Introduction: Build a Wind Harp!

Picture of Build a Wind Harp!

A wind harp is just what the name says, a harp played by the wind. You don't need lessons with this instrument, just a light wind will do. This design uses four steel strings and two magnetic pickups made with a pair of nails. You can build one with just one string with good results. Mine is 8 feet long, but you can make it as short as 2 feet or as long as you want. I mounted the wind harp on top of a shed and connected the signals from the pickup to my PC inside the house. I broadcast these sounds 24/7 on the internet radio using ShoutCAST. You can hear the wind harp at:
I also have some blogs about how to set up your own internet radio station at the above link.

I use Solar Garden lights to power this project, but for this instructable, I'm showing the basic concept of the construction. How you power it is up to you.

Step 1: Make the Support

Picture of Make the Support

The wind harp support was constructed from a 2"x2" by 8 foot long pine lumber I just happen to have. Prime and Paint to protect from the elements. Remember, its a wind harp that needs to be outdoors. Although a smaller one can be made to fit a window sill.

I used 1/2 inch steel angles at the ends to support the wires with screw eye bolts. 24 gauge solid steel wire from the hardware store is used for the strings. You can try different thickness for different sounds. Just remember they must be steel or iron, the strings vibrations must interact with the magnetic field produced by the pickup coils, just like a electric guitar.

Step 2: The Magnetic Pick Up

Picture of The Magnetic Pick Up

As the wind blows across the strings, vibrations will begin at various harmonics of the strings fundamental frequency. Simply stated, if you puck the string, you will hear the fundamental frequency.
The wind causes multiples of that frequency to vibrate up and down the wire.

To hear the sounds, I use the same method an electric guitar uses to amplify guitar strings. A magnetic pickup is made by winding many turns of # 40 wire on a nail. A magnet is attached on one end to make it magnetic. When this coil is brought close to a vibrating steel wire, tiny voltages are generated and amplified with a preamp. These voltages are connected to my PC sound card. Two are used together to buck out local hum inducing magnetic waves. More on this later.

Each coil was made using a nail. The point on the end is cut off and the nail is chucked on a table top drill stand. Small plastic washers were super glued on the nail to hold the wire in place during winding. I didn't count how many turns were wound, but tried to make each coil about the same. The closer the two are a match, the better the hum bucking. Each coil is held over a string with an angle made of aluminum. Plastic ties hold the coils to the bracket. I wrapped each coil with a piece of rubber hose to deaden vibrations from the frame.

Step 3: Winding Pickup Coils

Picture of Winding Pickup Coils

Wind the coils on the nails with a table top drill press or use a hand drill. I used #40 enamaled wire, but it could be a bit thinner or thicker. Use AWG size 36 to AWG 43. You can get the wire at Stewart-MacDonald. They also have kits for making electric guitar pickups.

I haven't actually tried using an electric guitar pickup, but I don't see why it wouldn't work. After all, what you are building is a guitar that is "blowing in the wind". With a guitar pickup, the strings would need to be spaced 1 cm from each other, just like in a real guitar.

The magnets I got from a local Arts and Craft store. Use the super strong neodymium type. You can use just one coil, but it will also pickup surrounding ambient ac "hum". To make it "humbucking",two coils are used. Because the coils are connected with opposing phases, any hum pick up is bucked out.

Notice the magnets on the other coil is reversed. This will cause the other coils pickup polarity from the wire to be reversed. Connecting the two coils in series makes the pick up from the wires to be additive. Just like placing batteries plus to minus in series.

Step 4: Amplifier

Picture of Amplifier

To amplify the tiny signal you will need an IC amplifier. A LM386 works will for this project. I made a special pc board, but it can be built on perf board. Keep the amplifier near the coils and bring out your signals using shielded wire to your PC. With my solar powered version, I used the solar garden lights as a housing for the circuit. You can connect the amplifier with a minumum of wiring with 2 conductor shielded wire. The shield can be the common and power negative, while one lead can be power positive and one lead the signal out.

