THE HARP COLUMN July/August 1996

Think you've got a broken pedal rod?
- By Mike Lewis

So I wrote this really in-depth article with lots of neat graphics and other assorted bells and whistles about how to change a pedal rod. As I was reading through it (thinking "Wow, am I glad I'm done writing for the next month or two!"), I realized with a sinking feeling that I was putting the cart before the horse, or, I suppose I should say, the broken rod before the break. While it's certainly useful to know how to change a pedal rod, it's even more helpful to know if you need to change a pedal rod in the first place.
Let's answer a few commonly asked questions about the actual breakage issue, then explore some alternatives to broken pedal rods.
"When I hear other harpists talk about 'broken pedal rods,' they speak in the same tone of voice they might use in discussing 'a one-way trip to Siberia.' How often do pedal rods really break?"
There is no denying that, if a pedal rod breaks, it's a serious problem. You will have a very difficult time playing your harp until the broken rod is fixed. However, that being said, pedal rods rarely break. An appropriate, though not particularly cheery, analogy is that of random urban violence: fear greatly exceeds occurrences. However, harnessing this fear can bring about a greater level of preparedness should an incident arise.
"But I've broken three pedal rods in two years!" Several variables play a part in the incidence of pedal rod breakage. Harp design and manufacturing are just two variables. Another factor is the way that each harpist pedals. Harpists who slam the pedals around tend to have a higher rate of breakage, not to mention action wear. Combine an aggressive pedaler with a harp that likes to break pedal rods and you have trouble.
"So you're saying that if I break a pedal rod, I'm slamming my pedals?" No, I'm saying that is only one of the variables.
"How do I know that it's a broken pedal rod?" Let's say that there is something funny going on with the F's on your harp. Ask yourself these questions: 1. Does the F pedal move into all of its positions easily? (Focus on the pedal and nothing else at this time.) If no, there is some other problem. If yes, it could be a broken pedal rod. 2. Do all of the F-natural discs move when you depress the pedal from flat to natural? If yes, or some discs yes and some discs no, there is some other problem. If no, it could be a broken pedal rod. 3. Do all of the F-sharp discs move when you depress the pedal from natural to sharp? If yes, or some discs yes and some discs no, there is some other problem. If no, it could be a broken pedal rod. 4. Turn the harp over and look in the base at the junction of the pedal rod and the pedal rod coupling (see figure 2). The pedal rods usually break in the threads just above the pedal rod coupling. Is the pedal rod broken? If no, you have some other problem. If yes, congratulations (sort of)! You have found the problem. "Why not just turn the harp over and be done with it? True, you could do that, but all of these other questions provide clues if your problem is not the pedal rod. These clues will help you and your harp technician diagnose what the problem could be. "OK, but if it's not a pedal rod, what could it be?" Short of turning this into the tech column that ate The Harp Column, I can't tell you. But let's try this. At last count, there are somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 moving parts in a pedal harp, and any one of these can fail. Are you paranoid yet? I still want to focus on pedal rods because many of the other parts are out of our control outside of a shop or factory setting.
Let me run through how your harp changes pitch via the pedals and the various parts associated with them, remembering that everything in this overall scenario can and has failed in one form or another at some time. But remember, we are talking unusual failures here, not your run-of-the-mill harp stuff.
Let's start at the base of the harp.

I'll illustrate each area and describe its function in the overall scenario and what can go wrong. Use Figure 1 as a general reference. Figure 2 is the base area, Figure 3 the main action, and Figure 4 is a top-down view of the main action and the first spindle and disc as if you could see through the neck from on top of the harp. On Figure 4, I did not list some of the parts as sharp or natural because I want you to understand the general idea rather than the specific case.
We'll start with Figure 2, the pedal assembly. Your foot rests on the pedal brass, which is held to the pedal bar by the pedal bolt.
Pedal bolts can break. Protecting the surrounding wood from the metal pedal bar (say that five times fast!) is the pedal felt. Pedal felts wear out and can tear. The pedal spring pushes the pedal bar up and across. Pedal springs can break or come out of their placement in either the pedal bar or the pedal spring stud. The pedal spring stud holds one end of the pedal spring and influences by its rotation and placement the way the pedal spring pushes the pedal bar. The pedal spring stud can come out of the wood or become loose and wobble. Next is the pedal rod coupling that attaches the pedal rod to the pedal bar. The main thing that can happen with this is that the pedal coupling screw can come loose and fall out. The pedal bar fulcrum is the pivot point for the pedal bar. Pedal bar fulcrums can break or lose the rivet that holds the pedal bar in place. Back to the pedal rod coupling. Figure 2 shows for the most part what a broken pedal rod will look like. Generally pedal rods break in the threads right above the coupling.

As you move on to the main action assembly illustration in Figure 3, note on the way that the pedal rod passes by the diaper (that big rag that's stuffed into the bottom of your harp, where the rods come out) and through the tubing assembly. If the diaper is either not in the correct position or missing, the discs will not return to their flat positions. At the main action coupling, the pedal rod and the lowest main action arm meet. Two possible problems can occur here: the rivet can fall out or the pedal rod can be broken off in the coupling at the time of installation. The main action splits the motion of the rods into two lines (which consist of link, arm, and spindle combinations): the natural and the sharp. Here, rivets can fall out, links can break, and main action blocks can wear out.

If you haven't had enough doom and gloom by now, let's move on to Figure 4. The highest and the lowest main action arms send pedal motion down the line to the different octaves via the links, arms, and spindles. Once again, rivets can fall out, links can break, and arms can lose their grip on the spindle. All of the above problems can be and have been confused for a broken pedal rod in some way and at some time. This is why it is important to work through those first four questions to get a set of clues. Wow, what a cheerful article...makes you want to run straight for a lever harp, right? Or maybe you're sorry you asked, "What else could it be?" And, yes, next time you will see that in-depth article on how to change pedal rods, also known as "Combat Pedal Rods, or the Art of Self-Defense Against Random Urban Pedal Rod Breakage." THE HARP COLUMN July/August 1996