How old is too old for a harp?

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    Anonymous on #221219

    Hi everyone, I’m in the market for a pedal harp and have been looking at some Lyon and Healy Style 23’s built around 1980-1983 or so. My question is, should I be concerned about a harp that’s almost 40 years old? What should I watch out for?

    charles-nix on #221292

    An older harp can be wonderful, or have problems. And so can a new one. I have seen instruments that had a sound board replacement while still under 5 year warranty.

    Would suggest you look at resources available on line about harp maintenance and get Carl Swanson’s book. If you are not confident, have a technician check it out before purchase.

    But here’s a brief list of what I would look at:
    1) Make sure you love the sound you get when you play it. No point going further if you don’t love it. (But tune it first see #8.)
    2) Look at soundboard: is it unduly pulled up (usually around the 5th octave)?
    3) When was it last restrung? When last regulated? Did technician give written condition report then?
    4) Look _straight_ down from above the neck (need a step ladder probably) at the C sharp disk near the lowest point on the neck curve. Are the prongs fully engaging the string? Is there noticeably less engagement than elsewhere on the neck?
    5) Look from behind down the neck. Is it in a plane or warped?
    6) Look at the gap between the body and base on both sides, but particularly left side, at the bottom of the sound board. Is there substantially more gap on the left than the right?
    7) Vigorously wiggle each pedal from flat to natural, then natural to sharp, while damping the strings with both hands. Do you hear any noise from the action?
    8) Tune the instrument. Do any pins seem loose or stick?
    9) Are there any cracks on the body, base, soundboard, column, or neck? Investigate as necessary.

    That’s a brief summary. Again, if you are not comfortable, or don’t understand from the above list, have a good technician inspect for you.

    Many harps much older than 1980s are still in use. Newer ones and older ones fail. Much depends on care, geographic location, amount of moving, and just plain luck of which piece of wood was picked up out of the stack for original construction. Wood can have hidden flaws.

    Charles Nix

    Alison on #221294

    Beware of tuning pins which are milled, they have longitudinal grooves in them and grind away the slot so cannot hold their tune, I discovered this on an older LH100 once and LH confirmed my suspicions so I didn’t buy. So tune once and play for long enough to test how it holds the tuning. For an individual instrument, take another musician with you. Play easy thinly textured pieces for the sound and more difficult pieces for the feel & action.

    charles-nix on #221296

    As luck would have it, Virginia Harp Center sent an email flyer today on this very subject. The video they link is here:

    Two caveats/corrections: He states the string pressure as 2000 pounds per square inch. Two thousand pounds total is the correct force. Second, a vertical crack in the soundboard that is away from the string rib may not mean a new soundboard. The lengthwise wood grain is only a thin veneer for appearance. The strength of the board comes from the horizontal grain wood hidden behind.

    So, it is more important to carefully examine the back of the soundboard with a good light inside the harp, whether or not there are any cracks in the face.

    Participant on #222391

    As the above posters have suggested, the care, maintenance, your geographic location, amount of moving and how can exert a bigger influence than the number of years old.

    I have a L&H 17 built around the same time. It is in superb condition. And I take care to keep the humidity constant using a dehumidifier in the summer and humidifier in the winter between 45-55%, rarely move it, and maintain it.

    Soundboard is not pulled up one bit nor neck bent.

    This is not usual for used harps. Moving and humidity seem to be the biggest culprits. Ask about these two, such as ask exactly what kind of humidifier or dehumidifier they use. If they don’t use either and it is in a climate that needs one or both – that could spell trouble.

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