Strings: Variations on a Theme

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    renaissancemanohio on #194978

    String Theory. We all have ’em. They have been a topic of every harp discussion since before the Internet. We’ve all had them break. We’ve all replaced them. Maybe this posting is redundant. But I have a few questions about strings.

    Gut Feelings. I have a new L&H Chicago Concert Grand Extended. One string broke in transit and four other gut strings broke during the first week of her being in my home. L&H has replace most of them and now I have to put them on my harp. I’ve replaced strings before on my lever harp, but they were all nylon strings. What, if anything, do I need to know when replacing the gut strings on my CGX that I did not have to know when replacing the nylon strings on my lever harp?

    Anchors aweigh! I know the wire strings are pre-anchored. And some of the gut strings do not seem to have an anchor. I’ve looked at some YouTube videos and various harpists use different kinds of anchors. Some use pieces from large-gauge gut string remnants. Some folks use wooden peg-like anchors. And I even saw one harpist use dental cotton rolls as anchors to eliminate the knot as a source of buzzing. What do you use as string anchors? What should I avoid?

    Brands. I have heard that gut strings from Bow, including their Burgundy brand, have had some major quality control issues. But that’s been through word of mouth. My CGX came with Bow brand strings. Is there anything documented or any response from Bow about their quality control? I’ve also heard people say that Premiere brand is worth the extra cost (full set of pedal CG gut strings about $400 vs Bow $300 vs Burgundy $200) from two perspectives: quality of the string and length of the string (lots of leftovers to be used other places). What is your experience and perspectives on gut string brands?

    Adjustment Disorder. Because my harp came out of regulation at L&H only three weeks ago, what is a normal length of time for the harp to begin settling down into its own rhythm — particularly, when do the gut strings stop breaking so frequently? I’m frustrated because I cannot play when I am missing several strings at one time. Any tips and tricks from experienced harpists that I can do to help my new harp acclimate to her new home?

    Thank you!  John

    Gretchen Cover on #194982


    Congratulations on your new harp.  I would suggest you contact LH and ask them some of the above questions.  In particular, ask about the best way to break in your new harp.    When I bought my Salvi, it was suggested to  play the upper octave hard for a week, then move down the octaves.  The more you play, the faster the harp will break in. You would be wise to take some lessons, even on Skype, to learn to use the pedals correctly.  That is not something easily self-taught.

    It is common for strings to break when a harp is new.  You should always replace a broken string as soon as possible.  I would not worry about that but if in a few months the strings still break, I would spend the money on Premier strings. I put them on my harps in November and December and have had only 3 broken strings in the first octave.  The sound is superior to Bow Brand, too.  I use only gut strings.  Personal preference if you want to use nylon in the upper octaves.  You will figure out what works best for you. Make sure you keep your harp in tune, especially while it is breaking in.

    I use 4th and 5th gut as string anchors.   I  suggest you buy an ergonomic tuning key.   If you are going to take your harp out of the house, leave a spare tuning key in your car.



    renaissancemanohio on #194997

    Thanks, everyone. Great advice for certain! This is indeed the right place for me.

    Alyson Webber on #195003

    Hi John! How exciting!

    Gut Feelings. Gut is a bit stiffer than nylon, but is tied the same way as nylon. Side note, though: I made the mistake of tying some of my second octave knots in the “overhand knot” way with the extra loop over the anchor. This caused a lot of pressure on the anchors and they bent. I re-did these recently with the more “bunny ear” approach of knot tying where you have a loop sticking off to one side when you’re done and the anchors seem much happier. I think the overhand knot approach is fine for the upper registers, or maybe if you use anchors that aren’t 5th octave string pieces (or maybe I’m just bad at tying knots!).

    Anchors aweigh! Use what you like. Most use string snippets. I have received pieces of string for anchors free from several retailers. Just call and ask if you need some when you order your strings. I have the impression Camac recommends the wood toggles, but not sure…

    Brands: I use Burgundy on my harp. Since I am a casual gigging harpist, I decided to save the money. As I get more regular work and my harp playing can support itself better, I may get “better” strings.  The quality of the harp sound, to me, is more in the regulation and tuning than the strings, but I haven’t yet tried Premier strings.

    I believe there is currently a shortage of Bow and Burgundy since they are coming out of their quality issues. Since they are aware of the issue, they should be getting it fixed and supplies re-established soon.

    Adjustment: You’re harp is going to break strings for a while. I purchased my L&H 100 used last spring. She hadn’t been played or tuned in years and was given new strings and regulated before I purchased her. The strings stretched for a good month, then started breaking like crazy. I was breaking a couple a week for a few months. The regulation went out almost immediately, since the harp was ignored and was experiencing so much change. I was told that spring is a rough time for harps, much less ones that are starting a new life somewhere else. She settled down within a few months and now I break a string once every month or two. Usually during thunderstorms. 🙂

    Also, the key to not being frustrated that you can’t play because you’re missing strings is to always have extras. Even if it is a skeleton set. However, since your string popping days may continue for a little bit, you may just want to fork over the money for the whole thing. You can get 2 or 3 strings out of one package for 2nd octave and up.



    charles-nix on #195004

    In damp weather, gut strings will weaken and break.  In dry weather, they will contract and break.  It is part of the gut experience.  I had understood that the BB quality issue was resolved–at least what I have had in the last year has been much improved.  I have no experience with Premiere, but may try that out.

