Musicmaker's Frequently Asked Questions
Here we hope you will find some answers to many of the common questions you might have if you are new to instrument kit building. If you have a question that is not answered here - please email us.
An Introduction to Levers
Though by no means thorough, this should answer some of the basic questions regarding levers. If you have other questions please send me an email.
Q: What do levers do?
A: A lever is used to raise the pitch of a string one half step. Levers do this by shortening the vibrating length of the string.
Q: Why do we need levers?
A: Harps are tuned diatonically which means that you can only play in one key. Levers allow us to play in different keys without retuning the harp. There is no end of music out there that is written for harps in the Key of C. So you can get by without levers for quite sometime if you are just beginning. However if you would like to play in different keys youwill need a few levers.
Q: How many levers do I need?
A: That depends on the type of music you play and the level at which you are playing. A full set of levers allows you to play in every key. However there aren't many pieces out there that are written in the Key of C#. Many people choose to add levers over time to help spread out the cost. For example you can just add levers to the C, F, and B strings. This allows you to play in the Keys of C, G, D, and F.
Q: How do you get flats if levers can only raise a pitch a half step?
A: They way you do this is by tuning the string flat and then engaging the lever during normal play to give you the natural note. Then when you want the note flat you simply disengage the lever. For example - a harp with a full set of levers is usually tuned to Eb when all of the levers are disengaged. So the strings would be tuned to C D Eb F G Ab Bb C etc. If you want to play in the key of C you just engage the levers on all of the E, A, and B strings.
Q: Can levers be installed on wire strung harps?
Q: Can I install levers myself?
A: Yes you can. Though it may seem like a daunting task at first it is really quite manageable. You will need a chromatic electronic tuner. If you don't have an electronic tuner you will not be able to position your levers correctly. Musicmakers provides a template for the installation of levers along with detailed directions that guide you through the process. The template fits right on you harp neck and provides the vertical placement of the lever. When the lever is centered on the template you must then center the handle of the lever over the string (horizontal placement). When you have the vertical and horizontal placement set you mark the position with a punch mark on the neck. When you have done this with all of your levers you simply drill and tap the holes and install the levers. When all the levers have been installed you will need to 'voice' the levers. This is where the electronic tuner comes in. The levers can be adjusted up and down so the lever raises the pitch of the string by a perfect half step. Once you have voiced all the levers you are ready to go.
Click here for a PDF version of our lever installation instructions.
What type of person can build from a kit?
Though the following answers to these questions were written with harp kits in mind - many of these answers apply to other kits as well.
Q: What kind of person should build from a kit?
A: One who enjoys handcrafts and who has the time and space available to do the work.
Q: What kind of basic skills are needed?
A: It is helpful to know how to glue and clamp pieces of wood together to make a firm joint. Although a total novice could build an instrument, he/she would definitely benefit from supervision of a friend or family member with some wood-craft experience.
Q: What kind of equipment is needed?
A: Basic hand tools are essential:
- wire cutter
- sharp chisel
- variety of sandpaper grits
- a few clamps
Some electric hand tools are worth purchasing:
- reversing electric (or cordless) hand drill for both drilling holes and driving screws
- electric palm sander
- electric hand jig-saw (saber saw)
- electric router (maybe) for rounding over edges
Q: How much space is required?
A: Use a solid table or workbench about 3' X 5' in size. A folding "church table" works fine. Set it up in a place where sawdust will not be objectionable. The space must be kept at room temperature for proper drying of glue and finish.
Q: Is a harp a good first-time project?
A: Perhaps not for a young person under 14, but for older teens and adults of any age, many harp kits are good projects for learning how to do woodworking. As mentioned above, it might be helpful to have supervision from a more experienced wood-crafter.
Q: Upon receipt of a kit, what should I do first?
A: Find the parts list and check over everything in the kit to make sure 1) it is all there, and 2) it is in acceptable condition. Keep the parts organized in the box so you don't lose anything. Then skim through the instruction manual to see if you need to purchase some tools, supplies, accessories, and/or decorations to finish the project as desired.
Q: What do people report as the single most difficult or frustrating part of the assembly process? Any tips?
A: This varies from one model to another, but I suppose fitting the neck (harmonic curve) to the body and the pillar is the trickiest procedure because it requires holding parts together and looking at joints that are in three different points of the triangle. As a manufacturer, we try to simplify this process by pre-fitting all three joints at the factory, and, on some kits, pre-gluing the neck to the pillar. We also design our harps so that these parts can be set in place and held by gravity while the builder inspects the fit.
Q: What resources are available if a customer has trouble?
A: Musicmaker's has woodworkers on hand to answer email and phone calls during normal business hours. Most problems are easily handled. We supply replacement parts, often for free, and we have lots of gimmicks on hand to take care of such mistakes as drilling oversized holes for pins or eyelets, touching up wood filler to match surrounding grain, adding decorative inlays, rosettes or decals to cover blemishes, etc.
Q: How many of your kit builders are repeat customers? Do people enjoy building more than one harp?
