harpcolumn

practical news, for practical harpists

Forums » Coffee Break » Clunkers we have known and...

About Forums

Welcome to the Harp Column forums. Please read the Terms and Conditions before posting. By using this forum, you agree to adhere to these terms.

Want to add links or emphasis to your posts? Read the Harp Column blog about posting shortcuts.

Clunkers we have known and loved....

  • Unknown
    Unknown User

    I think we all as students have been through this scenario - have not been able to afford a "modern" pedal harp and so have had to make do with a less than professional model....and they often led to more than one adventure in your student life.

    I started out life on an old English Erard - that had had more than one local repair by non harp professionals (if you know what I mean) and had a few "quirks". One was that it had this adorable 8th pedal that moved flaps at the back that opened and closed the sound holes in the back of the soundbox - and it made this creaking noise, like the door of a crypt opening....the sort of thing that was so appealing to teenagers and would make everyone laugh hysterically....

    Another quirk was that the discs would not turn, return or they would over turn - so I had an elaborate system of rubber bands going from the discs to the string nuts that would help keep the action functional...

    I've already said before, that my first time with a student orchestra was Night on Bare mountain, and just before the arpeggios at the end, I changed the pedals into D major - and the rubber bands snapped and went flying all over the orchestra in all directions. The kids in the orchestra squealed with delight and started scrambling over the floors to find the rubber bands and flick them back at me! I spent the rest of the rehearsal fielding the volleys from the viola section, who spent the whole time throwing bits of paper, erasers, pencils and anything else they could find at me....

    I, of course, did not have a car, and would manage to get the Erard into all sorts of vehicles, my favourite was the time we wedged it into a volkwagon horizontally across the back seat and out the front passanger window with a red ragged tied on the end of the column so that on going traffic would not hit it! I had also taken it on the train, the tram, but had never got a bus driver to let me on with it.... 

    I loved that harp, had been travelling across town for several hours to play on a retired harpists Erard prior to that. When I got my Erard, I still would go once a fortnight to visit him and play his harp, as he had got used to the company I think! But it was so nice to have my very own harp, even with its quirks I loved it.

    That harp met its demise by being freighted, dropped from the cargo hold of a plane to the tarmac and smashed into a zillion pieces. It was delivered to me wrapped in canvas, and as the delivery man carried it up the drive, bits of gold gilding and the wings of angels fell out on the pavement. I ran behind him, crying my eyes out, picking up the bits and pieces of my first harp. He was  burly truck driver, with tattoos and a biker moutashe, and one of those tough pit bull dogs on the back of the truck - and even he had tears in his eyes! (Big softy!)

    I loved that harp, even though it was a clunker, had quirks, and never ever sounded in tune. But it got me going, got me playing, and I loved it to bits.

    Any clunker stories out there, clunkers you've known, owned or loved??

    - Sign in to comment
    replies to "Clunkers we have known and loved...."
    • Vince
      Vince Pierce

      Well, I have yet to own my own harp and can't wait until the day I do, but we have this old LH 17 at our school that one of the girls calls the 'short bus' harp :-P I really love the delicate sound it has, and it's a little lighter. The soundboard is a bit bowed, and the pedals are kind of stiff, and it's hard to tune, but for some reason I like it. I also like it partly because it's not as heavy, and it looks like a 23 but isn't so flowery. I sort of think of it as my harp because no one else really plays it. Maybe I could buy it from the school...hm. But I am so curious to see and hear one of those ancient Erards. I love your description of the pedal flap! I can just imagine that...and how sad that it was destroyed like that! I know I would be in tears if that ever happened to me! What do you play on now, just out of curiosity? No rubber bands, I suppose...

      Vince

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Hi Vince,

      Yes, aren't old 17's lovely. I taught in a convent school, that had a very beautiful old gold 17 from I think 1930 - and it was just gorgeous. Actually, it was not a clunker, absolutley in mint condition, board had not bowed a millimetre, neck completely straight, and action in perfect slick condition....

