The Harp Herald

A blog about harps, harpists, and other crazy stuff

How to Check Your Harp after a Regulation

Style 14 harp with benchMost harpists don’t have a professional technician based in their home towns. If you do, this article will bore the heck out of you. Please return to looking at cat videos. If not, you probably have your harp serviced by a technician who comes to your city periodically, often once a year. If you live outside a metropolitan area, you may have to drive several hours to bring your harp to a visiting technician in the nearest big city.

If your technician is a once-a-year visitor to your area, you’ll want to do what you can to make sure you’re comfortable with the work that was done before he or she leaves. This means checking out your harp after it is regulated. Play one or two of your favorite pieces of music. If there was a spot on one piece where you often noticed a buzz before the regulation, play that spot. Is the buzz gone? Try a few pedal changes. Are you comfortable with the pedal action?

The top professionals I work with always check their harps. They play them hard and loud, and run through some of the most technically demanding pieces they know. If something isn’t quite right, they’d rather find out while I’m standing in in the room with them than two days later when I’ve flown to another part of the country.

Students and novice players are often uncomfortable about playing in front of me. If you’re newer to the instrument, I understand the discomfort you must feel, but I wish you would try to play a little anyway. I’m not there to judge your abilities. Heck, I don’t even play the harp! I just want you to have a chance to ask any questions you may have about the regulation while I’m still present to address them. Nothing’s worse in my world than trying to diagnose a problem with a harp over the phone a week or two after I’ve worked on it, especially if the owner was reluctant to play it when she picked it up. Now, if she had tried it out  after the regulation, and didn’t hear the problem until a week later, at least I would know she tried.

Checking your harp and not finding a problem does not mean my responsibility to you ends. It just means you’re respecting my time and yours by trying to prevent future questions from arising. I can and do try to help resolve problems long-distance and will even make a return trip if necessary, but obviously I need to keep these solutions to an absolute minimum.

Do you hate confrontation? Do you feel awkward complaining about something to a service provider? After all, I’m the professional technician and you’re just a customer, right? I understand that too. The thing is, different people play the harp differently, and often have different expectations about what is most important in their harp’s sound. I adjust the harps I work on based on the feedback I’ve received from hundreds of customers over the years, but there is no one-size-fits-all regulation. If you don’t like something I did, it doesn’t always mean I made a mistake. You’re not insulting me. I’d much rather learn what is important to you so I can set up your harp the way you like it next time.

Harp technicians are human beings. We do make mistakes sometimes. If you help us catch one before it’s too late, we’ll be embarrassed, but we’ll also be relieved that we got the mistake fixed without a return trip to your town.

So, plan on checking your harp. Play it through. If you need music to read, bring music. You may need to bring a portable stand as well. You don’t have to play the most demanding piece you know. Just make some music. Hopefully, you’ll notice that your harp sounds much better after a regulation, but just in case something doesn’t seem quite right. Let’s discuss it right then. We’ll both be glad we did.

 

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Soundboard Veneer Splits

Splits in the soundboard veneer do not migrate into the board itself.

Splits in the soundboard veneer do not migrate into the board itself.

 

So, you see some small cracks or splits running along the center strip on your pedal harp, and you’re wondering if this is a sign of scary expensive repairs to come. Fortunately, splits like the one shown in this photo are rarely a cause for concern. As ominous as they look, they are cosmetic, not structural.

The wood grain on this harp’s soundboard appears to run parallel to the center strip, but the wood you see is only a very thin veneer. The grain of the underlying soundboard actually runs perpendicular to the center strip. While the veneer is splitting, there is no way this split will transfer into the soundboard, since the grain direction is different.

If you have a pedal harp, take a flashlight and look at the underside of the soundboard inside the body. You’ll see that the grain of the board is horizontal back there, not running the length of the soundboard the way the top veneer does. In essence, the split you can see on the top is only “skin deep,” and won’t go past the surface layer of wood.

Seen from behind, the grain of the sounboard runs perpendicular to the center strip.

