THE HARP COLUMN January/February 2004

Do new, unused harp strings deteriorate in storage? How should I store them, and what is their shelf life?
- By Mike Lewis

I don't know how long strings remain good in the package. I do know that somewhere between being manufactured and turning to dust there is a legitimate point of saying they are useless.

Recently, I was working for a well-known harpist (name withheld to protect the guilty). She had restrung her harp's top two octaves with some old new strings. How old? Some of the string packages were from Vanderbilt Music with a New York address. The strings were dull and brittle sounding or false. Her restringing job was wasted effort.

My guess is that gut strings will maintain their maximum value for one year. After two years, pass them on to students, and retire them at five years. Bass wires have about two years maximum value; four years -- pass on to students; retire at seven to eight years or sooner. Nylon, plastic, or composite strings -- three to four years max, with pass-on to students after that; retire at seven to eight years.

So what can you do with strings that would not satisfy my standard but you do not want to pass on to students? Keep them in your gig bag as backup strings or place them on your "picnic harp." Use the backup to get you through the gig, leaving a long tail to remind you that you need to replace it and order a new one or take one out of your Fresh String Reserve.

What is a Fresh String Reserve? It is a new set of strings you keep somewhere away from sunlight, heat and moisture.