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Tuning the playing strings

Here are some basics on tuning the four playing strings of the nyckelharpa.

  • The playing strings on a standard 3-row harpa are traditionally tuned to C3, G3, C4, and A4. Some people prefer to raise the C4 string one step to D4, as this relates more easily to other stringed instruments.
  • There are actually two tuning mechanisms for each string.  The large wooden peg on the head of the instrument, and the small finger screw (fine tuner) below the bridge on the tail piece.  The pegs on the head are used to get the playing strings into approximate tune (they are usually rather difficult to turn) and the fine tuners are used to reach the precise tuning.
  • Tuning of the playing strings can be done by ear, however most players use an electronic tuner to reach “standard pitch” for each string.  It seems to work best to have a tuner pickup that attaches physically to the bridge and senses the vibrations of the string being tuned.  Otherwise background noise, especially if others are tuning their harpas at the same time, can cause interference.
  • Note that strings are usually tuned open (with no keys depressed) and some instruments must be held at an angle, as in playing position, so that the keys are pulled away from the strings by gravity.
  • Because the wooden pegs are often difficult to turn, many players purchase or build a small wooden tool (a peg turner) peg_turnerto obtain more leverage (see picture on the left).  It is definitely not a good idea to use a crescent wrench or pliers on the wooden pegs.  The pegs are made of wood, after all and could easily be damaged.  Instead, using the wooden peg turner which fits over the flat blade of the playing string tuning peg (see the 2nd picture), the tension of the playing string can be adjusted up or down as needed.  Once a string is at approximately in tune, it works best to use the fine tuner for the correct or best sounding pitch.tuning_peg
  • For more details, see the string tuning & placement section under “Tips > Strings & Tuners“.