Monday, February 15, 2010

Harp Tutorial - part 2: Factory and Care

Part 2 - Factory & Care
I don't even know exactly what the big, black tube thing is! But it sure looks cool! See the decal on the soundboard? I'm talking about the floral design on the front panels, under the man's elbow. Sometimes, these are just special "stickers." If there is gold in the pattern, like on my Salvi Diana, it was hand-painted.
When I went to the Chicago Lyon & Healy factory, I got to see the gold-painters in their little corner room of the factory floor. They were quiet, intent on their work. I felt almost rude peering over their shoulders. They had flecks of gold in their hair; to pick up the little flakes with their paintbrushes, they had to first stroke the brush through their hair to gather static so the gold would stick.
See the green Celtic harp in the background? You can have a harp ordered to look however you want. You just have to be able to pay for it... Also look at the "blonde" harp on the far right. Those holes along the back allow for sound to travel, but they're also meant to make it possible to change strings. I tie a knot in the base of the string around a thick scrap. Then I poke the untied end in those holes and through a tinier hole that's at the base of the string's spot. I pull it through until the tied end catches, and the loose end gets wrapped around its peg on the bridge of the harp (there's actually a tiny hole in the peg that the string goes through before getting wrapped around it). No pictures except by request, because you'd likely only care if you were a harp student who didn't know how to replace strings yet.
For this particular Lyon & Healy model, the carvings on the column/post are done by hand. Most are done by machine.
When Salvi and Lyon & Healy were still a merged company, the mechanics of the pedal harps were done in Italy (like my harp). The woodwork was finished in the Lyon & Healy factory in Chicago. This picture is of work being done on the brass covering that goes on the bridge of the harp.

This picture doesn't show it, but there's a curve on the side of the neck, at the corner and on the other side, which has to be sanded by hand--for every harp.

All of these harps are made of Maple wood with varying finishes (natural/blonde, ebony,walnut and mahogany). Maple has proven to be ideal for harps because it is strong--the strings produce up to 2,000 lbs. of pressure (YES, 1 ton). Over time, the soundboard will naturally bow, but it's good for the sound! Harps appreciate in value if they're taken care of well.
A harp should be regulated every year. This means all that mechanical stuff I showed you in the last tutorial gets a check up. The discs shift after so much usage, and sometimes pedals develop a catch. The metals have to be oiled, and sometimes the felt wrapped around the pedals (that red stuff in the pedal picture) gets worn out. Even pedal pads (the black tip) have to be replaced sometimes.
I can replace felts and pads myself--it's fun and scary. I have to take the base off the harp. :| Maybe someday I can show you a picture, but it's not something I'd do just for the heck of it! Same with packing the harp. I'll show you when we move or when I do my next gig.

This is an ergonomic tuning key. It is also the only tool I need for taking the base off the harp! Those considerate factory people. :)

This is an electronic tuner. It's a NECESSITY. Once I tuned with only the help of my nearly-perfect-pitch sister, and even though she was helpful, it was rather laborious. Because of the unusual way a harp's sound is so darn difficult to pick up on microphone, I have a little pick-up "mic" that I plug into this tuner. It actually picks up the vibrations instead of the sound, clipped on the back of my harp.

This is what tuning looks like!

These are the tuning pegs. There are 47 strings, and they all have to be tuned every day! The tension from the strings changes with temperature (or if you move the harp, use the pedals for several hours, play for several hours, leave the harp in the sunshine or just so much as breathe on the harp...just kidding. That last one). I tune the harp with the pedals in "flat" position so that there's no pressure on the strings while I turn their pegs. The pedals should always be in the "flat" position when the harp is not in use. It makes me kind of mad when harpists neglect this. ARGGG... just a little mad...

The harp should also be polished, as often as once a week, but once a month is okay, too. When was the last time I polished mine? It's embarrassing. But at least my harp's still shiny and beautiful and in wonderful condition.
Dusting the harp is tricky. The main parts are easy enough, and the dust shows up so well that you have to do it a lot. But up in the discs, you have to use a Q-tip, and that doesn't even get it all. I loved being able to take my harp to the factory to get regulated, because to "dust" the harp, they've got this air-blowing machine with a tiny tip. It blasts a powerful stream of air that leaves the harp sparkly-new. I wish I had one (for my dried flower bouquets and cool book wreath, too). *someday I will post about the book wreath*

One last thing! The MONEY.
Quality harps are expensive. Mine cost $21,000. That's average (and by now it's probably worth about $25,000 or more).
And then there's the harp dolly (cart),
the case (and its accompanying base part and column cover),
the $200 CARDBOARD BOX with special instructions on the outside (what, 2 cents of that cost?) and specifically formed foam cushions made to fit around the harp without causing damage--NEVER put weight on the discs-side of the harp, NEVER.
Oh, and the $40 tuning key. And $80 electronic tuner. Don't lose them.
I almost forgot, it takes a BIG vehicle to cart it, too.
And music!
And lessons!
But guess what. When you devote yourself to practicing so that you can play the harp well, those gigs pay nicely. Mmmm. $600, anyone?

And aside from all the money, it is so rewarding to me. I love the harp. Passionately. Not like a dorky hermit-like spinster harpist, but passionately.

See some weird-looking music and hear some coooool sound effects!


  1. Q, I love that you posted this! It's interesting even to the non-harp-player. (What's a non-harp?...tee hee...)

  2. Soooo interesting. I had no idea (although I'm not surprised) that harps were so expensive!) My roommate at BYU was harpist and she would often practice while I studied. It was the PERFECT background noise. I loved it!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Thanks! My blog is blah-g without your feedback!