THE HARP COLUMN September/October 1998

Pedal Felts: When was the last time you changed yours?
- By Mike Lewis

Welcome to September - I hope you had a good summer! Now is the time to get your harp ready for fall classes and the approaching Christmas playing season. So what will it be? "Change your strings!" You know that one. This time around, how about, "Change your pedal felts!" You gotta love it when the ol' harp starts doing the Boom-Boom and the Knock-Knock. (Who's there?)
There is only one sure way to know if your pedal felts need changing. You need to look at them. If they are compressed or have holes in them, you need to replace them. The Boom-Boom and Knock-Knock will only give you a clue; the confirmation is in the visual inspection.
There are two basic systems of pedal wrapping methods: the traditional felt wrap method and the rubber/felt (or leather) combination method.
As a practitioner of the black art of harp regulation, I can say that whatever materials or method works for you, works. I'll humbly show you my methods as I search for better ones. I have succeeded and failed with pedal felts using the same method and materials but with a different harp and harpist. Put another way, with any of these methods or materials, "your mileage may vary."
Why should you try any of these different materials? Because they can make a dramatic difference in the amount of noise your pedals make. As a technician, I can't teach you how to pedal quietly before your next recording date, but I can give you the quietest material combination that I know of.
Before you begin, you will need to remove the old felts. Start by putting on some safety glasses and placing your harp in a good working position (see figure 1). Remove the base of the harp, and cut off the old pedal felt. It is not necessary to remove the pedal springs.

You will need the following supplies:
Piano bushing felt, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch by 6 1/2 to 7-inch strips
3/4- to 1-inch tape - masking, duct, double sided, or Scotch
Hot glue gun and hot glue sticks, or a needle and carpet thread
Pedal felt clamps
Razor knife and scissors
Attach a 1 1/2-inch piece of tape to one end of your pre-cut felt. Place half the tape on the felt and attach the other half to the bottom of the pedal bar. Position the felt so that you can wrap it around the pedal bar from the outside to the inside, towards the center of the harp. If you wrap in the wrong direction the felt can catch in the pedal slot as you pedal (see figure 2).

Wrap the felt around the pedal bar until you have four wraps on the top, outside, and inside sides. Any felt left over can easily be cut off after the glue dries. For now, set the wrapped pedal over the slot in the pedal felt clamp. The pedal spring will help you by holding it in place. Lay a bead of hot glue in the area between the final flap and the body of the wrap. Push the pedal bar and the felt into the clamp. You should have enough glue in the slot that a little of it squeezes out. (Please, be careful, this glue is extremely hot and can cause second-degree burns.)
If you elect to sew, simply push the felt into the felt clamp and begin to sew. If you are using wood pedal felt clamps, you may not want to push the felt all the way into the clamp, or you may want to modify the clamp to facilitate sewing. You can do this by filing down the sides of the pedal blocks at about a 45-degree angle.
Repeat this procedure for the rest of the pedals, remembering to reverse your wrapping direction for the pedals on the other side.

With this method the rubber and the wrap can vary. The rubber can be open or closed-cell foam rubber, or solid, such as latex, neoprene, silicone, or gum rubber. The wrap can be piano bushing felt or leather. There are pros and cons with any of these materials. What remains consistent is the general method of attaching the rubber to the pedal bar: Sewing is the common denominator.
You will need:
Piano bushing felt cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch by 2 1/4- to 2 3/4-inch pieces (You may still have to trim some of this but it is better to start big.)
Rubber pieces, 1 to 1 1/2-inch width by 1 to 1 1/2-length, not too hard and not too soft - about a 30 - 40 on the ol' durometer A scale (Durometer is the firmness in industrial lingo, A scale tells them what key the 40 to 60 are in.)
Needle and heavy-duty thread
Pedal felt clamps
Razor knife and scissors

With your harp in position and the base removed, place the rubber and felt so that it straddles the pedal bar (see figure 3). Push it into the pedal felt clamp. Lay one flap down to make sure that it fits trim and neatly. Do it the same with the other flap. Start sewing! I use a figure-8 pattern, but you can use what you are comfortable with; finish off with a couple of granny knots. Six more pedals and you are done.
You may want to experiment with using leather instead of felt as a wrap in the rubber method. Leather will easily last 2-3 times as long as felt before it wears out. Downside: It can squeak with some finishes. You can remedy this by using a Q-tip and applying powder graphite or baby powder on the leather. All I can tell you from personal experience is that some harpists now swear by leather and others swear at it.
One last word on pedal felts: The size of each slot can vary not only from harp to harp, but from slot to slot on your harp. If this is the case, use less wraps in the traditional method and thinner material in the rubber method. Good luck and happy pedals to you!

Here are some different materials you may want to experiment with and where to get them. Usually you will have to buy a large quantity, so it may pay to investigate sharing with other harpists. Most of the part numbers are for rubber that is 1/8 inch thick. You can use 3/16-inch rubber, but you will have to shave some of it off.

Supplier: McMaster-Carr
Phone: 847-833-0300

Silicone Rubber
3/16" thickness, 12" x 12" sheet
1/8" thickness, 12" x 12" sheet

Super Soft Neoprene
3/16 " thickness, 12" x 12" sheet

High Strength Latex
1/8" thickness, 12" x 12" sheet

Gum Rubber
1/8" thickness, 12" x 12" sheet
(Warning: McMaster-Carr is not used to dealing with musicians! Please, be gentle!)

Supplier: Schaff Piano Supply
Phone: 847-438-4556
Key Bushing Cloth, sold by the yard. Stock # 321B-bulk.
(Don't faint when you hear the price, and no, you can't go to your local fabric store and buy the stuff!)

Supplier: Schaff Piano Supply
Phone: 847-438-4556
Kangaroo Skin, stock # 662
Kangaroo Skin in 6-inch strip, stock # 663 (This is cheaper because you can buy it by the foot. If you are going for super quiet and thick soft rubber, try the ultra thin Kangaroo Pouch Skin Leather, stock # 666.)

THE HARP COLUMN September/October 1998