Figure out what size string you need for your instrument.
by Matt Edwards • May 20, 2021
We often hear from folks that have "found an old zither in the attic" or "picked up this instrument at a garage sale" or had an instrument given to them by a well-intentioned friend or relative. There are a myriad variety of these old zithers, psalteries, ukelins, and other musical instruments around and most of them need some strings. Unfortunately, if you have ever brought one of these instruments into a modern music shop and asked for some new strings, you are not likely to get much help.
The purpose of this page is to help you find the correct replacement string for your instrument. This information could also be used as a resource for those that wish to design their own musical instrument and need to figure out how to string it.
In order to make good use of this information and find the correct string, it helps to understand a few concepts about strings on musical instruments and about how the chart below is set up. I'll start with a brief overview of these ideas and then give you a few scenarios where this table would come in handy and how to make use of it.
In this article, we will cover:
- The names of the notes
- The length of the strings
- The gauge of the string (thickness)
- The tension in the string
- Sortable String Gauge Table
The table below uses Scientific Pitch Notation (SPN). SPN is a way to identify a specific musical pitch using the musical note name and a number which identifies the pitch's octave. In this system, Middle C on a piano is C4. The number, or octave, changes on the C notes. So the C one octave above middle C would be C5 and so on. See the keyboard below.
Vibrating Length (VL)
This is simply the length of string that is allowed to vibrate freely when plucked. Usually this distance is measured from the bridge to a guide pin or tuning pin. It should be fairly straight forward to figure this out.
This is the diameter of the string. If the old string is still on the instrument you can measure the diameter with a digital caliper. Do a quick google search and you should be able to find a digital caliper for less than $20. They are also often sold at home improvement stores.
Some of the gauges in the chart below are highlighted orange. This indicates the use of a wound strings. Wound strings have a steel core and a bronze winding. A wound string is necessary to provide enough mass when the string tension for a given note and VL falls below 30% of its breaking point.
String Gauge Table
The table below contains a collection of several strings we use on our instruments. The table is sortable. You can click on the Header of each column to sort from smallest to largest. Click the Header again and the table will sort from largest to smallest.
The Sort by Pitch column is there to easily sort the notes from low to high. If you sort the Note column you will get all like note names clustered together.
How to use this tableScenario 1:
You have a zither that is missing a string. You know that the string is supposed to be tuned to G above Middle C and you have measured the Vibrating Length to be 18" but you don't know what gauge replacement string to use.
If you sort the table by note you can scroll down until you see all the examples of G4 (G above Middle C) You'll find six examples from different instruments. Look for the example that has the VL closest to what you need. Your VL is 18" which is right between the Autoharp (17.375") and the Hognose Psaltery (19"). Both of those instruments use a .016" diameter string. So it is safe to conclude that a .016" string will work for your instrument.
You are designing an instrument and need to know what gauge string to use. For example, let's say the vibrating length is 14" and you want the note to be tuned to a D. You can sort the table below by VL. You find a few D notes in the 14" range to chose from. The mandolin uses a wound .024" string for D4 (the D right next to Middle C). More common in that vibrating length would be a D5 (the D above the C one octave above Middle C). You'll find the Bowed Psaltery uses a .010" and the Kantele and Hognose use a .014.
A note about tension.
When you find you have a different gauge options to choose from - remember that increasing the diameter for a given note and VL will increase the tension. More tension will generally result in a louder, clearer tone. You have to balance this against the additional stress you will place on the instrument. If you are concerned about the structural integrity of your instrument, it might be wise to lean toward the lighter gauge string. If your instrument seems overbuilt, you should be safe to lean toward the heavier gauge.
When you know what string you need you can order strings here.
|Sort by Pitch||NOTE||VL||Gauge||Instrument|
|01||C6||6.125||.012||Limerick Lap Harp|
|04||B5||6.75||.012||Limerick Lap Harp|
|07||A5||7.375||.014||Limerick Lap Harp|
|11||G5||8||.014||Limerick Lap Harp|
|16||F5||8.63||.016||Limerick Lap Harp|
|20||E5||9.25||.016||Limerick Lap Harp|
|26||D5||10||.018||Limerick Lap Harp|
|32||C5||10.75||.018||Limerick Lap Harp|
|37||B4||11.5||.020||Limerick Lap Harp|
|42||A4||12.25||.020||Limerick Lap Harp|
|50||G4||13.125||.022||Limerick Lap Harp|
|56||F4||14||.022||Limerick Lap Harp|
|62||E4||15||.022||Limerick Lap Harp|
|71||D4||16||.022||Limerick Lap Harp|
|80||C4||17.25||.025||Limerick Lap Harp|
|85||B3||18.5||.025||Limerick Lap Harp|
|90||A3||19.75||.025||Limerick Lap Harp|
|100||G3||21||.025||Limerick Lap Harp|
|104||F3||22.25||.032||Limerick Lap Harp|
|107||E3||23.5||.032||Limerick Lap Harp|
|109||D3||24.75||.032||Limerick Lap Harp|
|117||C3||26||.032||Limerick Lap Harp|
Thanks Matt Oatmeal!!! Just found this!!!
Andrew Gordon, 12/26/2017 02:26:53
You could buy our <a href="https://www.harpkit.com/thumb-piano-complete-hardware.html" rel="nofollow">thumb piano hardware pack</a>. That will give you all the hardware you need to turn the cigar box into a thumbpiano
Matt Edwards, 04/24/2018 08:18:29
All this and not a single reccomendation for the string gauge of an old zither!
Samos12 Usa, 06/21/2018 15:03:10
Well... it is more like all of this because there is no standard string gauge for an old zither. That is because there really is no standard zither. You should be able to use the information above to figure out what string gauge would work best for your instrument
Musicmakers, 06/21/2018 16:00:15
mm or inches???
Nancy Cowan, 06/06/2019 23:50:45
All measurements are in inches.
Musicmakers, 06/07/2019 08:36:53
A very helpful chart! Thank you.
WrshpMzshn, 02/21/2020 15:16:00
You are welcome!
Musicmakers, 02/24/2020 08:25:06