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How to Choose Nyckelharpa Strings

by Bart Brashers

Read about Playing Strings, Resonance Strings, and String Sources, or nyckelharpa tuning.

Playing Strings

For the big (playing) strings, we can now use string specifically designed for the nyckelharpa. It used to be that we had to make do with cello strings, which although they are about the right guage had some problems. For starters, cello strings are more than 25 cm too long, and the thread windings at the ball end are often so long that they would reach past the bridge on a nyckelharpa.

There is still some difference of opinion as to the A-string made by Prim, which is wound. Some nyckelharpa players like the new wound string, saying its tone is much more similar to the tone of the other strings. But some nyckelharpa players really like the hardness and edge of a plain A-string. If you want to use a plain string, you can use any brand guitar string that’s .018 to .022 inches (0.45 to 0.55 mm) in diameter.

Prim Strings

As of Spring 1996, Prim makes nyckelharpa strings. They are essentially their cello strings, except that

  • The string length is right for nyckelharpas
  • The thread windings at the ball end is short enough for nyckelharpas

The A (1st, highest, 440 Hz) string and the C (2nd) string come in different guages, but the other two just come in medium:

Prim Strings

You can get Prim nyckelharpa strings from the ANA, or through the same sources you can get Prim cello strings. Contact your local music store or violin maker and ask them to order a set for you.

Cello Strings

As noted above, you can use cello strings for the lower 3 playing strings. Many players recommend Prim strings (or at least did before Prim came out with their nyckelharpa strings) but Leif Alpsjö recommends Thomastic Spirocore, and I’m sure others have different favorites. ANA member Rob Krapfl really likes D’Addario Helicore strings (read his article in the May 2000 issue of the newsletter). Try them and see! The only suggestion I have is to avoid very thick (heavy gauge) strings, as they are designed for the much longer cello string length and are too unresponsive for the nyckelharpa.

See below for some links to some on-line string sellers.

Resonance Strings (A.K.A. Understrings)

(Click here for some placement tips for the resonance strings)

In the Spring 1998 issue of Nyckelharpan, the newsletter of Föreningen Nyckelharpan (the Swedish Nyckelharpa Society), Sture Möllerman wrote an article about nyckelharpa strings. I was intrigued by his choice of gauges for the understrings (resonance strings). In the past, I’ve heard of only two schemes, both of which make use of guitar strings. They are (listed from lowest string to highest string):

  Type Diameter
G#, A, Bb, B, C, C# wound 0.021 0.53
D, Eb, E, F, F#, G plain 0.014 0.36


  Type Diameter
G#, A, Bb, B wound 0.024 0.61
C, C#, D, Eb wound 0.021 0.53
E, F, F#, G plain 0.014 0.36

I prefer the second alternative — I find the D and Eb sound bad (too loose) if I use plain strings. I don’t think there’s enough tension to make the pitch stable.

Sture got D’Addario brand guitar strings, with the following gauges:

  Type Diameter
G# wound 0.025 0.64
A wound 0.024 0.61
Bb wound 0.023 0.58
B wound 0.022 0.56
C wound 0.021 0.53
C# wound 0.020 0.51
D plain 0.019 0.48
Eb plain 0.018 0.46
E plain 0.017 0.43
F plain 0.016 0.41
F# plain 0.015 0.38
G plain 0.014 0.36

You can of course use other brands than D’Addario, and it’s up to your individual tastes as to whether you get bronze or steel. Changing your understrings is a cheap way to make your nyckelharpa sound a lot better. It’s amazing to me sometimes, when I see older nyckelharpas with their original strings still one them. Just think of how much better twenty dollars and some time would make them sound!

Guitar strings shouldn’t cost you more than a dollar or two each, and can be found at almost any music store. If you buy in bulk from the catalogs, you can bring the cost down even more. Or buy a set of understrings from the ANA!