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Thread: Harp guy?

  1. #1
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    Default Harp guy?

    I had a request from a colleague to work on a harp. (He's a piano mechanic and restorer, and the Steinway "factory guy" in these parts.) My knowledge of harps is limited to Marx Brothers movies, but I thought maybe somebody here might know of a harp specialist, given that the subject is lutherie, at least tangentially. We're located in Central North Carolina, so it's pretty much a given that the instrument would need to be shipped to whoever worked on it. But stranger things have happened.

    Any ideas or leads would be much appreciated.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    The Virginia Harp Center in Midlothian VA (just south of Richmond) might be able to help you. They are one of the biggest harp retailers in the country so either they have have someone in-house or know someone nearby. They would have to have one or the other to do business I should think. Especially since they have a rental program, they would need to keep the rental fleet in shape. I’m guessing from your location, maybe a two or three hour drive?
    Don

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Are we talking about a pedal harp or a lever [Irish type] instrument? It's crazy expensive to ship harps.
    What is your level of repair experience? I have done lots of work on Irish harps, and much of what is needed is pretty common-sense. It's preferable if you or someone local can tend to it.
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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Greg is correct that pedal harps are way more complex than folk harps (lever harps). Virginia Harp Center handles both kinds.

    You don’t mention the type of harp or what the problem is.

    Greg is also correct that lever harp work is fairly straightforward. However, there are some things to know. If new strings are needed, you can’t just order a standard set. Each harp has a customized set of strings, and you don’t know what strings to order unless you have the maker’s “string chart”. If you don’t have it you can put a caliper to the old string or a string supplier like Robinson’s is likely to have it on file. The levers have to be adjusted up or down to “regulate” them (which means they have correct intonation). Each type of lever has a different way of doing that and you need the proper tools. So you have to know who made the levers. Regulation instructions are available on line. If the pins slip, the fix depends on the type of pin. If they are traditional non threaded and tapered, the need to be re-set deeper into the hole. If they are threaded pins (zither pins or through pins), it sometimes works to back out the pin, coat the inside of the hole with water thin super glue, then reset the pin. You re-set a threaded in with a light hammer tap first then use the wrench. Wrenches for the pins are another issue. Most harp pins have square heads and weird sizes, and you probably don’t own the right size. And if you used a square head wrench and you’re even a little off, you can round off the corners. A star head wrench works much better, it won’t round them off. If you are unsure of the size, Dusty Strings makes an adjustable one. If the harp uses zither pins then the same wrench that comes with autoharps should work.

    Hope all this helps. If it’s a harp of any value I think it would be worth a trip to Richmond. If it’s a cheap on maybe try to figure it out yourself. If it’s one of those ubiquitous made in Pakistan things, available under multiple brand names, then it’s junk and not even worth fixing. They should mark those “Use for decor only”.
    Don

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Greg is correct that pedal harps are way more complex than folk harps (lever harps). Virginia Harp Center handles both kinds.

    You donít mention the type of harp or what the problem is.

    Greg is also correct that lever harp work is fairly straightforward. However, there are some things to know. If new strings are needed, you canít just order a standard set. Each harp has a customized set of strings, and you donít know what strings to order unless you have the makerís ďstring chartĒ. If you donít have it you can put a caliper to the old string or a string supplier like Robinsonís is likely to have it on file. The levers have to be adjusted up or down to ďregulateĒ them (which means they have correct intonation). Each type of lever has a different way of doing that and you need the proper tools. So you have to know who made the levers. Regulation instructions are available on line. If the pins slip, the fix depends on the type of pin. If they are traditional non threaded and tapered, the need to be re-set deeper into the hole. If they are threaded pins (zither pins or through pins), it sometimes works to back out the pin, coat the inside of the hole with water thin super glue, then reset the pin. You re-set a threaded in with a light hammer tap first then use the wrench. Wrenches for the pins are another issue. Most harp pins have square heads and weird sizes, and you probably donít own the right size. And if you used a square head wrench and youíre even a little off, you can round off the corners. A star head wrench works much better, it wonít round them off. If you are unsure of the size, Dusty Strings makes an adjustable one. If the harp uses zither pins then the same wrench that comes with autoharps should work.

    Hope all this helps. If itís a harp of any value I think it would be worth a trip to Richmond. If itís a cheap on maybe try to figure it out yourself. If itís one of those ubiquitous made in Pakistan things, available under multiple brand names, then itís junk and not even worth fixing. They should mark those ďUse for decor onlyĒ.
    @Don, Many thanks for all the information and the referral. You're right -- the Harp Center is 3-ish hours north of here. (They sure have a lot of harps available! Might be worth a visit just to look around.)

