Book of Lynne

Building your own harp

Bray Harp Primer


BUILDING YOUR OWN HARP: Advice from the Book of Lynne (C) 2006

This is what I’ve learned. Perhaps it will help you.

IF YOU WANT TO BUILD: You’ve got to like people

I can think of no other musical instrument more freighted with mythology than the harp. Generally, people who want to build harps figure that it is “right livelihood,” and ask no more questions. Ahem, not so fast. Anybody in a hands-on business has got to like people.

You must treat with equanimity all the people who come to you for a harp. Like a priest or a doctor, you will learn strange and intimate details about your client in a very short time. You’ll meet people who want the harp as a peace symbol, as a patriotic symbol, as an historic symbol, as a religious symbol. You get the picture.

You are not just working from iconography. You are building an icon. Be very careful.

IF YOU WANT TO BUILD: Safety trumps Vanity

Those lovely little harps are just waiting to hurt you in their quest for Being.

Buy a one-piece face shield, well-fitted over your head. Or wear goggles. If you hate them and think you look funny, pretend you are an astronaut or a prize-winning chemist. Wear goggles even when drilling “just one hole” into a metal tuning pin. Replace your safety glasses once in a while. They’re supposed to be clear.

If you actually like the sound of your instruments, protect your hearing. If you use power tools, invest in high-decibel hearing protectors. Do not mistake ear-button musical headsets for hearing protection.

You’ll look like a raccoon from the indentations on your face, but wear a dust mask when you’re sanding or sawing. It’s a tradeoff. Wear the dust mask while you’re young and your face can bounce back into shape, or be obliged to wear an oxygen mask when you’re older and have emphysema and lung cancer. Lightweight models with reverse breather gaskets are easy to breathe through, and fit securely over your nose & mouth.

By far the best safety rule is this: trust your guts. If you are afraid of a certain tool, don’t use it. The time may come when you can. Until then, people may call you sissy or Luddite. They will also call you Ten-Fingered.

Yes, you can create your own website or blog, but there’s no substitute for real people with real questions. It’s a great way to test what you know, and what you care about.

We don’t all spring from the head of our Profession fully armed with a press kit. It takes practice. (I was so paralyzed with shyness during my first taped interview for radio that the guy had to come back another time. On the second try, I was ready.) Most journalists will accommodate your needs. Talk about what is interesting to you about your work. The writer will tailor the data to fit their publication.

When your interview is published, the facts will be wrong. Weird sayings will issue from your alleged mouth. It doesn’t matter. Be enormously complimented that someone finds you worthy of notice. You are now officially Human Interest, Arts, or Goings On About Town. That’s a higher calling than factual accuracy.


You don’t need to order instrument-making plans from somebody else’s shop. And please don’t copy copies. Just study art that pleases you. The sights and sounds you love will find their way into your work whether you plan on it or not.

Is there only one right way to do things? What do you think?



If you are unfamiliar with setting the bray pins on your new harp, here are some tips that may help. First, put the harp on its back on a cloth-covered table. This way you'll have better visual and manual control. In no time at all, fine-tuning the brays will be second nature to you.

For the strings to properly bray, the bray pins are set a fraction of an inch away from the string.

To make it easier to set the distances, keep the string sounding. It’s almost impossible to learn to set a bray on a silent string. Remember, the string does the braying, not the bray pin itself.

The timbre can be adjusted from brittle to purring, depending upon how closely the brays are set to the string. Keep the string sounding while you’re setting the brays, so you can hear all the differences. Brays can be turned aside when you don’t wish to use them.

If the string doesn’t bray, the bray pin may be set too far away, but it may also be TOO CLOSE to the string.

Always handle bray pins by their sides. NEVER LIFT UP on the bray pin blade or it may break off from its stem. Turn brays from side to side when adjusting or removing them. If they are snug from disuse, gently rock them with a tiny motion.

With a new harp, after an initial hello to the brays, turn them aside just far enough so that they are clear of the string. Play the new harp without brays for a short while. The new strings are still settling into their grooves, and the knots are tightening. Keeping the brays out of the picture will help to stabilize tuning.

1. Turn tuning peg to lower tension of string, and remove string from peg.
2. Grasp the bray pin by its sides. Gently turn bray from side to side to loosen it from position on the soundboard. Remove bray pin from soundbox, and remove string.
3. Knot end of new string, place knot into hole on soundboard. Replace bray pin,





Lynne Lewandowski Harps for Early Music • 126 Atkinson Street • Bellows Falls 05101
(c) 2008 Lynne Lewandowski. All Rights Reserved.
All photos property of Lewandowski Harps for Early Music.