The best thing you can do to maintain your harp is to keep it clean. It has multiple coats of semi-matte lacquer finish on it, which provide protection and allow the true color and character of the wood to shine through. To keep the lacquer in good condition, we recommend routinely dusting your harp with a soft cloth or a feather duster. A soft paintbrush is a great way to dust around the levers and tuning pins. If needed, you can wipe the harp gently with a damp cloth. To remove skin oils or more persistent grime, spritz some Windex on the moistened cloth. Avoid spraying water or Windex directly on the harp, and be careful about too much vigorous rubbing, which can put a shiny spot in your harp's semi-matte lacquer. We don't recommend using instrument or furniture polish or oils, as these can interfere with any future repair work on the lacquer finish.
Never leave your harp in a parked car on a warm day. Even in the shade with the windows cracked, it can take very little time for the inside temperature to reach 120 degrees or higher. At this temperature, the glue that holds your harp together begins to soften and joints can start to slide or pull apart. When the harp cools, the glue will re-harden, but a major portion of its structural strength will be lost. Any joint so weakened can give way right then, or at any point in the future. With between 850 and 1200 pounds of total tension exerted by the strings, that sort of heat damage can easily start a harp on its way to slowly pulling apart and eventually exploding.
It may be some time later that the damage will actually show itself, but some shifting of glue joints will be observable to any instrument repair person, and is evidence that the instrument has been subjected to too high a heat. Damage resulting from exposure to high temperatures is not covered by your warranty. A good rule of thumb to be safe is to never leave your harp in an environment where a human would not be comfortable.
Extreme cold temperatures can cause certain types of finish to crack, although in 35 years, we have never seen that happen with the type of lacquer we use on our instruments. However, a cold climate is often a warning sign of low humidity, which can put your harp at risk of cracking. Please also read the section on humidity and dryness for more information on keeping your harp safe.
There is so much to know about the many strings on our harps that we put it all on a separate page. Click here for string charts and lots of information about ordering and replacing strings, or go to our online harp string ordering page.
There are a number of easily-fixable things that could cause your harp to buzz. Sometimes the string is actually hitting something when plucked, and sometimes there is a loose connection elsewhere on the harp that vibrates in sympathy with a particular note. To help you track it down, we've created an interactive troubleshooting guide that walks you through all the possibilities, starting with the ones that are the easiest to find or the most common culprits.
If you have a partially-levered harp, adding more sharping levers to it will allow you to play in a wider range of keys. If your harp has Loveland levers and pre-drilled lever screw holes, the installation of additional levers is something you can do yourself with our detailed instructions. It is a fairly time-consuming and exacting process, but not difficult. If you own our Harp Tool Kit and Levering Guide, you already have everything you'll need except the levers themselves. If not, we have inexpensive sets of installation and regulation tools available. You'll need to tell us the model of your harp, which notes you want to add levers to, and the serial number (to make sure we send you levers that will match the ones you already have). See Additional Sharping Levers for current pricing.
If your harp does not have Loveland levers, or does not have pre-drilled lever screw holes, adding levers gets more involved. Give us a call and we can help you figure out your options.
The cases for our 34-string and 26-string harps have extra D-rings for attaching optional backpack straps. The case is designed to be worn upside down, so the base of the harp is pointing up when it's on your back. If you wear it the other way, or if you attach the back pack straps to the D-rings that are meant for the shoulder strap, the case fabric could rip. For pictures and more detailed instructions, read our PDF on Using Backpack Straps.
Sharping levers function to raise the pitch of an individual string by a half step. With no sharping levers, you can play in only one key unless you re-tune the whole instrument. The more sharping levers you have, the more keys are available to you.
Harps with levers on the C and F strings can play in three major and three minor keys. For example, if your harp is tuned to C major, you can play in C major or A minor with no levers engaged, in G major or E minor with the F levers engaged, and in D major or B minor with the C and F levers engaged. There is a lot of music written in these keys.