    During the BB bad quality period (which, at least in my case, they completely covered and replaced strings without charge) I did use some Savarez gut (not fluorocarbon).  I haven’t found it substantially different in quality from the newer BB gut.

    For me, 3-6 months on a 2nd octave makes me very happy.  At the top of the 2nd octave, replacing every month is not uncommon.  The 3rd octave is about twice that.  Below that, I’ve rarely had a break–partly because I change for sound reasons sooner than they would break.

    I also use a bit of 5th octave string for a toggle.  Those can buzz and make all kinds of noise, but so can the string ends. I bend both the end and the toggle up away from the soundboard.  Camac harps I’ve looked at have wood dowels with a different sort of knot.  I’ve heard of some using dental rolls.  It never buzzes; but I can’t wrap my head around the physics of using a sound absorbent medium right at the very point where you’re trying to transmit sound to the soundboard.

    I install 5th octave with just a figure 8 knot, 4th with a regular “bunny ears” harp knot, 3rd with a harp knot and toggle, 2nd and up with toggle and harp knot with an extra loop.  A string, when installed, will stretch (assuming 1 or 2 tunings per day) for 2-3 weeks.  Then when you have a bit of damp weather, it will stretch out again, appreciably more than the rest of the harp.

    Anytime a harp is moved to different conditions, or the weather changes, some strings may break.  If your harp and your ear works with nylon, sometimes people put nylon down into  the 3rd octave.  Nylon won’t break, but it will sound dead and awful within a year, and somehow different before that.  It is really up to your ear, your budget, and your demands on the instrument.  The factory 2nd oct and up nylon and the rest gut is an average, not a requirement.

    Charles Nix


    Biagio on #195005

    Very interesting thread, all.  I’ve refrained from commenting, not being a pedalist, but will offer a couple of thoughts for what they’re worth.

    -One must be patient in the first two or three octaves with new strings, whether they are gut or anything else. As the lower ones come up to tension that will also affect the higher ones.  So you may have less initial breakage by sneaking up on reaching the fundamental over several weeks while the harp settles in.

    -Toggles: the string rib line is  for all intents and purposes acoustically dead. Sound radiates out from the ribs along the grain lines but at the rib itself you have compression on one side and tension on the other: little or no effect on sound.  Perhaps that addresses Charles’ comment.  I find that a stiff piece of leather shoe lace works quite well to obviate buzzes. There is one disadvantages however: thinner strings will take longer to hold tune as they gradually squeeze the material.  On the other hand (the right one perhaps) you will never hear them buzz and leather is a lot less slippery than gut when tying the knot.

    Happy harping all,


    Gretchen Cover on #195008

    You won’t have buzzing using gut strings for string anchors.  I bend them as Charles suggests. I have used this method since the 1970’s and never had a problem.  John, just make sure none of the string anchors or strings touch each other.  Check the inside of your harp before you wind up the string to make sure nothing went wrong:)  You should keep a set of extra strings or at least the first 2 octaves. I keep a spare set and then use that set when I change the strings.  As Charles said, with the first couple octaves you will get two or  three strings out of each gut string.

    Gretchen Cover on #195009

    PS/ Charles, I totally disagree with you that the tone is due to regulation and tuning. I am making a recording now and the sound of the Premier was so much better that my guitar partner and I re-recorded a 12 minute piece. And, you should not expect the first and second octave strings to break every month, especially for a amateur or casual harpist.  Better strings may cost a little more upfront, but without the breakage, they become cost effective.

    charles-nix on #195052

    Gretchen:  I guess I’m confused:  rereading my post, I just don’t see where I even discussed tone, nor regulation nor tuning, except commenting that nylon sounds different from gut.   And I would absolutely agree with you that tone is not at all the same as regulation or tuning, and tone can certainly be affected by string material, brand, age!, and even by prevalent relative humidity, which changes the density of both nylon (a lot) and gut.

    My typical life for 2nd c,d,e is 3 -6months, and they will almost always break during a period of damp weather.  In Tennessee, that can happen even in the middle of winter.  I would love to improve on that, and expect that my next purchase will be to try Premier in that octave and see how it works out.

    If you’re keeping Premier gut on all the way to the top and not changing over to nylon even in the 1st octave, and getting 6 months in that range, I am impressed with them!

    PS: When does the recording come out?

    Tacye on #195055

    It was Alyson who mentioned good tone needing good tuning and regulation – and certainly if you haven’t got those any sort of strings will sound off.

    I was advised when I bought a new harp to keep the top in nylon for a year to let the string breaking settle down before I changed them to gut.