    @Greg, Your suggestion makes sense, as a harp repair is likely within the scope of my technical abilities. I offered to have a look and give an opinion if they couldn't find anyone else.

    Fact is, I don't know what kind of harp it is or what the problem is. Somebody in my network asked if I worked on harps. While the question has piqued my curiosity (always dangerous), there's more than enough work in the shop right now to keep me preoccupied for the foreseeable future. Opening a fresh can of worms wouldn't be a good idea, but that's never stopped me before.

    Thank you again, gentlemen. I'm grateful for your wisdom.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    As an update, the harp owner is complaining of stuck tuning pins that don't want to turn, and he's afraid to try forcing them. Fortunately in addition to lutherie, we do a good bit of work on agricultural equipment around here, and so have plenty of penetrating oil, Vise Grips, cutting torches, and big hammers on hand. How hard can it be?
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Again, it would be helpful to know what kind of pins we’re talking about. If they are non threaded and tapered they probably need to be removed and reseated. Those pins work by friction alone. If they are threaded pins you can “force” them counter clockwise without harming anything, as you are loosening them not tightening. Once the string was loose enough to remove I would then work it back and forth until it moves more easily then put the string back on. Again, unless you really want to take this on, it might be best to refer them to the experts at The Harp Center in Richmond. If it’s a “junk harp” made in Pakistan, they won’t touch it. Nor would anybody else in the legit harp world. I’m wondering if it’s one of those by your description of the problem. You can tell those at a glance. They’re always made of “rosewood” (actually sheesam, a cheap substitute) and often have “Celtic” carvings on the sides of the sound box. There are many complaints about the workmanship on those. I’ve never heard of a well made harp that has that particular problem.
    Don

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    @Don, you're absolutely right. As much as I might want to be helpful, it's better to send the fellow on to the experts and stick with my own stuff.

    Thank you again for your help.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

  12. #9

    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Shucks.
    This thread was fast becoming my favorite.
    Jonathan - you're my kind of people; lutherie, harp ideas, farm machinery.
    I had visions of you holding the smoke wrench, lighting it and saying "Hold my moonshine. Watch this..."

  13. #10
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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Sligo Creek Harps in Silver Spring, Maryland. http://www.sligoharps.com Rick, the craftsman/owner is a stand up guy, too.

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Oliver View Post
    Shucks.
    This thread was fast becoming my favorite.
    Jonathan - you're my kind of people; lutherie, harp ideas, farm machinery.
    I had visions of you holding the smoke wrench, lighting it and saying "Hold my moonshine. Watch this..."
    @Eric, thanks for the propers. Also work on Harley-Davidsons, too. (Hate to speak blasphemy, but sometimes I have to take a break from luthierizing.) Have some great neighbors, one of whom makes bourbon, does his own blacksmithing and builds his own Telecasters. When the work's done we get together and pick.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Okay, since there's been such an enthusiastic and helpful response to this inquiry, tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll meet with the guy, get some photos of the instrument in question, and post a synopsis such that we might satisfy everybody's curiosity. And maybe arrive at a solution. If you want me to shut up about it, just say so and I'll abide.

    Again, many thanks for all your wise thoughts. Barring protests, we'll see what, if anything, comes of this.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Are you kidding? Bring it brother! They talk all kinds of instruments here. Guitars, banjos, fiddles, bass fiddles, yadda yadda. It’s about time harp got some attention! I’m curious as to what harp it is, exactly. And, there should be a label inside the sound box with some more details too. Try to get a picture of the label, or at least write down what’s on it.
    Don

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  20. #14
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    Default Re: Harp guy?

    Okay, then, I'm on it. Worst case, I might make a new friend.

    The piano mechanic dude says this guy collects fine instruments (including Steinway grands), so the harp might not be too junky. We shall see.
    "And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations... Well, I have really good days."

    -Ray Wylie Hubbard

  21. #15

    Default Re: Harp guy?

    This is very good news.
    Now, before the harp guy sees your truck, make a card that says "harps" and tape it over the "pipes" so the bumper sticker reads "Loud harps saves lives."
    But really, I am curious about this. Harp soundboards fascinate me. I'll be interested in the stuck pegs.
    Last edited by Eric Oliver; Aug-30-2019 at 9:01am. Reason: Spelling

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