Dusty Strings Harp and Hammered Dulcimer Makers logo(206) 634-1656

Several of us are away at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival, and we may not be able to respond to emails and phone calls as quickly as usual. Thank you for your patience!

Frequently Asked Questions

Details about pricing and how to order are available using the links to the left (or at the bottom of the page, if you're on a mobile device).

General instrument maintenence topics are covered on our Harp Maintenance & Troubleshooting page and our Hammered Dulcimer Maintentance & Troubleshooting page.

The frequently asked questions below are a work in progress, so feel free to give us a call if you don't see the answer you're looking for!

Harp Questions

What is regulation and do I need it?

Regulation is the process of fine-tuning the levers and bridge pins so that each sharping lever makes an in-tune half step when you flip it. If you start to notice that your harp sounds out of tune when you engage some of the levers, that's probably a sign that you're in need of regulation! There are more details on our Harp Maintenance & Troubleshooting page.

How often should I change my strings?

There is no rule about how often to replace your strings, and the good news is that you can do whatever feels right to you! Some people change all their strings every couple of years, and other people only replace them if they break. The harp doesn't care, so it's just up to you to decide if the strings are sounding dull or if your harp doesn't have the liveliness that you remember.

If you're not sure, here are some general indicators that your harp might benefit from a new set of strings:

  • If a string does not sound true to pitch, or if your electronic tuner can't get a clear reading on the note.
  • If your wound strings are a few years old and are sounding dull. (Steel wound strings in particular can start to corrode and lose their tone after a few years.)
  • If any wound strings are starting to unwrap.
  • If a nylon wound string is so old that the wrap has stretched up over the bridge pin.

What if I can't tie the harper's knot?

When you don't get daily practice, and especially if you struggle with joint pain or limited finger dexterity, tying the harper's knot can be a challenge. To address that, we've developed an alternative string anchoring method called String Buttons, which are easier on the hands and use the power of the tuning pin to do the work of cinching down the knot.

If you'd like to get more practice at the traditional harper's knot, we have videos on our Harp Strings page, under the Replacing Strings tab. Sometimes it's useful to practice the knot on a larger scale using a piece of rope, and then transition to a slippery nylon harp string once you've got the shape down.

What are sharping levers for?

A sharping lever is a mechanism at the top of a harp string that allows you to  raise the pitch of the string by a half step. This means that you can easily switch back and forth between different keys without having to re-tune your harp. There's more information under "Using Sharping Levers" on our Harp Maintenance & Troubleshooting page.

Can I use other strings on my Dusty Strings harp?

You can use any brand of nylon monofilament strings on your Dusty harp, provided they are the diameter specified on your string chart. This is also true for gut strings - as long as you use the correct diameter, you can use any brand. The difficulty is that most other brands of gut strings are labeled by octave and note, rather than by diameter, and the notes may not be correct for a Dusty harp. To help you sort this out, our string charts (available under the String Charts tab on our Harp Strings page) provide information about acceptable gut string substitutes by brand and note name.

The wound strings are different. We make our own custom wound strings for each of our harp models, and we highly recommend purchasing wound strings that are made by us. (You can check with a local dealer, call us to order, or buy strings on our website!) Unless you order them custom-made, you are unlikely to find wound strings elsewhere that will work and will not invalidate your warranty.

We take great care in our stringwinding, and each string is designed for a particular note on a particular harp. Using different strings can cause problems - from minor ones like a loss of tone or buzzing against the sharping lever to major ones like putting too much tension on the harp and causing serious damage to the instrument. If you choose to have someone else design a string set for your Dusty harp, you must be sure you are not putting more tension on the harp than our standard string set does. Doing so could harm the harp and will void your warranty.

Can I use your strings on a non-Dusty Strings harp?

If you have a harp by another maker, you can order our nylon monofilament strings, provided you know what color and diameter you need. However, unless your harp has been specifically designed for one of our string sets (which is true in a few cases), it is unlikely that our wound strings will work well. We have designed a specific string for each note on each of our harp models, and unless one happens to be the exact materials, length and diameter as the string you're replacing, it will probably not sound good, could interfere with how the lever works or sounds, and could potentially damage your harp if the tension is higher than the harp was designed to handle.

If you don't know where to get the right strings and are unable to reach the maker of your harp, we recommend contacting North Shore Strings. If they don't already have specifications for your harp on file, they can design and make a custom string set that will work well and be safe for your harp.

How can I amplify my harp?

If you're looking for a quick answer, check out the Dusty Harp Pickup.

For more in-depth information, we have a series of posts on our blog that cover the basics of harp amplification and how to decide what will work best for you. We recommend starting with the first post about pickups vs. microphones.

How do I tighten a loose tapered tuning pin?