A: Musicmaker's caters to the do-it-yourselfer, and that type of customer typically gets great satisfaction from building a harp. Though we have no numbers available, many of our customers find harp-making to be rather addicting. Once they show the first harp to friends and neighbors, they are often solicited to make harps for others. We have helped many a hobbyist get started in the business of making and selling harps.
Q: Any additional comments?
A: You have not asked the "quality" question. Many people assume that a kit-built harp is inferior to a factory-made instrument. We receive countless testimonials that contradict that assumption, though there are, admittedly, some lower quality kits available on the market. It is important for customers who want a good-sounding harp to research a little before purchasing a kit. Having said that, however, we are amazed at how excited people can be over a dead-sounding instrument! We would not discourage a bargain hunter from building a cheap harp kit, provided it holds together and stays in tune. It can give a budget-minded person a good beginning experience.
These answers were written by Jerry Brown, owner and founder of Musicmaker's Kits, Inc, in Stillwater, Minnesota. Jerry started this business in 1978 as a variety hobby shop specializing in kits of all kinds for the do-it-yourselfer. Over time, he discontinued all non-musical projects and began printing a catalog of strictly musical kits for a mail-order clientele.
The company has always focussed on kits, and currently sells over 70 percent of its instruments in kit form. This means that kits are not a sideline concession to the occasional bargain-hunting shopper. Our target market is the hobbyist, so we focus full time on designing kit parts that fit together well, and on writing clear, fully-illustrated assembly instructions, and giving good customer backup support.
Our factory-direct catalog & website marketing program allows us to offer very high quality instruments at reasonable prices. Today, Musicmaker's is best known for its harp designs, selling over a harp per day (either in kit form or finished), though we also manufacture kits for mountain dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, guitars, banjos, mandolins, and a few odd items like kalimbas, psalteries and hurdy gurdies.
What is a Hurdy Gurdy and are they dangerous?Q: What is a Hurdy Gurdy?
A: The Hurdy Gurdy is a stringed instrument that is played by turning a wheel which vibrates the strings to create sound. By pressing keys you change the length of the strings and create different pitches. A hurdy gurdy has drone strings (strings which never change pitch) and melody strings. This gives the hurdy gurdy a sound similar to that of bagpipes.
Q: Where did the Hurdy Gurdy come from?
A: The hurdy gurdy first appeared in Europe sometime between the 10th and 12th centuries. It was originally called the oraganistrum. In its earliest form, it was a two-man instrument consisting of 3 strings, a wheel turned by a crank, and a series of rotation buttons that were turned like door keys to stop the stings at different lengths. One person turned the crank, and the other turned the keys with both hands - a rather cumbersome operation! It was usually played in church to accompany the chants of the choir.
The current sliding button action came into being about the the 13th century, allowing the instrument to be played more quickly, and by one person. It then became popular as a secular instrument among beggars and street musicians, and even enjoyed a brief stint in the royal court of Louis XIV.
Although the hurdy gurdy was never accepted as a chamber instrument, it survives in France today as the "vielle a roue", and is still popular among folk musicians. Most people are fascinated by its mechanical operation but discover soon enough that setting it up and adjusting it for easy playing and good intonation is a test of patience.
Q: Is the Hurdy Gurdy dangerous?
A: That depends on how much you play it and how many people can hear you!
Our narrow profit margins prevent us from offering free shipping. We've tried to simplify the shipping calculation by printing a basic chart for normal service. Certain oversize or heavy items will have an additional shipping surcharge.
Our normal shipping service will be ground shipping within the US and standard Air Mail for foreign destinations. If you need faster service you will need to call or email us for a shipping quote.
We are pleased to be able to ship our products world-wide, with the exception of a few large items. Shipping unassembled kits is much cheaper and safer than shipping finished instruments, and we are well-suited to serving the do-it-yourself market around the world. Shipping costs and postal size restrictions vary widely from country to country, so we can only print a firm cost chart for Canada, Europe and Japan. If you live in another corner of the planet please email us for a shipping quote.
Q: How long will it take before I receive my order?
A: We usually try to ship on the same day we receive an order. If you live in the United States and we ship your order by FedEx you can check out the map for an approximate shipping time. If the order is small enough we will send it out by mail and in that case you can expect to receive your order in 2-10 days.
Q: What about shipping to Canada?
A: We ship most orders to Canada by Airmail. Typically orders will take about 7-10 days to arrive in Canada. Most customers are charged a provincial and federal sales tax. Last time we checked the federal sales tax was 6%. Provincial taxes may vary. A $5.00 customs charge is also assessed.
Warranty Details and InstructionsQ: Do you have a warranty on your kits?
A: Yes. In fact we have one of the best warranties in the business!
Q: Well... what is it?
I. Need replacement parts?
Just notify us of the problem. We are generous with spare parts, but we may ask you to return the defective part if we think we can salvage it. We may ask you to pay for replacement parts if you damaged them during construction. After one year from date of purchase, we may not be able to supply replacement parts if we have discontinued the kit.
