HarpTech

THE HARP COLUMN May/June 1998

What's the Buzz?
- By Mike Lewis

Given the number of buzzable parts in a harp, consider yourself very lucky if you don't encounter at least one during the course of your harp's lifetime.

A few months ago I was about ready to head out the door when Louise called and started shouting at me. Her Feefie Harp, built in Natchitoches, La., (a prototype that I had personally been consulted on the design of) was buzzing. She was shouting to overcome not only her cheap cordless phone, with a dying battery, but her three crying, nap-ready toddlers and what sounded like gunshots, which were, I was soon to find out, her husband's attempts to fine tune her Reagan-era Ford Taurus wagon, with over 200k in mileage and no muffler. She insisted I help her - the buzzing was driving her nuts.
Well say your prayers, because we are about to play a game your harp really loves to play called "What's that Buzz?" Rumor has it buzzes are preinstalled at the factory with the diabolical intent of driving harpists crazy. First off, it's a very short drive for all of us, and second, I've seen the process by which they are installed and it's called "normal."
Why normal? Because any time you have two pieces of material vibrating, if they are far enough apart, there's no buzz; if they are tightly together, there's no buzz; but if vibration causes the space between two parts to open, or the space between two parts to close, you get a buzz. Considering your harp has a few thousand parts, if your harp never buzzes, I would call it abnormal. So, let's call this Buzzology 101.
Let me give you a short list of possible buzzes and causes. I'm not going to go into fixing them here, because diagnostics is really the big battle with buzzes. Generally speaking, if you can touch a part of your harp and make the buzz stop, you have your culprit. Heaven help us if you have more than one buzz going on at the same time.
To make matters as clear as mud let me throw some vocab at you. The mud comes from the fact that one man's buzz is another man's rattle. But I'll leave that splitting of hairs to the Buzz-maniacs.
You all know what a buzz sounds like, but did you know what to call their different shapes and sizes?
Rattle: a low pitched buzz.
Sizzle: a high pitched buzz.
Snap: a short, high-pitched buzz that occurs for a very short duration.



OK, take a peek at the figure called "Da Buzzzzz Master" (Fig. 1).
1. The crown can rattle. (Yes, your harp has a crown. It may just be a small piece of wood but you have a crown of some sort.) If the screws become loose or stripped, you can get a nice rattle.
2. Pedal rod tubing can buzz. Inside the column, the pedal rods and the tubing the pedal rods go through can break down and buzz. You'll know this one by playing the notes around the 5th octave G. Doesn't matter what make of harp, if it has a pedal rods/tubing buzz, it will love the 5th octave G area.
3. Pedal rods can hit inside of the column. If your diaper is missing or not properly installed, the pedal rods can slap against the inside of the column.
4. Your front feet, if they are really loose, can rattle, but a more common buzz occurs when the metal shoes or rollers become loose. The feet and shoes have screws that can become loose, and the rollers become loose on their axle.
5. The pedal brass, if the rivet or the bolt is loose, can buzz. You'll also have one heck of a time trying to get them to stay in the up position when you are ready to transport the harp.
6. The rubber shoes at the end of the pedal brass can be loose and buzz - but only if the shoe is of the screw-on type.
7. Bass wire anchor wraps (these are the bass wires that have that wire tail that sticks out) may not compress properly, or the string may not seat (or sit?) quite right, causing the bass string washer to buzz.
8. Massive string ties and/or excessive string on the back side of the soundboard can cause a sizzle that sounds like it's coming from the action. The trick here is to stick your ear back by the string holes in the body of your harp. If the sizzle gets louder it is a string tie or worse. What's worse?
9. A body buzz is the worst. One of the support rib screws is loose or the body shell is coming unglued from the body rails of your harp. Good luck finding this one. It will sound like a string tie buzz. Luckily, this is a very rare buzz when compared to string ties.
10. If you listen closely to some of your lower gut strings, you will hear them making noise. Why? I don't know. All I can tell you is that the strings themselves make a sizzle noise at times.
11. Tarnished bass wires start sizzling when the tarnish between the wire wraps grows enough to touch. Change bass wires annually to avoid tarnish build-up.
12. The brass kneecap, which is the brass piece between the top of the harp body (called the top block) and the bottom of the neck, if it is misaligned or mis-sized can give you a nice sizzling sound.



13. Take a look at the figure called "The Great Escape" (Fig. 2). Bad escape angle buzz/sizzle is a lot of fun. What is going on? Our friends the overtones, which are really small sound waves, are running into part of your harp. This happens where either the string meets the string nut or the soundboard. The most common escape angle buzz is the string nut. But the soundboard, being rare, is harder to find. What happens is a groove is cut into the bass wire eyelet by the assembly technician. If they cut this groove at the wrong angle or your soundboard pulls up excessively, you get a buzz.
14. You have got to love action buzzes. Especially those that occur in upper registers of the action. I know they are very near and dear to your ear. With over a thousand parts I'll try to keep the list short.
a. Spindles can sizzle against the front action plate due to lack of back-plate screws pressure. Take a look at figure 3. A technician adjusts the force of the spring by turning the back plate screw in or out of the back plate. Too loose and you get a sizzle or buzz, too tight and you freeze the action, cause excessive wear, or both.



b. Action links and arms can become misaligned due to the twisting of the neck and sizzle. (I just worked on a harp where they were misaligned at the factory!) Another fun thing they can do is bow and slap against a neighboring link or arm, due to soft metal links, misalignment, and back-plate screw pressure.
c. Improper grip or clearance between the string and the disc pins can give you a nice snapping sound. This is caused by worn pedal felts, bad regulation, bad design via lack of rotation in the action - or you're overplaying.
d. The front action plate can flap against the neck in the bass wire area. You need one more neck stud to cure this problem. (A neck stud is not a frisky male vampire but the metal support system that holds the action on the neck.) Please don't try putting one in yourself.
Well, I know I've missed a few, but where's the fun, if not in discovery? Besides, I'm sure your harp will be inventing some new ones soon. But if you want a harp that will never buzz, buy a Feefie Harp. The Feefie Harps will be available after the first of April, so give your local harp shop a call. Be sure to tell 'em who sent ya...

THE HARP COLUMN May/June 1998