Hello <waves nervously>

This morning the postie brought the new toy - another Ebay accident, I am sure you all know the syndrome...

It's an Alto psaltery, made from an Early Music Shop kit. The guy who built it sadly never really got chance to use it much, and I am hoping that it will get much more use now it's with us.

The stringing was a bit untidy - to the extent that every note played did damage to the bow, pointy bits of wire sticking out from the hitch pins all over the place...  I tried trimming them down but it wasn't enough, and the fear of destroying the bow eventually overcame all other fears.

I asked my local music shop if they had any suitable wire, and showed them the inch-long bit I cut off one of the hitch pins, they were unable to help. OK, they were stunned at being asked for wire so fine, they had never seen anything quite like it!

In desperation, I've spent the evening restringing it. I've (very VERY carefully) removed all the strings on the right side, one at a time, and reinstalled them. Thankfully they were all cut so long that the bits of trimming I had to do left me with enough to work with - but one is a bit borderline. I think it's nearly right, I expect that there will be more work to do tomorrow when it's relaxed a bit. At some stage I need to address the "dark side" but at the moment I am playing very simple tunes and haven't dared put the bow over there

My question is -  what I should use to replace any broken strings? I hate the idea of being stuck without it if I do break one, so I would like to have the wherewithal to replace straight away, should the worst happen. I don't have a micrometer or vernier caliper, so I don't know what the wire gauge is - even if I did I don't know where to buy it. I am based in the UK on the south coast (Sussex).

Here's hoping

Janey - The newest newbie

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Curses! I am actually away this weekend, so won't be able to make it...

That's really kind of you to offer, hopefully we will meet another time. I am only about 15 miles from Brighton, can hop on a train easy enough, so give me a shout if you're down again. I didn't know about the Maker Faire - looks rather fun, wish I could go!
The Beast (as I started to call it last night) looks exactly like the one shown on the EMS site - I can't find any instruments on the Gewa site, only strings. I was warned that their instruments weren't great, but this was not expensive, and for a first instrument it seemed like a good start. It came with what was described as a violin bow, but it looks exactly like the bows that Gema sell... If nothing else, yesterday evening was a good learning experience, and I learned a good deal that I wouldn't if I had paid a fortune for something that was already set up - I spent a good deal of time on this site working out how to fix the strings on and read lots of stuff along the way!

I will call EMS and see what they say - I would have thought they'd be able to sell me something!

I suppose I should go and do some work now

I called EMS, and the helpful fellow suggested that I bought three rolls of different sized wire - .30, .40 & .46 - which is going to cost me £40, which isn't in my budget at present. Would those sizes sound sensible? I have ordered a micrometer as Tim suggested, so I should be able to identify what's on there at present. Also I think that one of the boxes of model-making gear that himself has stashed in the loft might have something appropriate concealed within...

I have two bows - one is the violin style one, which has never been used before - I didn't believe that it would make no sound at all unless it was rosined, but it was true! I will have to spend some time loading it up with rosin before I can try it. The other bow is the rebec style, with synthetic hair, and it's in a bit of a poor state with a few broken hairs, but I will trim those down and see how I get on.

Musical background is pretty near nil. I play a whistle badly (no, I mean REALLY badly) and I am trying to teach myself the guitar as well. I sort of read music (as well as the average 11 year old - except with a few years of memory in between) - and I am trying to get better. My other half is also keen to get the BP working, although he's not got his paws on it yet! We have a number of mates who are musos of one form or another (mostly folk) and we just want to be able to join in when they all start playing at parties The BP seems like a great choice, as it's pretty portable, very unusual, and seems like something a complete beginner can get a nice noise from.

Hi Janey,  I suspect the string sizes given to you were in mm.  I found a website in the UK that sells single strings and they were sized by thousandths of an inch, as we see here the US.  The conversion of the sizes EMS gave you would make a little more sense, but still would seem a little large for a psaltery in your size.  The .30 would be .012, the .40 would be .015, and the .46 would be .018.

Here are links to those string sizes on the Strings Direct website -




I see that you have a micrometer on order.  That will be the most accurate method to determine the true size of you existing strings.  Even if a few are missing, a great clue would be the size of the next string higher or lower in pitch.  Important to start with the knowledge of how your micrometer gives you that information.  Whether it be metric or US, Google will convert it for you quickly.  

If your psaltery uses hitch pins that are the same as your tuning pins, square head with a small hole close to the surface of the wood, a ball end string will work.  If your strings are hitched around the pin with no ball end, you can learn how by carefully removing one of the old strings and pay attention to how it was looped through.  

