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String Tying

Check out this new video series by Steve Moss. He recently gave a class on harp care at Lyon & Healy West where Michele Rasmussen took a few videos of him demonstrating techniques for tying harp string knots and securing a new string on the tuning pin.

Ever break a string and not know what to do? Ever have someone show you how to tie a knot in the end of your string and then not remember how to do it? Or not understand it in the first place? I can't guarantee that you'll get it this time, but let's try. I have been giving this workshop at the Somerset Harp Conferences for the past few years and many people have come up to me to say they finally understood how to put on a string. I even taught some under 12 year olds how to tie a string. Let's see if I can teach you.

As a disclaimer, I would like to say that there are many ways to tie harp strings. I'm not saying that this is the only way, nor am I saying that it is the best way. It's just the way that I have found to be the least troublesome and most successful for me. From that standpoint, we shall proceed.

You might want to check out the HELPFUL HINTS further down the page before starting.

Getting Started
Just for practice, cut yourself a piece of clear nylon string, let's say .032, about a foot long. If you are really changing a string, then don't cut off a piece, use the whole length of string.Then cut a tiny piece of let's say red .055 about an inch long. This will be your end stick. You can reverse these colors if you like, but it will be easier to talk about it with 2 different colors. You'll also need some small needle nose pliers that you can find at the hardware store or you can purchase from us. Go to our pricelist page to see a photo of them.

Now, looking at the drawing on the right, loop your string so it looks just like the picture. You'll need to make the second loop opposite from the first loop so that it makes a mirror image. Make sure the "smile" is in the front. Also think of the longer side of the string on the left and the shorter end on the right. The left end will be the side that actually goes into the harp and up to the tuning pin. Get it? Hope so. Figure 1
From the back of the first loop, put the second loop through the first loop. Figure 2
Pull the LEFT end of the string tight. I have drawn it a little loose, but you pull yours tight. Figure 3
Get the little 1 inch red stick and slip it through the front of the remaining large loop (originally our second loop). Figure 4
Holding the stick in place, pull the string to tighten the loop onto the stick. Figure 5
Now, holding the stick in place, grab a pair of needle nose pliers and pull the string, that's holding the stick, very tight. It should actually turn the stick clockwise thus securing the knot and making it so the stick won't fall out. Cut the end leaving about a 1/2 inch to avoid possible buzzing. Figure 6

You can then thread your string into the hole in the back of the harp and up to the tuning pin (see the first helpful hint for an easier way). If the red end stick didn't turn then it is apt to fall out while you thread the string through the hole.

Other helpful hints

  • When you're replacing the highest strings, you may have noticed that it is difficult to find the string hole from inside the sound box. One thing you can do is, before you tie your end knot, thread the string through the soundboard hole from the front of your soundboard. Pull the string through the back sound holes and then make your knot. This will only work if your string is long enough to allow you to make the knot without pulling it through the string hole. You may not understand what I'm talking about, but if it happens to you, I think you'll understand.
  • You may not need to use string ends for the higher gauge strings (lower sounding strings) like from .050, .055 etc, on up. Follow directions to figure 3, pull the left string tight and string it on up. If the knot comes through the grommet, you'll have to use a string end. Make sure it is stiff enough so as not to bend as you tighten the loop.
  • Another thing you can use for a string end is leather shoelaces cut into1 inch lengths. I have never tried toothpicks but I have heard they would work. Also the sticks between the cotton of Q-tips. In a pinch, you might need to get creative. Let me know if you come up with some great idea.

Tying the string onto the tuning pin
Now that you’ve got the knot tied at the end of the string, you’ll need to thread it through the tuning pin. Here’s what I do to cinch the knot on this end. This works for all strings but the bass wires (see below for these strings).
Line up the hole of the tuning pin so that it is vertical. Standing behind the harp, thread the string through the hole (it should be going straight up through the hole in the tuning pin) and pull it back towards you.
Then slip the string below the tuning pin and between the wooden neck of the harp and the string you just threaded up through the tuning pin. You will be pushing the string toward the front of the harp now.
Bring it up between the tuning pin you’re stringing and the tuning pin of the string one note below and pull it out away from the harp.
Begin tuning up the string. The first wind should catch around the end of the string. Make sure your winds go toward the neck of the harp as you tune (unless your pins are the type of pin that wants you to make the winds go away from the neck. I believe Tripplet pins are like this). Try to get a straight line from the tuning pin to the bridge pin, especially in the bass wires.
Using the cutters of the needle nose pliers, cut off all of the extra string to avoid any buzzing and to keep your harp tidy.

