Spare Strings

  • Member
    ChrisSmith_UK on #184318

    Hi everyone – my daughter has been playing the harp socially for a few years now, and if she ever broke a string, she would buy one from her harp teacher then next time she saw her.

    She is now starting to play at weddings and events, and so a broken string needs to be replaced more urgently. Sometimes at an event!

    My question is – do you guys keep a full set of strings? My daughter has a 34-string Salvi lever harp. A full set would be quite an expensive investment for her at this time.

    Or could you buy a subset? I have little musical knowledge, but it looks to me like several groups of strings look as if they are the same diameter, but I guess they are tightened more to create the different notes – so she might only need 1 or 2 nylon, 1 or 2 gut, and 1 or 2 wire, to be able to replace any string in an emergency.

    Any thoughts?


    Chris Smith

    patricia-jaeger on #184320

    I was advised by my teacher to always carry a “skeleton” amount of spare harp strings whenever I took my pedal harp out to play somewhere. That meant every red C and every black F, as well as each E and each A needed on my harp. Each E could substitute for a broken D if needed, and each spare A could be used for a broken G or B if necessary.

    Biagio on #184326

    Most harps have identical diameters here and there within the range so in general I’d say “Yes she can; it is not necessary to buy a full set.” Furthermore, in an emergency one can substitute a diameter (size) that is “close” IF it is long enough.

    To be more specific it rather depends on the model. I’d advise a full set of any wound strings and selected nylon and gut. As a designer I buy my nylon strings in 25 yard coils so always have a lot of those. Nylgut, fluorocarbon and gut cost a lot more so only have what I need when I need it.

    Can’t be more specific without knowing the model, I’m afraid.


    Tacye on #184330

    The Salvis I know do indeed have a different string for every note but I don’t know every model. As Patricia suggests a skeleton set is possible. However, this isn’t perfect and I would really prefer not to perform on a harp with skeleton spares. Putting an A string in the B place won’t sound or feel exactly the same and will kink the string so when you buy the proper B and replace it then your used emergency spare won’t work as well in the A place it was intended for, even if it hasn’t been cut too short. I would suggest investing in a complete set of at least the top two or three octaves that are most likely to be called upon. Yes it is expensive, but hopefully she is charging fairly for the weddings.

    How old are the wires on her harp? If they are due for changing and she takes the old ones off carefully (don’t scratch the harp with the sharp end) they could become her emergency spares given that they are not very likely to be called upon. This is what I do for my emergency set when I have put the new ones on and not yet bought the next lot.

    Biagio on #184332

    I have to concur with Tacye – and indeed go further: why not invest in a full set? There’s nothing quite so depressing as tuning up and hearing a BOING just when you least want to!

    Salvi names strings using concert harp convention so all strings may or may not be unique. For example Bow Brand lever gut 1st octave D C and B are all 0.020 gauge, but there’s that pesky red C. When one considers the cost of the harp itself, income from a gig, etc. etc. a spare set seems like a small but wise investment to me.

    My two more shiny pennies.


    Tacye on #184333

    Your Bowbrand chart goes higher than the one I am looking at which only takes nonpedal gut up to 1st A – it has a little duplication in nylon but no pairs in gut measured in millimeters, a couple when converted to inches look like a pair such as lever 1F and 2E which both are charted as .024 inches, but .60 and .62 mm respectively.

    Biagio on #184334

    Tayce, let’s not to beat this to death. As a practical matter the difference between .60mm and .62mm is so miniscule as to be meaningless with respect to tension and tone; and any diameter would be at the same tensile strength. Although MUCH larger would sound pretty awful.

    Equally as a practical matter while you and I may enjoy and understand string theory, we are in the minority among harpists. The initial question was”Does she have to buy a complete set for spares?” I think we agree that the answer is “In principle no, but why not be on the safe side?” Unless she really does want to get into string band design (which in fact I’d encourage).


    ChrisSmith_UK on #184335

    Thanks everyone for your great feedback! The plan is to invest in a full set, but at the moment she is just starting out, and doesn’t have many gigs booked. So we just wanted an idea to keep her going for the next 3 – 6 months, by which time she will have earned enough to be able to afford a full set.

    Sylvia on #184336

    I play pedal harp, and I always carry a full set, except for the bottom two wires. The only two times I remember strings breaking, they were wires…which sound like a gunshot…but the string just stays there, kind of loose but not looking broken, while everyone looks around for the gun.
    Eventually, you will need a full set anyway because strings do need changing. They can go false. The guts can start to fray, and the wires need to be kept from getting too old….or they break and sound like gunshots.
    The difference between carrying a full set and an un-full set is no big deal. There isn’t much weight or bulk involved with a string bag in your gig bag.

    Gretchen Cover on #184337

    I have a full new set except wires (which seldom break). If I have to replace a string, I use the new string and then buy another replacement. I use that set as the new strings when the time comes to restring my harp.

    I also use my old strings that were replaced as spares. Put the used string in the bag of the new one. That way I have an already stretched string that is tied for an emergency. Be sure to test the string before you declare it a spare to make sure it goes through the hole again. Sometimes the lower gut strings won’t go through after you have removed them. I use these strings if one breaks during a performance or if a string breaks a day or so prior to playing. I then replace the used string with a new one.

    So pretty much, I have 2 sets of spares. But definitely keep a spare set of strings for the upper two octaves which break the most. Don’t forget these strings are so long that you can usually get 3 strings out of one string length.

    I just had my harp regulated and the tech told me it is important to use the correct strings. He also said it is important to change the bass wires periodically because over time the bass wires cause too much tension on the harp.

    Biagio on #184338

    Glad to hear this was helpful Chris, and the best of fortune to your daughter!

    Segueing along the thread…what do you creative folks do with the strings you have changed, aside from keeping as emergency spares? Perhaps it’s the Christmas spirit but I am trying to think up creative and not so creative craft ideas.

    So far they mostly involve music stuff… wind chimes, Aeolian harps, cookie tin banjos, funky “petting zoo” harps, fishing leaders…surely you creative folks have more ideas??

    Thanks and happy holidays,

    Gretchen Cover on #184341

    Patrice Fisher collects used strings or anything harp-related to take to Central America for a student ensemble.

    Sylvia on #184345

    Biago. I throw them away. As my teacher once said…if it’s old enough to break, it’s old enough to break again. (if it is a thick gut, I cut off a little to use for string blocks if my supply is low.)
    Gretchen. As for wires, in the old days, they were made differently and never broke. The first time I broke a wire, I called LH and complained. The guy told me they were making them differently because “you people leave them on till they’re green.” I admit mine did get kind of greenish. It was a shock to know I couldn’t leave them on forever.

    Gretchen Cover on #184350

    Sylvia, Maybe one of the HC harp tech geeks will look into the history of wire strings. I well remember in college that none of the harps in the time I was there got new wires, or even gut strings unless one broke. The harp tech said that just tuning the wire strings over time causes too much tension due to the continual tightening. So I don’t know that it matters how they are or were made but it would be interesting to find out.

    I replaced my wires a couple weeks after being on for only two and a half years. It made a huge difference in the overall sound of my harp. Far more resonance and broader sound.

    Tacye on #184353

    Most of my pictures are hung with harp string, and one orchestral tubular bell was rehung with it. Also quite a lot of my garden is tied back with the stuff. If you soak old gut in water it goes soft and easy to tie in knots and then hardens again somewhat as it dries – interesting to experiment with and occasionally useful.

    I also have some which come off one harp and are put back on one with a shorter string length which is not a performing instrument.

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