How to Replace Your Pedal Caps

Your harp’s pedal caps, the black rubber pads that cover the tip of each pedal, are designed to give your feet traction as you move the pedals. Over time, and the more you use them, pedal caps wear away. In the case of the slip-on type, they can also split or crack, giving your harp a tired look. Fortunately, pedal caps are reasonably priced and replacing them can easily be done by the harp owner.

Screw-on vs. Slip-on
As the name says, screw-on pedal caps are attached to the pedal via a screw from underneath. They cover just the top of the pedal where your foot goes. Slip-on pedal caps cover the whole tip of the pedal, and are slightly stretched to fit tightly over the pedal. Screw-on pedals are standard on Lyon & Healy, Salvi, and Swanson harps, though some Lyon & Healys use the slip-on type. Venus and Camac Harps use the slip-on types, as do old Wurlitzer harps. When replacing pedal caps, your best bet is to order new ones from your harp’s manufacturer. Lyon & Healy sells a slip-on cap, but I’ve found that they are too tight on Venus pedals, and prone to splitting. Lyon & Healy slip-ons do work well on Wurlitzers, however, and Lyon & Healy screw-on caps can be used on Swansons.

 

 

Screw-on pedal caps are the most commonly found type.

Slip-on pedal caps on a Venus Prodigy.

 

Replacing Screw-on Caps
To replace screw-on caps, you need to get access to the underside of the pedal. You can crouch down and flip the pedals up like you do when moving the harp. For easier access, you may also want to lay the harp on the floor so that the bottoms of the pedals will face up, or even elevate the harp by laying it down on a bed. To remove the old caps, unscrew the screw with a flat head screwdriver. The screw is very short, so it will only take a few turns. The new pedal caps should come with new screws, but if not you can reuse the old ones. Once the old cap is removed, fit a new one into place. It’s a little tricky to line up the cap’s screw hole with the hole in the pedal. It takes a little pressure from your hand to line them up. Once you do, screw the new cap back on and you’re done.

The pedal cap screw is located underneath the pedal brass.

Pedal brass with screw-on cap removed.

Replacing Slip-on Caps
Old slip-ons can sometimes be pulled right off, especially if they are cracked or split. If you have trouble, you can grab them with a pair of pliers and pull them off, but be careful not to damage the underlying brass of the pedal. Once the old ones are off, you may be able to push the new ones right on, but if they feel  too tight, add a small amount of lubrication, such as 3 in 1 oil, to the mouth of the cap. That will get it started stretching over the widest part of the pedal. Be careful not to use too much oil, though, because a cap that goes on too easily can also slide right back off.

Slip-on caps are pulled off to remove and pushed on to install. A drop or two of oil may help if the cap is tight.

That’s all there is to it. Now you can get back to making some music. Cheers!

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Installing a Gold Crown on a Lyon & Healy Style 23

24k gold crownQ: I have a Lyon and Healy 23 and I was given a gold crown for my birthday.  I thought when I took off the wood crown that the gold crown would be an easy installation using the same holes for the screws.  Guess I was wrong.

Do you have any “installation for dummies” advice on how to install the gold crown?  I just don’t want to do anything wrong.
A: As this customer found out, installing a gold crown on your 23 is not a simple matter of taking one off and putting on the other. The screw hole locations are completely different. If you find yourself in her position, I offer the procedure below, which I developed when I worked in the final assembly department at Lyon & Healy. Please take care and use this advice at your own risk. I advise you to contact a professional technician to install your crown for you, but if that is not an option, carefully following these instructions should help you get the job done.
1. put two pieces of double-sided tape on the bottom of the crown

2. Have a chair or step-stool available so you can see the top of the column

3. Set the crown lightly on top of the column. Ideally, the screw holes should point to front, back, left and right, but you need to avoid being too close to existing screw holes. Rotate if necessary so you can drill into virgin wood.

4. Center crown as best you can, sighting from underneath at all angles

5. When you like the position of the crown, pull down firmly so that the double sided tape will hold it in place temporarily

6. Using a punch, nailset, or awl, mark holes as close to the exact center of each screw hole as possible

7. Pull the crown off the column. Using a screwdriver or other fairly solid, fairly sharp tool, scratch an “X” on its bottom nearest the front screw hole. I define “front” as the direction you would face if you were sitting at the harp. This marking will help you remember where the front of the crown is

8. Remove double-sided tape

9. Locate the correct size of drill. Determine this by holding the drill bit in front of a screw. The screw threading should be a little wider than the drill bit, but not much

10. Place a screw in the crown and note how much screw protrudes from the hole. This is the depth of hole you want to drill in the wood. Mark your drill bit with a piece of tape so that you don’t drill too deep

11. Drill your holes. Be careful to hold your drill as close to perpendicular to the wood as you possibly can. Slanted holes will pull the crown off center

12. Lubricate screw threads with beeswax or soap and place them in their holes

13. Remembering to keep the “X” in front, set your crown in place. Ideally, each screw will set right into its hole

14 Tighten screws. It is best to go around in a circle from screw to screw, tightening each a few turns at a time.

15. The screws shouldn’t feel loose. However, if you are fighting them, you need to stop. The heads will strip easily and the shafts can break. These screws are made of brass and are not terribly strong. If you have problems a little more lubrication may help. It is also possible your drill bit was too small, but be cautious about drilling a bigger hole. Look at the angles of the screws. If one or more are at a slant your holes probably got out of whack during drilling. If this is the case, it is best to start over, rotating the crown once again to avoid existing holes

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.

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 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.

Lever Harp Spoken Here

Lever Harp Lineup at Lyon & Healy WestPeople often ask me if I’m willing to work on lever harps, and the answer is yes! In addition to my extensive experience with Lyon & Healy and Salvi lever harps, I have also serviced and repaired harps by a variety of other makers including Camac, Dusty Strings, Thormahlen, Sandpiper, Triplett, Heartland, and more.

While some traveling harp technicians prefer not to get involved with lever harps, I consider them a specialty. During my time at Lyon & Healy I spent two years performing final regulations on all of the Troubadours, Folk Harps, and Preludes that Lyon & Healy produced. I was a member of the R&D team that developed the Prelude. I also had a hand in the final assembly and regulation of many of the Salvi lever harps sold in the United States in the mid-1990’s.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about your lever harp and its needs. How often do lever harps need service? A lot less often than pedal harps. Lever harps can go for years and years without any more maintenance than regular cleaning and string replacement. If you’re starting to hear some buzzing when you play, or if the harp doesn’t sound in tune anymore when you flip up some of the levers to change keys, then you’re probably due for a regulation.

I generally recommend that lever harp owners who are not having any problems with their instruments have them regulated about once every five years. This gives me a chance to perform preventative maintenance like tightening screws, replacing levers that may be wearing, and watching for any structural issues that may be developing over time.

As with pedal harps, I recommend preparing for a regulation appointment by replacing the strings in the first and second octaves if they are more than two years old. Many harpists also decide to have their bass wires changed during a regulation appointment. As we discussed in this post, new bass wires can give your whole harp’s sound a big boost.