lever harp soundboard surface crack

  • Participant
    michael-steadman on #250674

    I noticed a surface crack on the soundboard of my older L&H Troubador today (see photo). This instrument had been sitting idle for a long period of time and I have been gradually bringing it back up to pitch. The surface crack runs from about 4G to 5B, and there is no sign of the crack inside the body. I had planned to replace all the strings soon.

    Any advice on the best way to manage this? If the worst happens and the soundboard fails is it cost-effective to pay for the repair?

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    Participant
    Biagio on #250684

    Judging from the picture it appears to be only on the thin surface veneer. If that is the case there is no cause for concern; nevertheless you would be wise to have it examined by a professional.

    If it is merely a surface veneer crack it can be repaired with a thin CVA glue such as Hot Shot. If you wish to try this yourself, first lower the string tension.

    Sometimes a crack that is visible on the surface may be hidden on the interior if, for example, it passes beneath an internal rib. Be safe and take it to a pro.

    Replacing an entire sound board is not particularly difficult in theory but it can be quite expensive. I have seen some repaired using a thin fiberglass internal patch without removing the board. Purists with excellent hearing would decry this approach but most in an audience would not notice.

    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by Biagio.
    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #250747

    I have seen this problem with a second-hand Troubadour that had arrived in perfect condition. Within a year, we were seeing cracks just like this. We thought for sure it was just the veneer, but it now has progressed to an obvious series of cracks that go straight through. Now we are getting a brace built to hold it together from the inside. Peter Wiley knows how to make these and could send you instructions, or perhaps you have a professional harp repair person near you. If you leave it too long, it will become unrepairable. Best of luck!

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #250748

    It’s possible that the soundboard on this harp is actually made of plywood, not a standard spruce board. It would still be veneered with spruce, to make it look like a spruce soundboard. If that is the case, then the principal layer of wood runs top to bottom, not side to side as it would with a real soundboard. If this is the case, then this could be the beginning of the soundboard ripping open. A technician might be able to tell you what is going on.

    Participant
    michael-steadman on #250752

    Thank you all for the helpful information. I spent some time checking out the soundboard and have attached a photo of the wood on the inside of the body. The wood grain looks very different. Also I measured the thickness of the soundboard by using the depth of the string hole. It is about 1/2 inch thick and sounds like there is hollow space between the layers of wood. Not sure if this is useful information but in any case I will need to think carefully about how to proceed.

    Participant
    michael-steadman on #250753

    Here is the photo.

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    Participant
    carl-swanson on #250758

    Michael- That looks to me like plywood, as I suspected. So my guess is that the crack you are seeing on the top side is the beginning of the “soundboard” staring to crack straight through. My advice would be to just keep playing it for as long as it is playable, since there is really nothing you can do to stop it once it has started. Once it fails completely, then either have a “real” soundboard installed, or try to sell it in as-is condition to someone who can repair it.

    Participant
    michael-steadman on #250765

    Thanks Carl, that is helpful. I would like to use this instrument for teaching and will try to manage this. Do you think using gut strings would be better than nylon? My understanding is that nylon strings are a stronger material and can create more pressure on the soundboard. I am planning to re-string it using the same Bow Brand strings I use for my Style 30.

    Participant
    Biagio on #250766

    I agree in general Carl, although it seems to me unlikely that the crack follows all the way through a plywood board. There are typically anywhere from five to 8 cross veneered layers in such a board. If such a board is no longer structurally sound, it most likely would be failing along the inner rib; I don’t see any evidence of that.

    Whatever: if it needs to be replaced – again with a “ply” board – the only difficulty a luthier would have to deal with would be carefully removing the old board and dr3essing the liner surfaces. For a harp of that tension a new aircraft grade laminate board would cost about $170 from Aircraft Spruce and Supply.

    Labor, however, could easily run to double or triple that amount. Hence, I’m with Carl. But I’d also say, if in doubt don’t rely on our advice based just on two pictures; take it to a professional harp maker for inspection and an estimate.

    Biagio

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #250773

    I just tried to post something here for Wil-Weten. It has not appeared–any thoughts?

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #250776

    From Wil-Weten: I just saw that my L&H Prelude (new in 2018) seems to have more or less the same kind of soundboard.

    At the inside there’s no clear grain visible (contrary to my Camac and Salvi lever harps which do have a clear horizontal grain on the inside).

    The inside of the Prelude’s soundboard seems to be made of some horizontally cut plates (their colours vary a bit).

    So, if Carl is right (and I’m afraid he is) that the old L&H Troubadour has a plywood soundboard, my Prelude has one too. Yet, it still says on the website that the soundboard is made of Pacific Northwest/Northern Midwest Sitka Spruce.

    Michael, does your harp stand in a room with a relative humidity somewhere between 45 and 55% in order to avoid cracks caused by a too low humidity?

    Participant
    wil-weten on #250777

    Thanks for posting my message, Balfour. Perhaps the link to L&H proged indeed to be the problem, because now that it is left it out, the message did appear.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #250778

    I’ve rarely worked on non-pedal harps for major repairs. I just never had the time with so many pedal harps to repair. But I’m training a young apprentice to do what I did for a living, and someone just gave him an old L & H troubadour with the board split open along the center strip(where the strings exit the soundboard) from bottom to top. So he took the “soundboard” off, and low and behold, it was plywood. The plywood consisted of a center core with the grain running from the bottom to the top of the harp(instead of side to side as it does on all soundboards), and had a thin veneer running side to side under the center core, and over it. It’s no wonder it split open. The plywood looks like maple to me. It’s the same thickness at the top end as at the bottom. It had a spruce veneer on it, so you could not tell it was plywood. My apprentice (who is an incredible woodworker by the way, and loves working on harps!) is going to put a real spruce soundboard on it.

    Participant
    Biagio on #250779

    Wow, that must be an old Troub! Even with modern laminate boards they are double tapered (that is if the luthier knows what he/she is doing).

    I just this winter replaced a laminate board with spruce; the only issue was shaping the base and sides to the new board’s contours. Much more volume and resonance now!

    Participant
    michael-steadman on #250781

    Lyon & Healy West helped me figure out that it is from the mid- to late-70’s, based on the serial number. I think the whole production from approximately 1961-1979 became known as Troubador I, probably when they introduced the Troubador II model? The harp is ebony and has a nice resonant sound. I recently acquired it and am trying to bring it back to life.

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