Camac pedal harp owner issues (input from other owners appreciated, too!)

  • Member
    Ian on #186241

    I’ve recently added a Camac Athena to my L&H Troubadour V. Since then, I’ve learned about several differences between Camac and L&H/Venus/Swanson harps that I didn’t know about previously (even though I thought I’d done a lot of homework). I think it would be nice for other Camac owners to have a dedicated section on the forum for discussing and getting feedback on some of these issues. (Lots of good information is already on the forum, but it’s scattered.)

    To start, I have several issues on which I’d like to hear feedback from Camac owers and from those who are familiar with Camacs.

    1) Camac’s recommended string gauges are lighter than the standard Bow string gauges. (There’s a chart on their website, and I compared it with a list of standard gut gauges that Bow sent me.) The Camac owner’s manual says that using a slightly heavier gauge will not harm the harp but that the recommended strings were studied and chosen to minimize string breakage and to optimize sound. I’m guessing that increased breakage is just typical when you use a heavier gauge string that requires more tension, but can anyone tell me if they’ve sensed or experienced any extraordinary string breakage (or sound or other deficiencies) in using a heavier gauge (such as Bow standard) on their Camac pedal harp? (I live really close to L&H West, and would find it a lot more practical to pick of Bow standards as I need them–I’m not so much of a pro as to plan on keeping 47 spare Camac strings on hand at all times.) I’m also wondering if Camac’s choice of a lighter gauge is more of an homage to the old Erards than it is an actual scientifically supported benefit.

    2) As I decide on which strings to replace my seven-year-old strings with, I’ve heard about Bow Light Gauge gut and Bow Lever gut. Does anyone know if Bow Light Gauge is the same as Bow Lever Gut?

    3) I’d also like to know if 1st octave pedal nylon (etc.) is the same gauge as 2nd octave lever nylon? I just want to be informed in my decision.

    4) Also–and I’ve been unable to find an answer on the forum to this–Camac recommends “Standard Galli wire” for the low wires. Can anyone please tell me what options alternatives they may have used or would consider on the wires?

    5) Can anyone give me their thoughts on the the heavy pedal action on their Camac pedal harp? Does it soften with time? I had a Venus player basically horrified at how difficult it was to change pedals on my harp. (As I auditioned harps, I sensed that the pedal action was heavier on my Camac, but the pedal action on a 2008 Venus was certainly a lot stiffer than that of a (breathtaking) 1947 L&H 23.) I can imagine the Venus and L&H pedal mechanisms naturally softening over time as riveted joints break in, but I’m wonder if the Camac pedal (cable rather than rod) mechanism is such that stiffer pedal action is just the norm with Camac pedal harps? (I’m a man and, perhaps, have a little more muscle with which to pedal, so I’m not particularly distressed, but I, too, have thought it would be nicer if things were a little gentler.)

    Participant
    andy-b on #186248

    Hi, Ian:
    I’ve had my Camac Athena for about five years now, and I had a Camac Clio before that. On both, I used the Bow Brand Burgundy strings and standard bass wires. They sound SO much better (to me) than the original Camac brand strings, and are much less expensive. I string all the way up through the second octave in gut, with only the 1st octave in nylon. This is just what I’ve found I personally like best. Everyone’s ears will be a little different. I also find that my Athena rarely breaks strings. I usually change the complete set every 2 years, and I probably don’t have more than 3-4 break in the interim. Of course, I’m not an orchestral player either!

    I find the Athena to be just as easy to pedal as any other brand of harp I’ve tried (whenever I’m in Atlanta, I go to the Atlanta Harp Center and make a pest of myself playing everything in the store). I’ve found a few harps from other makers fresh from the factory that were stiff, but not the Camacs. I do find pedaling easier on the Athena than the Clio, because the Clio baseframe seems to be deeper and the pedals a bit higher. I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about changing pedal felts with a Camac. Is yours new or used? I’m wondering if it just needs regulating.

