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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Used Harps: Can You Find a Good Buy? (Part 6 of 6)

Two orchestral harps standing side by sideThis is a wrap-up to our series on finding and assessing used harps for sale. In a nutshell, I recommend educating yourself as much as you can about the harps that are available in your area, as well as around your country. Find out the asking prices for similar models in different areas, so that you have an idea of the going rate for a given model. Get to know harps and their sellers in advance by contacting and talking to them, and ask for close-up photos to help you assess the harp’s condition. Go in person to inspect the harp if at all possible, and send a qualified surrogate, such as a harp technician or experienced harpist if you absolutely can’t  look at the harp yourself.

Once you’ve determined the harp you want to buy, discuss acceptable terms with the seller. Because thousands of dollars are often involved, the seller may prefer a cashier’s check or cash to a personal check.

Finally, make an offer. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. While no data is available, I believe that most harps sell for less than the original asking price, just like homes do. This may not be the case from dealers and manufacturers, but I believe it is in private sales. How much less? I wish I knew. I’m sure it varies quite a lot. Just remember that if you are asking a seller to accept a lower price, it is expected that you will back up the offer you made and close the deal. Here is where doing your price shopping homework may save you money.

Can you find a good buy on a used harp? Yes. It happens all the time. But getting good value depends on knowledge of the product and the market. Assuming you are not already an experienced harp buyer, you will need to do your homework, and between screening sellers and traveling to look at instruments, you may have to invest quite a bit of time. While that shiny new harp with its three-to-five year warranty may seem awfully expensive, if you are new to the harp, don’t underestimate the amount of time and work it will take to find a really good value on the used harp market.

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.

Used Harps: Can You Find a Good Buy? (Part 1 of 6)

Several Pedal harps in a lineIf you’re getting started on the harp, you may have noticed that harps cost a few bucks. Or maybe your son or daughter has been taking lessons on a lever harp and the teacher has told you it’s time to move  up to a pedal harp. You check the prices of new pedal harps and …

After you regain consciousness, and pour yourself a stiff drink if you’re so inclined, you might ask yourself, “I wonder if I can find a good used harp?”

The answer, of course, is “maybe.” It  depends on luck, timing, the number of resources you consult with, and mostly, luck again. While there are definitely some good buys out there, you may need to do some detective work, get to know the market, and educate yourself on what to look for when you look at an instrument to determine whether it’s a gem or should be sent to the junk heap. In this series of articles, I’ll tell you where to look for used harps, how to learn more about a harp before you go to look at it, and how to assess its condition.

In my idea of a perfect world, only experienced harpists would get into the used harp market. People who have been around harps for a while are more able to assess a given instrument’s sound, and may also know better how to assess whether it has reached the point where major repairs are going to be necessary. In reality, though, it is very often beginners who look to save some money and get into harp playing on an affordable instrument. This is a perfectly logical idea, but unfortunately I’ve seen a few occasions when beginners bought a harp because the price was right, only to find that it was in need of major structural repairs, which ended up adding thousands of dollars to the purchase price.

The answer, of course, is to get some information out there that will help harpists of all levels of experience make knowledgeable decisions about the used harp market, so that’s what we’re going to do here. If I’m scaring you, well, it would be a lie to say I don’t mean to. I would love to see every new harpist buy a brand new instrument with a nice warranty and no hidden issues.  But it would also be a lie to say you can’t save thousands on a perfectly good harp if you know what to look for. So stick with me for the next few posts, I’ll see what I can teach you, and hopefully you will find the sweetheart used harp deal of the century.