Building an Orphan Harp

Jul 01, 2014

The orphan harp idea was born when Martha Gallagher, harpist from upstate NY, toured our workshop. She spied a rack of dusty parts in the corner and asked what they were. When we told her they were waiting to be matched with new mates, having lost one along the way, the story-teller in her went on high alert. Before we knew it, we were modfiying our long-held belief that all the wood parts in a harp needed to match, not only in species, but also in grain and color characteristics. We are constantly vigilant to meet that standard, but the tree can have other ideas. A flaw may show up part way through the construction, and we lose one member of a set of matching parts, which means that the rest of the parts go on the shelf and wait for a new mate - sometimes a long time.

So, for Martha, we took a deep breath, closed our eyes (well, not really), and rescued some lonely but beautiful harp parts from the shelf. We built an FH34 of walnut, maple and bubinga parts that sang so beautifully, Martha launched into writing songs and telling its story. You can hear her talk about it here.

Because we had never made an orphan harp before, we documented parts of the building process and we thought it would be fun to show you a little of what goes into making a harp! So here are some of the highlights from the first orphan FH34 we built…

Our solid wood comes to us in large boards, and the first step is to roughly trace parts and cut them out on a bandsaw.

rough-sawing.jpg

After a great deal more cutting, shaping, measuring, sanding, measuring, drilling and more measuring, the parts are glued together and clamped in elaborate jigs while they dry.

glue-scraping.jpg

Normally, all the parts would match (usually they are all cut out of the same board!), but since these are orphaned parts who have lost their mates, we’ve got bubinga sides and a walnut back.

back-gluing.jpg

This crazy contraption is pressing the bubinga T-brace into the curves of the maple pillar while the glue dries.

t-brace-gluing.jpg

Contrasting maple stave panels are glued into the corners of the body, creating a comfortable faceted shape where it rests against the player’s shoulder. Again, these would normally match.

stave-panels.jpg

At this point, the harp is in six pieces – body, neck, base, stand, and a pair of feet – which are hung in the spray booth...

body-in-spraybooth.jpg

and sprayed with multiple coats of clear lacquer.

neck-spraying.jpg

Then the parts are put together and the harp gets its strings. (Did you know that the neck would come off if the strings weren’t holding it on?)

stringing.jpg

After strings come levers...

levering.jpg

Then the levers are regulated, the harp is tested and inspected, and the first orphan harp goes out into the world.

orphan-full.jpg

orphan-detail.jpg

Reflecting on how fun the first one was to build, owners Ray and Sue envision the potential patchwork futures of these other orphaned parts...

orphan-planning.jpg

 

 



Category: Inside the Shop

Comments

Posted by Martha Gallagher on
WOW! I had no idea you had photos of the creation of The Orphan Harp, now named Hope! This is fabulous and I am so delighted that you are sharing this with the world. What's so cool is that the World Premiere of my original suite for harp and orchestra is on July 20 - the piece tells musically the story of the creation of my Orphan Harp and is called The Orphan's Odyssey. I am so delighted and honored to not only have had that inspiration when you showed my the "orphanage" of harp parts, but to be the proud player of the first Dusty Strings Orphan Harp! May all those parts find happy homes in a one-of-a-kind Orphan Harp!!
Posted by Charles Blondino on
As a very happy owner of one of the early orphan.harps the sound. Is simply beautiful, and the appeRance raises interesting question about the character of the various would love to hear the Orphans Odyseyrtyu68
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