Seen from behind, the grain of the soundboard runs perpendicular to the center strip.

 

Why do these splits happen? Under string tension, the soundboard is naturally pulled upward. As harps age, they develop a degree of bowing or “bellying” in the soundboard. This is actually an important part of the harp’s sound. A bowed soundboard is more resonant than a flat one. This is one reason sound improves with age.

While the soundboard itself is built to withstand the stress of constant string tension, at least for several decades if not more, the veneer is literally paper thin. Moreover, wood is weakest along grain lines. The tension on the board is highest right in the center where the strings are pulling. Where the underlying soundboard can flex under tension, the surface veneer can’t always follow suit. This can results in splits like the ones shown above.

Can these be repaired? First of all, the word “repair” is probably too strong of a word. Nothing is really broken. Okay, you might say, can they be touched up? While I haven’t asked this question of a touch-up expert, I suspect any touc-up work would be temporary. This section of the instrument will continue to bow up over time, and finishes, like wood grain, don’t necessarily flex under tension.

When is a crack in the soundboard something to worry about? If you notice a crack running parallel to the center strip, but about one half inch to one inch away from it, then you have cause for concern. Underneath the board, there is another center strip, much thicker and wider than the one on the surface. A split or crack along the edge of the larger bottom center strip can be an indication that the soundboard is on its way to coming apart. If you do see something like this, shine a flashlight at it. If you can see light on the other side of the soundboard, it’s time to start thinking about replacing the board, or the harp, depending on its monetary and sentimental value.

Harp for Sale

Style 14 harp with benchI am selling a Lyon & Healy Style 14 pedal harp, serial number 3882. This harp was built in 1940. It has recently had the body base frame repaired to preserve its structural integrity. I have personally lubricated, reconditioned, restrung, and regulated it. It will make a great gigging harp for an active freelancer or a nice student harp for a younger student. Asking $9,000.00 US. Price includes a bench and shipping crate. The harp is located at my home in central Indiana. For more information, please contact me via the contact form below. For additional photos, please scroll down.

S1710004 S1710006 S1710009 S1710010 S1710015 S1710016 S1710018 S1710019

Fall 2014 Harp Regulation Schedule

harpreg30Here’s an at-a-glance look at my schedule from late July, 2014 through the beginning of November:
 

  • July 21-27: Redlands, CA
  • August 25-30: Ann Arbor, MI
  • September 5-8: Interlochen, MI
  • September 19-24: Salt Lake City, UT
  • September 25-27: Spokane, WA
  • October 6-10: Omaha, NE
  • November 3-8: Austin, TX

 

If you’d like to schedule an appointment for any of these locations, feel free to contact me (steve (at) mossharpservice (dot) com). If you’re viewing this post after Summer/Fall of 2014 you can find an updated schedule on my calendar page.

Lyon & Healy Lever Harps: Pedal or Lever Strings?

Lever Harp Lineup at Lyon & Healy WestI was talking with a colleague over at harp.com, Lyon & Healy’s partner website for strings, accessories, and all things harp, and he told me that his customers frequently experience confusion over what type of strings to buy for their Lyon & Healy lever harp. Bow Brand, which produces strings for Lyon & Healy and harp.com, produces both pedal and lever harp strings.  The confusing thing is that many models of Lyon & Healy lever harp are designed to take pedal harp strings.

Lyon & Healy’s three current models of lever harp, the Troubadour, Prelude, and Ogden, are all string with pedal harp strings. The same is true of the Folk Harp, which is no longer produced, but there are still lots of them being played. Since Lyon & Healy is a pedal harp maker, they have long designed most models of lever harp they produce to have the same spacing, tension, and feel as their pedal harps. This eases the transition for a student who begins on lever harp and then progresses to a pedal harp once she has decided she’s crazy enough to stay with the harp. In esssence, these models of lever harp function as “starter” pedal harps as far as tension, sound, and feel are concerned.

Other models of Lyon & Healy lever harp were designed for the player who intends to stay with the lever harp. The Lyric and Shamrock are two examples. Both of these are strung with Bow Brand lever strings. The electric Silhouette is also strung with lever harp strings.

