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Harps and harps about us 1

The many types of strings

This edition will address some questions received about various harp strings.

There are now a number of different types of strings available for harps and this can create some confusion. When we talk about what a harp is strung with, the reference is to the strings that prevail in the mid-section.  Wound metal strings are usually found in the bass and often nylon in the top octave irrespective of the strings in the mid-section.

Most pedal harps are designed to be strung with gut strings, which are higher tension than the same gauge nylon strings. There are two categories of gut strings: pedal and lever. Lever gut strings are sometimes called “folk gut”. Lever gut strings are lighter tension than pedal gut. Most gut strings are pedal gut strings by default unless they have “lever or folk gut” in the name. Gut strings are made from animal fibres (intestines) and can be left raw or more commonly varnished or oiled. Not to add confusion, but it is also possible to get pedal harp strings which are slightly lighter or slightly heavier tension than the standard pedal harp strings. Nylon strings are also available with pedal harp tension.

Many folk, lever or Celtic harps are strung with nylon. The general monofilament (mono) nylon strings are made from DuPont Tynex a special hard nylon designed for brushes and musical grade instrument strings. These differ from nylon fishing line in that the fishing line is designed to stretch when a fish latches on to the line but the stretching is not desirable when you are attempting to tune a harp. These strings are offered in standard gauges dictated by the manufacturer. The common nylon strings are extruded and there are also propriety nylon strings such as those made by Pirastro or Savarez which are rectified, that is they are ground to a perfectly round, polished and consistent string and are available in a wider range of gauges. The rectified strings cost more but some people feel that they have a better feel and sound.

There are a number of synthetic string types available.

So-called “carbon strings” strings are actually fluorocarbon which is different than carbon.  They are a synthetic string a kind of polymer named polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), now better known as fluorocarbon and developed by the Kureha company and thus the KF in the description. They have a high resistance to humidity, finger oils, solvents, and UV.  The ‘Alliance’ brand by Savarez has a higher density than nylon or gut and lasts longer than either under a variety of conditions. The tone of the ‘carbon’ string is focused and clear and generally sounds brighter than gut or nylon to many. The strings are thinner than nylon or gut for a given note.  There are also generic fluorocarbon strings.

Another synthetic string, developed by the Aquila company, is NylGut or called SilkGut by Bow Brand for lever tension. It is a close substitute for natural gut strings and available in both pedal and lever tensions. NylGut is distinguishable by its milk-white colour, has a specific density and acoustical qualities nearly identical to that of gut, and is a true synthetic version of the natural product.  NylGut is not nylon but a patented “secret” material most likely a polydactyl material.

There are also metal wound strings as found in the bass of most harps and sometimes other various combinations of wrapped strings used in transition such as nylon, steel or bronze core wrapped with nylon.  And of course, metal strings, usually bronze found on metal strung harps.

While some people feel that gut gives a warmer sound, at the same time the natural gut is more affected by moisture and humidity.  They do tend to break more often and are more expensive to replace. The nylon and synthetic strings are more resistant to moisture and tend to last longer. All strings should be stored out of direct sunlight and natural gut strings in airtight packages.

As a follow up from the last article, I mentioned loading your harp on its side with the discs or levers up.  This was written for the average harp players vehicle. If your harp is being transported in a large van, then, by all means, a good way is to have the harp standing upright and then secured so that it will not tip over.