New Nyckelharpas


Earl in his shopEarl now builds several different models of Nyckelharpas.

He builds 3-rowed chromatic nyckelharpas based on the Eric Sahlström model. The body has solid wood sides that are tapered to make the back a little smaller for ease of holding.  The nut-to-bridge length (mensur length) is 400mm.  His standard model has 22 keys on the A string, 10 keys on the C/D string and 7 on the G string.

He also builds a 3/4 sized nyckelharpa for youth and/or small adults. This instrument has 20 keys on the A string, 10 keys on the C/D string and 7 on the G string.

tenor nyckelharpaHe is now building a 4-rowed tenor nyckelharpa using the Johan Hedin plans developed in 2004.  This harpa has tapered bent-wood sides similar to what is used on violins or guitars.  The sympathetic resonation strings are below the keys.  The neck and keybox are tapered to account for the amount that the strings vibrate.  This instrument is tuned in fifths, one octave below a violin.  There are two key set options available.  The plans as designed have 70 keys including a number of ¼-tone notes.  Responses he has received indicate that this key set is designed for advanced players who are doing early/baroque music that includes the ¼-tone notes.  He has developed a second key set with 55 keys that does not include the ¼-tone notes. Pictures of both are in the photo gallery.

Earl is currently developing 4-rowed nyckelharpas. There is currently one alto-range being re-worked. The current issue is sound quality on the low C-string keys. He is working on resolving this.  The standard model has 7-10-10-22 keys on the CGDA/CGCA (alto) strings.

Earl did try a 4-rowed soprano on a standard nyckelharpa body, but the E-string did not sound good.  After several iterations, he decided to try a slightly shorter 360mm mensur length along with some other changes to the body.This worked to give good sound on all 4 playing strings with a slightly smaller body.

Earl has developed a beginner soprano-ranged instrument. intermediate soprano harpaThe strings are tuned GDAE, like a violin. The body is solid wood with vertical sides. The key set is: 7-10-10-20. The beginner model has 6-sympathertic strings set below the key box with the lengths on either side of the bridge set to get all 12 notes from the 6 strings. This provides less resonation sound and a narrower neck, which reduces instrument weight. In Europe, models similar to this with 6 strings below the key box, appears to be popular with baroque/early music players. This instrument may also appeal to older fiddle players who are having arthritis problems. It is about 1 pound lighter than our standard Swedish style 3-rowed nyckelharpa.

There is now a second version of the soprano range 4-rowed nyckelharpa with the sympathetic strings moved to above the key box to increase the resonation.  The neck is wider than the beginner, which increases instrument weight, but is close to that of many traditional instruments. These intermediate sporano models, with a 7-10-10-20 key set, are currently available.

soprano intermediate key set anglesoprano advanced key set angle

Earl has developed an advanced key set (10-12-14-22) that allows for playing double stops up into 5th violin position. He has put this key set on an intermediate body with very good results. The key tip rows are set back in more of a vertical position that allows for hitting two adjacent row keys easily with a fingertip.  This works well for some types of non-Swedish music. It does require a slightly different fingertip method, as compared to using the pad of the fingertip on the keys.

We hope to have an advanced soprano nyckelharpa with tapered bent-wood sides and the additional keys by late 2017. We will end up with several versions of a violin-range nyckelharpa.  This may get paired down at some future time depending on what players what to play.

We have instruments in soprano, Swedish and tenor ranges available. We also have a left-handed 3-rowed instrument available. Contact Earl for information and prices.

Humidity and harpa key box: One significant issue about nyckelharpas is that the key box and keys are made of wood and will be affected by changes in humidity.  The gaps in the key box are made with minimal clearances.  If the gaps get to big, it results in a buzzing sound that many players find problematic.  What most builders do is make the keys work for the ambient air temperature and humidity that exists where they live.  If the new home for the nyckelharpa has significantly higher humidity, it causes the keys and key guides to swell and some keys will stick.  The fix is to partially dis-assemble the key box and a small portion of material is removed from either the key or the key guide to let the key move again.  This needs to be done in the high humidity setting where the nyckelharpa now resides either by the owner or a friend/instrument technician who can do these adjustments.

We live in northern Wisconsin.  Sweden is actually a cooler/drier climate that Wisconsin in the summer. Earl recently had to re-adjust the keys on a new Swedish made nyckelharpa that now resides in Minnesota.  This is a common new nyckelharpa owner issue in the first year.

Much of the southeastern portion of the United States gets quite a bit warmer and more humid than we will ever see in northern Wisconsin. Earl is doing a key and key box treatment to try to partially stabilize the key box against changes in humidity.  He thinks he is reducing the humidity affects by maybe 50 to 60%, but not eliminating the sticking problem totally. If you are having a sticky key problem and want to talk with someone about it, please feel free to give Earl a call.  It does not have to be on a nyckelharpa that he built.

We will soon be adding a nyckelharpa maintenance page to our web site that will include detailed instructions for fixing sticky keys.

Upgrade options available: Earl has stained the keys and keybox black on several instruments. He is willing to do that for others if requested, but it is extra work. Another option is a red tint with a glossy, french polish. This is also very time consuming. A third option is a more highly figured maple board for the back. Earl typically uses 2A to 3A grade maple on his soprano instruments, but has 4A or 5A maple on hand for more dramatic figuring. Any of these upgrades are available for a price.

Earl provides free adjustments and minor repairs on any nyckelharpa built by him, limited to normal wear and tear on the instrument. This warrantee does not include negligent damage due to dropping, being sat on, aggressive playing techniques (wears out tangents prematurely and can break keys), etc. Additional warranties may be included on specific instruments on a case by case basis.

(Note: Any text that is a different color and underlined is a link to another web page. Clicking on it will take you there.)

(Page last updated 7/13/2017)