If your Dusty Strings harp was built before September 1998, it will have been fitted with tapered tuning pins, which hold the strings at the proper tension by the friction between the pin and the wood of the harp neck. This system is widely used in the harp industry and in other stringed instruments like violins and violas.

These pins will come loose from time to time because of changes in temperature and humidity, after changing a string or just because of getting used over a period of time. Sometimes a pin will get so loose that it back spins under the tension of the string, and that note won’t hold pitch. There is nothing wrong with your harp if this happens and the process below will help you get that pin or pins holding pitch again.

Note: Starting in September 1998, we phased in threaded tuning pins, and by May 1999, all harps were being built with threaded pins instead of tapered. It’s important to know which type you have, because they take different treatment! If you are unsure, you can check the small string chart or serial number tag glued to the back of the soundboard. If your harp has threaded tuning pins, there will either be a note on the chart to that effect, or the serial number will have a “T” at the end. It is really rare that a threaded pin will become loose enough that the string no longer holds pitch, but if that happens to you, please contact us for advice. Don’t use the procedure described here, and don’t remove a threaded tuning pin unless absolutely necessary.

To tighten tapered tuning pins that have become loose, tune the string down by about one half turn of the pin. Stand on the right side of the harp (the tuning side of the harp). Reach over the neck with your left arm and brace your arm and hand on the left side of the neck. Then tune it back up while applying inward pressure with the wrench. Sometimes, using a “jerky” motion, or wiggling the wrench back and forth, can help to set the pin securely and deeper in its hole. Just be careful not to tune it higher than its normal pitch; you can break the string that way. You can use quite a lot of force pushing it in without damaging the harp. Don't be afraid to put all your muscle into it. If it is still not holding, repeat this until it does, or seek help from someone with a bit more arm strength. We never recommend using a hammer to tighten the pins for fear of splitting the neck!

Here is a YouTube video made by a colleague of ours, Steve Moss, who demonstrates this same process nicely.

How do I fix a tuning pin that is too short to get the tuning wrench on?

There's always going to be a bit of variation in how much of the tuning pin is showing on each side of the harp neck. However, if you notice that one pin is much different than the others, or there's barely enough pin on the non-lever side of the neck for your tuning wrench to grab, it's worth addressing. Dusty harps from about 1998 on have threaded tuning pins, which are basically like very fine screws. As you tune your harp over the years, you're mostly tuning up, which means you're effectively screwing the tuning pin into the neck of the harp. When a string breaks and you need to replace it, that is the ideal time to back out the pin, or "unscrew" it before putting the new string on. Usually, backing it out by 4-6 rotations is good. If you forget to do this (or you have never heard of threaded tuning and had no idea), your pins will continue advancing into the neck of the harp until they are eventually so short on one side that you can't tune them anymore. To fix this, just take the strings off and back the pins out with your tuning wrench until you can see about 3/4" on the non-lever side of the neck.

Why is one of my bridge pins pointy?

If you notice that one or a few of your bridge pins near the top of your harp look different from the rest, don't worry! There's nothing wrong with them. In the upper ranges of the harp, everything has to get closer together in order to achieve accurate regulation. The beveled head allows the lever cam to get as close as possible to the bridge pin, which is necessary for some of these very short strings.

One of my levers is missing the fret pin! What should I do?

Sometimes people notice that one or a few of their sharping levers are missing the little pin that the sharping lever presses against when it's engaged. This is actually part of the lever design! On the shortest strings with the smallest levers, there isn't room for that fret pin, and the levers are designed to function properly without one.

Why is my string buzzing?

Please see the Harp Maintenance & Troubleshooting page.

Do you still sell cases for the FH32 and the older-style FH36?

Unfortunately, we do not have any cases left that fit these models. However, you can talk to a custom case company, such as Coon Hollow Canvas or Markwood Heavenly Cases about having a case made to fit your harp.

Can you repair the zipper on my harp case?

We don't actually make the cases ourselves, and we don't have the capability to do repairs on them, but you can probably take your case to a company that does outdoor gear repair (fixing things like backpacks and sleeping bags).

What if the Snark tuner breaks on my Duo-Tune?

It is relatively easy to replace the tuner head, and we sell reinforced replacement heads for this purpose. There are no tools necessary - you can just pop the old one off and snap the new one on!

I need to travel with my harp. Can you ship it for me?

We aren't a shipping company, and we don't take on shipping other people's harps. However, if you are near our workshop in Seattle, we can sell you a box and packing materials and show you how to safely pack the harp so you can ship it yourself or check it on an airplane. If you are not nearby, it is theoretically possible for us to ship you an empty box, but it costs as much as shipping a full box, since shipping companies charge by the size of the box. There are more details about traveling with your harp on our Harp Maintenance & Troubleshooting page.

