Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    Anna Lea on #159666

    Hi, I know with the air drying out in my home with the heat on during the winter

    Liam M on #159667


    I am in a very dry climate and monitor humidity closely. (The Intelli IMT-301 tuner that I use has a temperature and humidity readout)

    I use simple soap dishes with holes in the cover and wet sponges inside. I leave them inside the soundbox and inside any cover I have on the harps at the time. I see no damage has occurred to my harps from dryness, although some of our wood furniture has developed cracking. I have to assume the soapdishes are working.

    Chris Asmann on #159668

    Hi Anna.

    I wrote about my situation and the humidifiers I use here:

    There is also information on that thread from Howard Bryan and Carl Swanson.


    Liam M on #159669


    I know Chris means well, however.

    Before you spend a lot of money on something that may not be necessary, carefully inspect the wooden furniture in the room where your harp resides. It is subject to the same effects of humidity, (or in this case, aridity), as your harp. As it has been there longer, it will provide you a good indication of the severity of the problem you face. As well, ask furniture shops and stringed instrument shops in you area. Talk with the service technicians.

    I live in the driest climate in the United States. It currently is 21% humidity here. With the simple soap dish humidifiers, my harps are currently at 53%, 51% an 56% humidity. That includes the one in my shop undergoing restoration. I am constantly building cabinetry, furniture and instruments. I use glue joints extensively, abhor nails and detest screws.

    As I said before, I carefully monitor the condition of my harps and other wooden items in my home. While my harps get the soap dish humidifiers, some of my pieces of furniture have

    Anna Lea on #159670

    I want to thank both Chris & Liam for your very helpful advice and for taking time out of your busy schedules to answer my question.

    Emma Preuss on #159671


    While we’re on the subject of humidity, I was wondering if I could ask a question.

    My current house suffers from damp a lot in the winter and so I have to occasionally use a dehumidifier. Is there any danger of this being an issue for the harp?

    Liam M on #159672

    Yes there is.

    carl-swanson on #159673

    I have to say I’m baffled by the above posts. I don’t believe that a soap dish with a wet sponge is sufficient to humidify a whole harp. Neither is a dampit, which some of you occasionally mention here.

    With any humidification system, the humidity is going to be highest nearest the humidifier, and will go down considerably the further you get from the source. Soap dish humidifiers or dampits placed inside the body(soundbox) will raise the humidity there an no where else. That’s why a larger humidfier, such as the type I have mentioned numerous times on these pages, is needed. You need to humidify the whole environment that the harp is in. In a perfect world, the harp would always be in an environment where the relative humidity stays in the range of 40% to 60% year round. In those areas of the country where this is the case, mainly the west coast and the southeast, I never see the kind of structural damage on harps that I see in instruments in the Northeast and central US.

    Looking at furniture is not a good indicator of how wood is reacting to the climate. Furniture(chairs, tables, etc.) can expand and contract quite a bit without resulting in cracking. Secondly, furniture does not have a ton and a half of pressure on it.

    Too much humidity, and especially uneven high humidity, can cause problems as well. I have seen harps that have been stored in damp basements, and the lower parts of the instrument were all but destroyed by the dampness from standing on a cement floor.

    Liam M on #159674


    Take a soap dish and place it under you harp cover. Leave it for overnight and then return to read the humidity under the cover with a hygrometer. Perhaps that will relieve your bafflement and you will believe the results you can see with your own eyes.

    As to furniture, fine furniture certainly is indicative of aridity damage, while it may not have “a ton and a half”, (even with every string at the high end of tension, a 47 string harp would fall short of “a ton and a half”, but it was quite dramatic), it is subject to repeated stress changes which are even more damaging then the steady distributed pull of the strings.

    Carl, I am quite offended by the attack and feel it to be quite inappropriate.

    carl-swanson on #159675

    You may be a control engineer, but I’m a harp repairman with over 30 years experience in what happens to harps under various conditions. I’ve seen thousands of harps of every conceivable make and age in every conceivable climate, and I’ve carefully observed what happens to instruments.

    When a harp is in an environment where the yearly cycle goes from moderately humid/very humid during the summer, to dry/extremely dry during the winter, then all kinds of damage shows up. At the very least, such instruments go out of regulation when the humidity change occurs. The finish can alligator, crackle, or fracture(depending on the type of finish on the harp), glue joints can open up, and laminations, such as are found in the hoop where the pedal slots are, can delaminate. I’ve repaired all of this damage many times.