Step 5: Connect to Your PC

Picture of Connect to Your PC

After you build the frame, coils and amplifier, its time to test your wind harp. If everything is working, you should hear a loud "twang" when you pluck the steel wire.

For the best harmony, you can adjust the tension on the eye bolts so all the wires are the same frequency. The two inner wires are the strongest performers, while the two outer "passive" wires add some sound through mechanical connection at the single eye bolt end.

You will find that the harp responses to the slightest wind. Higher winds create higher frequencies. To protect the coils from rain, I placed a plastic cup as a cover above the coils.

When it rains, the wind harp becomes a rain harp, making very nice tones as the drops hit the wire.


alcurb (author)2015-01-25

I can't find the recording. The links you provided on your site are no longer valid. Do you have the recordings elsewhere?

botronics (author)alcurb2015-01-25

I have a set of recordings at Soundclick. These were recorded using my latest windharp. Just follow the link.

sharpstick (author)2014-04-02

How did you fasten the wires at the eyebolts to prevent it from loosening?

I'm thinking of making one of these between two buildings about sixty feet apart.

Just for fun, if you have access to any really long guy wires, put your ear up against the wire and tap it. It sounds like a giant reverb or echoplex. (The hundred foot plus guy wires at Burning Man are perfect for this. I do it every year. I'm thinking of taking a mike and small amplifier out there some day.)

Gunnar120 (author)2011-01-01

Awww... that stinks... I think it's broken... I'm listening to it right now and I just hear a wind-heard-by-a-cheap-camera noise, not a wind harp. The strings seem to have stopped

botronics (author)Gunnar1202011-01-03

New strings for the new year are blowing in the wind, The windharp is online again.

Gunnar120 (author)2010-12-31

How long has it been broadcasting live?

botronics (author)Gunnar1202010-12-31

Since 2007 and the harp itself still runs. Its gotten better with age. Not really "Live" anymore, its a very long loop that gets played.

offtandiscord (author)2010-08-20

I would love to get an electronic wind harp set up at some point, and use a wind turbine to power all the electrics, keep it in the family and whatnot. I have however converted a broken violin into an acoustic aoelion harp, or an Aeoliolin!

lonepiper (author)2010-05-28

Something else occurred to me, build the wind harp and instead of a regular speaker system, feed it into the TIKI speaker:  Give the TIKI a voice of it's own!

lonepiper (author)2010-05-28

Would there be a way to construct this for acoustic operation?  So that instead of an amp it would just sound on its own?  It probably would not be loud but that's ok.

botronics (author)lonepiper2010-05-28

Absolutely yes.  Before electric guitars, wind harps would use a sounding box to amplify  the sounds.  Build a box with a sound hole in it and stretch the strings across it. Size the box to fit inside a window frame and let the wind blow across the strings. Summer is coming, and a wind harp in the window will be a delight during those inviting evening breezes.

dwm1969 (author)2009-06-03

I found this through the Maker Faire. This wind harp is fantastic. Do you find that there's an advantage to magnetic pickups versus under-the-saddle transducer style pickups?

botronics (author)dwm19692009-12-31

Since its the wire that is vibrating, that's what I want to monitor. Under the saddle tranducer would probadly pickup vibs from the supporting frame. One problem is hum pickup when using the magnetic pickup.  Good hum bucking techniques are needed with the pickup and amplifier. You also have to keep the windharp away from hum sources.  I haven't tryed a piezo type of pickup. These are well shielded to prevent electrostatic pickup instead of electromagnetic pickup.

Re-design (author)2009-09-27

Excellent inst. Nice build.

AndyGadget (author)2009-01-24

I've been listening to you on-line windharp for the last hour or so. It really does give an incredible range of sounds. Did you have a rain shower a while back? The wind seems to have calmed down now.

botronics (author)AndyGadget2009-01-25

My recordings used to be live. Comcast didn't like me "running a server" and would cut my service off. Now I run the station from work. What you are now listening to are live recordings looped together. The wind harp does have an incredible range depending on wind direction, temperature, rain and humidity. I'm always making adjustments of tension and tuning. I now have 3 harps, one of which is 50 feet long. The best recordings are put in the loop.

matseng (author)2007-12-26

Really nice. When listening to your shoutcast feed of the harp it seems like the pickups and amplifier are picking up some AM broadcasts too. There's a background murmur that sounds like detuned voice transmissions. Maybe a ferrite on the wires going to the pre-amp will help.

