In looking at and listening to harps, it will quickly become clear to you that not all harp strings are the same. This is a brief description of the primary types of harp strings and where they are used. Within each type of string, there are a parameters, including vibrating length and diameter, that work together with the basic material to create the mass (think of it as structural weight) needed to produce a specific tone, voice and note.
A single strand of a specific type of tempered nylon. These are the strings found on most lever harps. Nylon strings have a clear, warm voice and are not particularly sensitive to changes in humidity. Monofilament nylon strings only need to be changed when they break.
A core of nylon monofilament string with a second monofilament nylon layer wound tight around it all the way up the entire vibrating length of the string. Again, these are commonly found on many types of lever harps. Nylon/Nylon wrapped strings also have a warm, clear voice and are a bit more impacted by humidity than monofilament. Nylon/nylon wrapped strings need to be changed if the wraps begin to wear heavily at the top of the string causing the wrap to loosen. If you play frequently than you might also want to consider changing these strings periodically, perhaps every two to three years.
Wire Wrapped Strings
As with nylon/nylon wrapped strings, wire wrapped strings are one strand of wire wrapped around a core of wire with a thin fiber bed between the two. The combinations of wire vary but one of the most common in lever harps is a steel core with a silk bed and a phosphor bronze wrap, abbreviated as “sfb.” Pedal harps also feature wire wrapped strings. Wire wrapped strings are used in the bass octaves of harps to drive the soundboard more dramatically in that range. We recommend changing wire wrapped strings if the wraps wear heavily at the top (causing the wrap to lose) or, if a harp is played frequently, about once a year.
Some General Notes
1. You will immediately notice that some strings are different colors on most types of harps. On lever harps, C is always red and F is always a dark color, usually dark blue. Colored strings on harps are a tradition which goes back, literally, thousands of years.
2. Every harp by every reasonably modern luthier was designed for a specific string set and these string sets are not interchangeable. In most cases, you will not only void any warranty on your harp but are likely to do damage to your instrument if you put strings on it other than the specified set.
3. If you do not know what strings belong on your harp, you need an expert. You can call Robinson’s Harp Shop in Mount Laguna, California at 619/473-8212. If you have a Harpsicle® Harps Line harp you can find all the strings for all of our models here.
4. You absolutely cannot assume that just because your harp has the same number of strings as another harp, it uses the same string set. String sets are not interchangeable between harps.