Replacing pedal felts when regulating

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    charles-nix on #193391

    I’ve noticed that replacing pedal felts is a standard first step in a professional regulation. My question is: if they’re not significantly worn, why?

    My profession is pipe organ builder. When we replace bushings or any other felt, we do it only when worn out, because any replacement will pack in over the next few years, and then require yet further adjustment after the packing occurs.

    So what is different about harps? If the wear level indicates that the cloth will easily last without tearing or failure for several more years, why not regulate with the existing felt? It looks like new felt would just guarantee the need to reregulate after the new felt packs in.

    I’m not at all attacking the practice; just don’t understand what makes the harp application different from everyone else who uses bushing cloth.


    Charles Nix

    brian-noel on #193441

    I think a harp tech would say that after a year or two of normal usage, the felts pack down (whether they are entirely bushing cloth or rubber wrapped in cloth) to the point where either they are likely to tear or they start becoming noisy when pedaling, so changing them out at the time of regulation just makes sense, since regulations generally occur every year or two as well. This way, the regulation is done with the new felts in place. If, however, the felts are in good shape, you are correct, they don’t have to be changed.

    carl-swanson on #193499

    Charles- Some harps tear through felts quickly and others do not. The old Lyon & Healy that I keep for myself NEVER wears out felts. I finally changed them this past summer. I think it had been 10 years since I last changed them. And I went through periods of heavy practicing on that harp.

    I always change felts when I regulate a harp, even if they are in pretty good condition. I do it because it is anybody’s guess when a technician will regulate that harp again. When I wrap the felts on, I do not use the rubber liner, and I wrap the felt on as tightly as I can to minimize packing down.

    I have to tell you a funny story. Years ago I was doing regulations in New York City, and while I was there the harpist playing Chorus Line asked me to regulate her harp. I met her at the Schubert Theater, she took me down to the pit, and I regulated a very old beat up style 30. Fine.

    Several years later I was again in NYC, and the same harpist called me to again regulate her harp at the Schubert. She took me down to the pit, helped me clear an area to work, and then left to do errands. I immediately laid the harp over on its side, took the pedestal off, and saw that the felts were worn down to the steel bar! But I could tell that they were my felts that I had put on two or three years earlier. So I changed all of the felts, put the pedestal back on, and started to check for over motion. None of the pedals would go into sharp!!! They would go about half way between natural and sharp and just stop! What the heck am I doing wrong I thought. I finally figured out that somebody else had adjusted the rods to the worn felts, shortening all of the rods by 8 to 10 full turns!!! Once I screwed the couplers out sufficiently, everything worked fine.

    When the harpist came back, I asked her if someone else had worked on the harp since the last time I was there. Thinking I was jealous, she said apologetically that she was used to using anyone who came through New York, and that she had used X(I won’t mention his name). This jerk had regulated her harp and either didn’t have any felt or was too lazy to replace the severely worn felts, and so had shortened all of the rods by a drastic amount. This same technician also pedals himself as a rebuilder, and I have had to rip out several repair jobs he has done and redo them. In my book he’s totally incompetent and a con man!

    The person in question is NOT Tom Bell. Tom is a very fine technician and a good friend of mine.

    Tacye on #193518

    When did harps start using bushing cloth rather than leather on the pedals? I wonder if it was linked to the stonger springs in the pedals mechanism.

    I had exactly the same question years ago and replaced my felts with leather wraps. They have long finished compacting and the regulation is very stable. Having less cushioning there can lead to noiser pedals – which did wonders for my pedal technique and moving them precisely rather than crashing them around. I suspect I would no longer wear through felt as fast.

    The downside of the harp having such stable regulation is of course the temptation not to give it any servicing. How is that for a conspiracy theory? The pedals felts are designed to have a short lifetime and pack down or wear through, prompting the harpist to call the servicer more often, leading to more well maintained older harps…

    carl-swanson on #193563

    Tacye- Leather was always used on Erard and similar 19th century harps. But those harps had much lighter pedals. Erard Gothique harps have very light pedals. All 20th century harps, because of the changes to the mechanism, are much heavier by comparison. I suspect that when Lyon & Healy started selling pedal harps in 1889, the first harps may have been wrapped in leather. But there would have been complaining about the noise, and so piano bushing cloth was then used. Erard harps still need to be wrapped in leather because the slightest change in the thickness of the wrapping can really throw the regulation off. Not so with 20th century harps.

    As I mentioned above, some harps really tear up felts very fast and others do not. But if you are not sure to have your harp gone over annually by a technician I think it’s better to have him change the felts each time he is there. It’s not that much more work nor expense.

    charles-nix on #193814

    Thanks so much, everyone. That all does coincide with what we would do in the organ industry: if the felt won’t make it until the next rebuilding cycle, replace it while you are there.

    I hadn’t thought about wrapping tightly to pack in; for organ applications, that’s not an option since the felt is usually a flat cushion disk.

    Regarding some tearing up felts fast, and others not, I wonder how much that has to do with the harpist rather than the harp?

    I just worked at a church where a well-known builder replaced the main wind pressure regulator with a much smaller one instead of rebuilding the original. The same builder also increased the size of the instrument by 50%, with concurrent increased wind demand. The final result is that when played at full organ the wind pressure starves to half of what it should be, making it incredibly flat whenever you play loudly. We follow up a couple of these things every year–and each time I’m amazed that others can stay in business doing things that way. There was another church where the roof leaked a little–but, strangely, didn’t damage anything except some surface rust on the steel screws, and a few cleanable water stains. Another builder quoted to replace the entire section of mechanism–over $8000 in work twenty years ago. We were called in by the insurance company to consult. Every single note was working perfectly; the worst damage we could find would have required replacing about 60 rusted screws: maybe $500 including the special trip and all. The church insisted on the original repair, replacing a perfectly working item with a new one, and the insurance company went along. Sometimes people deserve what they get. I think all trades are that way. My electrician and plumber friends all have stories, too.

    Thanks for all the help in understanding.

    Charles Nix

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #194005

    The problem with a technician replacing the felts and then regulating is that the felts will immediately begin compacting and throw off the regulation. Unless it is done by master technician Karen Rokos. She has the best felt ever. The felts should really be changed months before regulating if you want the regulation to last. If you want the felts to last as well, then you need a really strong supply of felt. I don’t know if she will reveal her source. I have also used bushing cloth from a piano supply house with success. Plastic over rubber can work well, but they can slip more easily. I wonder about using leather over rubber.

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