    Is my Athena the best sounding harp I’ve ever played? No, I’ve played a few that were a bit better (and a lot that were worse). But I love it’s voice, responsiveness and volume. Whenever I hear another harpist play it, I’m impressed by it’s sound. It’s definitely the right harp for me. My philosophy is that there’s no such thing as a perfect harp – just the harp who’s good points you love and who’s bad points are minor enough that you can live with them, LOL! Hope this helps,

    Cheers,
    Andy

    Member
    Ian on #186259

    This is a really helpful reply, Andy. Thanks a lot.

    I’m with you on your comment about you not thinking your harp is the most beautiful sounding harp you’ve ever heard. I’m actually a pianist and organist before harpist. There will ALWAYS be a bigger, newer, better piano out there, but it’s unrealistic for most of us to think about purchasing a $90,000 Steinway concert grand. The organists have it figured out a little better. You make due with and exploit the virtues of whatever instrument you’re playing on–most venues don’t have five-manual organs with 206 ranks, and that’s totally fine and nobody loses sleep over it. Most organists in the world play on two-manual instruments and learn to deal with it.

    Katherine and L&H West is my neighbor, and I’ve heard her say a number of times that it’s more beneficial to start making music and stop talking so much about how many strings you have or whether you’ve got levers or pedals. So yeah, we’ve got to make the most with what we’ve got and shut up and practice!

    By the way, I wasn’t smitten by my harp in the showroom, but for reasons already explained, it was the right harp for me. Once I got it home and played it where it will stay 363 or 365 days per year, the sound was very pleasant, and I was SO happy I paid $13,900 for it and not $36,000 for the red Salzedo. I can sleep much better at night and won’t hesitate nearly as much to move the thing around or encourage visitors (especially children) from having a go when they visit. It’s also more than $24,000 that I have now for retirement, travel, sheet music, string replacements, art, hobbies, social excursions, eating out, etc.! Go Camac!

    Member
    steven-amazeen on #186270

    Hi Ian,

    I have had Camac harps since 1995 and there are indeed differences due to their design. “String Theory” is an obsession of mine and I have written three articles for the HHS about strings . After eight years of research I now use a completely custom set of strings that I designed specifically for my Camac. Bow Brand makes a huge variety of diameters of gut strings, so that part was relatively straight forward. Bow Brand was a joy to deal with; their customer service is simply outstanding. They graciously put up with all of my requests and delivered exactly what I specified very quickly. Convincing string makers that my wound string designs would actually work was another thing!

    I have tried to answer your questions in order below. I hope that the answers are clear enough.

    1) The reason for the different string gauging is that the string scale length on a Camac is different, rather than any homage à Érard. If you want to maintain the same string gauges as Camac it’s going to be a bit of work because Bow Brand strings are scaled very differently, as you have seen from the list of standard gauges. Bow Brand Standard strings are similar to Camac Classique from 4th E down (but not exactly the same). Bow Brand Light corresponds to Camac Classique from 4th E up (but not exactly the same). Bow Brand Lever gauge is lighter than Camac English gauge. There will be a difference in the string-to-string feel from that of Camac Classique, but it is still workable.

    2) Bow Brand Light is significantly thicker than Bow Brand Lever –approximately 10% to 11% thicker. That is considerable when you consider that a 5.9% change in diameter is equivalent to a semitone. Try tuning a few strings up or down a half step and you will get the idea.

    3) Bow Brand Lever gauge strings are basically the same as Standard Pedal gauge a fourth (in some cases a fifth) higher. A Bow Brand 3rd octave F in Lever gauge is the same diameter as a Bow Brand 3rd octave B in Standard pedal gauge. Nylon strings can be tricky because there is more than one formulation for nylon. For the most part nylon 612 (Tynex) is the most common, but some string manufacturers use different formulations such as nylon 6 (Perlon) . 1st octave Bow Brand nylon has a diameter deviation of approximately 2% (thinner) than Camac, which is not too bad, and they are easy to get.