      I did play an old style 22 in university - I think it as circa 1915.  They had bought a new 85 but a couple of us still preferred the 22 - it was warped and twisted and the intonation was shot..but it had the most amazing sound, was very light and well balanced, and it had such character.

      What do I play on at the moment? Nothing! (its a long story). I'm between instruments at the moment, which is why the harp column is so terrific. Stops me going entirely nuts about all the work I'm turning down, and is a great distraction from worrying myself stupid about not having a harp.....

      I did play a Salvi for a long time, but find them too heavy...and nope, it did not have rubber bands or a nifty flap in the soundbox!  I'm not sure what I will go for next, it depends what is around at the time I get my money back.

      I'll let you know!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Actually, that last post is not quite right, I have a little light strung lever harp - made by Kim Webby in New Zealand...I was thinking pedal harps that I'm performing on. But lever harps are harps and I'm glad that I can keep my fingers going and have something I can teach on. It is made from New Zealand red beech, a goldy red colour - with figured wavy wood in the back that really shines. The trim is inlay of Rosewood (I'm a sucker for Rosewood) and it has an Alaskan spruce soundboard with the most lovely shimmery veneer on it.

      It has a quirky little sound, and is great for Irish or early music. So, I suppose rather than a "clunker", it is a "quirky" that I own and love! And it is a harp! Just not a pedal harp for most of the sorts of work I do - orchestra, chamber ensembles, choirs etc. But it is more than some people have, much more! 

      I have found for weddings though some people actually prefer it, they see it and just grin. The shimmery wood is so impressive, but also it looks like a minature pedal harp - the same design and dimension, just "shrunk" and it makes people laugh the instant they see it! I had a woman here last year listening to my repertoire for weddings, with the intention of playing my concert harp, and she saw the Minstrel harp and her eyes lit up, and she said "it is just what the pixies would have played!!". I played some Kim Robertson tunes on it and she was in raptures, she just could not stop grinning...so that is what I played at her wedding reception! The "quirky"!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth Volpé Bligh

      My very first harp was a very old, third-hand Lyon-Healy gold 22, which had ivory pegs in the soundboard and had been rebuilt before I bought it. I was such an idiot; I didn't know what a great little harp I had and sold it to one of my first students. It had a lovely tuning key that fit the pegs like a glove and never
      wore out. I kept it when I sold the harp and cried when I lost it! I guess the pegs and tuning keys are made of different grade steel now. My next, brand-new harp was a real clunker with terrible, dead tone, so I had to sell that one and buy yet another! I spent several years nagging that student, trying to get her to sell the first harp back to me but she wanted to keep it in spite of the fact that she had quite lessons and was hardly playing at all. My third instrument started off sounding quite green but developed into a beauty, thank heavens!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Now, if you had been exceedingly clever and devious Elizabeth, you would have convinced the "student of few lessons", that she was now exceedingly brilliant and had outgrown this "old" 22, and it was holding her back...and that you would help her by taking it off her hands (and kindly pay her the price she paid you)....sneaky sneaky sneaky...

      But seriously, those old 22's were gorgeous, I've tried several times to get the conservatorium where I studied to sell me their old one, as it is very neglected and not even in use...think it's in a storage cupboard.

      I also played a really beautiful old Wurtlitzer, circa 1930's - original board, neck, everything, not too badly warped, action a little loose but no major buzzes, clicks or clacks. The most incredible and gorgeous tone. It also has curly maple on the back of the soundbox that had turned  the most wonderful orangey caramel colour with age...I could eat it up!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Paul
      Paul Wren

      A clunker that I knew and 'hated" was a harp own by the school. This harp was assigned to me while in school. Even though I owned a harp at the time, we were required to sign in and pratice at school for so many hours a day. I was assigned a room and harp. Ugh, what a piece of crap that thing was. Some of the disc in the wires strings would not turn all the way and you would get the most god awful booooooooonnnnnnngggggggggggggggg when it was in a bad position. I begged to have the harp worked on, but was not in the schools budget. Besides the wires, all of the other strings were nylon, the middle section was completely dead.

