, and composite(Savarez): nylon strings are the lightest tension. Gut strings are higher tension than nylon, and composite strings are much higher tension than gut. I would not recommend composite strings on any harp because of this, and it would not surprise me if builders and repairers put a clause in their warranty that use of composite strings breaks the warranty.

    #141204
    Sid Humphreys
    Spectator

    Carl, what about the Savarez Gut strings?

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