Don't forget you will need to turn the tuning pins counter clockwise to raise the height of them before installing the new string.  Just enough turns to account for how many times you will end up wrapping the new string when it is installed.  You just don't want the wraps of string to go down low enough to be digging in to the surface of the wood.  The tuning pins have tiny threads cut into them, so they act like tightening or loosening a screw.  Clockwise lowers the height, counter clockwise raises them.

Close up pics of the existing strings on both the hitch pins and tuning pins would allow for giving you better advice.  Also the length of some of the strings from hitch pin to the top of the bridge, along with what notes those strings normally tune to.  A pic of the entire front face of the psaltery will gives us the clues needed to help find the tuning from the lowest to the highest pitch.

As others have already said, stay calm and we will try to help you through the process :-)

Rick Long


Hello Janey,

When all is said and done you're suffering from two issues common to the new psalterist: You lack a micrometer and a source of piano wire and/or bulk single guitar strings.  The micrometer is a critical piece of kit and an inexpensive one will suffice. The strings on your psaltery are either cut from a spool of piano wire or consist of guitar strings, either loop or ball-end. Personally, I would look for a source of single guitar strings first, as the instrument may use more than one gauge of string and a spool of piano wire is a very great quantity indeed. (Note that the plain strings of a guitar are made of piano wire.  There's nothing special about it.)  A single broken string can be readily replaced with an appropriate guitar string.  I'm sure the UK version of Google will identify your best mail order sources easily and the same delivery service that conveyed your instrument will whisk these necessities to your door.  

Most importantly, relax and enjoy your instrument.  No need for a breakdown.

Hi Tim, I have ordered a micrometer - they are incredibly cheap, I am really surprised! Hopefully that will give me some clues. I spoke to EMS and asked what they suggested in terms of wire gauge and ended up even more confused. I will see what's on there and then formulate a cunning plan...

I will be chilled... Thursday evening taxed my nerves somewhat, but I have had a calming weekend, and will postpone the breakdown for a little while - finding this site as a source of help and support has been a real boost too! Thanks for taking the time to help, it's appreciated.

Oh Janey! Your psaltery should be relieving your stress not contributing to it!

I'm glad the lonely psaltery found a home at least and don't let this experience prevent you from moving forward with it. Stringing is probably THE most daunting thing about the psaltery, but like everything else, experience will cure that.

I have been playing psaltery for 5 years and have had to replace only a few strings so I am no expert. I am facing a couple restringing projects however and have been procrastinating. I bought three VERY inexpensive psalteries, little more than a board with nails and strings on them , intending to have them on hand when I do beginner workshops. Unfortunately the stringing was so sloppy I was bleeding profusely before I got them out of the packaging and decided they were too dangerous to put in the hands of a new player. So, there they sit waiting for my attention.

I will have to completely restring all three of them. Not only were they sloppy but each piece of string covers two notes so If one breaks you have lost two notes instead of one. I know that Unicorn Strings and Kelischek psalteries are strung this way also, but they both do a nice neat job of it. I just prefer separate strings for each though I'm sure an argument can be made for both methods.

I prefer the tidy look of the ball end strings though some of my psaltery friends find the ball ends distracting when they play. Certainly they are more expensive than plain wire so from an ecconomical perspective plain wire is more practical (especially for the project I have ahead of me).

If you didn't receive a stringing chart with a string gauge guide you might be able to get one from EMS. They might also have wire you could order from them though you might find it cheaper elsewhere on the internet. Consider giving them a call.

Jeremy and Tim have given you excellent advice as they always do, thanks guys, and don't get discouraged you are getting through the worst of it early and with some patience it will soon be behind you.

Thank you so much to all of you for your replies and advice -I don't know what the normal thread reply etiquette is here, but I got myself in a right tangle trying to respond to each response, when people were commenting on what others had said! So I am chickening out and starting again!

As Tim suggested, I ordered a micrometer which should be here in a day or two - then I will know what I am starting at. The complications of international wire gauges aside, I should be able to work out what to buy so I can replace anything that breaks, but not break the bank at the same time.

As Rick & Jeremy suggested, here are some pictures of the Beast... There's an overall picture of the thing, and some pictures of the hitch pins and tuning pins before and after... I've restrung all the right-hand side, using the technique shown in Ann Tucker's posting here (I did use one string per note though!) http://psalterystrings.ning.com/forum/topics/instructions-for-repla...

