Autoharp Repair Workshop
by Chuck Daniels
WARNING: this will make more sense if you see it done first.
To remove the old one unwind the tuning pin 3 1/2 turns. Remove what is left of the old string. The ball end may need a little coaxing with a small screwdriver pushing down on the string. If you feel the tuning pin was too loose, then only back out the tuning pin 2 1/2 turns.. Place the new string ball in the slot at bottom ( a extra finger is helpful or a little wedge piece of wood) and feed the string under the felts (loop it and it will not catch on felts). At pin end, slide the string through the hole (turn slightly if not lined up) and measure 2 1/2 inches while pulling it tight, and cut off excess. With a small pair of needle nose pliers, form a small loop on the end of wire (about 1/8 inch). Pull the wire back so the loop is started in the hole. If you are into ripped, bloody fingers you can skip this step! Begin to tighten by having wire go over the loop on first turn then under the loop for the rest of the turns until tight. As you start to tighten the string look at the bottom end and verify the string is centered between the other two strings. Tune it 2 or 3 times in the next hour and it should stay tuned better. If you want to re-string a whole harp, I suggest you remove about 5 strings and put on four, pull 5 and keep going. this always leaves a gap between the old and the new.
You can do it or I can for $4.00 per bar using Tom Fladmark felts. $2.00 per bar for felt alone and my best wishes. Still want to ? OK, remove the four screws that hold the cover on 21 chord harps and get down on your knees and see if all 84 parts are accounted for. JOKE !! Nothing will happen. Gently lift the cover while pushing all the buttons down so they stay in the chord bars. You will need a fine marking pen to write on the edge of the bars. Number them and the buttons from 1 to 21 so you know éthe order they came off the harp and as you take them off the harp mark on the bar where the felt is to be cut over each string. Be sure to do this on the harp so the mark is EXACTLY centered over the string. Now comes the hard part! Remove the old felt by any legal way (delegation is good). Oscar has used tape, hot melt glue and who knows what else. I have baked in oven--DON'T!!! Burning wool stinks up the whole house. I have soaked in lacquer thinner which works but is hard on your skin and nose. A product called "Lift Off" works good on the tape residue, but of late I am using plain old lighter fluid. For the hot melt glue used more recently I use a break-off type knife and just scrape off the glue on the bars. Sometimes you will get lucky and be able to peel off the tape type residue with your fingernails. Once the bar is clean, peel the paper off a new felt and carefully apply it to the ]bar. I use a break off knife to cut out a V shape notch over the mark on the bar. Set it on the harp and verify that the strings can all move without touching the felt.. One tool I made is a board with 2 nails poked through to hold the bar while you work on it. This can be clamped to a table or such and does make the felt removal and cutting so much easier.
IMPROVING THE ACTION
The goal is to make the chord bar reside closer to the strings as well as getting rid of the slop, slack and clicking noises in the buttons. I use Dr. Scholls Molefoam and Moleskin under the plastic to do this. I fill the dent in the cover with a 1\2 inch strip of Molefoam the peel the top half off, leaving a flat surface that I then cover with a 1\2 inch wide strip of Molefoam on the treble end and a 1\2 inch strip of Moleskin on the bass end to compenasate for the thicker strings at the low end. Set the cover on to be sure no felt is resting on the strings. I like about 1\16 inch of space to show..
A new way I developed is called the "SoftTouch Action System." I machine each chord bar to make room for a special adjustable metal hold-down bar at each end. Wonderful action. AQ article attached.
To do much with the button area you will need me. I use Molefoam for this. If you want to spend hours finding out that you cannot cut a button shape hole 21 times, go right ahead. I have! That's why I spent over $200 for a special tool to cut the holes anùd is why I charge $25 to this part of a harp. Cheap? Put foam in the ends and then put a small piece of leather shoelace in the bottom of the chord bar where the button sits and you might be satisfied as this will raise the button up some. I have done this on one of my harps and while I get some noise from the buttons you might find it acceptable..
Something else I do on earlier harps is move the whole cover assembly down 1/2 inch towards the bottom of the harp so I have more room to pluck the hi notes. There are other ways to do some of this work and a review of past issues of the Autoharp magazines will tell you in more elegant style than I.