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Buzzing Harp Strings

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Every once in awhile most harp players experience the mysterious buzzing string.  Tracking down the cause can make one feel they’ve become a reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes because so many things can contribute to buzzing. And, often, it is a process of trial and error to arrive at a final conclusion and “close the case”. Here are some things to investigate if you’ve got a buzz:

Strings Edit

String interactions

Are the tail ends of any of your strings touching another string? Even that slight bit of contact can produce buzzing. 

SOLUTION: trim string ends or make sure any knots are not large enough to touch other strings.

String too close to a lever

Sometimes the harp levers can go slightly out of adjustment and inadvertently touch a string even when the lever isn’t engaged.

SOLUTION: adjust the bridge pin inward with a small wrench.

String hole grommets

Are all the grommets at the base of the strings on the soundboard tightly affixed? A loose one could be touching the string and causing buzzing.

SOLUTION : ensure grommets are secure.

Sympathetic strings

A string may be buzzing in sympathetic vibration to another string in a harmonic.

SOLUTION : re-tune both strings to see if the buzzing goes away.

Finger positioning or placement on string

The manner of plucking a string can result in buzzing when either the finger or nail hits the string only partially or touches an already vibrating string once it has been played.

SOLUTION: check your finger positioning and movement on the strings.

Defective strings

Bumps, variations in diamater, or other issues can affect an individual string, resulting in poor sound or buzzing.

SOLUTION: check your strings to be sure none of them are faulty. If you find one that is, change the string.

Knot anchor string

Sometimes a string or knot  is used to anchor the bottom of the string on the inside of the soundboard. A loose or misplaced string can result in a vibration.

SOLUTION : check the security of knots, strings, or other anchors in the soundboard.

Levers and Tuning Pins Edit

Partially engaged lever

Are any of your levers partially engaged? A fully engaged lever presses up against a string to change the pitch. A partially engaged lever, however, just causes friction, which produces buzzing.

SOLUTION : fully engage or disengage the offending lever.

Loose levers

A lever that is coming loose can cause contact with the string, resulting in buzzing.

SOLUTION: make sure all levers are tightly screwed on.

Sympathetic levers

Sometimes a particular make of lever will develop sympathetic buzzing among its mates.

SOLUTION : re-tighten lever screws or contact the harp maker for advice. Some folks have had success drilling a small hole in the lever.

Tuning pin placement

Over time, tapered tuning pins can push into the wood in such a way that the string buzzes against the pin.

SOLUTION: Contact the maker for advice and/or research the possibility of inserting a small shim to straighten out the alignment.

Harp Body Edit

Loose feet or legs on the harp itself

If the harp buzzes when the foot or leg is off the ground (e.g., when you are lifting it forward to play) , a loose leg or stand could be the issue.

SOLUTION: Check stands and legs to be sure they’re screwed in tight.

Some harps are meant to buzz

Bray harps have pins at the soundboard that control the amount of buzzing or droning on a string.

SOLUTION: adjust the brays to a position where the desired amount of buzzing (or lack thereof) is present.

Pickup Problems

A loose pickup can produce a vibration, creating a buzz.

SOLUTION: Although securing the pickup with duct tape might be a temporary solution, best to contact the harp maker for help and advice.

Possible more serious issues

Vibration can occur if there is a problem with the neck, column, or soundbox on the harp.

SOLUTION: thoroughly inspect the harp to determine if there are cracks, misalignment or other structural issues. If so, contact the maker and get the harp repaired.

Tuner pick-up position

If the string buzzes when the pick-up for the tuner is attached, it could be that the harp is vibrating in response to this particular placement.

SOLUTION : move the pick-up to another spot on the harp.

Environs Edit

Interactions with other instruments

Do you have other harps, wind, or string instruments in the room? Sometimes your harp may begin buzzing in vibration with these other instruments.

SOLUTION: move your harp, or the other instrument, to a different location.

Floor position

Move your harp to a different location or place a small foam pad under it. If the buzzing stops you know the harp doesn’t like where it’s positioned.

SOLUTION: move the harp to a different location or place padding under the bottom of the harp or stand.

Something you are wearing

Apart from wearing “spurs that jingle jangle jingle”, a particular piece of jewelry or something you are wearing, even a particular kind of button, could be causing the vibration by contact with the harp.

SOLUTION : remove rings, chains, and other jewelry and see if that helps.

Television or radio on in the room while tuning

Odd as it might seem, the sound of a television or radio may disrupt the sound being picked up by the tuner, resulting in a buzz.

SOLUTION: turn off external media while tuning.

Fans and lighting fixtures

A loose glass or piece of metal can sympathetically vibrate in tune with a particular pitch.

SOLUTION: check any fixtures or fans for loose parts.

Metal objects in the room

Are there any metal objects touching metal in the room? Sometimes the buzzing will sound like it is coming from the harp, but is in fact coming from another vibratory source altogether.

SOLUTION: check for anything metal in the room that might be interacting with a hard surface, including screws, metal boxes, teapots on trays, etc.

Climate/Environment

This is a tough one. Sometimes subtle changes in climate or air movement can affect the position of the levers or grommets in unpredictable ways.

SOLUTION: move the harp around to find a position where the temperature or humidity affects it differently. If there is a fan or wind blowing, see if that is the culprit.

References Edit

Note about this article. Some of this content has been copy-pasted from Peggy Coates' website dorveille.com The website has disappeared, but the content remains on the internet archives. Attempts have been made to get in touch with the original author, but have been unfruitful. Should Peggy come across this content, please get in touch with @harpwiki!

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