You don’t need to keep all of this information in your head if you generally order through harp.com. The site includes a form where you can select your model of harp and get a list of the appropriate strings. The problem arises, according to my friend who handles harp.com orders and shipping, is that many customers are confused when their order arrives and they find they’ve received a set of pedal harp strings for their lever harp. If you own an Ogden, Prelude, Troubadour, or Folk Harp, don’t send that order back! You’ve got exactly what you need.

Check out Harptechguild.com

techGuildLogoThere’s a new website called harptechguild.com, sponsored by the Lyon & Healy/Salvi Technicians Guild, that can come in handy when you need to know which technicians serve your area and when one will be coming to town.

While I wish everyone in the world would just hire me to do their harp regulations, obviously that isn’t possible. I simply don’t go everyplace. Or I do come someplace near you, but sometimes the timing of my visit doesn’t work for you. Now, you can search technician service areas through harptechguild.com.

The Lyon & Healy/Salvi Technicians Guild isn’t a guild in the purest sense. It is a group sponsored by the Lyon & Healy and Salvi Harp Companies.  Technicians who are considered by these companies to be qualified to service their harps are admitted to the Guild. Members include technicians employed by both companies as well as independent techs like me who have extensive training and experience with these two brands.  We get together periodically to share information and to learn from each other, and we regularly communicate about regulation issues and coordinate service for customers looking for technicians in their areas. The companies also use the Guild to keep independent technicians informed on advances and design changes happening in the factories.

The members of the Guild pushed for the creation of a website where customers could find a list of technicians who service their area and access their contact information, as well as an online calendar listing service trips for each technician. Lyon & Healy  and Salvi responded with harptechguild.com.

The site is young, and admittedly not every member is using it to post a schedule, but you can find listings of highly qualified  technicians who come to your area, and the listings cover the entire world. I encourage you to check it out. If you are connected to a  harp society  chapter or other harp group, i would encourage you to consider adding a link on your community website.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Go Down the Stairs Backwards

Taking a harp down a set of stairs

The safest way to go down stairs with your harp on a dolly is forwards.

Recently I witnessed a harp-moving accident. Well, actually, I was in a nearby room, but I heard the yelling and saw the blood when I came running. Thankfully, the only damage to the harp was cosmetic, and the blood  was only from a minor scratch. Things could have been so much worse. The situation? Trying to maneuver a concert grand harp down a short flight of front steps on a dolly. I think there were only two steps, maybe three. The problem? Trying to descend the steps backwards, i.e., the person holding the dolly was going down the steps first and then pulling the dolly and harp after her.

Oh, I hear you saying, “I never go down stairs without someone to help me. This couldn’t happen to me.” However, in this case there were two people working together, and the harp still went overboard.

You might be tempted to pull your harp downstairs person first, harp second. It may seem to put less stress on your back. It may seem safer, as you reason that if you lose control the harp will fall on you. In essence you will act as a human shield for your harp. Okay, I can respect that. I know of more than one harpist who put their bodies on the line to save their harps, figuring it is easier to heal a human injury than save a broken harp.

I understand the high regard harpists have for their instruments, so I won’t criticize you for the (misguided)  idea  that your harp is more valuable than your health, but in any case, going down stairs underneath your harp is NOT safer for your harp. In all likelihood, if something goes wrong, your harp will not simply fall on you, but it will swing to one side or the other, as the one in this case did. If that happens, from your position downstairs, there will be nothing you can do about it. Your helper at the top of the stairs won’t have the leverage to stop an 85-pound harp that has decided to fly into the bushes, and you can’t let go of the dolly, as that will make things even worse.

If you go down the stairs backwards, you won’t be able to see the dolly’s wheels. It is crucial that they hit the steps at the same time to keep the harp balanced. When the wheels go over a stair and descend, there will be nothing you can do to stop their momentum, and the harp will crash down the steps. Even if it doesn’t topple over as a result, do you really want to put your harp through this?

