Why do my harp strings keep breaking?

There’s nothing more frustrating for a harpist than breaking a harp string just before a performance (or mid-way through!). All harp strings will eventually wear, become dull and at some point probably break – however there are certain things which can shorten the lifespan of a harp string. If you are breaking the same string often, there may be a few things which are worth looking at.

Click play on the video on the right to see Allan take you through some of the basic things to look out if you are suffering from regular string breakages. Alternatively you can follow the text and images below. If you need a replacement harp string or advice on replacing strings you can check out our other harp help videos or get in touch here.

Gut harp string wear

Strings

The choice of string you use on your harp affects not only the sound, but also the longevity of the string. Gut strings for example are more susceptible to breaking than nylon or other synthetic strings.

Gut strings are covered with a varnish or a lacquer and when that wears away with use. Once that protective layer has gone, the string will not likely last much longer as it becomes more hydroscopic (i.e. sensitive to moisture and temperature change). A sure sign of this happening is the fibres of the string coming away from the main body and peeling off. Spotting this will mean that you may be able to pre-empt a string breaking and change it first.

Temperature & Humidity

Temperature changes are a common cause of harp strings breaking. This is sometimes difficult to avoid when travelling and gigging with a harp but you give your harp a helping hand by trying to make sure that when it is left for longer periods, that the temperature remains constant. For example string will often break at night because the temperature drops and the tension rises in the string.

Another common mistake is to leave a harp next to a place where there may be a through draft of cold air, so try to avoid leaving harps next to open doors and windows.

Harp strings and soundboard
Lever harp bridge pin

Points of wear

Another common cause of harp string breakages is the points where the string comes into contact with the body of the harp. If there are any hard reference points which are not smooth and are jagged then these can cause friction on the string. The main points are – the tuning pin, the bridge pin, the semitone lever and finally the eyelet where the string passes through the sound board.

If you suspect you have a rough or jagged surface on any of these, the best clue is spotting the point at which the string breaks. You can also sometimes see it by eye, or you can user you finger to feel where there may be an uneven surface.

Flossing

If you do discover that you have a rough tuning pin, bridge pin, eyelet or any other surface which you suspect may be causing wear on your harp strings, there is a simple trick which you can use to smooth off the surface. Take a piece of soft string (siesel or packing tape) and dip it in something mildy abrasive like Brasso. Pass the string through the pin or eyelet and rub back and forth. You should try to emulate the line of the string. This should help to polish out any sharp edges or burrs which may be there.

Flossing a harp tuning pin