DonQuijote (author)matseng2007-12-26

no offence, i am no big specialist of electronics, but wouldn't the ferrite block the oscillations produced by the harp too?? i repeat... i honestly know very little of electronics, especially audio processing, but i think analysing the audio output with some software, to determine the average frequency of the noise, and then building a resonating capacitor-coil-circuit to filter it out might be better. i couldn't build one myself, but it's some brainstorming feedback. or you might wanna try and filter the noise out using the computer, to post-process the sound. or even better.... replace the strings with some non-ferrous material, thus not interfering with radio transmissions, and put a very small magnet on it right under the pickup. i think something like compass needles. it should be very small, and light, so it doesn't modify the resonance frequency of the string. but who knows? perhaps it improves it.....

botronics (author)DonQuijote2007-12-26

I did a lot of experimenting with filters and different preamp circuits (see my earlier blogs). I checked the response with a free software oscilloscope program from SillanumSoft. The program is called Visual Analyser 8.0 and works great.
I have a few movies of the response on my youtube page at:
Earlier preamps did pick up some radio stations and a low pass LC filter of 100uH and .005uf worked well. I'm not getting any problems with the LM386 amp at the moment. A ferrite core at the input would be a good Idea just in case. It would have very little effect with the audio frequencies of the wind harp. I've seen some magnetic paints that might work on non-magnetic string, just paint a small section near the coil.

DonQuijote (author)botronics2007-12-27

i am familiar with that software. i recently donloaded version 10.0 after my computer crashed, and tested your live broadcast. just being curious of the frequencies generated. my conclusions were, that the background noise has values around 40-41 Hz, and the sounds produced are harmonics of the 140 Hz sound.... i mean, just roughly measured.... it should be so, assuming that the resonance frequency of the strings corresponds to the frequency of equal wavelength to the string. SOMEBODY CHECK MY ASSUMPTIONS AND CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG! PLEASE!

botronics (author)DonQuijote2007-12-27

The harp does show resonance at the low frequencies. This might be due to the length being so long. When there is no wind, the output is pretty flat except for some 60 hz pickup. The low frequency rumble shows up when cars go by. The low frequencies could also be vibrations from the shed transferring into the mount. Too bad I didn't have it recording when we in the SF bay area had an earthquake a few months ago. This thing may make and interesting seismograph!

DonQuijote (author)botronics2007-12-27

if you do record during an earthquake, would you be so kid to post it on the site, and put a large banner on your homepage, to be visible without much reading around? I'd be grateful....

botronics (author)DonQuijote2007-12-27

An Earthharp might be constructed by pounding a vertical shaft in the ground, then attach a vertical wire several feet long. Then surround the wire with a section of PVC pipe to keep out the wind. The top most wire would be attached to a magnetic pickup assembly inside top of the pipe. Ground motions and vibrations would resonate the wire. The head assembly of a old harddrive might make a good pickup. I'm just a few miles from the fault so local motions would be detected, just hope I'm still around when the big one hits.

DonQuijote (author)botronics2007-12-28

when you do that, and you get all sweaty when lifting that pole, remember that you have all possible moral support that i can offer. I can't come help you with it, nor can i build one for myself all for the same reasons. I live in Romania. and the Carpathian fault line hasn't been active since the earthquake in 1977, and even then, where i live, far away form it, nobody felt a thing, because the geological structure prevents the waves to come this way.... i could do it perhaps, somewhere near the future highway, that gets built around here..... it could resonate with all that traffic vibrations.... especially large would be an alternative to the horrible traffic noise. i need to contemplate about this idea....

