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“What about heat and my harp?” and Proper Tuning Techniques

As many areas of Australia currently experiencing scorching temperatures it seems appropriate to talk about the effects of heat on your harp.

Harps rely on various glues to hold the harp together. Many of the glues used are designed to soften with high temperature in order to facilitate potential future repairs. So if your harp is subjected to high heat these joints can soften and allow the wood parts to open up.  This can range from minor cracks to spectacular explosive failures.

Most parts of a harp are under significant tension as result of the string tension, so once these glued areas are softened to the point of failure the tension can pull the harp apart.

So how hot?  The simple and often used phrase is that if you would be uncomfortable than it is too hot for your harp.  The extreme and again often issued warning is to never leave your harp in a closed car. Most people are aware of how quickly temperatures can soar in a car especially in summer, but any time of year. We read stories of animals dying after being left in hot cars, well this can also “kill” your harp. Although cars are perhaps one of the biggest dangers, even leaving your harp in direct sunlight, say in a picture window or outside can concentrate the sun’s rays and soften the glues. If you are performing outside in warm weather, you need shade for not only yourself but also for your harp.

Temperatures can also soar if your harp is in the boot of your car during warm periods. Also harps in the back of hatch backs can be subjected to the sun’s rays through the back window.  Reflective films as sold in camping stores can help reduce damage from the sun’s rays.

What about cold? Generally cold temperatures are not a concern for your harp’s structural integrity, however, some finishes can shrink and crack in extreme cold situations.

Tuning in the open position. It is important that when tuning to always tune in the open position.  That is no levers or pedals engaged. For pedal harps this means tuning to C flat with no pedals or discs engaged and for lever harps with full levers tuning to E flat with no levers engaged. Two things happen if you attempt to tune with discs or levers engaged. Firstly, when engaged, most levers and all discs grip the string so that when you try to tune in this situation, the extra tension you created above the disc/lever is different than the balance of the string.  The first time the disc or lever is opened then the string will equalize itself and no longer be perfectly tuned.  More important is that by tuning with the lever or disc engaged you are exerting undo stress on the lever or disc as you tighten the string and forcefully pull the string through this grip.  This shortens string life as well as exerting undue stress on the lever or disc. This is especially true for nylon wrapped strings being pulled through a lever’s grip, it can cause the wrapping to come loose and destroy the string. Tuning with the discs or levers engaged is good for my string business cash flow but not good for the life of your strings or your harp mechanisms.

A final reminder, keep your harp out of extreme heat especially in a car during summer months.