HarpTech

THE HARP COLUMN September/October 1996

Just because a pedal rod snaps doesn't mean you have to.
- By Mike Lewis

Tonight is the opening and world premiere for the New Women's Orchestra of Podunka. The first piece is the dazzling but much feared work by Ima Meanolman written for his estranged wife, Ilean Wright. You know, the one with 5,000 pedal changes in the first movement alone. Well, during the afternoon rehearsal, you hear a pop. Sure enough, you've just broken the F pedal rod and you have only five hours before the concert. What do you do? Where is the nearest harp technician? Where is the nearest telephone? Better yet, where is the nearest bar?
Don't panic! Five hours is more than enough time to change a pedal rod, provided you are forearmed with pedal-rod changing know-how. Let's go to the local Jargon Joint for a cold one (Diet Coke, please), and to pick up the information you need to change a pedal rod like a pro.





BEFORE WE START, HERE'S WHAT YOU'LL NEED Two or three people to help out (here's a great chance to get your favorite tuba player and conductor to do some work for a change) Pedal rod grabber (paper clip, thread or small parts grabber from Sears or tool store (see figure 1)) Safety glasses Needle-nose vise grips Flashlight New pedal rod NEXT WE CALL THE JARGON JOINT FOR A CARRY-OUT... Figure #2 shows your harp's basic body parts and the names you will need to know. Think of this as a progressive supper.




LAY THE HARP ON ITS COLUMN OK, you'll need two, maybe three, people to do this. Since you are going to tip the harp forward on its column, make a padded area for the base and top of the harp to rest on. Carefully lean the harp forward on its column. Two of my favorite things to use are a well-padded chair or piano bench with one person holding and balancing the harp and the other assisting. Another method is to lean the harp against a couch on a padded floor or even on the couch itself with the bottom of the harp hanging over the side. REMOVE THE COLUMN BLOCK AND THE COLUMN FELT 1. The column block is held in place by two small screws on either side. Undo these and rotate the block out counter-clockwise. Do not use a lot of pressure, as the lip of the block is quite thin and could break (see figure 2). 2. Remove the piece of felt from the inside of the column. TAKE OFF THE BASE 1. Put all the pedals in the flat position except the D pedal, which should be put in the natural position. This assures that the base doesn't just pop off after you loosen the last base bolt. 2. Use your tuning key to take the base off of the harp, turning the base bolts counter-clockwise. (See figure 3, study figure 4.)





Safety note: Always wear safety glasses. Pedal springs can break and throw sharp pieces of metal into your eyes and face. This has happened to me and it is not a pleasant experience.





TAKE THE SPRING OFF Using needle-nose vise grips, latch on to the bottom of the pedal spring where the pedal spring stud and the pedal spring meet (see figure 5). Make sure that the vise grips are very tightly gripping the pedal spring, as a slip here can really hurt (again, I speak from experience!). The trick to this is giving the pedal spring a slight turn inward as you push inward to release the pedal from its seat in the pedal spring stud. Once you have done this, swing the pedal bar out of the way.




TAKE OUT THE DIAPER 1. Swing the pedal bar of the broken rod down out of the way and push the surrounding pedal bars out of the way so that you have more access to the column bell (some people might feel more comfortable undoing the coupling screw and the spring from the pedal bars and the pedal spring stud that surround the one that we're working on. The good news is that this gives you more room to work, the bad news is that you have to put 'em back). 2. Reach into the column bell with your needle-nose pliers and grab hold of the diaper, pulling it out with a wiggle if it puts up a fight. Put the diaper in a safe place because it's an important little piece of cloth that has a very big effect on how well your harp works. TAKE OUT THE OLD PEDAL ROD AND REMOVE THE OLD PEDAL ROD COUPLING 1. Grab hold of the broken pedal rod with the needle-nose vise grips and turn counter-clockwise. 2. When you feel the rod come unscrewed from the main action coupling, pull the rod out. 3. Remove the old pedal rod coupling from the pedal bar, making sure that you do not lose the old screw. (All pedal bars and coupling screws are custom fit by hand at the factory, so hang on to that old screw!) PUT IN THE NEW PEDAL ROD 1. Lay the broken rod next to the new rod. 2. Lay the old pedal rod coupling at the bottom of the broken pedal rod in order to determine the approximate length of the rod before breakage. 3. Match up the top of each pedal rod and screw the new pedal rod coupling on the new pedal so that the overall length of the new pedal rod matches the length of the old. 4. With the flashlight in one hand and the new pedal rod in the other, hunt down the empty pedal rod tube in the tubing assembly. 5. Insert the new pedal rod in the empty pedal rod tube. Now you have to decide who's on the top and who's on the bottom of the harp so that the new pedal rod and the coupling can be joined. Once roles are assigned, the person on the bottom grabs the new pedal rod with the needle-nose vise grips above the threading and coupling. The one on the top, with grabber and flashlight in hand, peeks in the column to look for the top of the rod. The person on top should call out when they see the rod and then call out "stop" when they can get hold of it with the grabber. For the person on the bottom, generally 1 inch per second is good for spotting speed and 1/2 to 1/8 inch per second is good mating speed after the rod is caught by the grabber (see figure 6).