I looked at the videos on youtube, and I couldn't quite get my head around the "tie a knot and cut the end bit off" technique - I can't quite work out how you avoid the sharp ends that way, and Ann's technique seemed so much more intuitive. I did have to adjust the tuning a bit when I picked it up again, but not as much as I expected.

The pegs are all different heights - I found that they've been tightened up different amounts, and when I tried to even them up they weren't biting in properly and just undoing themselves. The slots in the hitchpins are cut the opposite way to the holes, which seems odd and doesn't match the pictures I am seeing, I am guessing that was not the standard way...

The longest and shortest strings are tuned to G and the others follow alphabetically, is that two octaves? I haven't dared investigate the left side as there are still sharp wires and I am sticking to simple tunes with no sharps and flats until I get a bit more confident.

I suspect that this beast wasn't quite the good buy I was hoping, but I still think it will be a reasonable starter instrument...

Donna, thank you for the calming thoughts, as well as the reminder that I am bound to struggle at first - I do tend to expect myself to be able to run before I walk! A weekend at sea calmed the stress down rather - it usually does

Thanks again all.


It only seemed to let me add three pictures, so here are some more...


I"ve never seen hitch pins like that before.

Janey, your beast has a lovely heart      I"ve always been fond of heart sound holes.

Hi again Janey,  Yes, two octave G to G on the right, G# to Eb on the left.  I understand the why you wanted to re-string the "beast", as you call it.  You have done a much neater job on the side you did.  Sounds like you are already off to a really good start thanks to Ann's instruction.  Also the strings that still exist in place on the left side will help you determine the size with your micrometer.  They can be measured in place.  

Those pins appear to be tapered pins, commonly used in harps.  Here's a listing of some on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Kinnor-Harp-Tuning-Pins-Pack/dp/B0089N3J6W  

You apply downward pressure on the pin while raising the pitch to seat them tighter into the hole and this tightens them enough to resist the tension of the tuned string.  I helped a lady tune a Pakistan Ebay psaltery a few years back, they used the same type of pins.  These are quite different from the zither tuning pins I spoke of in my earlier post.  I'm afraid there's not much to do about the varying heights of the tops of the pins.  That's why the ones you attempted to raise wouldn't hold and were slipping.  There is a reamer used to form the taper in the wood to accept the pin, but I wouldn't recommend trying it, as long as you can snug them up enough to hold your string tuning.

With the hole turned to the side on the hitch pins, you don't have the choice to use ball end strings, short of grinding new grooves.  Someone with a small hand grinder, such as a Dremel, with an abrasive cut-off wheel, could grind grooves on the other sides and then just turn the pin 1/4 turn.  A small needle file would also do the job, with patience.  Other than that, the easiest would be to do just as you already have on that right side.  Also, with the hole in the pin being as high up as it is, the wrapped section of a ball end string could end up where it would interfere with your bow hair.  That would have to be determined before wasting any effort toward doing it this way.

Great pictures, let us know what you find out after measuring the strings.


Ok, the micrometer arrived this morning. Was slightly disappointed with the sticker on the back stating that the accuracy was +- 0.2mm, since the strings are around that anyway, but I pressed on...Then I realised that the thing was made out of plastic and as soon as I pushed the caliper together the surface was damaged. At that point I drove round to our local model shop and bought something a bit more proper which cost about 4 times as much, which is what I should have done in the first place. Moral of that story is that you get what you pay for.

According to the micrometer, most of the strings are 0.19mm or .20mm, and there are a few big fat boys at 0.29mm or .30mm - these are in no particular place, the lowest G, middle B, and about half the left side.

I have found someone selling "piano wire" in various thicknesses http://tinyurl.com/94mk7de - would this be suitable? My beloved has been playing around with the Beast and is feeling quite keen to get going, so I don't want his enthusiasm to wane...


Yes, the piano wire you found on Ebay is what you need for the strings and it's great that you can buy it in the smaller quantity rolls of 3 meters each.  It's also great that they include a conversion chart for the sizes.  The varying sizes of the existing strings, and their placement, don't make a lot of sense, but maybe the builder of the kit had a reason for it.  If it were mine, I would try starting at the lowest notes with the .305mm for at least the first half octave, both sides.  Then the .254mm for another octave and finish the other half octave with the .20mm.  This may mean having to re-string the ones you have already done, so if you are happy with the sound, you could just leave those as is.



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