I have more than one harp, and no matter which one I am using, I have noticed an odd pattern when I start to tune. The mid-range of the harp is close to being perfectly in tune. The gut strings higher than 3rd octave tend to be slightly sharp, and the gut strings below 3rd octave tend to be a little flat. Can anyone explain this?
How many times do you tune? and where on the harp do you start?
I don’t know how other people tune, but I use a tuner, and I tune lower strings and then higher. Then I go back to the bottom and do it again….and again, and again, until it is stable. I used to go over it once, and then I discovered…mmm, the ones I tuned first were not the same when I went back to them as when I left them. The change in soundboard pressure is probably what causes that.
Please clarify: you find them being sharp/flat after tuning, or you have to continually bring the lower octaves up and the upper octaves down when you begin tuning? And how dramatically sharp or flat are you finding it to be? I wonder if it has something to do with temperature or humidity changes that can affect the harp’s shape. Is it also true with the bass wires? My bass wires tend to stay in tune. They are not as affected by temp. As the gut strings.
What sizes of harps do you have? Are we talking pedal, lever, or both?
If you are tuning mostly by ear, I suggest reading a recent harp column post about stretch tuning (if you haven’t already). I found it very interesting.
The tuning of strings in one register can affect the tuning of strings in another, as Sylvia more eloquently said.
To answer your questions: they are all concert harps, 47 strings. They are in a studio which keeps a fairly constant humidity of 50%. I notice the problem while tuning, not after. It is subtle, not extreme. I use an electronic tuner. And it does not affect the wire strings at all. I tune before every session of practice and have been noticing this for years. The answer probably does lie in the shape of the harp/thickness of the board. I hadn’t considered that before, but have always wondered why intonation problems would not be uniform (i.e. the whole harp a bit too sharp or flat, as opposed to different parts of the harp doing different things).
My celtic lever harp only has twenty-nine strings and I find it helps to tune all the F strings, lowest to highest, followed by the Cs, Gs, Ds, As, Es, and Bs in that order. One or two of the Fs, particularly mid-range, might need adjusting in the end but everything else holds.
The circumstance described in the OP is totally familiar. Starting at 438, I intentionally drop the lower octave, and raise the upper octave, a few cents because the harp sounds best that way. My music selections and style of playing may attribute to that.
This tuning mystery is very interesting! All three of my harps react very differently to changing temperatures and humidity. Usually it is just easier to tune the bass wires to where the rest of the harp has settled, since there are fewer bass strings. I do this before I play each harp, and it only takes a few minutes. At least once a week, though, I use a Korg tuner to set the middle octave of each harp back to standard pitch, then tune the remaining strings of the harp by ear to this pitch. (I am a professional piano tuner, also, so “stretching the octaves” is something I automatically do with a good ear.) Believe me, harps are simple to tune compared to pianos!
For anyone who has not read my “Alternate Tuning for Lever Harps” forum, I have one lever harp tuned in the Key of C flat so that with two lever harps I can play in all keys. This is proving to be very handy, as I can make the decision which harp to take to a gig based on what keys I need to play in with other musicians.
Eric, when changing the pitch a semi-tone on my harps, I did exactly what you said about tuning all the strings of one name throughout the compass of the harp. That was a gentler way to get the harps used to the pitch change!
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