Changing Nyckelharpa Strings Home » Tips » Strings & Tuners » Changing Nyckelharpa Strings

Tips on changing your strings

by Bart Brashers

I recently received some questions from an ANA member, about replacing the strings on his nyckelharpa. He writes:

… with new playing strings – I nearly fell over – I could hardly recognize the sound of the instrument. Before the low C and G strings were thin-sounding, and if you went above B on the G string it got really weak. Now both strings sound full and strong, even as you play up on the G string. It is as though the whole instrument opened up. Before, the A string was solid, not wound, so it had a very bright sound that was in sharp contrast to the more mellow C string, so crossing strings from C to A was rather jarring. Now there is no noticable break in a C scale when you cross strings. The C is stronger than before, and the A is much more mellow without being at all wimpy. You can play in higher positions on the C string without losing so much tone quality. It really does not sound like the same instrument.

I am eager to replace the resonance strings as well, but I need some advice first. The D’Addario strings you sent are, as I am sure you know, way too long for a nyckelharpa. How do you shorten them? Do you simply cut them? If so, with what? How many inches beyond the peg do you cut? Do the windings unwind?

Yes, you should cut off the excess. I use a pair of side cutters that I keep in my nyckelharpa case. I’ve thought for many years that I should get a better set of pliers to keep in there, ones with wire cutters built in. I use the pliers to fine-tune the tangents, but the ones that I have don’t have built-in side cutters. They do have flat (no teeth) jaws, so they won’t mark up the tangents, which is why I use them. I should go to the hardware store and get a good pair, and grind them down if necessary.

You want to leave enough excess string to wind about 5 times around the cylinder of the tuner (the "post"). From my guitar playing days, I use a technique where I make an arch of the string (ball end attached, the other held near the tuner) whose height is equal to the width of my hand spread, thumb to pinkie. That is, spread your hand (palm perpendicular to the top of the nyckelharpa) running the string over your thumb. Cut the string then at the tuner, and when the string straightens out it will have the appropriate amount of excess.

Either that, or cut it 6 to 8 inches too long.

I also fold the last centimeter or so over, and put the folded end in the hole in the post. This makes it easy to remove later, as the very end sticks back up out of the hole like a little "tail". After unwinding just enough to take the tension off the string, you can grab the "tail" with a pair of pliers and pull, pulling it out of the hole. Keeps you from having to unwind the whole thing, which gets rather tiring.

Speaking of which, I use an item I purchased from a Rock-n-Roll guitar store, a "speed tuner". It’s a handle attached to an arm with a pin, so that the arm can spin about the handle. On the other end of the arm is an oblong cup that fits over the tuning knobs. The arm is about 2 inches long, so by rotating the handle in a circle around the tuner knob you can quickly unwind or wind the string. Much less tiring that grasp, rotate 1/2 turn, let go, grasp, rotate 1/2 turn, let go…

The windings of the resonance strings will unwind a minuscule amount when cut, but once it’s under tension around the post of the tuner, it will cease to unwind. The tension pressing the string against the post keeps it from unwinding further.

I also cut off the excess from my playing strings, but here it’s very important to leave some of the colored thread. The thread keeps the string from unwinding by itself, and cutting it below the thread will cause it to unwind appreciably, making the string unplayable. Make sure you have at least two inches of the thread-wound portion of the string left. The tension pressing the string to the peg will inhibit unwinding for a while, but eventually it will affect the sound. Since the strings are not exactly cheap, it’s better to be careful and leave some thread.