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.

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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.

The Lowdown: Getting the Most from Your Harp’s Bass Wires

Have you ever felt like your harp just doesn’t resonate like it used to? Let’s talk about bass wires and the sonic contributions they make over the harp’s entire range.

What are bass wires and why should you care about them? They are the metal strings in the lowest two octaves on your harp. On a typical pedal harp, the bass wires run from the lowest string up through 5th octave G. On some lever harps, the wires run as high as 5th octave C.

Each bass string consists of two pieces of wire. A plain steel core runs straight up from end to end. A much thinner winding coils around the core, and this is the part of the wire that you can see. Between the core and the winding a layer of silk threads keeps the core and winding from vibrating against one another. A good set of wires will resonate sympathetically even when you’re playing strings in higher registers,resulting in a richer sound and better projection across the harp’s entire range.

You can demonstrate this by playing a chord in the second or third octave, then quickly dampening the strings you just played. Do you still hear the chord? That’s the sound of the lower strings vibrating in sympathy with the higher ones. The bass wires act as assistants in the harp’s resonance, even when they aren’t being played.

Over time, dust and grime work their way in between the coils of the winding, muffling the wire’s sound and dampening its sustain. Old bass wires have a tubby, plunky sound that dies quickly, while new ones ring out and hold their tone longer.

Eventually, the tight winding of the coil begins to loosen and the wires begin to rattle or sizzle loudly. As wires age, their ability to vibrate sympathetically decreases. Tarnish on the coil’s surface will cause it to lose its resonance. This happens slowly so that you may not notice the effect, but you may wonder why your harp just doesn’t sound as good as it used to.

How often should you replace your wires? That depends on your playing level and your needs. Many orchestra players I know replace their bass wires once a year. They need every bit of sound the harp can produce to compete with the other instruments onstage. I would recommend that anyone who plays in public on a regular basis change their bass wires every two years. More casual players can wait longer, perhaps as many as five years. If you haven’t replaced your bass wires in a long time, try it, and you’ll be pleased with the instant improvement in your harp’s tone.

New Video Available: Troubleshooting Salvi Levers

I recently received a question about how to deal with buzzing levers on Salvi lever harps. While they are good quality and sound good when they’re in good regulation, Salvi levers are prone to a buzz when engaged, especially in the lower strings.

Since I had a Salvi Ana to regulate on the same day the question reached me, I took the opportunity to shoot some video segments. I also dug through the vault and realized I had some older footage which deals with the same issue, so I spliced that onto the video below as well.

This was the day I learned I need to travel with my good camera. I shot most of this video on my phone, and the sound and video are not ideal. Since I had the Ana to work with, though, I thought it was best to get some answers out there. Apologies for the sound quality.