Nyckelharpa Strings

Nyckelharpas use two types of strings. The main playing strings are basically cello strings. A string made for a nyckelharpa is a shortened cello string with shortened winding. Cello strings can be used, but you may need to trim the winding and wind up the extra string length at the peg head.

Main strings: Prim is a Swedish string company that makes Nyckelharpa strings.  The nyckelharpa strings are basically cello strings that are the correct length for nyckelharpas with shortened windings.  The windings, at the tailpiece end of the string are color coded.  Green is medium, brown is orchestra (hard) and blue is soft.

On the nyckelharpas Earl builds, he believes that they should sound good with a good basic set of strings on them.  He uses the following strings:

Swedish 3-rowed, ¾ size: .050 solid A1, orchestra C/D2, orchestra G3 and medium C4.
Swedish 3-rowed, full size: wound medium A1, medium C/D2, medium G3 and medium C4. This is a medium set with a wound A.
4-rowed soprano (violin range): 0.014 solid steel E, wound medium A, wound medium D and wound medium G.
4-rowed alto (viola range): wound medium A1, medium C/D2, medium G3 and medium C4.

About soprano E-strings:  The commonly recommended strings for the E is a solid steel guitar string in the size range of 0.010 to 0.015 inches.  In this range, the strings are available in .0005-inch increments.  Earl has found that the .014 seems to work well.  This is the same size string as is used for the small size sympathetic strings in the 4+4+4 set.

The Johan Hedin Tenor nyckelharpa uses the strong weight of Spirocore strings.  The string codes for this string set are: E is 3651.1, A – S25ST, D – S27ST and G – S32ST. 

The cello nyckelharpa, Earl is using Prim medium cello strings.

Sympathetic Strings: The sympathetic strings are standard guitar strings.  These strings come in a range of sizes and materials.  The number on the string label is a “size” measurement of the diameter of the string.  So, the bigger the number, the bigger the string.  The smaller strings are used for higher pitched notes, and the bigger strings are used for lower pitched notes.  If strings are too big, they will not resonate, if they get to small, they may resonate/vibrate too much.

If you check around a bit you will find there are 3 common string configurations used on most Swedish 3-rowed, 4-rowed soprano and 4-rowed alto nyckelharpas.  They are referred to as: 6+6; 4+4+4 and 12-step.  The 6+6 is two sizes of strings with 6 strings of each size.   The 4+4+4 is 3 sizes of strings with 4 strings of each size.  The 12-step is 12 strings with each string being a different size.

There are builders using slightly different string gradations.  Some builders will use whatever strings or wire they happen to have available. 
Getting a proper string gradation on the nyckelharpa can make a big difference on the sound.  It may be worth a little experimentation to find what works best on your nyckelharpa.  Our observation is that most players seem use the 4-4-4 string gradation.

String materials:  The small diameter un-wound strings are usually solid steel.  The wound strings are usually phosphor bronze winding.  If you can’t get a phosphor bronze winding, get a nickel wound as a 2nd choice.  The phosphor bronze are thought to sound a little better than the nickel wound.  There are some gold-plated steel strings being tried in Europe.

6+6: Some Swedish made 3 rowed nyckelharpas use a 6+6 sympathetic string set.  The ANA web site calls for 6 wound strings, 0.021” (0.53 mm) in Diameter and 6 plain steel strings, 0.014” (0.36 mm) in diameter.   I have not met anyone who thinks this 6+6 string set sounds good on a nyckelharpa.  I do not recommend using it.

4+4+4: The ANA web site calls for 4 wound strings, 0.024” (0.61 mm) in Diameter for 4 wound strings, 0.021” (0.53 mm) in Diameter and 4 plain steel strings, 0.014” (0.36 mm) in diameter.   Since Earl uses bulk strings and can’t get the .021 size in bulk, he uses 4 - .020” (.51 mm) for the middle size.  He puts this string gradation on most of the nyckelharpas he builds.

