The Harp Care DVD is Now Available.

For the past seven months or more, I’ve been at work on a DVD that answers all of the most common harp-related questions people ask me, like “how do I replace a harp string?” or “what’s the best way to load my harp in the car?”

I’m proud to say that the project is complete and Harp Care with Steve Moss is now available. this 85-minute DVD features detailed instructions on harp tuning, cleaning, restringing, and moving. If you’ve just bought a harp, or are about to, Harp Care will answer all the questions you don’t even know how to ask yet.

I shot the footage in Salt Lake City with the help of good friends like Catharine Delong and Eliza Hintze, and with an excellent film crew headed by Heather Aoyagi. Ann Hintze Rodriquez did the jacket design and the fabulous Mary and Craig Bircher contributed music. I’m proud of what we came up with, and I hope that you will like it too. You can view the introduction and place an order online here.

Let me know what you think!

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Does a Harp Regulation Include all new Strings?

Harp Stringing toolsPeople often ask me if I’ll replace all the strings when they bring their harp in for a regulation. A smaller number of people assume that a regulation includes all new strings and are surprised (and disappointed) to find out that this isn’t the case. While I may replace a string or two at a regulation appointment, and I’ll often replace the bass wires, complete restringing requires a significant additional investment of time, and thus carries an extra labor charge. Then there’s the strings, which on a full sized pedal harp can cost close to $500 for a full set.

I am always glad when my customers are willing to invest in new strings. A lot of harpists tend to leave strings on their harps longer than they should. I often work on harps whose strings have lost much of their tonal quality and sustain. I am happy to schedule the additional time to restring a harp before regulating it. However, I can’t offer the same-day service I can offer for a standard regulation. In order to completely restring and regulate a harp, I generally request that the customer leave it with me for three days.

The reason for this time lag is that brand new harp strings don’t hold their tuning well enough for me to accurately regulate the harp’s intonation. Ideally, there should be a two-week lag  between the day a harp is restrung and the day it is regulated, and someone should tune the new strings at least once a day.

Since my road service regulation stops rarely last two weeks, I have to compress this “string settling and stretching” period down to a couple of days. I do this by tuning the harp over and over, accelerating the settling process. After two days of intensive tuning, while the strings will still stretch to some degree, they will hold their tuning well enough to complete the pitch regulation process.

If you are interested in having your harp both restrung and regulated, please contact me in advance. We’ll need to work out a time for you to leave the harp with me, and there are decisions to make about which strings to order. You can use strings you already have on hand, but I caution you not to bother with them if they are more than five years old. Strings age even sealed in a package, so if your spare set goes back more than that, it’s better to throw them out and start fresh.

Lever Gut vs. Pedal Gut: Which Harp String Do You Need?

Lever Harps in the Lyon & Healy West Showroom

Lever Harps in the Lyon & Healy West Showroom

If you play a Lyon & Healy or Salvi lever harp, you may have noticed that these manufacturers, through their sister company, Bow Brand Strings, produce both “Lever Gut” and “Pedal Gut” strings. You might think that if you own a lever harp, you will want to buy lever gut strings, but it ain’t necessarily so.

Both Lyon & Healy and Salvi produce two varieties of lever harp. Many of the best-known models, such as the Lyon & Healy Prelude, Troubadour, and Ogden, and the Salvi Ana, are designed as “starter pedal harps.”  While they have no pedals,  they are strung with pedal harp strings and mimic the tension, string spacing, and feel of a pedal harp.

Other models, such as the Lyon & Healy Lyric and the Salvi Egan, are designed with folk and Celtic harpers in mind. They are generally lighter in construction and easier to carry, and they feature a lower string tension for easier playing and a brighter sound.

The Lever Gut strings produced by Bow Brand (and available through harp.com, among others) are designed for use with these folk and Celtic harps.

If you’re unsure of what strings to order for your harp, contact Lyon & Healy West. They can advise you over the phone, and send you a chart that shows which strings to buy for each model of Lyon & Healy and Salvi lever harp. No matter what make of harp you play, it’s a great idea to contact the maker and request a stringing chart if you don’t already have one. It’ll make replacing strings that much easier when the time comes.

