Strings angle on pedal harps

  • Member
    Giorgi Rusnak on #68484

    Hi all,

    I have some construction question, which perharps more experienced people here can answer.

    There is a lack of written materials on harp construction (especially pedal harps) and even basic dimensions and splits are not widely spoken of.

    My question is about at what angle strings arrive to the soundboard on pedal harp? I know it is between 58-60 degrees on most folk harps.

    However, with pedal harps I see that some make their post (or columnpillar) more angled, which results in one strings angle. It is Camac, Lyon& Healy, etc. While others (Venus harps in particular, ancient Morley harps, some Erard models) keep the post angle almost straight, perpendicular to the base plate. This angle effects the angle of strings at the soundboard as well.

    Can someone explain me the difference between angled and straight column and what is the golden standard of strings angle on pedal harps? How it effects playability?

    Looking forward to your replies. Thank you.

    carl-swanson on #68485

    Forgive me, but your question makes no sense at all. Pedal harps have an action, and the action is designed to have very specific string lengths in order for the discs to be able to raise the pitch exactly 1/2 step, and then a second half step. In designing their harps, each maker has to figure out how long the string lengths have to be and engineer the frame of the instrument accordingly. They might do it the other way around and design the frame of the instrument, and then design the action to accommodate the resulting string lengths. The angle that the strings enter the center strip on the soundboard is not even on their radar screen. They don’t care.

    I suspect that most of the newer harp companies copied the critical dimensions of existing harps, in particular the action, in order to come up with their own instruments. I know I did. My harps, in terms of critical dimensions, are copied from the Wurlitzer concert grand.

    Giorgi Rusnak on #68486

    Hi Carl,

    Thank you for your input. I know you are always a little harsh when it comes to harpbuilding, so I was prepared:).

    Perharps I did not explain myself clearly. However, to me your answer makes perfect sense!

    Moreover, it looks from your answer that you don’t manufacture the action for your harps. Is it so?

    As I can’t imagine anyone would first develop the mechanic part and only then build the frame of the instrument around it. Sounds like total nonsense.

    This approach works only when you already have an action in stock (or copied somewhere along with string lenghts).

    If you develop both things from scratch it makes sense to develop a frame first and then the action to accommodate the frame. Isn’t it right?

    So in other words, you want to say that there is no difference between significantly angled posts and those which are almost perpendicular to the base. And strings angle at the soundboard doesn’t effect playability at all. All the difference is just because people needed to accommodate the action they have copied somewhere onto their instruments.

    Did I understand you correctly?

    Thank you

    carl-swanson on #68487

    That sounds pretty accurate. Concerning my Swanson action, we completely took apart an action of a Wurlitzer Orchestral Grand and copied the parts, linkage, and action plates. We also copied the critical dimensions of the frame of the instrument. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. All of the hard work had been done by Wurlitzer and it was all public domaine. After the first run of action plates I recalculated the position of the screws that hold the adjustable nuts to the plate. I moved all of those screws lower so that on a brand new instrument the adjustable nuts would be as high as possible, because as the instrument ages, they are going to slowly come down. That was the only change I made to the original Wurlitzer design. Just to clarify, I do make the actions for my harps.

    bernhard-schmidt on #68488


    of course the strings angel effects playabillity, the

    Tacye on #68489

    Speaking as a physicist I, as so often, agree with Bernhard.

    carl-swanson on #68490

    Tacye- I’m sure that the theory you are talking about, from a purely scientific standpoint, is correct. But the differences in the string angle from one make of harp to another, or the changing string angle as the soundboard pulls up over time, do not I believe have a significant effect on the sound of the instrument.

    I know from my experience as a harp builder and repairer that there are many factors that contribute to the sound of a harp, the soundboard being only one. The thickness of the soundboard, whether it is veneered or not, whether it is tapered center to side as well as bottom to top, and of course the type of wood used, are all contributing factors. But then there is the overall weight of the instrument, the shape and size of the pedestal, the thickness and weight of the neck. All of these things contribute as well to the sound. I was just making the point that a pedal harp builder is concerned first and foremost that the action be able to produce exact half step increases when it is engaged.

    Even there most of the harp manufacturers of the last 130 years made mistakes in their engineering calculations. They worked out the pure theory in terms of scientific calculation, where the discs had to be positioned in order to get these half step changes. But none of them accounted for the increased pressure of the disc engaging with the string, nor for the immediate shortening of the overall string length on a brand new harp when it is pulled up to tension and the neck warps down and the soundboard up.

