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!

Want to get great articles like this delivered to your email inbox? Join the mailing list now!

 

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Should I be Worried about those Cracks by my Tuning Pins?

Veneer Cracks around a harp's tuning pins

Cracks like these are almost never a cause for concern

If you own an older harp, say thirty years old or more, you may be familiar with the little cracks that can develop on either side of the tuning pins, as shown in this photo. In some cases, cracks like these crop up in harps that aren’t so old, especially if they have been subjected to a particurly harsh environment (as in, “my Grandma kept this harp in the garage for 10 years. Do you think it’s okay?”).

While I always recommend showing any crack, bulge, or other inconsistency in your harp’s wooden frame to a qualified harp technician, if your harp has cracks like these, chances are there is nothing to worry about.

Pedal harps, even hundred-year-old ones, are covered over much of their surfaces  in a layer of wood veneer almost as thin as a sheet of paper. the old saying, “beauty is only skin deep” certainly applies to the average harp. The gorgeous birdseye or flame maple pattern on your harp’s body is only a veneer.

On most harps made since the 1920’s, when you look at the top of the soundboard you will see its grain running vertically. If you take a look at your soundboard from inside the harp’s body, however (use a flashlight if you need to), you will notice the wood grain running horizontally. Again, the outer surface of the soundboard is a veneer, decorating the underlying board.

The cracks you see in the photo only extend through the veneer. The structural” bones” of the harp’s neck are most likely intact. This condition should not result in loose or slipping pins. What’s going on, in my opinion, is that the harp’s neck warps to some degree over time, due to the constant pressure of the strings. This causes stress to the veneer, weakening the glue joint which holds it to the underlying wood. In addition, each tuning pin is pulled downward on the string side of the harp (and upwards on the opposite side), causing additional stress on the veneer. Over time, it can crack. The good news is, cracks in laminated wood, i.e. two or more layers of wood glued together, cannot transfer from one layer to the next. Laminates are intentionally glued together at cross grains – meaning their grain directions are perpendicular to one another. This arrangement adds strength and stability, and also prevents the spread of cracks.

Could cracks like the ones in this photo be a warning that there may be underlying damage in the next layer of wood? It is possible, but unlikely. If a harp has lived in a harsh environment, there may be further damage underneath the veneer, which could cause problems such as slipping pins. However, I rarely see this. Most of the time the damage goes no further than the outermost layer.

If you’re looking at buying an older harp, or see this kind of cropping up on yours, I would certainly bring it to your technician’s attention. They are rarely anything but cosmetic, though, so don’t be too concerned.

Diagnosing Pedal Clicks


I had a reader recently write in in response to my article, “What is a Harp Regulation Anyway?” She referenced a section where I discussed checking the pedals for clicks and other issues:

“I check the motion of each pedal. Do they move smoothly? Do they stay where I put them?
Do they spring back quickly when disengaged? I make adjustments as needed, and also
check for any loose connections, which can cause the pedals to click or knock when moved.”

The reader’s question was, “where would the loose connections be?” Good question. The answer is the connection between the pedal lever and the pedal rod coupling, and between the pedal rod coupling and the pedal rod. If there is wear in either of these spots, there can be excess movement, or “play,” when the pedal is moved, and this can cause a loud clicking sound.

The reader goes on to say that it sounds like the clicks are coming from the top of the harp, not the bottom. Though I haven’t heard the harp for myself, she is probably right. Nevertheless, it is worth taking a little time to check the pedals, because sometimes pedal clicks can “telegraph” their way up through the column and sound like they are in the mechanism. Since the harp is built to resonate, the source of an unwanted sound can sometimes seem to be coming from someplace other than its true source. In the video above, I point out these locations and describe the procedure for diagnosing pedal clicks.