    4) Bass wires are extremely complex – exterior diameters are irrelevant because of the way bass wires are constructed. Even if the strings are made with exactly the same size core, wrap and winding; different alloys of the metals used will affect the tension and response. That said, Vanderbilt bass wires worked nicely although I have used Bow Brand wires quite successfully.

    5) I believe this can be adjusted by regulation. I had the same issue and was told the weight felt on the pedal is the cumulative result of how firmly each disc in the chain is gripping the string. Even my Salvi Arianna had a very heavy pedal action until the late, great Dale Barco adjusted everything. The difference in pedaling after Mike Lewis regulated my Camac was very noticeable. The harp will need to be regulated to correct the intonation anytime the string diameters are changed significantly. Why not ask the technician if they can adjust the pedaling issue?

    Howard Bryan advocates using lever gauge strings on Camac pedal harps. For the most part it works very nicely, but there are some significant variances that are really noticeable in the 4th and 5th octaves, as well as a few strings that are simply too light/heavy in comparison to the surrounding strings. Part of the reason for this is that Lever gauge is optimized for tuning in Eb, so the half steps are in different places. It is particularly noticeable in the Lever gauge bass wires.

    Hope that helps!

    Steve

    Member
    Ian on #186293

    Steve,

    I really appreciate your thorough response and thank you for generously sharing your knowledge.

    I think I’m getting close to figuring out what route I’m going to take on the strings. I’ll also find out when I can have the Camac tech look at my pedals (don’t worry, I’ll get the string thing figured out first).

    Thanks again,

    Ian

    Participant
    catherine-rogers on #186298

    Ian, I’ve had a Camac Clio since 1999 and a second-hand Camac Trianon (also 44 string) since 2012. Originally I bought Vanderbilt Classic gut, as the nice folks at the harp store said it was closest to Camac strings (and easier to get and less expensive). I also have a Lyon & Healy concert grand and didn’t want to have to maintain two separate sets of replacement strings and wires. Now that Classic is no longer available I use Bow Brand or Vanderbilt Burgundy. I’ve always used Vanderbilt wires on those harps. The strings are fine and the harps sound great. I use gut up through the second octave, above which I use nylon. It’s my understanding a good harp tech can adjust the spring tension which will change the feel of the pedals, so ask about that when you have your next regulation. Be sure to change any strings at least two weeks before regulating so they’ll have a chance to settle in and hold their pitch. Good luck and enjoy your harp!

    Member
    Ian on #186303

    Thank you, Catherine, for your helpful reply, too.

    Ian

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #186323

    Have you ever gotten heavier-gauge gut strings for pedal harps from Bow? I don’t know any way to obtain them. My highest gut strings are 4th octave E and D, but they are too thin. Which manufacturer uses Perlon? You can email me if you don’t want to say publicly. I know at least one who uses Tynex.

    Member
    steven-amazeen on #186382

    Bow Brand Heavy and Light gauges are available in the US from http://www.harpconnection.com – their customer service is superb.

    The original formulation of Perlon was created in 1938 to reproduce the properties of Nylon 6,6 without violating the patent, which is held by DuPont. Perlon is currently made in Germany by Perlon Monofil GmbH. The 18th edition of the European Plastics and Rubber Directory lists 27 distributors of Nylon 6 and 25 for Nylon 6,6 in Europe versus only 1 for Nylon 6,12; so it is quite likely the European string makers use Nylon 6 or Nylon 6,6 for their strings. While the only company that has specifically stated that they use Perlon in harp strings is Pyramidsaiten, it is probable that Pirastro uses Perlon for their harp strings. A great many of their products for bowed strings utilize Perlon cores, although I have heard that they use their own special blend of polymers.

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #186407

    Saul,

    You said “my highest gut strings are 4th octave E and D.” I use gut all the way up through the second octave, as recommended by Lyon & Healy. I am curious as to what types of strings you use.

    Ian,

    I have played many Camac pedal harps at the Atlanta Harp Center, and have never found the pedal actions to be “stiff.” I agree with the others, do have the harp tech check this condition–it may be the springs.

    Best to all of you,
    Balfour

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