It all happened too fast for me to take a picture, and in any case I certainly would have done something else to try and help. While it would be educational to show you a photo of the near disaster, I certainly wasn’t going to recreate it for a photo op. So, I direct your attention to the photo above, which shows the correct method of negotiating stairs. No matter which direction you are going, the person needs to be above the harp. Period. Yes, this can be hard on your back. The goal is to keep your back straight and bend your knees. Also, the more you lean the harp back on the dolly, the more control you will have. You will be able to control the speed at which the dolly rolls down each step.

Going up and down stairs the correct way isn’t easy. I know that. Unfortunately, the alternative is unsafe, both for you and for your harp, and for you helper if you have one. Don’t do it.

For an extensive tutorial on moving harps in all kinds of situations, check out my DVD, Harp Care with Steve Moss.

Used Harps: Can You Find a Good Buy? (Part 6 of 6)

Two orchestral harps standing side by sideThis is a wrap-up to our series on finding and assessing used harps for sale. In a nutshell, I recommend educating yourself as much as you can about the harps that are available in your area, as well as around your country. Find out the asking prices for similar models in different areas, so that you have an idea of the going rate for a given model. Get to know harps and their sellers in advance by contacting and talking to them, and ask for close-up photos to help you assess the harp’s condition. Go in person to inspect the harp if at all possible, and send a qualified surrogate, such as a harp technician or experienced harpist if you absolutely can’t  look at the harp yourself.

Once you’ve determined the harp you want to buy, discuss acceptable terms with the seller. Because thousands of dollars are often involved, the seller may prefer a cashier’s check or cash to a personal check.

Finally, make an offer. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. While no data is available, I believe that most harps sell for less than the original asking price, just like homes do. This may not be the case from dealers and manufacturers, but I believe it is in private sales. How much less? I wish I knew. I’m sure it varies quite a lot. Just remember that if you are asking a seller to accept a lower price, it is expected that you will back up the offer you made and close the deal. Here is where doing your price shopping homework may save you money.

Can you find a good buy on a used harp? Yes. It happens all the time. But getting good value depends on knowledge of the product and the market. Assuming you are not already an experienced harp buyer, you will need to do your homework, and between screening sellers and traveling to look at instruments, you may have to invest quite a bit of time. While that shiny new harp with its three-to-five year warranty may seem awfully expensive, if you are new to the harp, don’t underestimate the amount of time and work it will take to find a really good value on the used harp market.

Used Harps: Can You Find a Good Buy? (Part 5 of 6)

Several pedal harps, a blonde one in the foreground, the rest covered upIn part 4 of this series, we talked about having an expert, such as a harp technician or an experienced harpist look at an instrument you’re interested in. This is generally the most foolproof way of making sure the harp that looks and sounds good to you isn’t sporting any expensive issues that you may have missed.

But what if this isn’t an option? You don’t know very many harpists and the ones you do know don’t feel they know much about harps beyond how to play them. What do you do then? Well, that depends on you. You may wish to wait on this purchase until you’ve been around the harp world a little longer and had a chance to meet more harpists who may be more experienced and willing to help. You may find that a technician is scheduled to be in your area and plan to line up a harp or two that are for sale and have the technician look at them for you when he or she comes to town. You may decide you’re safer just buying new – maybe a smaller or plainer harp than you may have wanted, but one that the company guarantees is in good condition. You may decide to stick with playing the violin or french horn, but I hope you won’t.

Or, you may want to try and do a detailed inspection of the harp yourself. Are you crazy, you may ask? No, you’re not crazy, its something that harpists have to do all the time. We’re a small and spread out community, and sometimes there’s no one around to tell us what to do. Be advised, however, that there are a large number of things that can be wrong with used harps, and they are not always obvious. In order to do a thorough inspection yourself, you’ll need a lot more information than I can provide in a series of blog posts. You’ll need to educate yourself about the structural issues a harp can face in its life, how to tell if an aging harp is hanging in there just fine or is about to need a new soundboard or re-riveted action. It’s a tall order, and it took me years to learn what I know now, but you can educate yourself about the basics.

There’s not a lot of really technical information  about harps on the Internet. I have a few blog posts and newsletter articles on advanced subjects such as assessing the condition of the base frame, but for the most part people leave these matters to the professionals. If you need to get some pointers on inspecting a harp for yourself, contact the technician you see yourself working with as the new owner of this harp, i.e. one who comes to your area once  a year, or who lives nearby. Ask him or her for the cliff notes on a harp’s structural issues. I can’t promise you’ll get an answer. Most people ask us technicians technical questions, and then we watch their eyes glaze over as we start to answer them. But, it’s worth a try. Also, we talked about asking the seller for detailed photographs of the harp. If you have some of these you can ask a technician to look at them and give you an opinion. There may be a fee for help like this. It depends on the technician. If there is a fee, it may be well worth it if it helps you arrive at a more informed opinion of a harp you want to buy.

When all else fails, at least bring someone with you when you go to look at the harp, even a parent or a good non-harpist friend. Ask this person to observe the scene as you look at the harp. How does it look to his or her (non-harpist) eyes? How does the house look? Is it messy or clean, organized or post-hurricaine? Does the seller seem friendly, trustworthy, or perhaps less so? Even if this friend doesn’t know the first thing about harps, he or she may be able to help you read the situation, and you’ll have someone to exchange ideas and thoughts with as you go about the process of trying to make a buying decision. Talk to her out of the seller’s earshot for a while. Get her take on the situation. Ask whether she leans toward or against buying the harp. Hearing her reaction may help you get in touch with your own gut reaction to this instrument and this seller. You may find your friend confirming a feeling you had but may not have even been aware of. Someone to help you keep things in perspective may help you avoid making a bad decision when you’re tired of looking for a harp and just want to buy the next one that comes along.

Used Harps: Can You Find a Good Buy? (Part 4 of 6)

Bottom section of a gilded harp column and base

In our last post, we talked about pre-screening harps and sellers by having a phone conversation and asking for additional photos of a harp you may be interested in buying. Sometimes, however, you might hear about a really good deal on a harp out in California but you live in South Carolina. What should you do?

In my opinion, you should have a knowledgeable person inspect it, or you should decide not to buy it. If you buy a harp that must be shipped to you, this will add to the cost of your purchase. If you receive it and find there’s something wrong with it, even if the seller agrees to take it back, there’s the cost of return shipping. The stakes are higher if you do business this way, and it is easier to end up with a harp you aren’t happy with.

So, who do I mean by a “knowledgeable person?” In most cases, this ideally means a technician like me, who is used to inspecting harps, knows what to look for, and knows how to spot repair issues that the seller might not even be aware of. If there is a technician in or near the area where the harp you’re interested in is located, or a technician is scheduled to visit, then you’re in luck. You can contact the technician and see if he or she is available to take a look at the instrument for you. There will certainly be a fee, but it could save you a lot of money if the technician is able to see something wrong with the harp. You can find certified technicians through the manufacturer of the harp you’re interested in.

Some harpists are also quite knowledgeable about structural and repair issues on harps, but some are not. If you know a harpist who happens to live near the harp in question, ask her if she feels comfortable having a look at the instrument. Even if she may not have the technical knowledge a technician has, she may be able to further assess the care the harp has received by looking first-hand at the harp and talking in person with the seller. She will be able to tell whether the harp is reasonably in tune, indicating that it has been cared for by a knowledgeable owner, or if it is way out of tune, which probably means it has been sitting neglected for a long time, and its strings will need to be replaced. A harpist will also be able to give you some good feedback on the harp’s sound, which is also a very important factor in determining what to buy.

Unfortunately, technicians don’t live or go everywhere, and one might not be around when you need one. If you don’t know a harpist who can look at and play the harp, and can’t get a technician, I would advise you to think about looking for a different harp. It may not be the advice you want to hear, but it could save you a lot of grief in the long run. However, if you’re willing to do more research and spend more time, and you really, really want to buy this harp and not some other one, check out the next post.

 

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