If the person on the bottom pushes the tip of the pedal rod past the main action coupling, he should pull it back out 6 inches and start the process over again. Communication is the key to the successful mating of pedal rod and coupling. 6. Once the tip of the rod mates up with the main action coupling, lift the rod with the grabber so that the main action coupling is parallel with the other main action couplings (see figure 6). The person on the bottom should turn the rod clockwise with gentle inward pushing pressure for two turns and then gentle outward pulling pressure for the remainder. Why push and pull gently? Simple: the thread at the top of the rod is very fine and it's easy to cross threads, which could cause the pedal rod to break off inside the coupling. If this happens, you will have to find a technician to clean up the mess. Chicago, Chicago that toddling town....
7, 20 to 30 turns later, the rod should stop turning. If it tightens before then and you see a lot of threads at the top waiting to go into the main action coupling, you have cross-threaded it. If this happens, unscrew the coupling and start over.
Warning: Steps six and seven require that the person on the bottom has a good sense of touch. If the tuba player is a gorilla, rule him or her out for this role. (You are not driving a screw into wood; you are dealing with finely machined components.) ATTACH THE NEW PEDAL ROD COUPLING Using the old screw that you have taken so much care not to lose, attach the new pedal rod coupling to the pedal bar. With one hand, gently push the pedal bar with the newly attached pedal rod into the base while supporting the pedal rod with the other hand in order to keep it from bowing inward toward the center of the column bell. INSTALL THE DIAPER Let's not forget this all-important 90-cent piece of cloth. 1. Relative to the column bell, hold the diaper up like a baseball diamond (see figure 3 and 4). 2. Fold over second base. With the tip of your long screwdriver, drive second base down in between your B and F pedal rods into the column bell. Stop before first or third base disappears into the bell. 3. Now fold over first base and drive it down between your A and G pedal rods. 4. Fold over third base and drive it down between your D and C pedal rods. 5. Heading for home plate now, fold it over and drive it down in between your E and C pedal rods. PUT THE BASE ON 1. First, line up the D pedal bar with the corresponding D pedal slot. This will allow you to put the base on one pedal at a time, working across from left to right. 2. Work your way across from the D pedal, lining up the base pins with their corresponding holes in the body and the pedals to their corresponding pedal slots. Put the D pedal into the natural position as soon as you can as this will help hold the base in place as you struggle with the remaining pedal and base pin alignment. See figure 7 to give you a rough idea as to what's going on.

3. After all the pedals and base pins are in their proper positions, tighten the base bolts. Be forewarned that you can over-tighten the base bolts and promote all kinds of base frame damage. Easy does it is the key here. a. First, tighten the bolts but not too snug. b. Now, going back to our baseball analogy, take second base into the snug zone gently. Then do this for home base, first, and third. You should be turning the bolts about 1/8th of a turn. If you feel the bolt getting real tight or (heaven forbid) the wood cracking, back it off 1/4th or more of a turn and gently tighten the bolt again.
PUT THE COLUMN FELT AND THE ACTION BLOCK BACK You could make a special tool to reinstall the column felt, but that would be just one more thing to carry about (besides, you're (wo)man enough to take the pain). So with two fingers on the underside of the felt, stuff it into the column between the pedal rods and the column until there are only two or three inches remaining. CHECK FOR OVERMOTION 1. Since the F rod was broken in this example, you'll use the E and G pedals for comparison. Put the E, F, and G pedals into their natural positions. 2. Move the E pedal 1/2 inch toward the sharp position and then let the spring tension return the pedal to the natural position. 3. Repeat this at a tempo of 90-120 bpm (beats per minutes). This is called fluttering the pedals. Flutter the E pedal and see how much the 7th octave E natural disc moves or wiggles. 4. Do the same with the G and now the F. Does the F wiggle more or less than the rest? If they are all about the same, pat yourself on the back. If the F wiggles more, take the coupling screws out of the coupling and turn the coupling one turn clockwise. Do your wiggle test again. 5. If the 6th octave F disc wiggles less, turn the disc counter-clockwise one turn and wiggle some more. 6. Once you've got your wiggle right, tighten the pedal rod coupling screw and stand the harp upright. Thank your fellow Podunkans and know that tonight you are going to make Ilean proud. THE HARP COLUMN September/October 1996