Three-row chromatic nyckelharpa – Uppland


The support block for the tuning pegs is made of spruce, and a layer of Swedish elm prevents the strings from digging into the softer spruce.

Type: Three-row chromatic nyckelharpa
Thor Pleijel
Mensur: 400 mm
Body width: ~160 mm
~1750 g
Strings: Prim Nyckelharpa + 12 sympathetic
Wood origin: Sweden
Wood selection: 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, the musician had more opportunities to approach new music. The tuning of the playing-stings is the same as of the two-row nyckelharpa, but with more 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 of Sweden.

The curve of the neck makes it easier to reach a higher playing position.

Different models with three rows of keys were developed. I have in my own instrument-making taken impression from Eric Sahlström’s and Esbjörn Hogmark’s instruments and also introduced some design-features of my own. The proportions come from older instruments (18th century).

My model Uppland is a lightweight instrument (1700 – 1800 g), ideal for longer playing sessions when the instrument rests on the neck of the player, as often the case.

The sound is bright and powerful, which is important for the musician who plays acoustically and often solo on a noisy dance-floor. The model’s strength is its brilliant sound on the usually unwounded A-string.

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.

Just as on many older instruments, a part of the end of the keybox has been carved away in order not to interfere with the bow. In traditional nyckelharpa playing the bow moves slightly sideways over the strings as the musician plays.

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) and the keybox and string-holder of beech (Fagus), maple (Acer) or elm (Ulmus). In the traditional fashion the body of the instrument and neck is made of spruce (Picea), 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.