botronics (author)DonQuijote2008-10-04

I started recording sounds from a 50 foot wire. Soon we will be getting rain, I can't wait to hear those drops hitting a long wire. New recordings with the long wire are on my profile at wired lab.Link

matseng (author)DonQuijote2007-12-26

The ferrite will act as a low pass filter, and the cutoff frequency will be far over the like 15 kHz upper frequency of the harp. Longwave AM starts at 150 KHz going up to 500 MHz where the medium band takes over till the 2-30MHz range where shortwave resides. I think that it'd be rather hard to filter out the unwanted audio as audio since those signals is within the same frequency range as the signal that you want to keep. Having a lowpassfiler with a cutoff at 5 kHz to remove the noise will also remove most of the harmonics of the strings. It's better to filter out the actual radio frequency signals before they have been demodulated and gotten into the audio range. Isn't there a proverb that says something like "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound later"? I'm not an radio (or even analogue) -engineer either, it was just an idea that I threw out in the wind. (Pun intended :-)

botronics (author)matseng2007-12-30

Ferrites only work well in the high frequencies. Only a few brands are useful below 100kc(ferronics inc.). Here is a link to some of the curves:
Some of the windharp files I do process with Goldwave. I do a bandpass from 200 hz to 2kc. This removes hiss and hum. There is not much audio above 2kc, so I don't loose too much. My biggest problem is just the hum and the associated harmonics. Hum reduction could have been better if I counted the turns in the coils to make more matched. But still, not too bad.

DonQuijote (author)matseng2007-12-26

ok, i'll get back to my own corner. a question though, so that i get a little bit smarter: aren't wires going into the preamp carrying audio signal? what else should it amplify?

matseng (author)DonQuijote2007-12-26

Yes, the wires going to the preamp is carrying the audio range signals generated by the pickup coils. But at the same time the coils together with the strings are acting like an antenna and the coils together with some stray capacitances in the wires/circuit board will act as a tuned LC circuit just as in the tuning part of an old radio. Combine this with a semiconductor junction in the amplifier chip and you got a "nice" ancient crystal receiver. But as botronics said, the extra sounds might be the strings picking and vibrating to loud noises in its vicinity....

DonQuijote (author)DonQuijote2007-12-26

Post scriptum (i hope everybody around knows what that is... google it otherwise): has anyone considered making a purely mechanical version of this? something a little bit more steampunk perhaps? using specially formed glass tubes and brass horns to minimize volume loss when transferring the string-oscillations into air-oscillations(sound)? or perhaps a gas-burning amplifier: oscillating the amount of burning gas according to the sound, and since burning gas produces heat, which expands air, perhaps it might be a nice anlogic amplifier........ dunno.... anybody wanna try?

whiteoakart (author)DonQuijote2007-12-26

DQ- I was thinking of this, too. Maybe, something as simple as a resonance chamber below the strings, like an acoustic guitar or violin. Glass tubes or brass would be really stunning. Try a resale shop or garage sales for old trumpets and other brass instruments that are unplayable. Then get out your hacksaw.

DonQuijote (author)whiteoakart2007-12-26

i am talking simple, made complicated. I mean, windharps have been already made, without electronical amplification, just like you said. but i have something perhaps a bit more redundant in mind. something elaborated, that should look complicated. multiple resonating chambers, different kind of horns, different sizes for different wavelength of sounds. i heard that flame amplifiers have been built around the time, when the gramophone was invented, but it was abandoned, because it was to elaborate to build, and not much more effective than a simple horn with exponentially increasing diameter... i'd love to see it though during the night..... imagine the burner inside a glass casing flickering to the tune, with a brass horn on top of it... oh god.. i love steampunk soo much, for the sheer possibility of expanding imagination beyond the limits, which you can set for yourself....

botronics (author)matseng2007-12-26

The harp can also vibrate to local sounds in the area. I have children that sometimes play nearby and there voices can be picked up. Trains blowing the horn makes nice effect too!

skincage (author)2008-07-26

Man, you are my hero. I've done recordings of this kind of sound by just sticking stringed instruments out the window during storms. While that was fun, this is infinitely more practical, and something I've had in the back of my head for a while. Seeing it realized is very helpful. Thanks.

botronics (author)skincage2008-09-20

You might like this link called wired lab.wired lab. Sounds were recorded with very long wires stretched along poles out in the country.

skincage (author)botronics2008-09-20

That's quite nice, thank you!

botronics (author)skincage2008-07-28

The harp sounds really great these days. You can hear some of my latest songs on the player at my Hayward WeatherCam page.

pullinsb (author)2008-04-27

I love this design. Very nice.

