Article by Kenneth Ellis

When do I need to change my strings?


Well, it depends on how much you play. If you perform every week and practice in between, once a year might be appropriate. If you play occasionally for your own enjoyment, once every three years might be often enough. I change strings based on how hard it is to tune the autoharp. Strings become brittle with use, which causes a string's harmonics to go out of tune with its fundamental frequency (see my article on tuning). When it gets bad enough, it will be very difficult to achieve satisfactory tuning. Even when the tuner says your strings are in tune, the chords won't sound right. That is when I change my strings.


Changing strings


Change strings one at a time to minimize the change in total string tension on the autoharp body. This also makes it easier to tune a new string, since the strings next to it will still be pretty much in tune.


Never cut a string unless it is completely slack. A sudden release of tension could damage you instrument, not to mention you could put your eye out when the string ends go flying.


Use a tuning wrench to loosen the string. Pluck the string while you are doing this to ensure you are rotating the pin in the correct direction. Count the number of turns that you loosen the pin. Don't use pliers or some other tool to turn the tuning pins. You could damage the pin.


When the string is completely slack, use pliers to pull the end of the string out of the hole in the pin and pull the string off the pin.


Clip the curly part of the string off with wire cutters.


Using the fine tuner wrench, remove the machine screw holding the ball-end of the string. Be careful  to not lose the washer on the machine screw, if it has one. Pull the string out of the fine tuner cam and thread the new string through.


The ball end of the string has a little wire tail sticking out. Using your pliers, fold this tail back toward the ball and pull the string through the cam so that the ball is seated against the cam.


Replace the cam and machine screw. You may wish to dip the end of the machine screw in a light weight oil to lubricate the threads.


Slip a piece of paper between the felts and the strings. Then slip the new string under the felts but on top of the paper. This will prevent the new string from getting wrapped around the other strings when you pull it out from under the chord bars.


Remember the number of complete turns of the tuning pin when you loosened the string? Subtract this number from 4. Now, using the tuning wrench, back the tuning pin out even more by this number of turns. If  you don't remember how far you turned it (you might try turning all the pins the same amount while loosening strings), turn the tuning pin all the way into the body, so that the threads are just visible above the wood top. Then back the pin out 4 complete turns, ending with the hole in the pin pointed at the chord bars.


Stretch the string by hand so that it bends around its bridge pin and heads towards its tuning pin. Pinch the string with your fingers at the tuning pin. Cut the string so that it goes past the tuning pin by about 1½ to 2 inches.


Using needle-nose pliers, bend the last 3/16 inch of the string at a right angle to the rest of the string. Insert the end into the hole on the back side of the tuning pin, then pull the string around the bridge pin and toward the fine tuners. This tension should hold the string in place while you turn the pin and bring the string up to tension.


When the string has enough tension to keep the string wound tight around the pin, pluck the string and its lower neighbor alternately so that you don't overtighten the new string. When the two strings are at the same pitch, use your tuner to raise the new string to its specified pitch.


Voila. Now repeat 36 more times and you are done. The first time I did this, it took me 4 hours, so don't get discouraged. I heard of a guy once who could do it in under 40 minutes.