The Bass Wires
Pull the bass wire all the way through the tuning pin straight up. Cut it off 2-2 1/2" above the tuning pin. Push it back down so it is ALMOST flush with the tuning pin, just barely sticking out (less than the width of the string). Begin winding the slack around the tuning pin until you have it to pitch. This method helps to cut down on sharp edges cutting you or your case.


Tuning up new strings
New strings will need to stretch before they will hold a pitch for any length of time. You might want to over tune the string about 20-50 cents and then stretch it a little. It will again fall way below pitch. Do this a couple of times being careful not to stretch or over tune it too much or it may break. If you are in the middle of a performance, you’ll need to get it to hold pitch before you play so keep talking to the audience while you stretch and tune, stretch and tune.

I hope this has helped to get you on your way to tying harp strings. If you have questions, come to one of my workshops at the next confernce, visit our booth or call me and I'll help you out. If you already have a way that works for you, or if you find a better way, wonderful!


Trouble Shooting Some String Problems

Continued String Breakage
If the string breaks continually at the point of contact with the tuning pin, you might have a sharp edge where the string goes through the hole. To compensate for this, you can leave about a 1/2-1inch of slack before tuning up the string. This eases the point where it is sharp and usually takes care of the problem. And you can turn the tuning pin over so the sharp edge is on the other side.
The same might be true for strings that break at the soundboard. The bottom of the grommet may be cutting the string below the soundboard. To help this situation, put a leather washer between your string knot and the soundboard. You will need to put the washer on before you tie the string. You can get leather washers from Robinson's String Shop in California. (619 473-8556). If the string is breaking right above the soundboard you may need a new grommet, also available from Robinson's although you'll need to know if your grommet is small, medium, or large and if it is regular or heavy duty (they are not interchangeable).


If your string pops off the bridge pin
If there are too many winds of the string on the tuning pin, it may cause it to pop off the bridge pin. As the string stretches and tunes up to pitch, you may acquire more windings on the tuning pin then you want. The string is at too steep of an angle to the bridge pin and when you lever that string, it pops off the bridge pin. The solution is to completely unwind the string until it is going straight up out of the hole of the tuning pin. Pull it up through the tuning pin about 1/2 inch, re-wind the string and tune it back up. Cut off the extra 1/2 inch of string. This should take at least 1 wind out of the string and it should stay on the bridge pin.


If your tuning pins slip
Sometimes a tuning pin will slip due to changes in humidity. Most tuning pins are tapered like violin tuning pins. The pin gets larger in diameter on the side that the tuning key fits into. If you have a tapered tuning pin that keeps slipping, de-tune the string about a half of a turn and then as you turn the pin to tune the string back up, push the pin in. You should provide counter pressure by bracing the neck of the harp with your left hand, while pushing in with the key in your right.

You can also check the angle of the string to the neck. If the string angles towards the neck from the tuning pin, it could be putting back pressure on the tuning pin and pushing it out of the hole. This is more likely to happen in the low bass wires. The remedy here is to detune the string and stretch out the windings so they run straight up and down instead of at an angle. If there aren't enough windings, you probably have to put on a new string. Cut your string about 2" longer than the string length you need to allow for the extra windings.

 

The above tips and helpful hints are specifically taylored for Thormahlen Harps.

Hi Sharon
Just wanted to let you know I was sending you thanks as you helped me re-string a broken string this afternoon. Katie had forgotten to make a copy of directions for me and she suggested I check your website. I was thrilled to see not only directions but drawings as I struggled with that wiley string!!! The directions were clear, I got the string on without breaking it and played just to make sure that it stayed on. And yes, the Q tip stick worked great. I love my harp (still!!) and appreciate it everytime I look at it. Paula Caron Grantham, NH

 

Some suggestions on tuning your harp, back to the strings page or on to the page About Harps.



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