Marking tuning pins on a harp
by Robert L. Baber
2004 June 24

When tuning a lever harp, it is sometimes difficult to see which tuning pin corresponds to which string without standing up and looking at the pins from above the harp. As a result, one sometimes places the tuning wrench on the wrong tuning pin and tightens the wrong string. This can lead to breaking the string.

To make it easier to find the right tuning pin when tuning my harp and to reduce the chance of breaking a string, I marked the wrench side of the tuning pins for the C and F strings on my harp. I slid a short piece of appropriately colored plastic tubing onto each of these pins. Now I can see, from the wrench end of the tuning pins, which pin is for which string.

Below are pictures illustrating these markers on the tuning pins of my harp. Below you will also find guidelines for making tubing of a suitable size from generally available heat shrinkable material in case you cannot find tubing of the right diameter for your harp.

I hope that you will find this idea useful – and that it will perhaps help you to avoid breaking a string when tuning your harp.

With the wrench ends of the tuning pins marked red (C strings) and blue (F strings), my harp looks like this:

It is easy to mark the tuning pins on your harp. If possible, get some tubing (e.g. for insulating electrical wiring) with the same diameter as the tuning pins on your harp

and cut short pieces to the right lengths for your tuning pins. Each tuning pin may require a different length.

Slide each cut piece of tubing onto a tuning pin, red for C, blue or black for F.

If you cannot find tubing with the same diameter as your tuning pins, get

Pay attention to the shrinking temperature of the heat shrinkable tubing you buy. Many types of heat shrinkable tubing shrink at temperatures slightly below the boiling point of water. Some types, however, require higher temperatures and, correspondingly, a suitable hot air blower. (A hair dryer will not suffice.)

Cut a piece of tubing and slide it over the rod.

If your tubing shrinks at a temperature at or below the boiling point of water, place the rod with the tubing into a pan of boiling water as shown below. Let boil until the tubing has shrunk to the diameter of the rod. If your tubing requires a higher temperature, use a suitable hot air blower to heat a piece of the tubing on the rod. Do not heat the tubing on a tuning pin on your harp. That would be easier, but it would not be good for your harp.

When the tubing has shrunk to the diameter of the rod, remove the rod and tubing from the pan of boiling water with tongs, a large fork, and/or a spatula. Run cold water over the rod and tubing and slide the tubing off the rod. Hold the rod with suitable pot holders to avoid burning your fingers.

If the tubing shrinks so tightly onto the rod that it is difficult to remove the tubing from the rod,
Now you have pieces of tubing with the right diameter for your tuning pins. Dry the tubing well before cutting off short pieces for your several tuning pins as shown earlier in this sequence of pictures.

For information on the Irish Harp Centre in Castleconnell, County Limerick, Ireland,
Home of Irish International Harper & Composer – Janet Harbison,
Unique cultural centre embracing Ireland's Harp College and Music School with Christian Spirituality,
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