How to Replace a Bass Wire

Since a harp’s bass wires are thicker and stiffer than the rest of its strings, many harpists choose to avoid replacing their own, preferring to have a technician do the job during a regulation. But if you’d like to do it yourself, or one breaks and you have to do it for yourself, here are some tips to make the job go more smoothly.

Removing the Old Wire

If the old wire isn’t broken, use your tuning key to unwind it from the tuning pin, while pulling it away from the harp with your left hand. This will help the wire uncoil from the pin, and will help prevent the sharp end of the wire from scratching your harp’s finish. When the wire is ready to come loose from the pin, pull it away from the harp. Coiled wire can have a mind of its own, so you want to keep it away from the instrument as soon as it comes loose from the tuning pin.

If the old wire is broken you can uncoil it from the tuning pin and pull it off the harp, pulling away from the harp as above to prevent scratching. If the wire breaks just under the coil, you will probably need to use a pair of pliers to uncoil it and work it out of the tuning pin.

Once the wire is loose from the pin, cut off the coiled end so that you can pull the rest of the wire through its hole in the soundboard.

pull-away

While uncoiling the wire from the tuning pin, pull away from the harp to keep the sharp wire end from scratching the finish.

Installing the new wire

Make sure you have the correct wire. Each one is different, and installing the wrong one can put undue strain on the instrument. Grasping the end of the new wire, reach inside your harp’s body through a soundhole and locate the proper hole for the wire. I often place the tip of a finger over the end of the string to prevent it from scratching wood on the way in through the soundhole. Insert it in the correct string hole and pull the wire all the way through until its ball end stops against the inside of the soundboard. Give it a good pull to be sure it is seated, especially if it is a thick wire and you felt some resistance as you pulled it into place.

Orient the holes in your tuning pin so they are pointing straight up and down. Feed the wire end through the tuning pin and pull it tight. There should be six inches or more of excess wire that has passed through the pin. Now you will need to let out some slack to allow the wire to coil around the tuning pin. You are aiming to coil the wire around the pin about three times once the wire is tuned to pitch. Place your left hand above the tuning pin and measure about three fingers of wire. If you feel your fingers are extra slim or extra thick, adjust up or down a little. You will learn the best amount with practice. Now let the wire down by the amount you measured. Once you’ve done this, bend the wasted end of the wire at the tip of the tuning pin to mark the length you’ve chosen for it.

Measure "three fingers" worth of slack on the wire, then let it back down through the tuning pin hole.

Measure “three fingers” worth of slack on the wire, then let it back down through the tuning pin hole.

 

After letting the slack through the pin, bend the wire above the pin to mark then intended length of the wire.

After letting the slack through the pin, bend the wire above the pin to mark then intended length of the wire.

Next you need to start turning the pin and coiling the wire onto it. This is the trickiest part. The stiff wire will resist your efforts to coax it into a coil. As you turn the tuning key with your right hand, use your left to “herd” the wire into a coil. As much as this motion may feel tentative at first, it is actually easier if you go fairly quickly. This allows the wire less time to fight your efforts to control it.

Once the wire is under some tension, make sure it is properly aligned through the discs or levers, and seated where it belongs on the nut. Tune it up to pitch. It will require several tunings before it holds well, but it does settle much faster than gut or nylon strings, and should be stable within a day or two.

Keep your fingers on the wire to help guide it into a coil as you turn the tuning pin.

Keep your fingers on the wire to help guide it into a coil as you turn the tuning pin.

When you’re finished, cut off the excess wire. A heavy duty end nipper makes this job easier on your hands. I recommend the Channellock.

If you need to replace all of your wires, or want to practice this skill, start with the highest, thinnest wire. It will be the easiest to work on, and will help you gain some confidence before you tackle the really thick strings lower down. Take only a small number of wires off the harp at the time to minimize disruption in tuning stability. I usually replace four wires at a time, but if you’re new to this, try one or two at a time.

Safety First

Protect your eyes when replacing wires! those dangling ends can put an eye out, and when cutting off the excess, I’ve had bits of wire fly at my eyes. Wear safety glasses or goggles. Also, consider wearing gloves. Those wire ends are sharp.

Good luck!

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Baby it’s Cold Outside!

The Holiday season means lots of harp gigs. But what about all that cold and snow? (Photo by Meg Rodgers)

The Holiday season means lots of harp gigs. But what about all that cold and snow?
(Photo by Meg Rodgers)

As we head toward the holiday season, and it starts to get cold in many parts of the northern hemisphere, a question I am asked a lot is whether it is safe to move a harp on very cold days. Fortunately, as long as you take basic precautions, the answer is yes.

