Replace old troubadour levers myself?

  • Member
    brittany-deyoung–2 on #199216

    The school where I teach has 3 old troubadour harps that could use new levers. How possible would it be to learn how to replace them myself? Two of the harps have the old metal levers and the other has the super old hook levers.

    I’ve read through the past forums about replacing them and the school can’t really afford to fix all three at 1500 each 🙁 I wish they would value the harps as much as the other instruments, but I have to fight every year for regulations and new strings…. I’m dreading asking for this too, but they are barely usable and I’ve put up with them for 10 years!!

    I’m fairly handy and think I could do it myself, but I’m also afraid of totally screwing them up… any one tried this?

    Participant
    charles-nix on #199222

    You would have to judge for yourself if you can do it. There will be two main skills.  First is the woodworking skill to fill all the old screw holes, level them off  flush, stain to match, and touch up the finish–all while not damaging the surrounding finish–or plan on a complete refinish.  The screw holes will not match.  Do you know how to drill the new screwholes the proper size and exact depth with a hand drill exactly straight into the wood and precisely on the mark? Tolerance for a good fit will be 1/64″ accuracy or better.  If they are not really mounted straight they won’t regulate properly, and will look like ****.  Anything you do that is not perfect _will_  show.  I can’t remember what bridge pins or nuts are used on the old Troubadours, but you will likely have to adjust their height, which _may_ mean resetting or replacing the tuning pins. Or the string height may work out fine with new levers–but that is something you will have to determine before ordering the levers. The second skill will be regulating the levers after installation.  Do you have the equipment and skill to restring and regulate the harps?

    Another thing to consider is the cost of levers. Pricing varies greatly with the brand and quality of the lever–but a large chunk of the $1500 you quote goes straight into parts.  Without looking up current prices I’m guessing $12-$25 (and some higher) for each lever–times 36. You will likely have to restring, also–At least I wouldn’t try removing the strings and putting the same ones back on. Was that part of the $1500? Were the new strings included? I would have to think about the time involved–maybe 30-40 man-hours total–maybe twice as much if you haven’t done it before.

    I don’t want to  dissuade you–you may well have all the skill necessary.  It isn’t that difficult a job, but requires very exacting woodworking skills, and the tools and knowledge to restring and regulate afterward. It also takes sufficient free time, and the willingness to risk damage to someone else’s harp. If you’re not very experienced with precise fine woodwork, and you don’t already do your own harp restringing and regulating, I wouldn’t recommend starting with lever replacement, particularly on someone else’s harp.

    Have you thought about selling them and purchasing used later model Troubadours? The price difference might be less than the lever job would cost.

    These are just some things to think about. There are other people on the site who will probably have some to add to what I’ve said. If you do bite it off, we will do what we can to help guide you through it.

    Charles Nix

    Participant
    Biagio on #199225

    Charles has given excellent advice here, as usual.  Of the various levers commonly available, Truitts are the easiest to mount but the last time I looked they cost $15 each.  Rees levers (available from Robinson’s Harp Shop) cost a little less at $11 and are also fairly easy to mount.

    The reliable Lovelands cost the least, at about $6 each, but are a real pain to mount for an amateur.   Whatever lever one may choose, count on at least 2 days for the entire operation per harp – from filling holes and refinishing to mounting levers and re-stringing.

    If you feel undeterred by these comments (and Bravo if so!)  I would suggest starting on the oldest with Truitts or Rees and see how it goes.  Before diving in however, please do purchase Trouble Shooting Your Lever Harp by David Kolacny, which discusses levers in some detail, including the older L&H ones.

    Best wishes,

    Biagio

    Participant
    charles-nix on #199226

    Thank you, Biagio!  I see the L&H Performance levers on harp.com for $15 each. The Camac levers are listed at 9.50 Euro.  Then there are the Delacour ($$$), and the new Teifi (GBP 8.50 a steal at current exchange rate).  I haven’t seen the Teifi in person, but it is a most interesting design and I would sure be ordering one for evaluation if I were considering relevering an instrument.

    There are a lot of choices–all with pros and cons–all with fans and detractors.  There is probably enough wood below the nut on a Troubadour neck to mount any of them, but you would want to check to be sure. Mounting point and overhang below/above the lever is not standardized.

    There was a useful web page somewhere around that listed most of the levers available. Oh, I see that it has disappeared, but Biagio has re-created it and added/updated the information here: http://harp.wikia.com/wiki/Sharping_Levers_for_Harps.

