Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Redbud--the Kentucky Colors Harp

A couple of years ago, I was thinking about a new chapter in life and I set my heart on having a green harp. That was not possible at that time and so I ordered a lovely harp, custom-made across the Ohio River in Sunrise, Indiana, and enrolled in a therapy harp program (Therapy Harp Training Program, THTP.)  I started playing harp at the local hospice care center and delved into the THTP material. My idea of what I wanted to do and create slowly came into focus.  People have a curiosity about my harp and they all have unique ways of relating to the music. It seems so appropriate to have a "local" harp. Could it be even more local and tailored to the music making that is called for?

The dream of building my own harp began to percolate, along with the desire to have a slightly smaller harp that was still a floor harp. Was this possible? The answer arrived this summer in the mail. It was a flyer from Musicmakers featuring the "Jolie" harp. It was such a pretty design and simple and the size and range were just right.  So I bit and bought the kit. It arrived within 3 days!

Being true to Kentucky, with a redbud branch design
on the soundboard
Part of my motivation was to have a harp that reflected the "place" of Kentucky. To me, warm cedar green and redbud violet are the true colors of Kentucky. I've written about this (please see Kentucky's True Colors, 3/27/12.)  The design on the soundboard would not be cherry blossoms or Celtic knots. It would be the simple sight of tiny, bombastic redbud blossoms and heart-shaped leaves.
"Clamping" the soundbox with bungee cords. The magic flyer on display
Painting the soundboard was the easy part. Now there was actual woodworking to be done. I now kind of know how to use a cordless drill, wood glue and a sand block--especially the sand block.

Blue masking tape holds the trim on during drying
The beveled edges of the trim had to be trimmed down to fit exactly in the corners. David had a handy little Japanese saw that worked perfectly. The trim goes over the hundred little brad nails that secure the soundboard to the soundbox. The tension of 32 strings on the soundboard will be mighty!

Neck and Pillar attached

Of course, most of the work was accomplished by the master craftspeople at Musicmakers. I am wondering how they cut out the pieces such as the neck and pillar. Screws are used to solidly bring these two together. Then we hide the evidence with little wooden plugs. The Japanese saw came in handy again to trim off the extra. 

The shoulder block and neck

Now comes the tricky--but also artistic--part. It probably would help to be a sculptor. The two parts must fit together, but apparently not absolutely. This was a leap of faith. Fortunately, the folks at Musicmakers were happy to calm me down.  My experience with making things and cutting into expensive fabrics, being willing to see and believe really helped, too. But definitely, the advice to take it one step at a time was priceless. Thank you, Musicmakers!

Sanded down and pegged!

This was very satisfying; to sand this down and shape the shoulder to support the neck.  I even had to do a bit of ad-libbing: using leftovers from the wood plugs to cover the screws on the shoulder block. 
Going green in the backyard

To have Kentucky colors on my harp, I wanted a warm cedar green to be hugging the soundboard. I felt a bit guilty because the cherry wood was quite pretty. A simple varnish would have been lovely. But, now was my chance to have my Kentucky colors harp and I could not wimp out! My stain job was not perfect. For example, the stain (Minwax Emerald) was reluctant to leave the tube, but when it did, it splattered on the pavers. I had to spray the pavers off and it splashed up on the soundbox. Oops. I thought it had dried, but the pattern of the spatters show up in the stain job. But, the rustic finish, with the ruddy cherry wood showing through, is quite a bit like Eastern Red Cedar.  Following were layers of varnish and lots of drying time.

Finished, before stringing

I allowed about a week for varnishing, sanding and drying. The varnish was an easy wipe-on that I was able to order from Musicmakers. I figured they would know which finish was best for a harp! Then I put the harp together. Musicmakers has a very clever design that allows the neck and pillar to be removed for shipping or refinishing. This engineering does mean that at this point, the harp is a bit wobbly. Will it come together and be solid?

All strung and keeping Rossignol company

Yes! It all came together and now I am tuning and tuning, bringing Redbud to a stable state so she can go out and bring comfort to my fellow Kentuckians.