Three-row chromatic nyckelharpa – Uppland


Type: Three-row chromatic nyckelharpa
Thor Pleijel
Mensur: 400 mm
Body width: ~180 mm
~1850 g
Strings: Prim Nyckelharpa + 12 sympathetic
Wood origin: Sweden
Wood selection for tailpiece, head, nut and keybox sides: Norway maple, masur birch
Tuning: (highest) ACGC (lowest)
Number of keys:
A-string – 21
C-string – 10
G-string – 7
C-string – none

The three-row nyckelharpa became popular during the 20th century. August Bolin added in the 1920s a third row of keys. The playing became more fiddle-orientated when musicians started to use a modern bow and a more curved bridge. With a chromatic keybox with greater range, the musician had more opportunities to approach new music. The tuning of the playing-stings is the same as of the two-row nyckelharpa and it has additional sympathetic stings. The changes were important in order to regain the popularity of folk-music and nyckelharpa, as the movement was in decline in the early 20th century. The nyckelharpa-virtuoso Eric Sahlström was also important in order to create interest in the nyckelharpa-music, as well as Jan Ling who gave the nyckelharpa academic recognition. In the progressive political movement in the late 60s and 70s the nyckelharpa spread all over Sweden.

Different instrument makers made three row instruments that were very different from one another in design. I have in my own craftsmanship taken impression from the gammelharpa, Eric Sahlström’s and Esbjörn Hogmark’s instruments and also introduced some design-features of my own.

My model Uppland is a lightweight instrument. The wood used in the instrument is entirely Swedish. Using local wood is something traditional and the Uppland model is in this way different from many other nyckelharpas available on the market. Some people suggest that a traditional instrument like the nyckelharpa should also have a traditional design. More exotic woods may be both functional and aesthetic, but not right in the making of a local Scandinavian folk-instrument. The Uppland model is my interpretation of the traditional Swedish three-row nyckelharpa, with a lot of details taken from older Swedish instruments.

The keys are made of birch (Betula pendula/pubescens) and the keybox and string-holder of beech (Fagus sylvatica) or Norway maple (Acer plantanoides). In the traditional fashion the body of the instrument and neck is made of spruce (Picea abies), which is well-sounding, strong and lightweight. The spruce in my instruments is from the region Bergslagen in Sweden. Spruce is a very common type of wood in Sweden, but getting wood of the right proportions and quality is not as easy.