    One difference between nylon and gut which hasn’t been mentioned is the care in tying the knot not to crease the sounding bit of the stirng.  If you kink a new gut string (or probably a bit of the broken one) it will go white and less stiff- you don’t want that in the middle of the string where you are playing.

    renaissancemanohio on #195272

    “We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”
                                                                                                     — Charles R. Swindoll

    Hello, everyone! Well, I’ve had Lily, my L&H Chicago CGX for about 3 weeks now. Here’s an update.

    Appreciation. I did not say this before, but I want to express my gratitude to the L&H staff, particularly to Ms. Nancy O’Brien. In my book, she is nothing short of being a goddess. Nancy has been such a font of information and support before, during, and after my purchase and continues to answer my questions with gusto. Nancy, thank you so much for your ongoing support and positive attitude. I have learned so much from you!

    When my harp arrived, one string was broken and during the next couple of weeks many of the original Bow Brand gut strings broke as my harp began acclimating to her new home. Nancy was very gracious in her support that this was normal and even sent me several replacement strings gratis, for which I am thankful. Oh, and Nancy, you were so right. The pedals are nearly second nature to this organist! I’m back to playing with two hands and two feet again…

    Also, I want to thank the Harp Column community for your advice and wisdom as I pursue this new leg of my life journey. Having played a lever harp for a couple of years prior, I was very familiar with tying harp knots and have been using thicker gauge string bits as anchors. So after reviewing everyone’s kind advice, I continued down that pathway. Gut strings are new to me (except for the small period of time I played viola in high school) so the advice and videos that were suggested to me were very, very welcomed indeed.

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. So, now the ongoing saga of As the Gut Strings Break (also known as JayzusMareeAndJosef, Who Fired That Cannon!)… I was standing about a foot away from my harp when the 5th octave B string decided that life was too tense and that it should end it all. A loud “Bang!”, a spontaneous duck-and-cover that had been ingrained in my psyche since the wee hours of the Cold War, and a few colorful expletives followed. I looked around to see the damage from what I thought for sure was a drive-by shooting and noticed the very thick gut string as it dangled and beckoned to me as I knelt on the floor. I have not been able to find online or in discussions with other harp people whether or not the Bow Brand gut string quality issue has been resolved. Many folks have said they are going to restring with Premiere gut strings when it is time for regulation or restringing. So, I decided to try some Premiere brand strings.

    Premiere. I’m not a clever enough wizard to hear any sound differences yet, especially with my harp still finding its place in the world. But here’s what has been my experience. The Premiere gut strings are much longer than the Bow Brand gut strings. Some people say the extra length could be used to replace other strings in a pinch. Any ideas if that is true? I’ve also found that for me, the Premiere gut strings feel a tad, yet perceptible amount thicker than Bow Brand, sort of getting in the way of my novice fingers. And, this is unsettling to me as a newbie, they seem extremely slippery. With the original and replacement Bow Brand gut strings I received from L&H, I feel as though I can dig in without losing control when I place. Not quite the same with Premiere Brand. Or at least that’s my gut feeling (pun not intended). None of the Premiere’s have broken since I have put them on. But I’ve only had one original Bow Brand gut string break in the past week.

    Global Warming. With the arrival of spring in Ohio, I turned on my central air conditioning to reduce airborne allergens. Could the cooler air be making a difference?  Are the gut strings beginning to behave (a bit… knock on wood)? Or am I just being lulled into a sense of quiescence that will evaporate (pun intended) when the barometer changes? I’ve been reading some archival issues of the American Harp Journal and learned that the ideal climate for a harp is room temperature between 65 and 70 degrees F with relative humidity between 45% and 65%. Hmmm…. I need a combo thermometer and hygrometer for my music room, perhaps. Preferably mid-century vintage… Yeah… something reminiscent of Sputnik…

    I was, after all, a NASA brat and an engineer for 20 years.

    Columbus, Ohio


    Gretchen Cover on #195274


    When I put my Premier strings on my harp, I found they initially felt like they had lotion on them – sort of a tacky feel.  I found wiping up and down the string vigorously on both sides of the harp with a microfiber cloth got rid of that icky feeling. Must be a coating on the strings.  This happened on both my harps.  I suggested to Virginia Harp Center that they tell harpists to wipe down the strings after putting them on the harp.

    renaissancemanohio on #195276

    Thanks, Gretchen! I will try that. What a great community this is… John

    Tacye on #195277

    You just wait until your first wire breaks on you – cowering under the table for sure.

    And yes, get a thermo-hygro, I advise one with some sort of recording or max/min so you can get an idea of whats happening overnight too.

    carl-swanson on #195278

    Nobody has mentioned this yet as far as I can see, but John, you should definitely learn to patch strings. When a string breaks at one end or the other(but not in the middle), and there is enough length to go from the knot at the bottom to somewhere past the adjustable nut, then you can patch the string by tying it to another piece of gut string.  It’s especially helpful in the 4th and 5th octaves, where the strings are so expensive. I’ve got several patched strings on my harp that have been there for 5 or 6 years.

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