I'm currently in the process of restoring my [alto] Lyre, and I was wondering if there would be implications from using nylon strings instead of steel.

There would be two reasons to use nylon over steel: apparently nylon strings need a lower tension to reach the same pitch, so this would reduce stress on the instrument's frame (gaps are currently forming at some joints from the steel strings' tension). The other reason would be for a softer, more harp-like sound (not really necessary, just interesting and possibly more true to the original lyre sound)

Now, I know that, for example, the lowest string (0.064-inch gauge steel) needs about 16kg of tension to reach it's pitch (C2), and the highest string (0.009-inch, G5), needs about 11kg. The rest of the strings range approximately between the two.

Knowing this information (and noting I've never played a nylon-stringed instrument), is there a way to determine which nylon strings I'll need?

  • C2 to G5 is a pretty wide range for a lyre - how many strings does this have? Are you thinking of an instrument like this: earlymusicshop.com/product.aspx/en-GB/… – Andy Jan 21 '16 at 16:25
  • @Andy It has 44 strings, and stands at about waist-height: ibin.co/2UGWL2hjA08B – Max Chuquimia Jan 21 '16 at 21:58
  • 44 strings - personally I'd ask a harp maker and see what nylon or gut strings they can recommend. The tension depends partly on the string length so the longest and shortest string measurements would be needed I think... fantastic instrument by the way... – Andy Jan 22 '16 at 8:04

Apparently nylon Lyre strings are not readily available but I was able to locate one on-line seller offering the equivalent of nylon Lyre strings. From the site:

These modern Fluorocarbon strings are a better alternative to plain nylon and are very popular with harp and ukulele as they produce a clear and strong sound, On lyres this is very effective on Plywood or thicker topped lyres that are otherwise dull with guitar nylon or too quiet with gut. Once settled in they are very stable in tuning, impervious to moisture these strings are usual first choice on my Standard models Lyres

Here is a link to the site.

Nylon Lyre Strings For Sale

Another option is to extrapolate from guitar string gauges as steel strings compare to nylon strings. For example I found this on a web site that sell's Lyres.

Lyre string gauges

Looking at a set of standard gauge classical nylon guitar strings I find this for listed string gauges:

Nylon guitar strings

Comparing that to a similar set of plain steel for electric guitar (so we get a plain steel G string) I find this:

Plain steel guitar strings

The common denominator between Lyre strings are the .12 the .16 and .20 which correspond to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd string from a plain steel set of guitar strings. Extrapolating from there to the corresponding nylon guitar strings we get:

1st string - Steel .012 ... Nylon .028 = a 2.3333 multiplier

2nd string - Steel .016 ... Nylon .032 = a 2.0 multiplier

3rd string - Steel .020 ... Nylon .040 = a 2.0 multiplier

So I think we can conclude that assuming the relative tension of nylon vs. plain unwound steel guitar strings to allow for equivalent tuning - is a 2 to 1 ratio in terms of gauge - you could take the gauge of the steel strings in a set of Lyre strings and simply double the diameter for a corresponding nylon string.

If it works with guitar strings I see no reason why it would not work the same with Lyre strings. It's really just a matter of which gauge nylon string tunes up equivalent to which gauge steel string. The overall tension will be lower on nylon but the relative tuning properties nylon vs. steel strings should be the same regardless of what instrument the strings are on.

Good luck and enjoy playing your Lyre.

  • This is great information, thank you so much! Don't see how someone could top it, so I'll mark it as correct :) Thanks again! – Max Chuquimia Jan 21 '16 at 21:53
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    @Jugale Thanks. I don't know why the Lyre is not a more popular instrument but apparently not many musicians know much about them. I'm thinking I might want to add one to my collection of instruments. I have a Dulcimer - which is another instrument that is not so common. The Lyre appears to be more versatile than would at first appear. Have fun with yours. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 22 '16 at 0:32

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