I have one question (I'm making one for myself off these instructions), what is the pot for (P1 = 10k)?

botronics (author)pullinsb2008-04-27

Volume control. I ended up leaving the volume all the way up and adjust at the PC. I made a second windharp for Maker Faire. Link

koubis (author)2008-04-02

I was also thinking about getting it to my receiver as I do not use all inputs anyway. But in this setup it would be great to have actually a stereo input - double the pickup and double the amp incl. double power. So minimum to get 4 wires and tune to get the spaceness of the sound even it is a little bit "fake stereo". Will collect all the parts and lets see what's in the house.

botronics (author)koubis2008-04-03

One trick that works is make a 10 minute recording, put that on channel A. Next, record another 10 minute and put that on channel B. Use goldwave to do your editing. Then save as stereo. I did this with Song 1 and Song 4 at my Windsonics webpage. Sounds really good.

koubis (author)2008-04-02

What do you think about the idea to stretch the strings (stainless steel wires used for welding for extraprotction againts elements) between the two buldings and pick up on a console 0,5m distant from one end? This should work too. What about placing the string in low profile (a box) to increase the wind speed and thus frequencies? Otherwise a very good project idea.

botronics (author)koubis2008-04-02

Long strings have a wide bandwidth of harmonics. You can tune to lower frequencies to get some nice and heavy bass. Long strings also take less wind to get vibrating. Stretching between two buildings is a great idea. I wanted to try a really long string on top of the building I work at. We just have too much AC power in the area to get a quiet, hum free pickup with a magnetic sensor. I'm working on a portable pickup I can use to clip on guy lines, power poles and such.

botronics (author)2008-03-02

Wind Harp Update: Just got my second wind harp done. This is the one I will show at Makers Faire in May. Its built like a guitar and really rocks in the wind. Check the link and mp3 files.

matthias108 (author)2008-02-06

you stream 24/7.. that s cool. I mean in a way its very funny, with the whole world falling apart and stuff. i like it.

otto9otto (author)2008-02-05

With wire(s) strung up a tree trunk, the tension would vary as the tree sways, adding an additional modulation.

botronics (author)otto9otto2008-02-05

At one time , on the end piece angle I attached another piece of angle running vertical about 18 inches. Didn't have enough wind to deflect it to modulate the length. I need to attach it to the eye bolt.

Dream Dragon (author)2008-01-13

I notice that you use strings of the same diameter... I have read that wind harps, or "Aeolian Harps" have strings of different diameter but tuned to the same pitch. This gives some interesting harmonic effects, and I'm sure you could do something like that with your set up. Thanks for sharing it.

botronics (author)Dream Dragon2008-01-13

True, you can use electric guitar strings on a shorter version. I believe they are 42 inches long and have different diameters. The different thickness of the strings will cause each string to vibrate at different wind speeds . I was just using what I had available. Thats what makes this project flexible.

Advocat (author)2008-01-07

Can I ask .. is it possible to do water harp? The Don got me thinking as when I've been to Romania, not often, it rained so much, and the earth harp would have been washed right up to about a metre in some places. So I wonderred what noise would that make. Then I got to thinking could I put a pipe in a swimming pool, or a fishbowl .... we could mybe hear the fish asking what that pole is doing their space,

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to tinker and experiment with electronics, robotics, programming, and photography. Along with my latest interest in Steampunk.
More by botronics:Convert 3-AAA Flashlite to LithiumPole Grenade PropSteampunk Vacuum Tube Night Light
Add instructable to: