Moss Harp Service to Visit Las Vegas, February, 2010

Holiday Motel

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

I’ll be setting up shop somewhere in Las Vegas in Mid-to-late February of 2010. I’ve been there once before, and have a few customers who have been kind enough to ask me back. Overall, though, this is a new territory for me. If you happen to be a harpist in the area, please get in touch if there’s anything I can do for you. If you know a harpist in the Las Vegas area, won’t you mention this blog entry to them or direct them to my website? Remember, I’m authorized to do the free first year warranty regulations on Lyon & Healy and Salvi Harps, as well as other warranty repairs. Again, let me know if there’s anything I can help you with, and spread the word!

How Often Does a Harp Need Regulation?

harpreg30Does your pedal harp need regulation once a year? Every other year? Only occasionally? The answer, of course, is “it depends.” It depends on how much you play your harp, how strongly you play, and how high your standards are for sound and intonation.

What causes a harp to go out of regulation? Time and use. Over time, the pedal felts become compacted where your pedals rest against the notches in the base. Under continuous string pressure (close to 2,000 pounds on a full-sized pedal harp),  the soundboard pulls up slowly and the neck twists slightly. As the harp is played, constant vibration can cause parts to work slightly loose, resulting in noises you didn’t hear before. As parts age, some can lose their initial strength and require adjustment to function properly. Frequent use and moving can also result in breakage to fragile action parts, accidental movement, and other minor hassles.

As a harp gradually goes out of regulation, it gradually loses playability. The strings will start to snap against the discs instead of being held firmly in place. The sharp pitches will start to sound out of tune. How quickly you notice these changes depends, again, on how you play and your tolerance for and sensitivity to pitch issues. Professional harpists tend to have their harps regulated more frequently because they are the first to notice losses in the harp’s playability. Students and casual players, on the other hand, may not notice a loss in performance for a longer period of time if they play with a softer touch.

The the losses in playability that a harp experiences tend to begin at the extremes of its range. In the top octaves, the intonation is most sensitive to any change in the discs or string condition. In the bass wires, the changes in disc rotation that happen as the felts compact are more pronounced. For this reason, too, more experienced harpists who use the entire harp will notice problems more quickly than newer players who work mostly in the harp’s mid-range.

So, what does this all mean? If you are a professional, harp major, or otherwise frequent player with a strong playing style, consider having your harp regulated every year, or at least every other year. If you just play for fun, every two or three years is fine. You may go even longer before noticing problems, but I recommend seeing a technician on some kind of regular schedule so that he or she can help spot and avoid larger problems before they become an emergency.

What is Harp Regulation?

harpregulation11

People call me all the time to ask me “what’s a harp regulation? My teacher told me my harp needs one but I have no idea what she’s talking about.”

Harp regulation is a periodic maintenance service designed to keep your harp in optimal playing condition. In a nutshell, harp regulation includes:

  • Replacing pedal and slot felts (pedal harps only) and adjusting pedal rods
  • Diagnosing and eliminating unwanted noise
  • Optimizing the harp’s intonation between pedal or lever positions
  • Let’s look at each of these points in a little more detail. A pedal harp regulation always includes replacing the pedal felts, even if they don’t look ripped or worn out. Pedal felts compress over time. In addition to making your pedal action louder, this actually throws pedal rods and the playing mechanism out of adjustment. Your technician will replace the felts before doing any adjustments, to bring the harp closer to its original specifications.After the felts are  replaced, the pedal rods may need a slight adjustment to compensate for the normal “bellying,” or slight pulling up of the soundboard that occurs over time.

    The next step in a harp regulation is locating and eliminating unwanted noise. Your technician will move the pedals or levers to different positions and play each string, listening for noises that weren’t eliminated by the felt and pedal rod adjustments described above. While it’s not always possible to eliminate every unwanted noise a harp makes, many annoying sounds can be eliminated.

    Finally, the technician will check and optimize the harp’s intonation. He or she will play each string in each pedal or lever position,  compare the pitches on an electronic tuner, and make adjustments to insure that the half-step increments between each position are as perfect as possible.

    How often does a harp need regulation?  That depends on how much you play, how hard you play, and how high your standards are. Most busy professional pedal harpists have their harps regulated once a year. Part time or casual players and new students can usually wait two to three years or more. Lever harps require less maintenance. I generally recommend having a lever harp serviced once every five years or so, as long as the player isn’t experiencing any problems.