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pedal versus lever gauge (?) = lever problem?

  • Samantha
    Samantha T

    Hello,
    I posted earlier about restringing my Salvi Heather (34 string lever harp). The music shop I bought it from has always insisted that it's okay for me to string it with pedal harp strings, which is what I've always done.

    But now I see that the Sylvia Woods Harp Centre says the Heather should use lever harp gauge strings. Could I have damaged the harp by using pedal strings? I always understood that the Heather had pedal harp tension, and didn't think the thickness of the string mattered, except perhaps to the sound quality. I'm getting somewhat confused.

    Also, I'm finding that on some strings (especially non-wires), engaging the levers does not make a perfect half step anymore. Could this be because I'm using the wrong gauge, or does the instrument just need regulation? In this case, I'm not sure how to move the lever, as each lever has three screws, only one of which (the larger main screw) moves in a slot. I don't want to have to drill two new holes for the other smaller screws...

    I'm going to order the Kolacny book, but it'll take a while to get here.
    thanks v. much for any help. Sam
    p.s. I'm going to contact Salvi, but I count on a more user-friendly response from this forum!

    replies to "pedal versus lever gauge (?) = lever problem?"
    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      I don't think there were any Salvis that used lever gauge strings back when the heather was made, so I doubt you would have damaged it. For sure the teachers I know who have them are using pedal strings on them. Lever gauge stringing wasn't a very common concept at that period. Folk harp makers who used lighter strings had unique strings made specially for their harps; there really wasn't a generic lever gauge available back then.


      It's a normal part of life for levers to get out of adjustment over time, so that's usual, too. Those nasty set screws were the bane of the old Salvi levers. You can leave them off, but then the lever is prone to spin when you flip it. I forget what Kolacny advises, but I'd go by what his book says to do.

    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      However, you might like lever gauge on that harp, too. It might be easier to play and might prolong its life a bit, since there will be less tension on the soundboard.

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, Barbara. You've been a great help. Sam

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      A postscript: now I'm confused again. This is what Salvi says:

      "The harp should be strung with lever gut.
      The structure was not reinforced to take pedal gut strings. It is probably okay
      if it is just a few strings, but eventually the tension could hurt the
      structure of the harp."


    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      Well, then I would go ahead do it, although for sure back in the early 90s when those were made there wasn't any such thing. Maybe they've been seeing failures from the higher tension strings.

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      More follow-up from Salvi when I asked them whether pedal and lever nylon (as opposed to gut) strings were interchangeable, and sent a more detailed description of the levers:

      Nylon is about the same tension either
      way, and it is much less tension than gut so it is fine. Although it may not
      have been called lever gut, the early lever harps had lighter tension strings
      on them originating with the wrap strings and then nylon. When lever gut came
      out it was to replace the nylon on the harps to get a fuller sound. You may use
      pedal gut on the harp, but over time, the lever gut will keep the harp’s
      structure intact.

       The smaller screws are just stationary
      screws.. they only touch about a mm of wood. They don’t require drilling, they
      are just friction so the lever doesn’t move side to side. I would encourage you
      to change the strings before you start moving levers.


      This helps, but I still wonder whether replacing all the strings will resolve the tuning problem with the levers. The harp is pretty old, I guess.

      Sam

    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      I assume the levers are making the strings too sharp when engaged?  Lighter tension strings may make this slightly better, but are unlikely to completely cure the issue as the neck and soundboard will have been pulled closer over time, shortening the string length.

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      Yes, some of the levers result in sharp notes when engaged. I do suspect it's an age related thing.

      How long do harps live, anyway - even with the best of care? I guess it's not like other stringed instruments where they can improve with age. Too much tension. How old is too old?


    • Barbara
      Barbara Brundage

      There's no simple answer to that, because it depends on so many things. Tacye has had a lot of experience with harps that are much older than those of us in the US normally see.


      How much the harp was used, how much it was moved, how well it was cared for, how sound the wood and workmanship were, all these things play a factor.

    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Old harps are very often capable of being rebuilt, but with the changing technology and design of lever harps in particular players often prefer to put the money towards a newer one.  For instance, I have a lever (well, blade) harp from 1936 or thereby which has had the soundboard sliced off, flattened and put back with new centre strips.  You might not choose to do this to a harp which didn't sing as beautifully, but a lot of instruments can be kept going by someone who wants to put the time in, and can be made to play nearly as well as they did when new.

      There are playable crochet (eg Naderman) harps from the 1780s/90s; I can't think of any older ones at present.

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      Very interesting.

      Mine is twenty years old and has a slight hairline crack in the soundboard aligned with the string holes. Also I can see a crack of daylight on one side at the top of the pillar where it joins the neck: so I'm really not sure how much to put into it.


    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Is the crack going across the soundboard (probably not a problem) or up and down (may just be the veneer, if not may eventually cause a nuisance)?  Neck/column joins can be slightly wonky for years, decades even - my 1936 baby has a definite opening there, which I am sure has been present for a while.  I also see occasional harps with a metal plate screwed either side of this join to reinforce it.

      If you like the harp it is probably worth keeping going for decades more.  If not, it could have a very useful life as a student hire harp or equivalent.

    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Ooh, there was that occasion in the middle of the 20th C when a few slack wires were put on the Brian Boru and twanged gingerly.  Does that count as the oldest played harp?  Or the 19th century gut stringing of the Queen Mary?  

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      The crack is up and down, and I'm pretty sure it's not just the veneer
      (which is the shiny kind and now crackled all over). It's currently just
      a hairline. The harp does have a good sound though, even with ancient
      strings. But no regulator around here, or at least one that's easy to
      get a hold of. So after I replace all the strings, I need to move the
      levers myself to solve the tuning problem...scary.



      I do feel like a change, though, sometimes, and am considering a new
      harp -  but I think only a young student would buy my harp with the
      crack where it is, and unregulated. I've posted before about whether
      it's worth buying new strings if I'm going to sell it. Too bad new
      strings are so expensive.



      thanks for your comments thus far!

    • Tacye
      Tacye Phillipson

      Are you sure you aren't confusing the lacquer with the (wood) veneer?

    • Samantha
      Samantha T

      Oh yes, you're right - I wasn't thinking. Hopefully it is just the veneer.