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Nyckelharpa Straps

Although most nyckelharpas already come with a strap, you might end up purchasing one that does not. You also might not like the strap that came with your harpa! This page is intended to help you find a strap that you like.

The vast majority of nyckelharpa players use one of two kinds of straps: straps originally designed for the guitar, and home-made woven straps. However, technology is catching up and a few people now use modern materials…

Guitar Straps

Guitar straps usually have a vinyl layer covered by a layer that has stitching or other ornamentation, and are fairly wide. I personally find that the width and hardness of the vinyl layer makes them uncomfortable on the neck. Some nyckelharpa players I’ve met work around that by using small pillows attached to the strap, that sit between the strap and the neck. Others don’t seem to mind, or have gotten used to it. The good part is that guitar straps are readily available at most music stores, and come in a large variety of patterns and colors to suit every taste. Guitar straps can also be found made of other materials — on my electric guitar I use one that is woven cotton.
Detailed, easy to follow instructions and pictures for making your own cross strap, a modification of the guitar Slider Strap, can be found in the newsletter, issue # 30.

Hand-made Straps

In Sweden, it’s very easy to find small looms designed for weaving things about 2-3 inches wide (5-8 cm). Many people I know use these to make straps for the nyckelharpa, of soft and natural materials. Thus hand-made woven straps are much more popular in Sweden than they are in the USA. I find them to be more comfortable, since they are made of softer materials than the vinyl of most guitar straps. If you are interested, Bart Brashers can get you one from Sweden for about $25. E-mail him at bart(dot)brashers(at)nyckelharpa(dot)org — replacing (dot) and (at) with . and @ respectively — for more information.

Stretchy Strap helps Nyckelharpist’s Neck

by Matt Fichtenbaum, reprinted from Nyckel Notes

At Scandinavian Week this summer (1999), nyckelharpa teacher Lotta Franzén enthusiastically demonstrated her newest possession, a nyckelharpa strap with an elastic section. She attested to how the
stretchiness made her harpa less of a burden on her neck, and invited me to try it. I liked the effect, and decided to get such a strap for my own harpa. Lotta had found hers masquerading as a guitar strap at
a music store in Washington DC; I resolved to look for one in the Boston area.

Calls to several local music shops weren’t promising. Most had never heard of it; one salesman admitted to having one on his own guitar but didn’t know where I could find one. Another approach was clearly needed. With the help of my detective friend Al Tavista, I searched for “stretchy strap” and soon found success. It’s an “Ultra II Guitar Strap,” made by Legacy in western PA. After a brief e-mail dialog with Legacy’s proprietor Garry Merola, I ordered one by mail.

After month of ownership I think I like it. It has a wide neoprene pad over my neck, to distribute the instrument’s weight, and an elastic section on the side toward the instrument’s neck. That stretches as I move, and seems to make the instrument feel lighter.

My Ultra II strap cost $19.95, plus $2.00 for postage, from

1488 Green Avenue
Glenshaw PA 15116
800-487-4198 or 412-487-4199

Marilee Cowan bought one for $19.95 plus shipping from

Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center
11151 Viers Mill Rd
Wheaton MD 20902

Olov Johansson, of the super-group Väsen, also uses a stretchy

The “X”

Johan Hedin, who suffers from the tall person’s propensity to back problems (and also plays a whole lot) has devised a more advanced method of strapping his nyckelharpa in place. He also plays his “tenor harpa,” tuned an octave lower and noticeably larger than the usual nyckelharpa.

He uses two from accordion straps, sewn together in an ‘X’ such that they go diagonally across the back. One goes over the right shoulder and under the left arm, the other over the left shoulder and under the right arm. To each of the four ends he has attached a strong nylon cord. The right-hand ends of these (as seen from the player’s point of view) attach to the tailpiece in the same way a conventional strap is attached, except that there are two of them. On the left side, the upper cord is tied to a hole Johan made in the neck, closest to the body of the harpa. The lower cord is attached to the upper cord via a clip, pulling the upper cord down somewhat. This pulls the strap out of the way of the bow, so he can play all 4 strings without ever touching the strap with the bow, something that the conventional neck strap is prone to.

This method distributes the weight of the nyckelharpa evenly across the back, rather than on the neck. It’s a little harder to pick up your harpa and play quickly, since you have to put your right arm through the ‘hole’ between the two straps (since they’re attached to each other in the middle of the back, and at the tailpiece) as you put the strap over your head, then reach back and attach the ‘bottom-left’ strap to the ‘top-left’ strap via the clip. But if you are having neck or back problems holding your harpa the traditional way, consider trying something like this. I’d suggest attaching the two straps to your harpa first and fiddling with them for a while before you sew the two of them together. I think that sewing them together is important for distributing the weight evenly over your back, so perhaps you could temporarily clip them together during the experimentation process.

Let us know if you try this method, and describe your results!

A Wetsuit Nyckelharpa Harness-vest

Marilee Cowan sent in an article about straps, and her eventual solution:

Wetsuit Nyckelharpa Harness-vest

To a nyckelharpa player, back problems can be a frustrating distraction when you have tunes dancing in mind begging to be played. I have been learning to play the nyckelharpa for about 7 years, and it is almost ridiculous how many ways I have tried to carry the weight of 5 pounds of wood and metal.

I bought a Wolf Guitar stand from Leif Alpsjö, but it was a total bust for me. I could never get it to fit or balance comfortably; reaching for the higher keys on the A string was awkward, and it didn’t help when I needed to stand to play for a dance. My husband fashioned a scary looking prop from a metal pole; he even made it adjustable for sitting or standing. But I tend to move around when I play, so that attempt was given up very quickly.