You may have heard that cold weather can have a negative impact on a harp and its finish. Many harp makers do not ship their products in weather below freezing. However, it’s perfectly fine for you to take your harp to an office Christmas party or three. The difference lies in how long the harp is exposed to the elements. Several days in an unheated freight truck can be very damaging to a harp. But if all you need to do is wheel your harp from a warm car to a warm building, the elements will not have enough time to affect it. The harp is large enough to maintain its ambient temperature for the few minutes it will take you to go from house to car and then car to gig.

The thing you don’t want to do is leave the harp in a cold place, such as your garage, for hours. In that case, it might get as cold as the air around it, and the finish–even the wood itself–can crack. A good rule of thumb is to remember that your harp belongs in places where you yourself are physically comfortable. If it is too cold for you to sleep in your garage, it’s too cold for your harp as well.

Another point to remember is the importance of covering the harp to protect it from rain or snow. In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the importance of purchasing a three piece transport cover if you will move your harp with any regularity. This goes doubly for place where it rains or snows a lot. Again, if you need to put on a coat, so does your instrument.

Other than that, there’s nothing to worry about. The holiday season is the busiest of all for most of the working harpists I know, and harps are constantly being moved around in the winter. So take that harp with you to the party and enjoy yourself!

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Moving Matters: The Three Piece Transport Cover

3-piece

The three piece harp transport cover is essential gear for harp moving.

 

If you play your harp for any length of time, someone is inevitably going to ask you to bring it to play at their wedding or other social function. If you’re not used to harp moving, the prospect can seem daunting. But with a little knowledge and preparation, you can take your harp anywhere you want.

There are several aspects of harp moving that I intend to cover in future articles, but for now I’d like to discuss the merits of investing in a three piece transport cover.

When new and used harps are sold, they often come with a lightweight dust cover, made of a thick fabric such as canvas which is designed primarily to keep harps from getting dusty. Some basic covers, such as the black ones that currently come with new Lyon & Healy harps, offer a thin layer of padding underneath durable fabric. While any cover is better than nothing when transporting your instrument, none of these provide the ideal amount of protection from trauma and the elements as full transport covers.

The Three Piece Cover

Transport covers typically come in three-piece sets: a base cover, a column cover, and the big mitten-shaped harp cover. Lyon & Healy and Salvi Transport covers are various shades of blue. Most of the Venus covers I’ve seen are black, while Camac seems to prefer a shade of maroon. No matter the color, it is the additional protection of the separate pieces, especially the bass cover, that I recommend investing in if you plan to move your instrument with any regularity.

The transport cover has dedicated sections for the column and base, as well as a main cover.

The transport cover has dedicated sections for the column and base, as well as a main cover.

Cover Your Bases

Loading a harp in your vehicle often involves tipping it over and laying it against the tailgate before lifting it in. As you pivot the harp on the pavement where you are parked, the harp is vulnerable to scratches and scrapes from the road. If it is raining or snowing as you load your harp, you have the added problem of moisture getting on your harp’s base. Using a base cover will protect the harp from both the vagaries of pavement and the elements as you get it into your car.

Cover Everything

What I just said about the cover goes for the rest of the harp as well. Transport covers offer additional padding and protection from the elements. They also zip more securely over the column, whereas the basic covers often close with a Velcro strip. Using a transport cover will cut down greatly on wear and tear as you move your instrument here and there.

A floor mat or carpet remnant can help protect your harp from pavement during loading.

A floor mat or carpet remnant can help protect your harp from pavement during loading.

Doing Without

If a transport cover is something you simply can’t afford right now, or you almost never move your harp (except for your regular regulation appointments, I hope!), there are ways to safely move without a transport cover. Your first concern is protecting the base as you pivot into the vehicle. The best way to do this is to put down a carpet remnant or floor mat and set your harp on that. This will minimize any scratching from the pavement and may offer some protection against moisture as well. The second concern is padding. If you can’t put a padded cover on the harp, put padding in the vehicle. A thin mattress and some strategically placed pillows can protect it from harm and soften the bumps in the road. Don’t overdo the padding, though. You don’t want the harp on a big pile of fluffy pillows that will render it unstable.

A Great Investment

Sure, you can get by without proper covers, but I recommend doing so only until you can save up enough money to buy them. They will protect your harp and make your moves more hassle free. And you’ll never get tired of people asking you why you’re moving a gigantic oven mitt! Okay, that’s not true. You’ll get tired of that pretty quickly. But get the cover anyway. I said so.

PS: No one paid me to write this article, and I don’t earn a commission from anyone when you buy a cover. I recommend them because I think they’re worth owning. See you on the road!