I got my harp, a L&H 23, used about a year ago. It is currently 8 years old and was not used very much for the first 7 years. I recently noticed that some finish on the body of
Posted In: Professional Harpists
Sam- I’ve seen this from time to time on various instruments. I’ve always assumed it was either from the perspiration of the harpists hands(maybe too acidic?) or from something the harpist used on his/her hands, like hand cream, cologne, etc. But the fact is I don’t know what causes it. However, it always seems to happen right where the harpist places his/her palm on the instrument.
It can probably be spot finished. The gummy part would have to be scraped off. Then finish applied and rubbed out. It shouldn’t cost more than a couple of hundred dollars at most. You’re not too far from me. Give me a call and I can take a look at it.
I wish I knew what it was that was causing this. It’s very mysterious. Years ago I had to spot finish a pre- WWII L & H that had this problem. The finish had gotten soft and gummy on both sides of the body right where the harpist grabbed the harp to pull it back on her shoulder. I scrapped the soft finish off, cleaned the wood with solvent, and then finished those spots with refined shellac. 2 months later it had done it again!. I did the same process again, cleaning the raw wood with several different solvents before applying more refined shellac. That took care of it. That was perhaps 20 years ago that I did that and I see the instrument from time to time and the finish is fine.
There is another problem that occasionally happens to the finish too. That is when the dye from the black dress many harpists wear for gigs darkens the finish where the knees touch the harp. What’s amazing is that the dye seems to soak right through the finish down to the raw wood.
I make perfumes and lotions and I can tell you both frangrance oils and alcohols can take the finish off of anything. I dropped about a teaspoon full of FO onto my wood floor and it now has a very unsightly stain where the varnish lifted up. Your best bet is to wash your hands and wrists thorougly before playing using a simple unfragranced bar of soap. Wash thourougly with the soap several times (soap up, rinse, soap up rinse). Even if you think you are using unscented lotion unless it says no fragrance oils or it is specificly formulated to be unfragranced (as with a lotion formulated for people with allergies) you can not assume the lotion has no fragrance oil. Look on the back of the bottle, if there is any fragrance most larger companies actually abide by the FDA’s regulations regarding INCI labeling and will tell you but if you bought it from a small company or arts and crafts festival (or sometimes places like whole foods-so much inappropriately labeled stuff there), you are out of luck and should just not use it without washing it all off before touching your harp. I also keep a soft cloth next to the harp. As soon as I am done playing I rub up and down the sound board and down the sides to make sure there are not oils left from my skin on the harp.Even if you use no lotion if you use shampoo, cologone, fragranced soaps, or antibacterial gel all have fragrance oils and alcohols that can impact finishes.
If the finish in one area is soft and gummy, you can’t put any kind of finish, sealer, or wax over it and expect it to stay. All of the soft finish has to come off right down to bare wood. There is no need to scrape into the wood, just down to the surface. Whatever made the finish gummy in the first place is most likely down in the wood itself anyway. So after removing any finish that has softened you have to wash the area(the bare wood) several times with different solvents to try to extract whatever it was that softened the finish. Only then will it be possible to spot finish the area. What you use to finish it will depend on what the rest of the finish is on the instrument. Depending on the make and age of the harp, it could be shellac, varnish, lacquer, polyurethane, or heaven knows what else.
I agree the area has to be cleaned first before anything is put on. The Renaissance Wax prevents this phenomena, it does not cure it.
Sorry Carl, I will continue to scrub with fine steel wool and scrub pads using copious amounts of mineral spirits, but no scraping!
My guess is that it is soft and gummy from moisture, not acid. My skin is quite acid, and I’ve never had that happen. I do get dirty grime, which I wipe off with a soft cloth dampened with a tiny bit of water and tiny bit of dishwashing detergent. However, my expert on finishes advised me to use mineral spirits to clean the finish. I think it is your sweat and humid weather, perhaps, that is making it gummy, unless you have an incredible build-up of grime. Before doing anything, I would use a blow-dryer on it for quite a while. You want the finish to be dry. Finish is absorbent. You don’t want to remove it, only the dirt. If you have someone in your area who is an expert on restoration, they can probably take care of it for you. After drying it thoroughly, then try the soft, damp cloth and rub gently. Any polish you apply will also be absorbed and dampen the finish. It takes weeks or months for finish to give off moisture and volatile chemicals. I also had trouble when I re-polished the harp too frequently. I was advised not to use any commercial polishes or waxes. The Renaissance may be the only one suitable. But he did not advise any waxes.
The other solution is to not let your arm or wrist rest on or touch the harp, but you might not like that idea. Ask your teacher.