I just ordered a new harp. What should I do when it arrives?

People are often nervous about the thought of their new instrument in the hands of a shipping company, but rest assured that we ship our instruments all the time, and shipping damage is very rare. To help prepare you for what to expect and what to do when the instrument arrives, we've put together a document called Receiving Your Harp. As always, feel free to call us if you have any questions!

Hammered Dulcimer Questions

I lost/broke one of my hammers. Can I get a single replacement?

We sell hammers only in matched pairs. They are hand-sanded to final shape as a pair, so that their balance and feel is identical. This might not seem significant, but an unmatched pair can easily become bothersome. Even a variation in leather thickness, which is common, impacts the feel.

How can I amplify my dulcimer?

You can get a functional sound from any one of the many single spot, stick-on acoustic instrument pickups that are on the market. They are inexpensive and easy to install, although you may experience that your sound is not very well balanced or natural.

If you want to invest in a more professional level of pickup, we've found that a brand called Pickup the World does a good job of sound reproduction on the dulcimer. There is a dual-element model for the hammered dulcimer that applies with double-stick tape, and can easily go on the top of the soundboard. The elements are in view then, and the wires and jack have to be secured to the instrument somehow so they don't rattle. The elements usually sound best with one placed between the treble and bass bridge near the bottom edge of the soundbaord, and the other near the top edge, between the two bridges. It's a good idea to try a few slightly different placements to find the best sounding spots. We've also found that using a pre-amp helps with both volume and sound quality.

For Dusty Strings dulcimers, we have designed a more involved internal installation that hides the pickup and wires from view. We attach the elements to the underside of the soundboard, going through the sound slots at the top rail and the handle hole near the bottom rail. We cushion the wires with soft sleeving so we can route them through the soundbox without risking buzzing, and then mount the jack discreetly into the back. Call us for current pricing.

What should I do if I'm missing a black or white bridge cap marker?

The black and white delrin bridge cap markers can sometimes pop out and get lost when changing strings, so we sell small packs of replacements. While you're waiting for a replacement, a short segment of 1/8" dowel from the hardware store will work temporarily, or you can simply take the tension off of that course of strings so they don't dig into the wood of the bridge. When replacing a bridge cap, you can just set it in place, and the string tension will hold it. If you decide you want to glue it down, you can use a small dab of adhesive caulk or a drop of superglue.

Can I put dampers on my dulcimer?

We have designed a do-it-yourself damper kit for our D45 and PD40 models, and we can install dampers here at our workshop on our current Chromatic Series models. We can add dampers to any D300 newer than serial #13378, any D500/D550 newer than serial # 13169, and any D570, D600, D650 or D670. We do not make dampers for other makes of dulcimer. More info here.

How do I set up my dampers?

The Dusty Strings damper system can be confusing the first time you set it up, so we recommend printing out our Damper Instruction Sheet to help you.

What's the easiest way to attach my TriStander or FlatStander legs?

Believe it or not, you don't have to turn your dulcimer upside down! See below for a demonstration of one way to set up your Tristander or Flatstander system.

Can I use your strings on my non-Dusty Strings dulcimer?

Yes, you probably can, but you'll need to know what materials and gauges of strings you need, or be willing to experiment. Because all dulcimers are designed differently, we aren't able to advise you about what strings to put on an instrument that we didn't make. For more details about this, as well as the types and sizes of dulcimer strings that we sell, see our Strings page.

What if the Snark tuner breaks on my Dulci-Tune?

It is relatively easy to replace the tuner head, and we sell replacement heads for this purpose. There are no tools necessary - you can just pop the old one off and snap the new one on. Snark tuners have a 1-year manufacturer's warranty, so please let us know if yours has broken within the first year of owning it.

Where can I find instruction for the piano dulcimer?

Piano dulcimer is a relatively new instrument, and is not widely taught. It's well-suited for those who are comfortable exploring on their own! The one instructional book that we know of is no longer in print, but you can download a PDF of it here, thanks to Sam Rizzetta.

General Questions

Do you offer workshop tours?

We are sometimes able to give short tours to those who are involved with the harp or dulcimer (or would like to be) and are interested to learn more about how we build them. This depends on staff availability, so please give us a call to see if we can schedule something. It usually works best for us to do tours after 3:30 in the afternoon. We are a small company and we regret we do not have the resources to offer tours to the general public at this point.

Do you sell used instruments?

We do not generally have used harps or dulcimers here at our workshop. If you are in the Seattle area, you can check with our store and school location, where they do sometimes have pre-owned instruments for sale. If you're not nearby, you can look for instruments on Craig's List or Ebay, or on harp-specific websites such as the Harp Column. You can also check with your local American Harp Society or Folk Harp Society chapter to see if they have a newsletter that includes classified ads.