I have tried wider straps, a seat-belt fleece cushion, and a rifle-carrying strap used by hunters with quick-release clips at the ends and a padded leather piece in the middle. I have good memories of this one because of the curious and shocked looks from two huge burly hunter-type guys in the hunting department at the “Swains Has Everything” store in Port Angeles, Washington, 98362, where I bought it. Also, I imagined that I was doing my part to save a few deer. The back of the padded part was suede, which did not slip on clothing. So for a while I was wearing the strap not on my neck, but a few inches lower than the neck and across and around the upper left arm.fIt was easier on my neck, but both Bart Brashers at FolkLife 1999 in Seattle and Lotta Franzén at Buffalo Gap Scandinavian Week ’99 were concerned about the way it restricted my left arm movement.

So, following Lotta’s enthusiasm for her electric guitar “stretchy strap” that she had just purchased in Washington DC, I sent for one when I got home. It certainly was an improvement in comfort, but not enough of an improvement for me. However, I did like the way the neopreme gave it flexibility, and the width–2 1/2 inches–distributed the weight a little better. (See above for discussion of strechy straps and sources.)

That article mentioned tall people like Johan Hedin in Sweden with back problems who were using an “X” strap, and I determined to try to make one that was “stretchy”. My husband is a wind surfer, so I knew that I could buy some neopreme fabric at the local diving shop.

But they only sold material that was 1/8″ thick, and I was pretty sure that would be too stretchy. The person helping me mentioned that there was a used wetsuit that someone had put a $50 price tag on, but she knew that he would take $25. Apparently wetsuits wear out most at the knees and elbows, so the middle part, the part we want, is usually in good condition. I thought that I could cut some straps from the
long sleeves, and have plenty left over for friends who might want to try the “X”.

I had only gotten as far as cutting off the sleeves when I went to Jonny Soling and Kalle Almlöf’s fiddle workshop in Seattle, March 2000. I was talking about the project with Janet Gabites and Lynn Erickson from British Columbia, and Janet suggested that I leave the body of the wetsuit intact and simply cut away the part of the X that was not needed. I drove home to Portland ready to approach the wetsuit again, but I have to admit, I was daunted a bit by the complications of getting into it “over and under”, as described in the article.

As I started to make marks on the wetsuit with a sliver of soap, it occurred to me that I could probably take the long zipper out, cut away the bottom part of the suit at the waist, and re-attach the zipper, and have a kind of back and rib brace to make the harness even more supportive. This worked very well, since the suit was a pretty close fit. Mine is about 5″ high in front, but this would be a little different depending on your preference and gender.

I cut a little bit (less than 1 1/2″ square) of the left-over 1/8″ thick neopreme flap that ran the length of the zipper and hand sewed it over the teeth at the ends where I cut through the zipper to shorten it to fit. This keeps the zipper pull from escaping. The bottom of the zipper is detachable, like you have seen on sleeping bags and heavy parkas. You can purchase these zippers at large fabric stores. Mine is marked YKK 10V.

I found that even though the neopreme is 1/4″ thick, my sturdy little antique Singer Featherweight sewing machine had no problem with it.

In the back, I cut out a continuous vest/shoulder strap shape that looks not unlike a spelman’s vest. I continued the 2 1/2″ wide strap part over the shoulder and all the way to where I cut the top of the front. I found my old rifle strap and cut the two sections of nylon strap away from the leather pad, which had quick-release attachments on the ends. These clips are made by ITW Nexus of Woodale, IL, 60191 and they call them FASTEX #SRI. I think a person might find these kind of clips at mountian climbing equipment suppliers . I attached the nylon loop of the female part of the clip with the leather lacing that is threaded through a hole in the neck of the nyckelharpa, and at the tail end, I found it was more comfortable for my right elbow to use a longer 1″ X 6 1/2″ leather strip, sewed together in a loop (finished length 3 1/4″) that attaches to the female clip.

I safety-pinned the nylon straps with the male end of the clip to the neopreme straps and tried it out for a few days, making adjustments, until I felt like it was right before I cut. The length of the finished neopreme part is about 7 1/4″ from the top of my shoulder on the right strap and about 8 3/4″ from my left shoulder. But this would vary depending on the length of your arms and how you like your harpa to hang. Of course, the nylon strap is adjustable at the clips, so there is still room for fine tuning after you cut and sew.

I love it!

I like the way the neopreme is a bit cushy where the instrument usually leans between a couple right front ribs, but I found it slipped a bit, so I cut an oval shape of leather (about 6″ X 2″) and sewed it on with the rough side out, and this works very well.

I have been very pleased with the snug comfort from back and rib support that the vest affords. The weight of the instrument is carried by the entire back and shoulders, instead of the neck. It is also a pretty nice chair back cushion for those times I’m sitting! The heavy-duty zipper and quick-release clips makes it very quick to get in and out of. The whole thing fits in my soft carrying case, even adding a little more protection to the harpa. The only drawback I can foresee is that a wetsuit is meant to keep divers warm, and in the summer this might become a problem, but here in the Pacific Northwest I see it as an advantage most of the year, since dancers typically want to open doors even when the weather is in the 60’s.

If you decide to try to make a wetsuit harness and have any questions, or if you would like to try the Wolf Guitar stand, you can email Marilee Cowan, marilee(dot)cowan(at)nyckelharpa(dot)org — and replace (dot) and (at) with . and @ respectively.