    The problem of base frames coming out the bottom of the instrument is epidemic in a certain make of harp, and I’ve repaired hundreds of them over my career. While the company whose harps do this screwed up the engineering many years ago, setting the base frame up for failure, still, I never see slipped base frames in climates where the humidity is 40% to 60% year round, nor where people humidify their harps in the winter months. My own Lyon & healy harp, serial number 300 and built around 1898, which I completely rebuilt about 23 years ago now, looks brand new, with a shiny uncrackled finish, because I’m very careful to humidify every winter. The base frame on that harp, which had to be replaced as part of the rebuilding, is in exactly the place where I installed it, again, because the harp has been in a humidified environment.

    No harpist is going to put a cover on the harp every night and stick a soap dish inside. And even if they did, what is going to happen every day when they take the cover off? The harp will go from a 15% to 20% humidity during the day to 40% to 60% at night. That may work for an accordion, but not a harp.

    Quality musical instrument wood is dried to a 5% to 8% moisture content in the United States, and is probably the world standard now. If you buy such wood in your area, let it sit around for a reasonable amount of time, build an instrument out of it in that climate, and keep it there, then the instrument is in a very stable(dry) environment year round. The wood is very dry, the climate is very dry year round. No problem. What do you suppose is going to happen to a harp built in a humid summer environment in Chicago or Europe for example and then shipped to a very dry climate like yours? Despite the best efforts of the manufacturer to keep things dry, I’m sure there will be changes to the instrument with the move.

    I was not attacking you or your scientific measurements. I was simply pointing out that it is impractical and in my experience falls far short of what is needed to keep a harp in good workable condition.

    Sid Humphreys on #159676

    Really the best thing I ever did for my harp was purchase a

    Sid Humphreys on #159677

    I should also add to this post, that living in Dallas Texas, our temperature varies ALOT in the winter. Last week we had lows in the 20’s with highs in the 30’s. Today is moderately cool but tomorrow will be in the 70’s. I didn’t have my humidifier on the first night it became cold and the humidity in my house went from 46% that evening to 28% the next morning. My humidifier will automatically kick off when it reaches a certain level of humidity so I don’t have to worry about getting to damp in the room.

    Liam, I’m glad you found an inexpensive way to solve your arid problem, but I don’t think my insurance company would be very sympathetic if the damp sponge didn’t work. No offence please, but after spending tens of thousands on a pedal harp (even

    Liam M on #159678


    There is no “may be”, I am a process control engineer. I respect your profession and I insist that you respect mine.

    You are conveniently overlooking the fact that I did recommend a TOTAL HOME HUMIDIFIER to Anna and provided her a link to a supplier of same. The soap dish humidifier, and “dampits”, are not ideal solutions… and they certainly are not elegant and expensive. But they are quite reasonable stopgap measures when more elaborate systems are neither available nor practical.

    As well, you overlook the fact that the moisture content transition for the harp is far slower then you imply by your night/day scenario. While the harp’s environment will indeed change from 15 to 20% to 40 to 60% humidity, the moisture content of the wood of the harp will not change that fast. It simply does not occur that rapidly. If it did then I dare say few harpists would ever be willing to subject their instruments to the rigors of gigs. How many concert halls & stages have climate control?

    michael-rockowitz on #159679

    Hi to all,

    I’m going to list some of what I think I know, based on the above discussion.

    Liam M on #159680

    I like that salt technique Michael, intriguing. (you’ve done it again, now I will be studying that to fully understand the physics involved).

    I have a sling psychrometer which uses red spirit alcohol that I check against. My dig hygrometer has a 2% error which I factor in… also I have learned to wait for the settle before I take my readings. And I have the advantage of frequenting industrial calibration laboratories where I can have my instruments checked for free.

    My experience tells me glue damage is irreversible, but your point of obvious damage raises the question of where on the aridity progression the damage actually occurs?

    Whole house humidifying is definitely the preferred option. But as our climate allows us to open our house to the atmosphere, it just would not be worth it for the limited time we are closed up.

    I can understand as you say with a 5 digit pedal harp, one could definitely consider dedicating a room and humidifier to it.

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