HarpTech

THE HARP COLUMN May/June 1997

Rules and Regulations: Do you know when it's time for a tune-up?
- By Mike Lewis

OK, the regulator guy or gal is coming to town and you're thinking, "Gee, I don't know if I need a regulation. My harp has a few funny things going on... What should I do?"
Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself:

• Are the pedal felts worn?

• Have gut strings recently been changed to nylons or nylon strings to gut?

• Are there any annoying buzzes that won't go away? (Temporary buzzes don't count.)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need a regulation.

Now let me give you 9 reasons you may think you need a regulation when you really don't. The first two are design issues built into your harp that stop your technician from doing a perfect job. The rest are things you may be doing, but don't know you're doing, that are causing you problems.

1. Pitch instability
Have you ever played the first octave F natural, first octave F sharp, and then back to F natural, and noticed that the F natural is now a different pitch? The amount that the pitch is different is the amount of pitch instability that your harp has. Unfortunately, your technician can do very little about this.



Take a look at the Mythical Harp illustration (figure 1) and notice the length of the string between the overlapping adjustable nut and the tuning pin. The greater the length of this section, as a percentage of the overall length of the string, the more unstable the pitch is. Think of it this way: You have more string to pull down, causing the pitch to be pulled down with it. If you are a strong player, your technician can do little more than regulate your harp sharp in these upper octaves, or you will be flat after the first fortissimo you play. Check this out on your harp and play some notes in the upper register, listening to how the pitch changes.

2. Make it snappy
A strong player can cause a string to make a snapping sound by pulling it off the disc pin as in the case of 2E sharp, or by pulling it into the disc pin as in the case of 2D natural, where the string can hit the 2D sharp disc pin. If the harp does not have enough disc rotation, there is nothing that your harp technician can do to stop this snapping. Take a look at 2C sharp and compare it to 2D sharp. 2C sharp offers you and your harp technician more breathing room. (The naturals are the top row of discs on your harp; the sharps are the bottom row.)

OPERATOR ERROR
There is no black box in the harp to document these common errors, but your harp has a way of talking to your technician that doesn't lie.

3. Tuning in C.
I call tuning the harp while the pedals are in the natural position and adjusting the pitch while the disc is engaged "String Grind 101." This is good for the string vendors in the industry but bad for your wallet and intonation.
When the harp is in C flat (with all pedals in the flat position), the string is subdivided into just two tension areas by the string nut. As the string is raised and lowered in pitch, it can slide between these two areas relatively easily, since the string has only one point of friction to overcome. With the pedals engaged in the key of C, however, you add a third tension area. If the disc is a double pin (as in 2G of Mythical Harp) you have a fourth tension area.
This is bad: The string will hang up due to the friction induced by the disc in one of these extra tension areas, which in turn will cause the string to be out of tune in flat. No matter how perfectly your harp is regulated, C tuning lowers your chance of being in tune the minute you move the pedals. Harpists who care about intonation tune in the key of C flat if the harp is in reasonably good regulation.

4. Tuning down to the pitch.
If the pitch of the string is too high, don't just lower the pitch to the proper pitch. Tune the pitch a little low and then bring it back up. This will help equalize the tension between the different tension areas. If you don't, the pitch will go flat the minute you start to play.

5. Changing from gut to nylon.
Nylon and gut strings regulate differently. Let's say you have your harp regulated for gut strings in the second octave and you decide to change the second octave to nylon. If you do this without having it re-regulated, your second octave will be out of regulation.

6. Your tuning pin keeps slipping.
There are at least two reasons for this:
A. The string angle is bad.
(See Figure 3 "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," in my article on changing strings.)

B. You are not pushing in enough as you tune. The tuning pins that are used today are not as abrasive as they once were. This is a good thing, since it keeps them from eating their way through the neck like the old tuning pins do. The old type are serrated and the new are sandblasted (see figure 2). (You can find which you have by taking out your last tuning pin in the zero or first octave.) Every once in a while both types of tuning pins slip due to build-up of wood and glue on the abrasive section of the pin. If this happens, you need to take the pin out and clean it with a wire brush or the edge of a file.



7. Your harp will not stay in tune.
How often do you tune? If you tune once a week and you are a beginner, your harp will never stay in tune. (Not to mention that you never learn to tune your harp unless you tune your harp.) Even with more advanced players, if you don't tune your harp daily, don't expect it to be in tune when you need it to be in tune.

8. Temperature changes.
I got an e-mail from someone asking what she could do about temperature changes in her harp room changing the tuning of her harp. I told her I have no insight into cheating the laws of physics. Nevertheless, I agreed to talk to the guy who designed those laws to see if I could get her a deferment.

9. Get into the groove.
Some overlapping adjustable nuts have an extra ledge on them, which the string just loves to sneak up on as you replace the string. Don't let it (see figure 3)! Your regulation will of course be changed if it stays there instead of in the groove. This groove thing happens rarely, but when it does your regulation for that note is shot.



Well, there are my 9 reasons why you may think you need a regulation and you don't. With
The Harp Column's permission, I'm taking the summer off. I'll see you all in the fall when the Buzz will explore: What to Look for in a Used Harp, Changing Pedal Felts 101, and Don't Touch That Backplate. Hey, if you see Santa this summer, tell him to meet me at Oak Street Beach. (This time he brings the volleyball.)

THE HARP COLUMN May/June 1997