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      That harp sounds strangely familiar...

      - Sign in to comment
    • Jeralee
      Jeralee Stewart

      When I was going to the U. of O. in the mid 90's  the  ONLY harp they had was an old L&H 100 that had been played to death. The pedals were noisy, it never stayed in tune , it had all sorts of clinks and clicks and buzzes.  Everytime Dale Barco or Ed Galchick would come to work on it, they would just shake their head, do what they could and tell us that it really just needed to be retired.  We used to joke that we needed to throw it off the top of the Music School, but doubted that it would be high enough to do any damage.  The orchestra conductor hated it and would always get after me for tuning, when it was a disc or regulation issue.  Anyway.... for concerts I always hauled in my own harp.

      After I graduated  They had two beautiful gilded L & H 23's donated to the school.  Awesome sound, well taken care of and not played much.  I think they have acquired another pedal harp as well that was willed/gifted to the school.  Anyway, of course with my luck - this all happened when I was done with school.

      - Sign in to comment
    • rod
      rod anderson

      I still have the first pedal harp I played back in the sixties - it must be nearly 150 years old now - a Delveau Grecian, still with the original soundboard.  It doesn't get played any more, and I am looking to sell it on to some school student who needs one.  The great Alan Harbour in London brought it back into playable condition for me a couple of years ago, but it's way too old to be regulated properly, has some interesting buzzes, and bears the scars of many many years of being carted around.  BUT - I just don't want to part with it  Let's face it, I too am past being regulated, make some unconventional noises, and bear the scars of years, and I'm hanged if I want to be traded for a newer model.

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      And rightly so! Scars or "Patina" - that increases the value you know with antiques..

      I'd keep that harp if I was you, it is so unique and has so much history, both yours and its own! And you probably would never get another one. And a student would be likely to thrash it, and it not stand up to all that use....

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      I agree with Rosemary - don't sell it!

      - Sign in to comment
    • David
      David Ice

      Arizona State University had a horror of a harp, living in this dimension as a style 30.  Now I have a big sound and have a lot of strength (most of the time, if a conductor has a dynamic comment for me, it's "Less harp" as opposed to "more harp.") But on this "instrument" I could not get any sound.  I get more sound stringing rubber bands through Crisco can lids. 

      I have no idea what poor soul wound up with this demon instrument.  It was truly the most awful harp I've ever played.

      Dave Ice

      - Sign in to comment
    • David
      David Ice

      Hi Rosemary,

      I have a story for you....perhaps I should post it as a separate thread, or wait until Halloween, but I swear it is totally true.

      I will not mention names.

      I ordered a L&H pedal harp in the 90s from a nearby dealer.  No problem.  But the dealer took me aside and asked for my opinion on a harp, and my opinion on what to do.

      It would seem that a few months earlier, a rather creepy individual (male) came in and ordered a Troubador.  It had to be BLACK.  No other finish would do.  The dealer felt somewhat uneasy about things, but he paid cash, so a business deal was completed.

      A few months later he returned and wanted to place the harp up for sale.  Cosmetically it was perfect--but there was something just not quite right about the tone.  It did not sound "right"--an indefinable quality, but when you heard it, you knew it just wasn't "right."

      But what was the most creepy thing....the dealer showed me the floor.  She had just laid brand new linoleum on the showroom floor.  It was flawless.  But the outline of where this Troubador had sat for a week looked exactly as if it had been blowtorched.

      I am NOT making this up!  It looked like you traced the base of a Troubador, then took a blowtorch to the linoleum.  It was bubbled, burnt looking, and utterly ruined.  And the damage was limited to inside the perfect outline of the troubador base.  It did not extend a millimeter beyond the base.

      The base of the Troubador itself was totally normal.  The finish had no burns, bubbles, or any indication whatsoever of any acid or chemical burns, or anything else.  It was totally unmarked (not even scuffed!) and in perfect condition.

