Building Nyckelharpas

Earl started building nyckelharpas with a kit from Sören Åhker. We have copies of Sören's instruction book in stock. This book is in English and includes full-size plan sheets for a standard full-size and a child- (or small adult) sized nyckelharpa. The full size has a mensur length (nut to bridge) of 400 mm while the smaller plan has a 340 mm mensur length. The plans are metric (in millimeters).

Sören also sells “kits”. Please be aware that his nyckelharpa kit consists of rectangular wooden blocks of appropriate sizes that make the various parts of the instrument. These kits are very rough by American musical instrument kit standards.

There is a DVD available that follows Sören as he builds an instrument. The DVD was made by Rita Leydon and is available through her web site.

The other source for plans is Björn Björn. He sells basic plan sheets. These contain no detailed building instructions like what Sören provides, just the scale drawings. Once you are comfortable building nyckelharpas, these plan sheets are enough to go by. Note that Bjorn Bjorn is retired and can be very difficult to get a response from.

If you think you are interested in building a Nyckelharpa, we recommend that you obtain a copy of the Sören book/plans and the DVD from Rita.  After you have reviewed it please contact Earl about any parts you might need.  He can put together as much of a kit as you need. You can probably get some of the wood you need for an initial instrument locally.

If you are building a nyckelharpa and have questions, please feel free to contact Earl.  He is willing to provide distance assistance to help you get your nyckelharpa done. It doesn't matter if your instrument materials came from us or not.

We have the following supplies in stock:
•6 in-line guitar tuners
•bridge blanks
•cello fine tuners, both full- and 3/4-size
•thick stock butternut for sides and necks
•thick stock wood for the tail piece
•wood for the key box

Most of the rest of the materials should be easily obtainable in the U.S. Contact Earl for more information and prices.

For shaping the top of the body, Sören recommends a piece of bent 1/8-inch thick aluminum plate.  Call around to sheet metal shops to find one that has this type of metal and a bending roller to get the correct bend in it.

You will also need a sheet metal tray to boil the top for bending.  Any sheet metal shop should be able to make this for you.

A note on tuning: In Sören's book, he recommends tuning the sympathetic strings for an advanced player. We recommend that you tune them chromatically, starting on G for the lowest sympathetic string and going up by 1/2-steps to the F sharp on the highest string.

Our son Ian had been making key box kits.  Due to some life path issues, he will be discontinuing this venture for the foreseeable future. Due to my focus on new instruments, I do not have the time for the key box kits.

About the wood used to build Nyckelharpas:

In Sweden: (Please note that there are only a few species of trees that grow in Sweden. They have one type of spruce, maple and birch. European Beech does grow in southern Sweden.) The body (neck, sides & tail block) are typically made from “Gran”.  If you check the Latin genus/species name you will find that in the USA we refer to this as Norwegian spruce. Birch is also sometimes used for the body. The Swedes use alpine spruce for the top of the body (imported from Germany).  Backs are typically either spruce or maple.  A spruce back will give a somewhat “brighter” sound while a maple back usually gives a “warmer” sound.  Many players with a violin background prefer maple backs. The key box is usually birch, but can be maple or beech.  The keys are made mostly of birch, but sometimes maple or beech. The tail piece is usually maple.

What types of woods can be used for building a Nyckelharpa:

The top should be quarter-sawn spruce.  You want a good tone wood for the top. The back is typically either spruce or maple.  Again, usually quarter-sawn.  Other woods are sometimes used.

You can use almost any wood for the rest of the instrument, but you do not want to make it too heavy. For information on wood properties, I recommend the USFS Wood Handbook.

Earl uses butternut for the body; originally because he had some on hand when he started building. It is lightweight and has good working properties. Many builders use pine, spruce, or poplar for the body.  Poplar is often used for bodies in Europe, outside of Sweden. Earl uses birch for keys.  Maple also works well.  Leif Alpsjö recommends not using black walnut for the keys or key guides due to sticky key issues.

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(This page last updated 11/10/2020)