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Harp String Maintenance

Recently I went to the home of my friend S. to help replace some broken strings on her harp. She hadn’t played it in quite a while and when I got to her house I discovered that about 10 strings in the upper and midrange were broken and springing out in all directions. We searched through her spare set, found appropriate replacements and I knotted, strung and tuned them up. This is an old (early 1900’s) L&H semi-grand with a straight board. It’s a solid beast with smooth action that sounded rich and robust once it was back in tune.

early 1900's Lyon & Healy pedal harp
early 1900's L&H semi-grand


I reminded S. of the importance of replacing broken strings as soon as possible. On a fully-strung pedal harp tuned up to pitch there are approximately 2000 lbs. of tension pulling up on the soundboard. Gaps in the string band will cause uneven tension which, if left too long, can warp and eventually crack the board or the neck.

The previous owner of my 1917 Wurlitzer didn’t play the harp and used it only as a decorative objective in her living room for 50 years. She never tuned it or replaced strings as they broke so over the course of those five decades the soundboard warped and cracked. A small crack also developed in the neck. It was playable in this condition but delicate and its expected lifespan was questionable. If the harp had been regularly tuned and the broken strings replaced the original board would have been in much better shape. Howard Bryan replaced the neck and soundboard before I bought it so now, withe regular maintenance, it should have a long and happy life. Just like people, harps benefit from regular TLC.

1917 Wurlitzer harp before restoration1917 Wurlitzer harp after restoration
1917 Wurlitzer model I before and after restoration