      The dealer asked me, "What should I do?"  She was clearly spooked by this.  She knew I was a Christian, and she wanted my opinion.  I had to wonder aloud, "Was this used for some sort of Satanic ritual?  I mean, a black harp?"  That was her feeling.  "Should I take it outside and burn it?"  I had to admit that was the only thing I could think of.

      Had I not seen the burns in the flooring myself (and I do have a degree in chemistry, so I am aware of what acid burns look like) I would say this was an urban legend.  But I trust what the dealer told me, and why would she destroy her own brand new floor?   That would be a very expensive practical joke!

      I honestly don't know what she did with the harp (but I'm comfident she did not re-sell it.)  But this story always creeped me out!  And IT IS TRUE!

      Dave Ice

      PS The harp I ultimately bought from this dealer was truly excellent, and never harmed any flooring!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Jessica
      Jessica Frost

      When I was in high school, I enrolled in the Governor's School for the Arts as the only harpist.  In trying to figure out how I was going to get my harp to school everyday (we rehearsed at a local college) someone recalled that "at some time" "long ago" there had been a harp at the university....but nobody had seen it in MANY years.  So we took off on a harp hunt and finally found this poor harp in the attic of one of the oldest buildings on campus.  There was, of course, no cover on the harp.  The harp had water damage, the soundboard was curled up and cracked, the neck was broken and resting against the soundboard, there were maybe 6 or 7 strings still attached, the rest were flopping over the side of the soundboard, there was about 7 inches of dust covering the entire thing.  It also looked like some rodent had gnawed on parts of it (especially the feet).  It was absolutely pitiful.  I'm amazed it was even able to stay upright without falling down. 

      So of course, the university decided that it would rather rebuild it than buy a new one (at the same time, the university had just hired my harp teacher to teach minor lessons since [lo and behold], they owned a harp!).  It took about 9 months for it to get repaired.  It was a Lyon and Healy but I don't know the model...definitely not one they sell anymore.  I used it for three years at the school....even after being rebuilt it still sounded pretty bad, never stayed in tune, and looked rough.  And 6 years later, I think it's STILL there!  Maybe someday soon it will be laid to rest ;)

      -Jessica

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Oowwww....is that an additional extra that I can order??? As we have just stripped back the carpet on our oak floors and they are covered in....nasty lead based pink paint. We have started sanding them back and it is such a chore and really quite hazardous to ones health.  Now! A demonic troubador may be just what I need! I could strip the pain and practise Kim Robertson tunes all at the same time! I could even get those little Salvi wheels and whirl around the floor simulaneously....

      I do get a bit of motion sickness though..

      - Sign in to comment
    • David
      David Ice

      It will also microwave split pea soup simultantously....

      Pink paint?  On the floor???  What were the previous owners thinking?

      Dave Ice

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      The previous owners and pink paint? I think that they attempted to sand back the original boards, put it in the "too hard" basket, painted over their botched attempt thinking it would hide the evidence, then hid that under even more hideous lime green carpet....

      And think, all they needed was Dave's extra special demonic paint stripper and kitchen handy heated harp!! ..fry eggs on the base board....grill cheese in the back of the soundbox...fill with water and steam clean the carpets... the uses for a demonic harp are endless...Who needs an exorcist in this consumer friendly and efficiently pragmatic world!

       

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Reading all of the stories about things that have happened to old clunkers brings something to mind: What happens to NEW clunkers?  Someone orders a harp, anxiously waits for it to be built, and then it arrives.  It is beautiful, but it sounds like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  If you are the owner, you can send it back, but what if you are the harpmaker?  Do you take it apart and try again with a new part or two?  Set it aside for firewood?  Turn the soundbox into a birdhouse?  Or do you just hope that somebody out there will love it?

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Yes, I know. That actually has been worrying me a little about the new clunker that I finally got the company to take back...I lost over $13,000 on it as they retained some money without explanation and also with the exchange rate changing and freight etc. I'm worried that they may just clean it up and send it out to some unsuspecting harpist and they'll have to go through what I did!

