Wire harp conversion to nylon/gut?

  • Participant
    harpster on #220038

    Has anyone ever tried to put nylon or gut strings on a wire harp?

    I imagine the existing tuning pins would be too small – I wonder if it’s possible to modify a wire harp to fit alternative pins?

    The reason I ask is that I love my 30 string wire harp but have a new job where I can’t have any length of nails at all.

    Ideas and thoughts would be welcome, thanks!

    Participant
    Tacye on #220058

    What sort of wire and wire harp? Can you ask the maker if anyone is known to have tried this? I have put brass on a nylon harp increasing the tension considerably, so the other way should be kinder to the harp. But it won’t be the harp you know and love, it will sound and feel quite different – maybe you will like it, maybe not. It will probably not be as nice as something designed for the strings it has. With nylon or gut it will probably want a much higher sounding pitch.

    What is small about the tuning pins? The hole?

    Participant
    Biagio on #220071

    Four octraves is fairly large for a wire strung – who was the manufacturer? It will help us to answer your questions if we know that. I recall a Cunningham of about that size that I modified with no changes except the the strings and it sounded fine.

    It is easier to modify a wire harp to nylon than the other way around, but how it will sound depends a good deal on how the sound board is constructed. In any case the new range would be higher with nylon or gut that the current one, typically by 3-5 steps.

    You can generally replace tuning pegs if necessary, although that may require re-boring and tapering the holes. Dusty Strings and Musicmakers both carry threaded pegs which do not use tapered holes. They take a size D bit – 0.246″ so if the existing ones are less than that you’re OK. Other considerations:

    Does this harp have bridge pins (most wire harps do not)? Is there enough wood to allow for levers?

    Might it be more economical to just buy another (nylon strung) harp?

    So, the answer is “Yes you can probably modify it” but take it to a harp maker for specific advice.

    Participant
    harpster on #220073

    Thanks for your thoughts, guys! The maker of my harp is William MacDonald, of Skye. It’s his 30 string Scathach model.
    Having considered what you’ve said above, I will probably leave it as original, as it is really a lovely
    harp! There’s a short video of it on William’s YouTube channel.
    It doesn’t have bridge pins or enough space for levers. So as you suggest, might be more sensible to buy a nylon string! And maybe try ways of playing wire without nails.
    Thanks again for your helpful replies!

    Participant
    Biagio on #220074

    William makes beautiful harps so it would be a shame to try modifying it, agreed! I do sometimes play my wire harps with the pads and while the tone is muted it still sounds pretty good. So don’t despair for that reason!

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    Participant
    Tacye on #220075

    Have you thought about trying these sort of things? I would probably opt for plastic over metal as you don’t have steel strings.

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Alaska-Pick-Guitar-Banjo-Finger-Pick-Only-Pay-One-P-P-Each-Additional-Free-P-P-/260834596531

    Participant
    harpster on #220076

    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll give those a go!

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