My Harp Has a Boo Boo!

Ouch!

Ouch!

It happens to every harp sooner or later. You do your best to be careful when you move. You load your harp in the car with care. You ask the violists nicely for the thousandth time not to push their chairs into your harp. But no matter how hard you try, the time will come when someone knocks a music stand against your soundboard, or you drop a tuning key, or that overly helpful stage hand runs the top of your column into a doorway. The result. A dent! A ding! A scratch! What are you supposed to do now?

The good news is a small area of damage does not necessarily require complete refinishing to fix. It is possible to touch up a scratch or dent, making it virtually invisible.

Don’t Try this at Home

Making dings like these disappear is better left to a professional.

Making dings like these disappear is better left to a professional.

There are finish touch up products available at your local hardware store, such as touch up pens and wax pencils, but my advice is not to use them. It is difficult to make a good repair, and easy to make the situation worse than it was before you tried to fix it.
If you really want to make a dent or ding invisible, your best bet is to seek professional help. You’ll want to find a musical instrument or furniture touch up artist in your area. An expert in touch ups will know the best way to deal with the damage on your harp and how to match the color of its finish.

Talk to Piano Technicians

The best place to look for recommendations for touch up work is to contact piano technicians in your area. A lot of them do touch up work on pianos and would be well-qualified to do the same for your harp. If they don’t do the work themselves, they will probably be able to recommend someone to you. You can do the same with guitar repair shops. They may also do touch up work or refer to a local expert.
You can also search your area for furniture touch up services, but the reason I recommend going through piano and guitar technicians is that they may know of someone with experience working on musical instruments and will know the proper steps necessary to protect your harp’s strings and mechanical parts from overspray. To find qualified a piano technician in your area, try the search tool at the Piano Technicians Guild website.

Know Your Finish

A pro touch up artist can fill a dent like this with special equipment and make it flush with the rest of the surface.

A pro touch up artist can fill a dent like this with special equipment and make it flush with the rest of the surface.

If you talk to a touch up expert, it will be helpful to know something about the finish on your harp. A large number of harp makers, including Lyon & Healy and Venus harps, use a lacquer finish. This finish is a standard in the furniture industry and is well-known to people who do touch up work. Salvi and Camac instruments have a polyurethane finish. This is a more durable coating, but it is harder for a touch up expert to work with, and not all will be willing to help you. Whatever make of harp you have, I would recommend contacting the maker to ask what finish was used on the harp. There are multiple types of lacquer as well, including precatalyzed lacquer, so the more you know, the better informed your touch up artist will be.

So don’t just live with that unsightly dent. Good touch up artists can be quite affordable. In many cases they’ll even come to your house. Your harp will thank you.

 

 

The Care and Feeding of Pedal Felts

Yep. Time for new felts!

Yep. Time for new felts!

As part of a standard regulation, I always replace a harp’s pedal felts, the red pads that cover the pedals where they sit in the pedal slots. But why? Often, they look just fine. Sure, if they go too long without replacement, they can get torn up and really affect the harp’s playability, but short of that, what’s the point?

The point is that the felt becomes compressed over time, and this affects how the discs rotate and twist the strings. When pedal felts are new, they act like puffed up pillows, padding the harp pedal as it moves against the notches in the base. Over time, though, like pillows that have been slept on, the felts get pressed down. Spaces between the fibers of felt are reduced. In effect, this lengthens the pedal’s “stroke,” or full range of motion.

Even though it isn't torn, this felt is ready to be replaced. Time and use have compressed it.

Even though it isn’t torn, this felt is ready to be replaced. Time and use have compressed it.

New felts increase the discs' grip on the strings, eliminating buzzes and snaps

New felts increase the discs’ grip on the strings, eliminating buzzes and snaps

Even though the increase in stroke is only a few hundredths of an inch, this change affects the stroke of the discs in the mechanism, affecting how much they rotate and grip the strings. As the felt compresses, this discs’ grip is reduced, which can lead to snapping, buzzing, and compromised intonation.

A freshly replaced felt optimizes the action's "stroke."

A freshly replaced felt optimizes the action’s “stroke.”

Besides having your harp regulated on a regular basis, what can you do to prolong the life of your felts? Leave the pedals in the flat position when you are not playing. The pedals are connected to very strong springs which helps them move up when you want to move from sharp to natural, or from natural to flat. If you leave your pedals in a natural and sharp notch, the felts are pressed against wood, which causes compression over time, even if you aren’t playing your harp. If your move the pedals all the way up to flat when the harp is not in use, the pedal felts rest against the white slot felts. this padding reduces compression, prolongs the life of the felts, and thus the life of your harp’s regulation.

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

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.

 

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.