      It was worse than the old original Erard that I mentioned above, rattled and twanged and buzzed far worse than that. All the bass wires jangled and twanged horribly! The top octave was totally dead, and would not speak properly. There was this unpleasant slapping sound, as if the discs were not touching the strings properly. But it was mysterious, as the disc prongs were touching adequately....The middle register had a nasty buzz or dead note on each string in at least one position. Some so badly dead that the tuner would not even register it. And yes, I did change most all of the strings, to no avail.

      It also would not hold its tuning from 3rd F up, for more than about 3 pages of music. There was a deep crease vertically running down the soundboard but I have no idea if that means the board was going, or if that contributed to the fact it would not hold pitch. I know that one harp maker put a flashlight inside it, only 2 watt, and it lit up like a chinese lantern - the board was paper thin....he thought it about to pop at any time.

      There was also little adjustment left in the upper register, most harps you can adjust the string nuts as the harp warps and ages, this one had all ready run out. All the string nuts in the 2nd octave pushed all the way down and leaning over in a funny way, almost hitting the discs. I also had 13 discs with loose prongs, in only 3 weeks, string nuts with faulty nibs, and discs that had loose threads. Some of them would move, wobble, clockwise and anti clockwise, even though the screws were fine and tight.

      Yes, well, it was a clunker I have known but I definitely did not love it or the way the company treated me. And it does bug me that some other unsuspecting harpist in China or Australia or somewhere else way beyond the reach of lawyers will inherit this harp!

      - Sign in to comment
    • Unknown
      Unknown User

      Rosemary, I have never seen this 'clunker' but here is my story for what it is worth.

      It's all because of a ghost!

      When I was small, we lived near a town that had two Catholic colleges, one for women, one for men, on opposite sides of town.  We did not have a lot of money; there were 5 kids and my father never made more than $10,000 a year.  He worked harder than anybody I ever knew, but through no fault of his own, he only had a 7th grade education.

      You can imagine how difficult it was when my older sister wanted to go to college as a music major.  Scholarships don't pay for everything.  To work off part of her tuition, the nuns at the women's college hired my mother to clean their chapel.  Nobody else would do it because they were afraid of the ghost.  They all thought the ghost of some long-dead nun haunted the organ loft.  My mother got the job because she was not afraid to go up there alone.  If you had known my mother you would have known that the ghost should have been afraid of HER, and not the other way 'round!  She didn't mind the cleaning because it gave her the opportunity to play the organ while she was up there.  She had been our church organist/choir director for many years, and often played at neighboring churches as a substitute.

      One day while she was cleaning the organ loft she heard the 'ghost.'  It sounded like someone walking up the creaky steps.  Determined to get to the bottom of it, she started poking around in the nooks and crannies and discovered a gilded harp in one of the closets!

      She asked the nuns why the harp was just sitting there neglected, and they told her nobody knew how to play it.  She said, "Well, I do!"  She said everybody's jaw hit the floor when the 'colored' cleaning lady sat down and played their harp!  It created quite a stir, especially back then (this was in the 1960's during the civil rights movement).  I wish I had been there to hear it, and see their faces.

      It was this story that made me interested in the harp.  Learning it was out of the question; even piano lessons were a financial stretch.  But it stayed in the back of my mind until last year when I finally decided to bite the bullet.  My mother has since passed away.  I've oftern wondered what happened to that harp, and now that I am looking to own a pedal harp of my own someday, I thought it would be really cool to own the one my mother played, especially since nearly everything else we had of hers perished in a house fire.  I found out from my teacher that the harp is still there, still neglected.  As far as she knows my mom was one of the last people ever to play it.  I've never seen it, but she says it was once a beautiful instrument, but forty years of neglect have taken its toll.  It would take a lot of work to make it playable again.  A couple of harpists in the area have tried to buy it, but the nuns won't sell it for less than a small fortune.

      I wouldn't mind restoring it, but I am just an advanced beginner, and for me to have a harp like that is the same as somebody delivering pizza in a BMW.  I don't think my pocketbook could stand the strain, either.
      Still, it would be sooooo cool to own that harp.  My mother never owned it, but I will always think of it as 'her' harp.

      - Sign in to comment