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Old Harp Sings Again

My friend T recently inherited a beautiful Lyon & Healy Style 16 from her mother. Built initially around 1920, the harp hadn’t been played in about 10 years and had been kept in storage. When T asked me to help her replace the many broken strings and determine if the harp was in playable condition we discovered a crack in the neck.

crack in neck of harp

Harp Doc Peter Wiley inspected the harp and said that replacing the entire neck would be expensive - or at least more than T wanted to spend. The crack didn’t go all way through the neck laminations and there was no way of knowing if it had been there for several years or if it had happened when the harp was recently transported. Peter suggested we could try the epoxy method which could possibly extend the life of the instrument without a large expense. It was worth the gamble and I was curious to see what the harp would sound like after all these years so I enthusiastically took on the project.

After taking most of the old strings off to relieve the tension I masked off the area around the crack, laid the harp down and filled the gap with a special slow-curing epoxy.

masking off the crack in the harp neck

In order to make sure the epoxy didn’t pour out, I upended the harp so gravity would help the liquid flow down into the crack.

upside-down harp getting neck repair

After a 24-hour curing time the harp was righted again. The action was a bit sticky and grimy so I lubricated it with a very light oil and worked it into the mechanism. I covered the body of the instrument with a sheet of plastic so the oil wouldn’t drip and stain the soundboard until after it had a chance to evaporate.

harp covered with plastic during neck repair

After I installed a full new set of strings we were happy to discover that this old harp has a rich, full, warm voice that had just been waiting to sing again. Now that it’s playable, it needs to see the Harp Doc again for a regulation so the pedals will be accurate. What a thrill to know this old beauty has a new life!

old style 16 with new strings

Harp on Sick Leave

Recently my Wurlitzer, whose name is Goldie, called in sick for work. I guess the problem was just advanced age as she’s now about 92 years old. Last year she got a brand-new neck and soundboard along with some shiny new gold leaf so that wasn’t the problem. The issue was that the glue in the laminated layer on the back of the pedal box had gotten so old that it crystallized and was no longer doing its job to adhere the topmost layer to the the inner core. Pieces of the outer veneer were beginning to chip off around a few of the pedal slots. Shipping the entire harp to Virginia would have been costly and nerve-wracking so instead, I removed the base and shipped just the part that needed repair.

harp with chipped veneer at pedal slot
veneer chipping at upper left side of pedal slot

A harp with no base can’t stand up so I pulled out the sofa bed where Goldie reclined for nearly two weeks.

Wurlitzer harp reclning on sofa

When the repaired base finally came back I put it in place, tightened the four long screws that hold it on...

Replacing the base on the harp

... and Goldie returned to her full and upright position just in time for a Valentine’s Day outing.

Laurie Rasmussen plys a Wurlitzer pedal harp.

Harp String Maintenance

Recently I went to the home of my friend S. to help replace some broken strings on her harp. She hadn’t played it in quite a while and when I got to her house I discovered that about 10 strings in the upper and midrange were broken and springing out in all directions. We searched through her spare set, found appropriate replacements and I knotted, strung and tuned them up. This is an old (early 1900’s) L&H semi-grand with a straight board. It’s a solid beast with smooth action that sounded rich and robust once it was back in tune.

early 1900's Lyon & Healy pedal harp
early 1900's L&H semi-grand

I reminded S. of the importance of replacing broken strings as soon as possible. On a fully-strung pedal harp tuned up to pitch there are approximately 2000 lbs. of tension pulling up on the soundboard. Gaps in the string band will cause uneven tension which, if left too long, can warp and eventually crack the board or the neck.

The previous owner of my 1917 Wurlitzer didn’t play the harp and used it only as a decorative objective in her living room for 50 years. She never tuned it or replaced strings as they broke so over the course of those five decades the soundboard warped and cracked. A small crack also developed in the neck. It was playable in this condition but delicate and its expected lifespan was questionable. If the harp had been regularly tuned and the broken strings replaced the original board would have been in much better shape. Howard Bryan replaced the neck and soundboard before I bought it so now, withe regular maintenance, it should have a long and happy life. Just like people, harps benefit from regular TLC.

1917 Wurlitzer harp before restoration1917 Wurlitzer harp after restoration
1917 Wurlitzer model I before and after restoration