Although I have touched upon proper tuning techniques in the past including the last issue, I frequently see harps tuned improperly so this article will delve a bit deeper and could easily fill several pages. All harps should only be tuned in the open position. For pedal harps this means with all pedals up in the flat position and for lever harps the levers should not be engaging the string which is the down position with most brands of levers.
Why? You ask. The reason is because when a lever or pedal harp disc is engaging the string is gripping the string, think of it as clamping the string. I will use the word clamp for the balance of the article to mean that the lever or disk is engaged or gripping the string. If a string is clamped and you tighten the tuning pin to tune the string by taking it up to pitch there will be more tension above the clamp than below and when you disengage the clamp, the excess tension that was above the clamp will immediately add itself to the rest of the string, the result is that the string is now too sharp. Additionally, this clamp can hold the string so securely and when you drag the string though the closed clamp you are prematurely wearing out the sting at the clamped area—this means more frequent string replacement which is good for us string merchants but not so good for your budget. So for more accurate tuning and longer string life, ONLY TUNE IN THE OPEN POSITION.
On most harps, if your tuning pins turn easily your harp will go out of tune easily. This applies to tapered tuning pins as found on most harps and not threaded pins as found on harps by Dusty Strings, My Celtic and some by Harps and Harps. What is happening is that the string tension is subtlety (and sometimes not so subtlety) unwinding the pin. These pins are like a wedge and the deeper into the neck they are the tighter they will be. The proper way to get the pins in tighter is to back the pin off slightly and then while turning with a screwing action take the string up to pitch by applying inward pressure with the tuning key. You will need to brace the other side of the neck with your other hand. Although just pushing the tuning pin straight in may help but is not a long term solution, using this “screwing” action will seat the pin more firmly. Using the “screwing” action will be easier on your hand, wrist and arm in addition to doing a better job.
Experience has shown that for best results, always tune up rather than tuning down. If tuning up, you will be pulling the string over the bridge pin or the nut and the tuning will be more precise. If you tune down, there is the possibility that the string will not fully slide over but will slightly hang up on the bridge pin or nut and you may not be tuning the entire string. Another tip is to gently pull on the string once it is tuned and then check the tuning again otherwise the tuning may go flat while playing. The more you tune your harp the more it will stay in tune.