A harp with sharping levers on all the strings can be played in any of eight major and eight minor keys. Eb is a popular key to tune a fully-levered harp to because it starts you out in a flat key. You can then use your levers to sharp certain strings to get to C and then beyond to the common sharp keys. A harp with full sharping levers tuned to Eb would be able to play in the major keys of Eb, Bb, F, C, G, D, A and E. A harp with full sharping levers tuned to C would still be able to play in 8 major keys (C, G, D, A, E, B, F# and C#) but this is a less popular choice since F# and C# are not used very often, and F and Bb, which are more common, are not available.
If you are new to the lever harp, you can read our handout on Using Sharping Levers for a more detailed look at tuning schemes, lever configurations and available keys.
Over time, the soundboard of your harp will bow up just a bit. This is called "bellying" up, and is a desirable change because it contributes to your harp's voice. This settling in process combined with the everyday bumps and knocks a harp may encounter will eventually change the relationship between the lever, string and bridge pin. Then, when the lever is engaged, the string will no longer sound an exact half step above its open position. Regulation is the process of readjusting the levers and bridge pins to bring them back to an exact half step.
There are no rules about how often to regulate your harp, but here is a simple test you can use to decide if it's time:
If you live in or near Seattle, you can bring your Dusty harp to us for regulation. If you're not near us, you can look around for a harp technician in your area, or you can check out our do-it-yourself Loveland Lever Tool Kit and Regulation Guide. Regulation can be a tedious process, but it's not hard and it is certainly something you can learn to do yourself.
It is a good idea to inspect your harp every so often for cracked or missing eyelets. These are the little metal grommets that the strings pass through in the soundboard. The metal protects the soundboard from the upward pressure of the strings, and if one is cracked or missing, the string can dig into the wood and elongate the hole. A cracked eyelet can also occasionally cause string breakage if the string passes over a sharp metal edge.
If an eyelet is loose but not cracked, loosen the string and press the eyelet back into its hole. If you need to replace one, it is often as easy as popping the old one out and pushing the new one in. If the hole has become misshapen and the new eyelet does not fit snugly, you might have to use a putty epoxy to fill in any gaps and hold the new eyelet in place. We have used slightly different sizes of eyelets over the years, but we can help you figure out which size to use if you tell us your harp model, serial number and the string number.
For more detailed instructions, download our PDF Instructions for Replacing Eyelets.
At some point in your harp's life, you may find yourself with a dysfunctional lever. Loveland levers (you can identify them by the black plastic handle and gold-colored metal base) occasionally develop cracks in the cam (or handle) due to use. They can be very hard to see, but if you notice that the string sounds buzzy or thunky with the lever engaged, that can be a sign that the lever is no longer pinching the string tightly. Generally, it's just the cam that needs to be replaced, and this is an inexpensive part that you can easily replace yourself with the proper tools.
If you find yourself with a cracked or broken Loveland lever cam, you can order a new one on our replacement cams page. Depending on which cam you're replacing, you may be able to reach it without moving the lever, or you may have to mark the lever position, then loosen and swivel it a bit to get at the cam. Before you start, we recommend reading our cam replacement instructions. If you need a tool you don't already have, you can find it at a hardware store or on our levering and regulation tools page.
Camac levers (the silver-colored metal ones) also have replaceable handles. Because they are cast metal and slightly brittle, they can break if hit or bumped in the right way. If that happens, the whole lever must be removed in order to replace the handle, a process which requires specific-sized Torx wrenches. If you have a broken Camac lever, give us a call and we'll help you get what you need to fix it.
Trying to play over a rock band? Or maybe you just want to reach the back of the room without "overplaying" your harp. Whether you are a pedal or lever harpist, we have a pickup that will amplify the natural sound of your harp without distortion or feedback. See our amplification page for details about the pickup and accessories, or check out the harp amplification for beginners series on our blog.
Whether you are building your own harp or just need to replace an eyelet, you can find prices and specifications for all Dusty Stings harp hardware on our harp and hammered dulcimer hardware pages. Tuning pins, bridge pins, wrenches, regulation tools...
It is essential to have some understanding of the effects of humidity and dryness on fine musical instruments. Stringed instruments are more susceptible than wood furniture or cabinetry to the effects of too much or too little humidity because they are usually more lightly built and are placed under tension by the strings. Too much humidity can cause the wood to expand and warp. In general, people have more problems with excessive dryness, which can cause the wood to shrink and crack.