    Keep in mind the cheaper levers are designed to meet a price point for newly-built less expensive harps–so that one can build a fully-levered harp on a very tight margin without losing money.  The more expensive levers make a cleaner, more accurate sound. Jordan, Universal, maybe Robinson, are roughly equivalent to what you already have on your Troubadours.  I’m assuming your harps are Troub I, II, or III.  I’ve never seen a I or II in person.  The III had a cast nylon flip down lever/fret pin combination.  The Troub IV had Lovelands, then V and VI had L&H Performance.

    Charles Nix

    Participant
    Biagio on #199227

    Huh, nice to see that article has not disappeared entirely; the original *is* archived with the Folk Harp Journal. A few updates…Peter Brough has retired; the new Rees levers look like a cross between Truitts (same kind of action) and Lovelands (with an L bracket).

    If one is mounting levers for the first time, those that press the string out (Truitts, Rees e.g.) are easiest since the pressure against the string will hold them in place while you mark for the holes.  Here is a little guidance to get started (with Truitts as an example), once new strings are on and holding pitch well – after several weeks on a Troubadour, most likely:

    -First, contact Betty Truitt at Dragonwhispers for guidance; she will tell you exactly what you need and provide both taps and drivers.

    -Locate the approximate sharp point and mark it with a Magic Marker.  Calculate that point by multiplying the measured vibrating length (from board to bridge pin) by 0.0555.  You should measure the length and not rely on what is published: an old harp may have a bowed pillar and the belly will have increased.

    -Set the lever and adjust using a tuner.  Be sure that you have the right size (fret, bracket, and if wound stop for that size string) and that the string falls directly parallel through it.

    -Mark the place for holes using an awl.  Sometimes you can drill the holes without removing the lever but it is safest not – it is very easy to nick a string that way.

    -Betty recommends a hand drill (egg beater type) but many of us use an electric drill.  Personally I use an in-line Black and Decker battery operated screw driver fitted with a drill collet.  Blow out the wood dust.

    -Start the threads with the tap and be careful not to nick the strings.  Again, Betty suggests a hand drill but I just fit the tap into a small eyeglass screw driver which is a lot easier.  You only need two or three turns, just enough to get it started.

    -Replace the lever, set the screws and tighten.  Do not tighten all the way until you are sure that it is correctly placed.

    -Other notes: You may find it necessary to damp the other strings; just place a strip of foam insulation across them.  Many people prefer to lay the harp on it’s side; others find it easier to work with it upright.  Finally, take your time and be careful.

    Biagio

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #199228

    Interesting thread.  Idea:  Biago, maybe you should be the harp repairman rather than Brittany?

    Participant
    Biagio on #199268

    Ha ha Gretchen but nope, I’d charge for labor which would put the cost right back up there:-)  But advice is free!

    Seriously, some maintenance/repair work really is within the the ability of most players if they know how to do it.   Lever replacement and regulation is not really difficult, just fiddly and time consuming.

    If Brittany has the time and interest then, “Bravo, go for it!”  After all, from her post it seems that these Troubs are pretty old and really could use some TLC.  I doubt she could mess them up if she takes her time; and it would be a useful skill to add.

    Happy New Year to all,

    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by Biagio.
    Member
    brittany-deyoung–2 on #199917

    Thanks everyone for this advice!! I really want to try this, though it does seem labor intensive. It would be so great to have someone watch me replace a few to make sure I did understand how to correctly do this. I will keep you all posted if I do end up taking a swing at this!

    Participant
    Biagio on #199918

    Brittany,  most harp makers are pretty friendly so depending on your location you might find one who would be happy to “look over you shoulder” for an hour or two while you mount a few.  For a start, while not join the Yahoo! harpmakers forum and pose your question there?  They’re very helpful folks and members include some very knowledgeable people.  Tacye is a member, as are Rick Kemper (Maryland), Sharon Thormahlen and Glen Hill (Oregon), Betty Truitt (California) quite a few others.

    First things though: think about on what kind of levers you want to use. Study some of the videos on Youtube – there are a couple showing lever placement and regulation.  A brief search led me to Triplett (Camacs) and Musicmakers (Universals and Lovelands), and one on L&H Performance levers.  The principles are the same for any type.

    Rick also has a long and well written discussion on how he build his harps including mounting levers.  See Building the Lever Harp items 12 and 12a (Camacs and Truitts):

    http://www.sligoharps.com/btlh.html

    Best wishes,

    Biagio

     

     

     

    Participant
    Biagio on #199919

    Post script: Aha, I see that Brittany is based in Michigan – and hey, so is Jeff Lewis (Lewis Creek Instruments).  Give Jeff a call:

    http://lewiscreek.net/lc_about_us.htm

     

    Biagio

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