If you use D’Addario strings, the string codes for this set are: PB024, PB021(or PB020) and PL014.

12-step: The ANA web site calls for 12 strings varying from .025” (0.64 mm) to 0.14” (0.36 mm), by steps of .001”. The lower 6 are wound, the higher 6 plain.
If you use D’Addario strings, the string codes for this set are: PB025, PB024, PB023, PB022, PB021, PB020, PL019, PL018, PL017, PL016, PL015 and PL014.

Sympathetic strings for larger nyckelharpas:
Johan Hedin Tenor: The string progression recommended by Johan Hedin for this model of the tenor nyckelharpa is 12 strings varying in size from .032” (0.81 mm) to .015” (0.38 mm).  Note that this nyckelharpa has a 440 mm mensur length (nut to bridge length).  The sympathetic strings are located below the key box.  Standard length guitar strings work on this instrument.

If you use D’Addario strings, the string codes for this set are: PB032, PB030, PB028, PB026, PB024, PB022, PB021, PB020, PL018, PL017, PL016 and PL015. This is what Earl uses on his cello nyckelharpas.

We stock a full range of Prim Nyckelharpa strings and the Spirocore strings recommended for the Johan Hedin tenor nyckelharpa. We also stock sets of sympathetic strings.

Cello Nyckelharpas: Cello Nyckelharpa typically have mensur lengths between 480 and 510 mm.  Based on recommendations from Holger Funke with input from Olle Plahn, the Johan Hedin tenor string progression is recommended for a cello harpa. The problem is that some cello harpas get large enough that standard guitar strings are not long enough. There are long scale electric bass guitar strings that can be used. The cello harpa body design Earl has developed uses a 480 mm mensur length and standard 12-string guitar tuners for the sympathetic strings. Four of the sympathetic string tuners require strings longer than the standard guitar strings. He is using long scale bass guitar strings for the 4 sting locations where they are needed. These long scale strings are not available in all sizes.

If you use D’Addario strings, the string codes for this set, as he is using,  are: PB032, PB030, PB028, PB026, two-XLB025W, two-XLB020P, PL018, PL017, PL016 and PL015

We understand that some nyckelharpa players use Helicore or other cello strings for a different or preferred sound. At this time we are not actively stocking other brands of strings.

Here is a pdf format of our String Order Form.

Payment: We are willing to take Paypal for strings. Sending a check with the order form is also an option. We can take a credit card number, but will pass on the card fee.

If you have questions about ordering strings, please contact us.

What is on the nyckelharpa you have? If you had one string break and you want to replace it, or you like the sound of what you have, but do not know exactly what they are and cannot reach the builder, take the nyckelharpa or string(s) into a good guitar shop.  They should have a micrometer (very precise measurement tool) which measures the string diameter(s).  Most guitar shops stock single strings.  You should be able to get a string match.

Where to get sympathetic strings: We sell 4+4+4 sets and the graduated sets for the nyckelharpas Earl builds. The ANA website provides a listing of string vendors. Most guitar shops stock an assortment of single strings.  An on-line source in the USA is:  Please note that many “single” strings are now sold on-line in multi packs. D’Addario sells most “single” strings in 5 packs now.

About balancing the main strings:  If you think a string is to loud, you should replace it with a softer string.  If you think one is to soft, replace it with a harder string.  With solid steel strings, the bigger the string, the louder it will be.

If you have a sympathetic string that is vibrating to much, replace it with the next size bigger.  If you have some string that do not seem to vibrate at all, they may be to big/heavy.  This can be a bit of a game to find what you think sounds best on your nyckelharpa.

When to change your strings: Many players change their main string about once a year.  Some professional players who play a lot, will change their strings a couple times a year. The Sympathetic strings are often changed about every 5 years. If you do not know how old your strings are, or they are over 5 years old, we recommend changing them.  A new set of strings will probably make your nyckelharpa sound a lot better.

For more information about strings and tuning, the ANA web site has some good articles.

(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 on 1/11/2021)