Harp - Frequently Asked Questions

What is regulation?

Regulation is the control of the harp's operation and maintenance of that operation. The three primary purposes of regulation are to see that the pitch control is correct, to eliminate buzzes, and to maintain the overall health of the harp. It is similar to tuning a piano, but entails more mechanical work. This is because a pedal harp has over seventy feet of moving parts that change the pitch of the strings.

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Why should it be done?

There are several reasons to have your harp regulated.

  1. Investment. Harps are expensive instruments and care should be taken to retain their value and might delay certain types of factory repairs.
  2. Professionalism. When performing professionally one should know the material to be performed, dress to suit the occasion, and appear at the venue at the proper time with an instrument in good working order.
  3. Intonation. Regulation adjusts the intonation so that when you change pedals or levers, the harp stays in tune.
  4. Noise. Regular maintenance reduces and controls undesirable noise.
  5. Peace of mind. Knowing your harp is being cared for by a professional gives you confidence in your harp playing.
  6. Love. Do not take your harp for granted. Take good care of the ones and things you love.

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How often should I have my harp regulated?

PEDAL HARP regulation need is based upon several criteria. Harpists who perform professionally have more need for servicing than beginning harpists. Here are some general guidelines:

Once yearly

  1. Harps used professionally to generate income. This includes orchestral and "gigging" harps.
  2. Harps used in recordings.
  3. Advanced students: Harps played two or more hours per day or twelve hours per week. This includes college harp majors or students working to become college majors whose repertoire includes advanced works.
  4. Harps where top performance is demanded by the harpist.

Every other year (most harps fit in here)

  1. Intermediate students (not mentioned above).
  2. "Regulation rotated" harps. Some harpists have two or more harps on which they alternate playing. The regulations can be alternated as well.
  3. Harps used professionally for a supplemental income.
  4. Harps played five to twelve hours weekly.

Every three years

  1. Beginning students (harps played less than five hours per week).

LEVER HARP regulation is needed much less often than pedal harp regulation. My basic advice is to have the lever harp regulation checked when the instrument is around two years old. The next regulation can be about six to eight years later. In the mean time, if there are some notes of concern, it is perfectly fine to have a technician look into correcting that situation.

notePlease note that the type of music performed is an important factor in moving a harp to need regulation service. Very advanced music, with lots of pedaling or lever changing will bring about the need for regulation sooner than playing pieces that use less pedaling or levering. The amount the harp is moved is also a factor that should be considered.

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What is done?

During a PEDAL HARP regulation there are several major issues addressed. First the base is inspected, including the pedal levers, pedal springs, and the pedal rod connections. The pedal felt and slot felt are changed. After this string positioning and noise control are checked. Finally, the harp's intonation is calibrated. This is where the pitch of every note is read on a tuning machine and corrected to the best point possible. All along the way adjustments are made to correct and optimize the instruments perform-ability.

A LEVER HARP regulation mostly involves adjusting the levers to see that when the lever is engaging the string that the pitch is adjusted to the best point possible. There are also adjustments that may be done for noise control and to enhance perform-ability.

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How much does a regulation cost?

Currently I only regulate lever harps, but have included the going rates for pedal harps as a reference. If you have an issue with your pedal harp, give me a call and I may be able to help you out.

Service Harp Cost
Regulation Service Lever $230.00
Pedal $450 - $600 depending on location (country)
Replace bass wire strings
(strings not included)
Lever $45
  Pedal $60
Complete Restringing
(strings not included)
Lever $230
Pedal $300
String change per octave $60*
Labor Hourly Rate $125
Strings, bass wires list price
House Call surcharge $135 (+depending on travel time to and from)
Pedal Rod Tubing Lubrication $250
Replacement $360

*please read Regulation Appointment Preparation

How do I know that my strings need changing?

Harp strings do loose their ability to vibrate properly with age. Thus loosing their good clear sound and ability to voice the overtone notes well. Aging will also leave the strings false and unable to voice the exact pitch. Ninety percent of the time a string is no longer good. You can see this with your eye, making identifying bad strings fairly easy.

Look for:

  1. discoloration along the strings length (usually where the string is commonly plucked).
  2. fraying or wearing away on the string (usually where the discs and levers twist the string). The wire strings will look tarnished or a flat dull grey color.
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How often should I change strings?

Here are some recommendations for pedal harps on string changing for optimum sound based on use and string aging (by octave). Changing out entire octaves of strings ensures even sound from string to string. A new string next to one that is four years old sounds louder and clearer than the older one.

Following the guidelines below you will be working to keep the voice of your harp sounding at its best. If the sound you want is:

1st, 2nd and 3rd: Once yearly (possibly twice)
4th and 5th: Every three years
Bass Wires: Once yearly
1st and 2nd: Once yearly
3rd: Every other year
4th and 5th: Every four to five years
Bass Wires: Once yearly
1st and 2nd: Every two years
3rd: Every three years
4th and 5th: Every five to six years
Bass Wires: Every two to four years

Remember that the first and second octave strings are double (sometimes triple) length. Some manufactures now package the third octave in double length.

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What kind or type of string should I use?

Consult the manufacturer of your harp. The stringing used by the manufacturer has been tested by them to ensure the best sound of their instrument. In almost all cases your harp will sound its best with the factory suggested stringing. They work hard at choosing the best stringing for sound so people will buy the harp.

For PEDAL harps the most common (and my strong suggestion) is using:

1st octave: Nylon
2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th octave: Gut
Bass wires: Tarnish Resistant
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How can I learn about caring for my harp?

Buy this DVD: Harp Care with Steve Moss

How How do I get an appraisal?

There are two types of appraisals – Insurance Replacement and Market Value. It is very easy to obtain an appraisal for insurance purposes. Just get the harps serial number and call the manufacturer directly. They have standard form letters for this. As of this date this is done for you at no charge, free. If you ask another party for the insurance appraisal they often charge a fee.

Market Value appraisals need to have an on-site physical inspection. In other words you need to take your harp to a qualified person and have them perform the appraisal. Be prepared to find that your harp is appraised at a value much different than you think. You can list your harp for a higher or lower price than the appraiser assigns. Appraisers charge a fee of $200-$300 for a confidential written Market Valuation appraisal.

How do I sell my harp?

If you are selling your harp you can get a vague idea of pricing on the internet browsing on some of the sites listed on the Harp Links page; look for “used”, “classifieds” or “pre-owned” listings. Look for your local and neighboring American Harp Society Chapters on the AHS website; contact that chapter as well as any local harp teachers and players you learn about.