We strongly encourage you to know the humidity in your instrument's environment. This can be done with a hygrometer, a device that measures the ambient humidity in the room. They are available at many music stores or from us. The recommended safe range for instruments is 40%-50% humidity. It is especially important to monitor the humidity if you live in a dry area or an area with cold winters; in cold weather, the relative humidity of heated indoor air is much lower than outside.
If you need to humidify your instrument, the best solution is to use a humidifier in the room in which the instrument is kept, and to stay aware of the humidity level with a hygrometer. If this is not possible, you can keep the instrument in its case with a case humidifier when you are not playing. These are available from most music stores and are often designed for guitars, but can be used for other instruments as well. They need to be periodically checked and refilled with water. It may take more than one for a larger instrument, and you should be aware that this method will have no effect on the overall humidity of the room.
Please read this PDF on Humidity, Dryness and Musical Instruments for more details.
Position the harp lying down with the lever side facing up, or put it on its back and prop it up securely. Do not pile other things on top of the harp, and never leave it in a parked car on a warm day. Even in the shade, temperatures can quickly reach glue-softening levels. Read more about this in the maintenance section.
Shipping Your Harp:
If possible, save the original shipping box. You can reuse the box if you move, want to travel with your harp on an airplane, or need to ship the harp to Dusty Strings for maintenance or repair. If you don't have the original box, you can have a box made for you by a shipping store, or if you live near Seattle, you can purchase a box from us and pick it up at our workshop. Although we can sell and ship you an empty box, it is quite costly since the shipping companies charge by size and not by weight.
When packing the harp in the box, make sure no part of the harp touches the box. You want it to be securely positioned in the box so it can't shift around, and well-cushioned with foam or multiple layers of large bubble wrap in order to withstand the shock of a three-foot drop. Call us if you have any questions as you are packing it up.
Dusty Strings harps do not fit in the overhead compartments on planes. You can purchase a ticket for your harp so that you can take it onto the plane with you, or check with your airline to see if you can check it as baggage (size restrictions sometimes apply). If you do check your harp, you will need to protect it in a rigid flight case or pack it up as you would to ship it. With either method, there is no guarantee, so we recommend an insurance policy if you plan to travel often with your harp.
We place great importance on standing behind our warranty. Like many builders of musical instruments, we try to achieve a delicate balance between building for structural strength and building for good tone. Hammered dulcimers and harps must support tremendous tension; a typical 3-octave dulcimer can have over 1,000 pounds of total string tension. It's easy to overdesign an instrument to gain an absolute guarantee of structural strength, but as players we aren't satisfied with the sound and performance that result from that approach.
No instrument builder who has achieved portability, good volume and a vibrant tone can claim a history totally free of instrument problems, so the important question is whether a builder has the capacity and desire to provide assistance if there ever is a problem with one of their instruments. In more than three decades of building instruments, that's been one of our consistent priorities.
Most of our instruments carry a five-year warranty. There is a two-year warranty on the Ravenna 26, Ravenna 34 and Boulevard 34, commensurate with the lower price levels of these models.
The terms of our warranty are as follows:
All Dusty Strings instruments are warranted against defects in materials and workmanship to the original owner for a period of five years (two years for Ravenna and Boulevard model harps) from the original date of purchase. All repairs covered under this warranty will be provided without charge. Repair or replacement of defective instruments will be at the sole discretion of Dusty Strings. Shipping charges to and from Dusty Strings are the responsibility of the owner.
This warranty does not cover string breakage, lever breakage, damage to wood, hardware, or finishes due to normal use, carelessness, accident, extremes of humidity, dryness or temperature, or repairs or alterations made by other than Dusty Strings. Do not leave the instrument in a parked motor vehicle on a warm day. Temperatures high enough to soften glue can be quickly reached inside a vehicle parked in sun or shade, even with windows partially opened. Evidence of such an occurrence will void this warranty.
IMPORTANT: For information about properly humidifying your instrument, please read this PDF on Humidity, Dryness and Musical Instruments.