Know when to change strings.
A new set of strings every year for professionals and every 2-3 years for non professionals. Good quality strings make for a livelier, happier resonance.
If your strings are new and the harp is tuned properly in the flat position, but the intonation is not good in the natural and/or sharp positions, the problem is most likely the regulation.
A false string usually can not be tuned properly in the ‘flat’ position. (If the problem is only in the natural & sharp positions, it is most likely the regulation.) Due to bad overtones, a false string does not register well on a tuner and it will often vibrate unevenly.
A false string and bad regulation have nothing to do with each other!
Change wire strings- yearly for the professional and every 2-3 years for students or non professional harpist. New wire strings give the harp a much fuller and bigger sound. It also brings clarity and better general intonation.
Change 1st and 2nd octave strings- every 6 months for professionals and every year or so for amateurs. Your harp is only as good as its strings. Strings stretch over time thus making the string thinner. The disk then does not grab as tightly, causing the string to sound flatter or buzz. We especially notice intonation problems in the top 2 octaves. Regular changing of 1st and 2nd octave strings will help to keep a better intonation and the strings will have a more solid sound.
Learn how to string a harp properly.
There are reasons for proper stringing that will help eliminate buzzes and extend the life of your string. Do not let strings wrap on the tuning pins all the way to the neck of the harp or get so stretched that they do the same. If this happens, replace the strings. It might be time for a new string, or unwind it, pull-up most of the slack and rewrap the string and trim the end.
Know how to tie the knot properly. Do not leave any extra string at the base near the knot. Be sure when the string is on, that the string ends are not touching each other inside the body of the harp. This is a major source of buzzes.
Wire strings do not stretch so they need to be given enough slack to allow them to wrap around the pin neatly with 2-3 turns. More than that will not benefit your harp. A good rule is to thread it up through the tuning pin, allow slack so you can pull it back 1 octave plus 1-2 strings (and no more!) then turn slowly to allow for a neat inward wrap on the tuning pin.
Always tune with the pedals in the flat position.
This will make for the best tuning since the string will stretch evenly over its length and it will avoid excess wear on the string where it hits the disk. If you tune with the harp in the natural (or sharp) position, the string is dragged over the disk causing it to wear and stretch unevenly.
Be sure to push in on tuning pins as you tune.
This will insure that they hold firmly in place and there is no slipping. Sometimes it is necessary to back off and grind the tuning pin back and forth in towards the neck as you turn, to be sure it is tightly set in the neck.
Regular Regulations to keep mechanism in order.
Yearly for the professional and every 2-3 years for the non professional. New pedal felts, new wires and 1st & 2nd octave strings will insure the best possible regulation and that everything works smoothly, free of buzzes and with good intonation.
Excerpt originally published in the AHS Journal, Summer 2008- What’s the Buzz?!: The Art of Harp Maintenance by Karen Gottlieb. Also relevant: The Thing About Strings-A Visit to the Bow Brand String Factory. (or See Publications page)
Other websites with information & instruction on Maintenance, Restringing, & Tuning:
Curtesy of Peter Wiley, Master Harp Technician (& my Guru), you will find answers to frequently asked questions about regulations & maintenance. See his 'FAQs & Tips'. http://www.harpdoc.com/index.html
Curtesy of Steve Moss, Harp Technician, this website and video clips offers some very good instruction on maintenance, regulations, replacing strings & wire strings, tuning & moving your harp. http://www.mossharpservice.com/harpcaredvd.html
Tying String Ends: http://youtu.be/kSucNP_WjYQ This is my simple 'Bunny & Buddy Method' I've developed over the years. Basically it is a slip-knot. You make a small flattened 1" loop (=bunny ear), put the 1" string end with it (=buddy) and slip the slip-knot around both of them and pull tightly. Check out the video link.