Refreshing Your Harp Strings

Stacks of new harp strings by octave

How often do you change your harp strings?

When they break?
When they sound dull?
Or do you have a schedule?

Harp strings have a specific, semi-predictable lifespan, depending on the material of the string. Now, it will vary some based on climate, amount it is played, etc., but all strings eventually lose their bright sound. Like the old story about a frog slowly boiling in a pot, you don’t necessarily notice the strings losing their sound quality, as it happens over time.

I have heard harpists brag that in X years they have only had to change X strings. While none of us enjoy strings breaking, keeping those same old strings on the harp for years is not necessarily a good thing.

When one of my lever harp students puts on new strings, they are always shocked with how much brighter the harp sounds. While they may not have had a problem with the sound before, they had no idea that they were not letting the harp be at its full potential.

So how do you know when it’s time to change the strings?

I have string charts for all my harps. On them, I write down the date that I installed each string. When one breaks and I replace it, I erase the date and write in the new one. About once a year (ok, sometimes less often), I look through my chart and see what strings are past due for replacing and change them out. This ensures I have crisp, clear tone on my strings. Some professional harpists do a full change all at once every year or every other year.

discoloration on wire pedal harp strings

Wire harp strings showing discoloration

I also look over each string and look for ones that appear worn. This could be fraying on a gut string, visible indentations on a nylon string, discoloration on a wire string, etc. Look especially at the part of the string that gets pressed by the lever or pedal disk as that is where it is likely to wear down first. By replacing them when you notice the wear, you avoid the surprise of a broken string at the wrong moment, such as during a performance (or even practice). While it can still happen even with new strings, the likelihood dramatically decreases.

You may be wondering, what about the cost? Nylon strings are not very expensive, and when you buy one you usually get enough length to use 2 or even 3 times. If you spent $1.50 on the string and use it 3 times, it’s only 50 cents for each time. If you replace it every 2 years, it comes out to 25 cents per year for that string. So at least for the top register, there is no excuse for holding onto the same string for years and years.

Want to see the string chart I use and my recommendations for how often to replace different string types? Use the contact page to message me with the type of harp you play (lever or pedal and number of strings) and I will email my chart to you for free!

So what about you? How often do you change your harp strings? What advice can you share with other harpists?