For those learning to play the harp, broken strings are a new problem.
Once you’ve got the hang of replacing them, you can mend a snapped or snagged string in no time.
However, it can be a tricky thing to learn when you’re just starting out.
Like guitars, violins and cellos, the strings on a harp just happen to break sometimes and there’s not much a player can do to avoid it. All harp strings wear.
Over time, they become degraded and vulnerable to pressure. So, even if you protect your instrument by storing it in perfect conditions, you’ll need to know how to change a string eventually.
Replacing Your Harp Strings
This is our simple guide to replacing a broken string on a harp in the fastest way possible.
Follow step by step to successfully change your harp strings.
Step One – Prepare the Right Length of String
First, make sure the replacement string you have is long enough to match the broken one.
Typically, harp string is sold in lengths of 4 feet and this is enough to replace a treble or mid range string twice or even three times.
If you need to replace one of the lower bass end strings, however, you might only get one replacement out of it.
The replacement string must be long enough to stretch from the eyelet to the tuning pin.
There should also be enough ‘spare’ string left to reach the tuning pin and tie a knot to keep the whole thing tight and secure (around four additional inches).
Step Two – Tie the Knot (this is tricky!)
Start by threading your harp’s replacement string through the hole on the soundboard. It should go in through the soundboard and be pulled right out through the back.
The best way to securely tie a harp string is with a bowline knot. If you’re not sure how to do this, we recommend you watch a video with a clear example.
We’ll attempt to describe the bowline technique but it’s easier to learn if you can see it happening in front of you.
Lay the string across your hand with the loose end hanging off your palm.
Fashion a small loop in the line. Bring the loose end upwards and pass it through the loop’s eye (sometimes known as ‘rabbit coming out of a hole’) from the underside.
Now, wrap the string around the standing line and back down through the loop (sometimes called ‘around the tree and down the hole’).
Hold the standing line and pull on the string’s free end to tighten the bowline.
You’ll need a spare piece of string (use an intact piece of the broken string as long as it is strong enough) to create an ‘anchor’ for hitching the bowline to the tuning pin.
Step Three – Hitch the String to the Pin
Once your bowline is tight enough, thread the string back through the harp’s soundboard. You’ll know the knot is holding if you can feel it tugging at the back.
Now, thread the string past the semitone lever. The lever should be open as you do this. Pull it past the bridge pin and right up to the corresponding tuning pin.
You’ll find the next part easier if the holes in the pin are already facing downwards. It will enable you to pull the string through the holes without meeting any obstructions.
Keep threading the string through the hole until it feels taut. While maintaining this tautness, measure around 1 ½ inches (two fingers width) of string above the top of the pin.
Anything above this point you can snip off with scissors or wire cutters.
Step Four – Wind the String Around the Pin
Pull the string back down through the tuning pin until there’s around ¼ inch left sticking out above the pin and the line feels less taut.
Stand behind the harp and use your tuning key to turn the tuning pin away from you. This will slowly twist the new string around the pin.
The pitch of the string will increase as it coils and turns.
All you have to do now in tune your harp.
How Long Do Harp Strings Last?
This is a difficult question because it depends on so many different variables with improper storage being one of the most common reasons for breakages.
The lifespan of a harp string is affected by how roughly you play it, how often you play it, how you store it when not in use, the overall quality of the instrument and strings and how well you applied the string to the harp in the first place.
All of these factors have an impact on how long you can use a harp string before it snaps.
However, it’s also important to realize harp strings will wear even without your intervention.
Most musicians and string makers agree nylon harp strings have a shelf life of around five years if they’re not being played. Authentic gut strings are more delicate and last approximately a year.
Ultimately, playing a harp string puts a great deal of stress on it (if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to produce such lovely sounds).
If you’re playing with any regularity, expect strings to break before they get anywhere near five years old.
If you’re lucky and your harp strings stay intact all year, it’s still a good idea to replace them.
As a general rule, frequent players should consider replacing the old strings (even if they’re not broken) with new ones once every twelve months.
The top two octaves may require more attention; harpists who play consistently tend to change these twice per year.
How Much Do Harp Strings Usually Cost?
Harp strings don’t come cheap because they need to be of a fine quality to withstand that vigorous plucking.
On average, a full gut string set (from 00G to 5th Octave A) will cost you approximately $400. Individual gut octave strings range from $6 to $30 depending on which octave string you need to purchase.
You usually have an option for buying strings with or without wires. If you get them with wires they are significantly more expensive.
Finally you now know how to successfully replace and change your string on your harp.
Depending on how many harp strings you have can determine how much time and money you have to keep putting into your harp so be prepared.
We hope you learned some more important information about them as well.
Remember to always care for your strings and try to maintain them as long as possible.