Replacing Harp Strings 102: 4th and 5th Octave Knots

Here’s another of the great videos Michele Rassmussen shot at a harp care class I gave at Lyon & Healy West. Here, I focus on the knot used to anchor 4th and 5th octave nylon or gut strings. While you would use a string anchor of some kind to tie strings in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd octaves (I use one-inch pieces of 5th octave A,B, and C gut strings), the 4th and 5th octave strings are so thick that no anchor is necessary, and using one only makes the whole operation that much more difficult.

One of the trickiest things about the larger gut strings is how stiff and strong they are. The key to coaxing them into a knot is to weaken the part you want to work with by pulling it between your finger and thumb with a slight bending motion, as you see in the video. When you’ve done this successfully, the gut will turn from opaque to white. The trick, which comes with practice, is in not weakening any more of the string than you need to tie your knot.

With the larger nylon strings, you have the opposite problem. There is nothing you can do to weaken the nylon, so it keeps fighting back. Learning to tie them takes practice and patience. Or, if you prefer, you can avoid them and only string your 4th and 5th octaves in gut. I know gut is much more expensive, but nylon strings in this register really don’t sound good on pedal harps (and pedal-tensioned lever harps). And no, the string makers are not paying me to say this!

Replacing Harp Strings 101: Tying String Knots

During a  harp care class I gave at Lyon & Healy West in Salt Lake City, one of the attendees, Michele Rasmussen, was kind enough to shoot a few videos of me demonstrating some techniques for replacing harp strings. The videos came out great so I thought I’d post them here and include some additional explanation as well. The first one is shown above. You can find the next one here.

For a much more comprehensive demonstration of string replacement, Check out my DVD:  Harp Care with Steve Moss. You’ll be restringing like the pros in no time.
Click here to learn more about the DVD.

The technique shown in this video applies to the first, second, and third octaves (and the “zero octave” F and G strings at the top of some harps). For these octaves, it’s important to use some kind of anchor that is thicker than the string you’re using, to insure that the string knot doesn’t pull into the hole and get stuck there. Trust me, you don’t want THAT to happen!

My anchor of choice is a one inch (2.5 cm) piece of 5th octave A,B, or C string, the three thickest gut strings on the harp. At Lyon & Healy we were trained that only these three strings were thick enough to provide a stable anchor. I haven’t tested this for myself, but I have seen instances where harps were anchored with thinner strings, and you can see them bend under the string tension. If they’re bending, do you think that string is going to stay in tune?

The video shows how I tie the knot around the anchor. I’m using a piece of nylon here. The same technique works for gut strings, but they’re a little trickier to work with because they’re stiffer. Stay tuned for another video in this series where I demonstrate tying 4th and 5th octave string knots. There, I use a gut string and you can see the technique for breaking the integrity of the gut fibers so you can form the necessary loops for your knot. If you don’t want to wait for that blog post, you can watch all three videos now on this web page.

Pedal Harp Stringing: Nylon or Gut? Part 3

Should you use gut or nylon strings?

Should you use gut or nylon strings?

In the last two posts, I have discussed some of the differences between nylon and gut harp strings. I strongly recommended that, despite their significantly higher cost, all harpists use gut strings in the fifth through the third octaves. In this range, gut strings provide more dynamic range, a richer, clearer sound, and more accurate intonation.

If gut strings are so much better, shouldn’t they be used in every octave? Not necessarily. Let’s consider the first and second octaves in turn.

Every new pedal harp I know of comes with nylon strings installed in the first octave, and the vast majority of harpists keep their harps’ first octaves strung in nylon. Why? For one thing, gut strings in this register are pretty fragile and subject to breakage. For another, the qualitative difference in sound that I have discussed between gut and nylon strings is far less pronounced in this range. I have mentioned before that nylon strings have a more complex, or layered sound, with greater emphasis on partial pitches, or overtones. In the first octave, though, many of these overtones are so high the human ear doesn’t hear them, so the string’s fundamental pitch is more prominent by default. Those overtones that our ear does perceive tend to give first octave nylon strings a brighter sound than gut strings, and this makes them more distinct and easier to hear, especially in ensemble situations. So, while you might wish to experiment with gut strings in your first octave, I generally recommend nylon strings.

