The modern kantele has a unique, metallic, bell-like quality to its sound. The strings are attached to the instrument by wrapping them around a metal bar called a varras, which is in turn fastened to the top of the instrument by a wooden holding bracket called a ponsi. I think this steel varras is responsible for enhancing the metallic characteristics in the tone of the instrument. From the varras the strings run directly to zither type tuning pegs at the other end of the instrument.
Loop end strings are required to wrap around the varras. Since individual loop end strings are relatively expensive and not readily available in local music stores in desired gauges, I decided to purchase bulk music wire and make my own.
First, string length and gauge need to be determined and noted. Extra length is added to the actual string length for wrapping around the zither pins (2-3 inches) and winding the loop end of the strings (I added about 4-5 inches).
A number of tools and materials are needed to wind the string loops. They are shown and labeled in the picture below. The “loop winder” was made by drilling a hole in the end of an old paint roller extension handle and installing a screw eye. The screw eye had to have a gap large enough to remove the looped strings from inside the eye. I had several pairs of wire cutters and pliers on hand, but none of them would cut the hardened music wire which I had purchased. The stuff is tough! I had to go out and purchase a pair of induction hardened wire cutters appropriate for the task from the local home center. A vise is also essential, to hold the wire firm while winding the loops. I tried to do this in my apartment without the vise and it is nearly impossible.
Each string is gripped in the vise and placed inside the screw eye. The string is then pulled taught with one hand and rotated about four or five complete turns using the loop winder tool held in the other hand.
The music wire is then pulled taught at a different angle to allow it to be wrapped back in the other direction for several turns in order to lock the loop. The extra end of the string that was held in the vise is cut off as close to the winding as possible in order to eliminate any sharp ends sticking out.