    There are two elements that contribute to the pitch of the string when the action is engaged: The distance that the string is shortened when the disc engages, and the amount of pressure the disc exerts on the string. At the bass end of the instrument, the added pressure of the disc has almost no effect. But at the treble end it has an enormous effect. When regulating the strings in the 1st and 2nd octaves, often the adjustments are made entirely by adjusting the amount of pressure the disc exerts on the string.

    So I come back full circle to the original point of my post: that the maker of an instrument must, above and beyond anything else, have an action that works for the string lengths on the instrument, OR, that he has string lengths that will work for the action he has built. If he hasn’t got that correctly worked out, nothing else matters.

    bernhard-schmidt on #68491

    Hallo Carl,

    yes, yes you are absolutly right but the question of the string angel has first nothing to do with the action function.
    Only in the case of copy an existing instrument it is of course not possible to make any change to the string angel !
    But for example one start a new construction…he must first determine the string angel….the string length and after this is done he construct

    Giorgi Rusnak on #68492

    Bernhard – exactly! We are just talking from different points of view, hence all the dispute:).

    As for the theory – we also have string vibration modes and fundamentals theory (which is now the core of scientific guitar building), but I did not see it has helped anyone yet to construct a good sounding instrument. Really. All answers in musical instruments building are still more or less empirical and come from personal or past experience.

    And I would be satisfied with that – empirical – kind of answer.

    So imagine I’m going to build a pedal harp of my own design, including action, and have many variables, strings angle at the soundboard being one of them. I know folk harps have 60 degrees, on Carl’s harps this angle is significantly more to 90. It means the player doesn’t have the lean the harp so much on his body, as he would with an instrument which has strings at 60 degrees.

    Carl, do you think you would be able to provide an exact measure of strings angle at the soundboard on any of your pedal harps? As well as the angle at which the soundbox joins the base. It would be a great contribution to the discussion.

    Thank you!

    Tacye on #68493

    Carl, Maybe many harp makers haven’t been good enough scientists and
    engineers to calculate things properly – to me that seems a rather bad
    reason to discount the science which can, I assure you, be done better.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #68494

    I know a harpist who has both Venus and Lyon & Healy harps, and he has noticed a difference in sound due to the string angle. If a string comes out at too steep of an angle from the sounding board, I think it’s capacity to vibrate will be limited by too much contact with that edge of the board.

    Giorgi Rusnak on #68495

    Hi Tacye,

    yes, more than that, many harp builders can’t even say what the sting spacing they have is such and what’s the progression of the strings distance from lower to higher octaves. 🙂

    As for Piligrim Clarsach, that might be done for easier reach of the upper strings, something to consider as well…

    What is special in sound balance of Tyrolean harps? I have heard a few, but did not notice anything significant. Could you please tell us what you know?

    In general I see that harpbuilding offers more freedom to the maker, probably due to the nature of the instrument, than it happens with violinmaking for example, where the maker has to follow strict rules and established procedures. It is all about correct angles and dimensions there:)

    Giorgi Rusnak on #68496

    Saul, that’s definitely an interesting observation, but we can’t be sure the difference in sound is ONLY due to that string angle, since those are two different manufacturers. It can be related to multiple issues, as Carl rightly pointed out above. We need at least more stats from harpists to rely on their statements.

    Would be interesting to know the opinion of Jakez François on this topic. I know he participated on this forum for some time…

    carl-swanson on #68497

    What hasn’t been mentioned at all so far, concerning the tone that an instrument produces, is the ability of the harpist playing it. I’m not talking about virtuosity or level at which the harpist plays, but rather simply the way an individual harpist prepares and then plucks the string. To me, that is overwhelmingly the most important factor concerning the sound of the instrument. Everything else comes in a distant second to that.

    I’m not picky at all about the sound of one instrument or another or for that matter about one brand of string or another because the way I sound when I play any harp comes primarily from how I play the instrument. For this reason, whenever I have an instrument for sale and I get questions about its sound, I always tell the potential buyer that they have to come and try the instrument out for themselves. I can vouch for the structural integrity of the instrument, but I never get involved with issues of sound, because everyone has their own concept of good and bad sound, and everyone produces a slightly different sound on the same instrument.

    Giorgi Rusnak on #68498

    Carl, that’s indisputable and everybody agrees here, I believe.

    At the same time, it doesn’t deny that the angle of the strings at the soundboard affects the tone.

    I also got an interesting comment on my question:

    “Building a pillar that leans forward brings the center of gravity forward too, so it is more centered between the front and back feet. It makes for a more stable harp, less likely to tip over backwards when it is bumped inadvertently. Doing so also gives the builder a little more room for the structural straps and hardware that bind the string rib and bottom of the sound box to the foot of the pillar. There are a lot of stresses there, so design in this area deserves some careful thought.”

    Might be indeed this is the primary reason to have the post angled…

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.