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Replacing String for First Time, Keeps Breaking

  • Kathleen
    Kathleen Dougherty

    Greetings! I'm new to the harp, have had an Ogden for three weeks on L&H's Rent to Own program. Lucked out and found a Celtic harp instructor in Salt Lake City who is a gem. First lesson in a couple days! (I now know that the Ogden isn't quite optimal for the folk tunes I'd like to play, but she'll be fine for learning on the next five months of rental. My sainted husband agreed to accompany me to the Big Sky Folk Harp Festival--!!!--so I'll have a chance to see many fine folk harps soon).

    My dilemma: Over a week ago, the No. 8 string broke (Octave II, E, gut), and I bought a replacement from L&H. Hesitated on the replacement since the instructions in the L&H book intimidated me! Yesterday, though, lo and behold, the No. 9 string was broken. So I girded my loins, practiced the slip knot with a leather shoe lace, then went forth with the real E string with the bit of high gauge gut toggle and...broke the string each time I gingerly cranked the tuning pin. Two attempts, two breaks in the soundbox.

    I've read Thormahlen's, Harp Tech, and Sylvia Woods instructions (and reread L&H instructions), trying to nail down where I'm going wrong. My husband the Brilliant Engineer says the problem is at the slip knot--where the string appears to break each time--but I'm at a loss. Also running out of E string! One difference among these various string knot methods is where the toggle/spline is inserted. I'm thinking of next trying the Sylvia Woods alternative Harp Knot, which has the toggle wrapped a few times (instead of the one loop as in the L&H method).

    I have to return to L&H to buy the D string, so I suppose they might take mercy on me and show me how to do it correctly. I also have my first lesson on Tuesday, so I could have my teacher show me, too. Just seems like I should be able to do this now without ruining the string.

    Advice and pointers would be much appreciated. I'm going to give it another go today--maybe obliterating the rest of the poor tortured E string--but wanted to hear any words of wisdom from the forum first...


    replies to "Replacing String for First Time, Keeps Breaking"
    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Is the string breaking right at the knot or where the string comes out from the soundboard?  It could be a sharp spot on the harp.

      You have probably noticed how when you bend the string it goes white- a string this has happened to is weakened so you want to tie the knot decisively with the least unnecessary bending- practice on the broken string.  Another tip until you have the hang of it is not to cut the spare string at the top off immediately- that way if you have another disaster you can try again with less string wastage.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen Dougherty

      Hi, Tacye,

      My knot and toggle vanished into the ether each time, so I am not sure just where at the soundboard each broke.

      I just felt around in the bottom of the soundbox, and fished out four toggles with the bit of string around them. None were my two.

      One is 2nd Octave C, No. 10. Out of curiosity, I scrutinized this C bit under a magnifying glass; looks like the string fatigued and stretched right above the knot.

      Interestingly, with this remnant and others, the string wraps each toggle at least a couple times. I must be misunderstanding the L&H instructions, which look like only one wrap around the toggle--what I had done. I'll practice the Sylvia Woods knot, which looks more like the technique of whoever used this harp before me. I'll try to capture the knot bit if it breaks again on my next try to see if it's the harp or me. I kinda think it's me.

      Fortunately, I didn't cut the E string, so I still have enough to try again, plus practice on the mangled bit first. Yes, I noticed that the string suffers fatigue with any bending. Whew, I hope I learn this soon. Not just the cost of the strings, but it's a 45-mile round trip to buy them.


    • Rod
      Rod C.


      I've been playing 2.5 years, and I still am not good at changing strings. (I've gotten so frustrated that I've used word I didn't know I knew!)  I've need to change strings so infreqently that I've not had much practice. I helped a local teacher change strings on a bunch of harps--for the school where she teaches. That was good practice.

      I do understand your frustration. A local woman here bought a new harp and had a bunch of her strings break. Turned out she had tuned the harp incorrectly and all the strings were too tight and broke.

      Get as much instruction as you can. Changing these strings does not come easy for most of us who are new to it.


      Rod C.

    • Barbara
      Barbara Low

      My husband wrote an article on changing strings that you can access here:


      He also has available a DVD showing how to change strings. More info here towards the middle of the page:


      Your string could be breaking because of a burr inside the string hole. Mitchell's abrasive cord, sold by HarpsEtc., Kolacny Music and other harp stores, will de-burr that sharp point/edge. USE SPARINGLY. You don't want to reshape the hole.


    • Barbara
      Barbara Low

      You know, since you have a "rent to own" take the harp back to L&H and have them fix that burr. You don't want to void your contract by using abrasive cord.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen Dougherty

      Back from the Big Sky Folk Harp Festival, which was mind-bogglingly awesome.

      Before my husband and I left (Park City to Big Sky, about a seven-hour drive), I took my first lesson the day before (Tuesday). I stopped off at L&H and bought the 2nd string that broke, so she had two to replace, which she did with no problem. Must have been me, though Cynthia's method looked like what I'd been doing.  I brought the Ogden with me to Big Sky, so I practiced a bit each day. Now, a week later, the two replaced strings are holding their tone better, though still a bit flat each day.

      The festival was a marvel! We heard excellent performances, took inspiring workshops, and I overwhelmed my newbie folk-harpish brain by plunking many great harps in the exhibition hall. One illuminating event was the Harp Tasting, where several harps are played by two harpers behind a curtain and listeners takes notes on the sounds. Afterwards the harps are revealed. Fun!