About Tuning


Changing a string or a full set

You need to remove the broken string from inside the sound box by pulling out the knot and the leather washer if there is one and insert the new string there while making sure that the brass eyelet is not displaced.  At the top make sure the string is located properly between the forks of the lever and the bridge pin. The tuning pin may need to be pushed inside if there is not enough friction to hold the tension as explained in our manuals. If you want to change a full set of strings it is best to change one string at a time and bring it to pitch so you keep the overall tension of the harp even as you progress. New strings will take some time to stretch so they will need to be tuned often for several days before they stabilize.

Rules for tuning the harp:

1- Always tune the string from below pitch to the required note. (over pitching the string will break it prematurely)

2- Always tune the string with your levers down or disengaged. (string will break prematurely otherwise as the string will not stretch evenly))

3- Only tune while you are listening to the string. (if there is no tone change while tuning then you are not on the right tuning pin)

4- Use an electronic tuner or a smartphone app for the correct starting pitch.

5- Tune all the Cs, then Ds, Es etc... so the tension on the sound board is built up evenly. Advanced players may use circle of fifth tuning progression as an alternative method.

6- Don't leave your tuning key unattended on the tuning pin. It will fall off and damage the sound board of the harp.

7- For changing a full set of strings change all the Cs, then  Ds, Es ect... removing and then replacing one string at a time. Tune it to pitch before changing the next string. Retune the changed strings often as you progress so the tension of the harp is kept even through the entire process.

8- Tuning pins may get loose during shipping, traveling, replacing a string or changing environmental condition (temperature and/or humidity). In this case the tuning pins need to be re-tightened. The tuning pins are tapered so if you push them in as you wiggle the key forward and backward the friction on the pins will increase. Do so until the friction is sufficient to hold the tension of the strings. If the tuning pins get too hard to turn, loosen the tension on the string and then wiggle the pin back until it moves freely. Then reset as above. 

Watch Marilyn's videos about:
 Tuning problems
Long and detailed tuning lesson 
Short tuning lesson

About tuners and harmonics


Above is a picture about fundamental and harmonic waves. On the left side of the graph  you see the fundamental waves (the note you want to tune to) and on the right side of the graph the harmonics resultants that make complex wave patterns. When you play a string what is really happening is what you see on the right side of the graph. A trained brain can make better sense of it than our best electronics!

In higher and lower notes tuners may not display the correct note or does not register any notes. The reason for this is that a note is never a pure fundamental tone.  Lower and higher notes have many harmonics which can be very strong (but that is what makes the sound so beautiful) . All tuners have some kind of filters to separates the fundamentals from the harmonics. There are no standards for this so different tuners may give a different response. Actually more expensive tuners may not be the best because they may be over sensitive and the filters they have are mostly focused for pianos, guitars or violins type of instruments. You have to figures this out.

When tuning successive strings make sure the harp is totally silent between each string as residual sound will amplify harmonics or cause the tuner to show nothing.

Some people use a tuner on every note for accuracy; other musicians with well trained ears can use the tuner to get an accurate reference pitch and then tune the rest of the notes in relation to that by ears.

So while using a tuner be aware of harmonics by listening to the note and comparing it with an octave below or higher. I always make sure that the note I want to tune is much lower than what is should be to whatever my hearing ability I have that day. Let us say 1 or 2 half notes (semi tones) below and see it on the tuner then slowly tune the string up noticing how much I have turned the tuning key for each note as I am getting closer to the note I want. This will also allow you check the tuner if it is picking up a harmonic (usually a third, a fifth or an octave). If that happens you may want to play the string not at its center but at a third of its length.

In addition to a tuner you may also use a smart phone app such as Gstrings or others and compare the reading with the tuner you have. They may respond differently to harmonics.


Key signatures and lever position - Circle of Fifths - Sharps and Flats progression:



Most folk harps with a full set of levers are tuned in E flat major (B,E,A strings are tuned flat) when all the levers are off (down) so to play in the key of C major you need to put on (up) the B,E,A levers so the B,E,A strings are now in a natural tone. The chart above is a remender of the lever sequence for the different major and minor keys. Our harps are made to be tuned in that traditional E flat major key and it is recommended you keep it that way. Tuning the harp in a sharper key when all the levers are off will change the stress load on the sound board and the harp. It will take a few days for the harp and strings to stabilize to that new load. Keep your harp at a constant pitch and key is the best practice for stable tuning.

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