String Colors

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    Hey everyone,

    Kind of an interesting question that I didn’t find an answer for in my searches. Curious, have the C and F strings always been colored? A friend asked me what I thought and my response was that I can’t fathom anyone ever learning or teaching harp sans the colored strings, unless it was one of those people that can just pick up an instrument and play it by listening to it.

    Anyway, what do you guys think/know? Also, how come it is the C and F strings?


    I remember seeing a few harps back in the 60’s and 70’s with an older color scheme: the C’s were green, and the strings that are currently white were red. F’s were still black (or purple or dark blue).


    Ah wow that is interesting. I wonder how you go about finding the history of harp strings lol. I’ve searched a bit on google and can find info about early harps, but not so much the strings. I’m curious about what they were first made of as well..

    Angela Biggs

    I’m pretty sure I’ve read that wire-strung harps originally did not have colored strings, and there were also blind players. Without colors, or without sight, you’d have to develop muscle memory, which is possible to do; it’s probably much easier to do if you don’t have a choice. Some harpists today prefer to play without looking at the strings.

    Brass is believed to be the primary metal used, but I read an [interesting article]( recently about the rediscovery of precious metals as possible bass strings, particularly silver and possibly gold. They have properties which allow for better tone in the lower range.

    It might be that C and F are colored because they indicate the half-steps in the scale (if you’re playing in C, a, Cb, or ab) — B/C and E/F. I found it convenient when I started, because that fit right in with the visual cues on a piano.

    And speaking of the piano – do you remember learning how to find mid-C? Over time you developed an instinct based on context, and eventually got to the point where you could walk up to any keyboard of any size and immediately play mid-C. I’m sure the same thing happens with harpers who play without colored strings.

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Angela and Tracey,

    That’s true about blind Irish harpists – I guess they wouldn’t have needed to see the color of the strings! But color does come in handy for placing and finding your octaves if you’re sighted and you’ve got a fairly large instrument. I have paint markers for my wire harp and it doesn’t affect the tone. I don’t bother to repaint the middle part of the strings where it wears away… just leave enough color top and bottom of the string so I know what I’ve got.

    And gold bass strings (!) – Ann Heymann put those on her clairseach and recorded a CD – Cruit go nOr – Harp of Gold. She wrote a book recently on her researches: Dialogue on Historical Wire for Gaelic Harps I have it and it was very interesting reading. But I’m not planning on changing out my phosphor bronze wires just yet! (Gold and silver strings are quite an investment, among other things.) 🙂


    My teacher (now deceased) told me that it was either the Wurlitzer or the Lyon and Healy harp companies, back when stronger American harps were beginning to be sold, that decided on red, white, and blue, the colors of our flag, should be the standard for colored harp strings. Then, the green and purple harp strings familiar on European harps began to be phased out.


    I have a book with a close up of a c.1759 portrait where I can make out darker strings with 3 then 2 white between them and red and black are perfectly clear c.1790

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Tacye,
    Thanks for posting these! The colors are a little difficult to make out on my monitor, but the paintings are very beautiful. I wasn’t aware of these artists. I especially liked the last one, the self-portrait by the harpist.

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