I would particularly like to hear from Carl on this question. My harp is 30 years old, and the soundboard has pulled up enough that the sharps are sometimes too sharp to be corrected. I have obtained the best quality felt, yet it still packs down a great deal and wears down, I guess because I do a lot of pedaling. I am wondering about wrapping the felt four times around instead of three. It will definitely still fit in the slot, and I am thinking it will also help the regulating some by lowering the pitch of the flat notes. I assume it does that because as the felts pack down, the sharps get sharper. I can’t open the discs farther, so it seems like a reasonable solution.
Hi Saul- As harps age and the board pulls up and the neck down(which you really can’t see but trust me, it happens) the string lengths get shorter than what the harp was engineered for. For a while it’s possible to correct flat to natural by lowering the adjustable nut(the shorter string length means you need a shorter distance between flat and natural positions). But the distance between the natural and sharp disc is not adjustable. So as the overall string length gets shorter, the distance between the natural and sharp discs is too big and the result is that sharp is too sharp. Often WAY too sharp.
In the upper octaves that can sometimes be corrected by putting a smaller diameter disc in the sharp position, or even a larger disc in natural AND a smaller disc in sharp. In the single prong disc range, you would replace the disc with a larger disc. But you can’t always do that. If the string is too far off center then a smaller disc will cause a buzz when it’s not engaged(the string will hit the lower prong of an open sharp disc). So it’s complicated. Putting smaller discs on in the sharp position is not really an option below the third octave because the string lengths are too long for that to have any measurable effect. Also the greater sweep of the string when it vibrates will almost certainly hit the lower prong of a smaller sharp disc when it is in open position. For all of the above reasons, it is sometimes necessary to replace the board and neck even though they are not broken just so you can return the string lengths to their original lengths and get them centered again through the action.
Felts are not going to correct any of this. In flat position the action is not even engaged. In the two positions where the action is engaged(natural and sharp) you certainly want good felts on the instrument. But you are not going to effect the intervalic relationship between natural and sharp by having thicker or thinner felts. The distance between natural and sharp will be the same, and you will have to use some or all of the tricks mentioned above to alter the intervalic distance between natural and sharp.
I should mention here that on old instruments where the board is very pulled up(and the neck down) you will usually see that all of the adjustable nuts are pushed as far down as they will go. And that may not be enough to correct flat to natural. When I was designing my own Swanson harp, I started by copying exactly the Wurlitzer concert grand action(which to this day is the best action ever built!). But then as we started building instruments, I noticed that most of the adjustable nuts were in a kind of middle position, with room to go either up or down. They were never going to have to go up, only down. So I recalculated the position of the screw holes that hold the adjustable nut in position and moved the screw positions down. When we started using those action plates, all of the adjustable nuts were as far up as they would go, with a lot of room to come down as the instrument ages. When I regulate a brand new Swanson, all I have to do is push all of the adjustable nuts up as far as they will go and it’s pretty much regulated.
I want to end this long winded essay by saying that it is all well and good for every harpist to know how the instrument works, to be able to do minor emergency repairs(with my book in one hand!) and to fix buzzes. But any harpist who thinks he or she is going to regulate his/her own instrument ought to have his/her head examined. I carry about 40 different disc sizes with me when I regulate, just to be able to improve the type of regulation problems described above. I also carry a huge supply of the different screws used, springs, taps and dies, etc. I’m sure the other technicians do the same thing. And these all have to be available to do the job right. Regulation is not just a matter of having a tuning machine and a screwdriver. It’s far more complicated than that.
I never thought of changing both discs in different ways. By the way, the neck is a pretty recent one, the third one. (The first was replaced at five years, then second at about 20-some years, and I have also had the bottom-body-frame replaced, the base replaced (thank you W. for making me need that), and a refinishing, followed by a base-board replacement! I hope to never have any more work done. Thankfully, the sound has only improved. Now that the board has pulled up, some of the sharps are getting very tricky to improve.
While I don’t have all the parts, tools or skills, I have to do as much of my own regulation as I can, and so far, I can get it within a few cents.
The distance between flat and sharp is, I think affected by the felts, because it alters the distance the pedal travels. It definitely affects the grip of the discs. When the felts are new, the discs need to be gripping more tightly, and as they pack down or wear away, the discs need to be loosened. So, it seems to me I need either more or less felt to counteract that effect.
The natural to sharp doesn’t change, that’s right, so that is the hardest to fix. One little trick I have just used is to slightly flatten the natural to bring the sharp within reason.
I certainly would like for Lyon & Healy to hire you to improve their mechanism, because certainly you want the stationary nuts to be adjustable and the discs, too. Why aren’t the screw holes in the disc repositionable so you can slip the whole disc down an eighth of an inch? It seems to me that is possible, or could also be by having a replacement disc with the screw hole off-center.
I can’t afford regulations these days, but I also like to do it myself, and get it as I want it. I have not often had a regulator who understood my needs. (I have not had the pleasure of Carl’s expertise.)
Saul- As I think you’ve figured out, thicker felts will make the discs on that line grip the string tighter. But it won’t change the relationship between natural and sharp. Only adjustments like making one disc grip more and the other less, or altering the diameter of one or both discs will change that relationship. Often, compromises are the only answer, like making natural slightly flat so that sharp will be less sharp. This is the problem with older instruments.
I’m sorry you’ve had to have so much work done to your harp. I’m the person who invented the baseframe repair. It has since been copied by others, including the big companies. But they haven’t copied it exactly and so their repair comes apart again. I recently repaired the baseframes of two of New York’s finest harpists, and they had both had a large company do it twice before. The third time they sent it to me. It won’t come apart again, short of falling off a truck, in which case the baseframe will be the least of it’s problems.
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