New pedal harps are delivered with gut strings in the second octave, but you will run into quite a few harpists who have replaced these with nylon strings. For many people, this is an economic decision, and this makes sense. In the second octave, nylon strings give a strong, reasonably clean sound, with acceptable intonation. They are certainly worth a try. If they sound just as good to your ear as gut strings, then by all means use them, as you’ll save some money. Some harpists, though, are sticklers for intonation, and if you are one of them I’d encourage you to use gut strings in the second octave. Gut strings can be regulated more accurately than nylon strings. Since they flex less, their intonation will vary less as your dynamics change, while a nylon string played fortissimo will then to sound flatter than the same string played mezzo piano. If you are a newer or casual player with a soft touch, you will demand less from your harp, and nylon strings may serve you just fine.

I have talked to a number of symphony harpists who prefer nylon strings in the second octave because their brighter quality helps them “cut through” the other instruments in the orchestra, and in this context the harp needs all the help it can get. If you play in a lot of orchestral or other group situations, you may want to try nylon strings in your second octave to see if they give your sound an extra boost.

To sum up, then, I encourage most harpists to use gut strings in the third, fourth, and fifth octaves, and nylon strings in the first octave (and “zero” octave). Your choice in the second octave depends on your preference and your situation, so I would encourage you to experiment with both.

Pedal Harp Stringing: Gut or Nylon? Part 2

Should you use gut or nylon strings?

Should you use gut or nylon strings?

Welcome to the second installment in a series of posts about pedal harp strings. In my last post, I discussed some of the structural differences between gut and nylon strings, and how these differences translate to differences in sound character.  To recap, gut strings do not flex as much as nylon strings when played, resulting in a cleaner, more prominent fundamental pitch. Nylon strings stretch laterally when played, resulting in a more complex sound, with a weaker fundamental and a more prominent array of partial pitches or overtones.

This difference in elasticity also translates to a difference in intonation. In my opinion, the intonation of a string  (i.e. how “in tune” the flat, natural, and sharp positions are, relative to one another) can be set more accurately with a gut string than a nylon string. In other words, in general, a harp that is strung in gut will play more in tune than one strung in nylon. Yes, it turns out that the extra expense of a gut string does make a difference. But this doesn’t mean everyone should string their harps in gut in every octave. There are other factors at work, which vary by octave. So let’s focus in on different areas of the harp.

From the fifth octave A through the third octave on any pedal harp, I HIGHLY recommend that all harpists use GUT strings. Why? First and foremost, they have a far superior sound over nylon strings. since nylon strings flex more, I believe they dissipate some of their playing energy, and lose their power to vibrate the harp’s soundboard as much as a gut string will. It is very difficult to get any volume out of a nylon string in these octaves, especially in the fourth and fifth octaves. If you try to play the string really hard, its elasticity will cause it to slap against a disc and cause a buzz, and if you play it mezzo forte or below, it won’t produce any sound.If you do play a nylon string hard enough to get some volume, all the extra lateral stretching I mentioned will mean prominent overtones, which will cloud the fundamental, meaning the pitch will sound like several pitches at once.

In addition, as I said, nylon strings cannot be regulated as accurately as gut strings, especially in the sharp position. With their greater tendency to stretch, nylon strings require a higher degree of grip, or twist, on the discs, to hold them in position. Greater disc grip translates to a sharper pitch, so the regulation on a nylon string in the third through fifth octaves will tend to be sharper than on the same harp strung in gut.

So, in my opinion, you do get what you pay for, and it is worth the extra money to use gut strings in the third, fourth, and fifth octaves. I don’t necessarily give the same advice for the first and second octaves, however. We’ll focus on those in the next post.