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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Lyon & Healy Lever Harps: Pedal or Lever Strings?

Lever Harp Lineup at Lyon & Healy WestI was talking with a colleague over at harp.com, Lyon & Healy’s partner website for strings, accessories, and all things harp, and he told me that his customers frequently experience confusion over what type of strings to buy for their Lyon & Healy lever harp. Bow Brand, which produces strings for Lyon & Healy and harp.com, produces both pedal and lever harp strings.  The confusing thing is that many models of Lyon & Healy lever harp are designed to take pedal harp strings.

Lyon & Healy’s three current models of lever harp, the Troubadour, Prelude, and Ogden, are all string with pedal harp strings. The same is true of the Folk Harp, which is no longer produced, but there are still lots of them being played. Since Lyon & Healy is a pedal harp maker, they have long designed most models of lever harp they produce to have the same spacing, tension, and feel as their pedal harps. This eases the transition for a student who begins on lever harp and then progresses to a pedal harp once she has decided she’s crazy enough to stay with the harp. In esssence, these models of lever harp function as “starter” pedal harps as far as tension, sound, and feel are concerned.

Other models of Lyon & Healy lever harp were designed for the player who intends to stay with the lever harp. The Lyric and Shamrock are two examples. Both of these are strung with Bow Brand lever strings. The electric Silhouette is also strung with lever harp strings.

You don’t need to keep all of this information in your head if you generally order through harp.com. The site includes a form where you can select your model of harp and get a list of the appropriate strings. The problem arises, according to my friend who handles harp.com orders and shipping, is that many customers are confused when their order arrives and they find they’ve received a set of pedal harp strings for their lever harp. If you own an Ogden, Prelude, Troubadour, or Folk Harp, don’t send that order back! You’ve got exactly what you need.

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!

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.