The discerning amongst you might have noticed that my lever harp has an unusual sound and the reason for that is because I have customised the string set up. I've blogged a fair bit on the re-stringing process before here on Harpyness, but I wanted to share what the final string set up is and more importantly WHY I've done this.
I've always been after a very particular sound on lever harp, and I really loved the sound of my little 27 string Camac Bardic, but I wanted a 34 lever harp with a slightly brighter sound then the Bardic, I never really found the sound I heard in my head by any of the main harp makers but I had a feeling that the Starfish Glenelle was the closest. Although it is an absolutely FANTASTIC harp, the sound of it wasn't quite what I was after though.
I was very fortunate to be given some money by my Dad after my Mum passed away, and he wanted me to do something 'harpy' with it. So after much thought I decided to place my order with Starfish for one of their harps as his gift covered the cost.. I asked them if they would make me a Glenelle but use carbon fibre strings instead of the gut strings which they are designed for. Understandably they weren't keen, but after some persuasion made the harp and strung it with carbon fibre strings.
They have a really long waiting list, and eventually the harp arrived which was mega exciting, but it just didn't sound quite right to me with the strings they put on, and some of the strings just kept breaking. I waited about 6 months thinking maybe it would settle in, and the sound would change but it just didn't work. I talked to my Dad about my reservations and that I might experiment with the stringing and he encouraged me to go for it. And so began my re-stringing journey, which I have posted about previously.
It's been a slightly scary journey to undertake, and one that I wouldn't recommend as at times it was down right terrifying to be playing about with what is essentially an amazing instrument. The scariest moment was when I had to take off the levers, plug in the screw holes with filler and re-drill new holes to re-sit the levers to get the correct regulation. I felt physically sick during the entire process with the potentially foolhardiness of the whole undertaking. HOWEVER I am absolutely delighted with the result as it's created, for me the sound I was after.
The sparkle and lightness you get from nylon in the top range...
...but with enough warmth, earthiness and graduation through the lower register to the bass without any of that brightness you can sometimes get with lever bass wires.
...but with enough strength and "guts' in the strings to be able to cope with me not only playing around doing extended techniques, but also being able to 'give it some welly' and go for it.
So WHY do this? This was of course the first question the good people at Starfish asked, what was wrong with the sound of their harp as it was? There isn't anything at all wrong with the sound. The Glenelle is an amazing harp with an incredible sound with gut strings. YES, I could have ordered a Glenelle with their stringing and I would have been really happy with the sound. BUT, and it's a very big but in the equation...
Just after my Dad gave me that money he went a bit off the rails and wasn't quite right. To be honest it was a gradual thing over many years but you just don't notice the slide really so no-one was surprised when eventually he got his Dementia diagnosis. He spent years nursing my Mum through her cancer and the caring he did for her towards the end was extraordinary. After her death he really should have had the chance to recover from his caring role and start a new life, but his dementia robbed him of that. TIME is short and you never know what is round the corner. My dad loves music and has a connection to my harp playing. He has good days and bad days, but always loves to hear me play. He's in a residential home now and with regular medication he's in the best place he can be and as happy as someone with sliding dementia can be.
Yes I ran the risk of damaging a beautiful instrument, but I also ran the risking of forever regretting and wondering "what if". I had this dream of a particular harp sound in my head. My dads gift enabled me to take this gamble to see if I could find that dream. I've never been one to sit around, but since my Mum passed away and my Dad has slid down the dementia road, I'm a great believer in just going for whatever it is that excites you because you never know what's round the corner. He's been thrilled with the Starfish journey and loves hearing me play on it and I just utterly adore the sound of it.
I REALLY don't recommend anyone doing this as I could have ruined the harp. It's been my dream of a sound, and I wouldn't expect it be anyone else's personal taste but my own. So as an aide memoire for me for when I need to order replacement strings here is what I have used.
1st A through to 4th D Nylon Strings for Carmic Bardic harps
then Carbon fibre (all Alliance Savarez) from Matthias Wagner http://www.music-strings.de
4th C - HPK136C
4th A & B - KF140A (you can get 2metre length coil of string)
4th G - KF 145
4th F - HPK145B
5th E - KF160
5th D - KF172
5th C - KF180R
5th B, A, G Folk Multi-filament from Salopian Strings (phone only UK 01386 750631)
5th F - Folk wire (for Starfish) from Salopian Strings
6th E-6th C wires from Starfish
My earlier posts about re-stringing Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Wires
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Lauren Scott is a harpist & composer and has been blogging on Harpyness for over 10 years.
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