II. Need help with construction?
We are happy to finish assembling a kit for you. The basic fee is the difference between the kit price and the finished price shown in our current catalog (regardless of the price you paid for the kit). If you have done some of the assembly, we may be able to discount the construction fee, unless we need to re-do some of your work. If you want us to do only part of the construction, please call us about the price.
III. Desire a refund?
We give refunds, or credit toward other merchandise, for kits returned within one year of purchase, regardless of reason for return or stage of construction. You must present proof of purchase from MUSICMAKER'S KITS, INC. Such refunds will be for merchandise only, not shipping, handling, or insurance fees.
If we made an error on the original shipment, we will pay for return shipping. Please call us for the proper procedure.
I. Not satisfied with the product?
We allow returns of finished products still in mint condition for refund or credit within 30 days of purchase. Such refunds will be for merchandise returned only, not shipping, handling, or insurance fees.
II. Did the product break or warp?
We will repair or replace, without charge, within five years from date of purchase, any instrument that we built if the materials or workmanship are defective. You must present proof of purchase from MUSICMAKER'S KITS, INC. to verify the date of purchase.
Q: Does Musicmakers offer a dealership program?
A: Unfortunately we do not. Because we sell direct to the customer we just don't have the profit margin to support dealerships. We do, however, offer some quantity discount pricing. Please see below.
Harp StringsQ: Do you sell Harp Strings?
A: Yes we do. If you have a Musicmaker's Harp it should have come with a string chart. If you want to order harp strings you can check your string chart to see what size strings to order. If you don't have a Musicmaker's Harp we may still be able to sell you some strings. You just need to know the gauge of the strings you need. You can find the gauge on the string chart for your harp or by measuring it with a micrometer. We do NOT sell gut strings. Nor can we provide any wound strings for any harp that is not a Musicmaker's Harp. It would be best if you contacted the maker of your harp for those strings. If you can't find the maker you can try Robinson's Harp Shop at (619) 473-8556.
Our Rental Policy
A: Yes we do. However we won't ship rental harps. So you have to be able to come to the store and pick up your rental harp. . The rental fee is $65.00 a month.
Our LogoQ: What is that instrument in your logo?
A: It is our Limerick Lap Harp
Q: Do you have a kit for the Limerick Lap Harp?
A: Yes. Yes we do. Click here.
Q: Do you care about my privacy?
A: Absolutely. We do not share or sell information about our customers with anybody.
Q: Is your website safe?
A: Yes. Your payment and personal information is safe. Our Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software is robust and secure. Any perosnal information, including credit card numbers, names, addresses are encrypted and cannot be read over the internet.
Q: Is your refrigerator running?
A: Yes. And so is my nose. Very funny.
I found a Hammered Dulcimer and would like to restring it.Q: Can you sell me the strings I need?
A: Yes we can. However it isn't as simple as that. Unfortunately all Hammered Dulcimers aren't strung the same so there is no "Hammered Dulcimer String Set" so to speak. So if you would like to purchase strings for your hammered dulcimer it will be helpful if you can gather some information before you contact us:
- Try to find out who built the Hammered Dulcimer. If you can find out who made the instrument your best bet is to contact the maker directly. The maker should be able to tell you exactly what gauge wire you need.
- If you have no idea who built your Hammered Dulcimer or you can't contact the maker then you will need to measure the gauge of the strings yourself. To do this you will need a micrometer. This instrument will accurately measure the gauge of your strings. If you don't have a micrometer handy you might call your local instrument repair shop and see if they have one on hand.
- Once you have measured the gauge you just need to figure out how many feet of each gauge you need.
A: Yes we can. If you bring the instrument into our shop we would be happy to quote you a price for restringing. We typically charge about a dollar a string for labor plus the price of the wire.
Left-handed instrumentsQ: Do you sell left-handed guitar kits?
A: Yes. As a matter of fact just about all of our instruments can be made into a left-handed version. Just let us know that you would like a left-handed kit when you order and we will make the necessary changes.
Fretboards and individual parts
Buzzing harp stringsQ: What can I do about a buzzing harp string?
A:Your harp need not suffer the problem of rattling or buzzing sounds when you play. If you hear such noises, you can correct them. Here are some troubleshooting hints:
If the buzzing sound occurs only when the sharping lever is flipped up (engaged), then you need to tighten the lever more firmly against the neck of the harp. Use a ball-end allen wrench to turn the cap-screw clockwise.
If the buzzing occurs when the lever is flipped down (disengaged), the string may be vibrating against some part of the sharping lever itself. Look very closely at the position of the string as it passes through the sharping lever. It may be rattling against the plastic cam (the part that you flip up & down), or against the small post (the part that the cam pinches the string against when engaged.) You can change the position of the string by pushing in or pulling out the brass guide pin on which the string rests above the sharping lever. (Make sure the string is resting in the groove of that pin.) Use a pliers to gently push or pull on the pin, watching how that moves the string in relation to the sharping lever.
If the problem is not located around the sharping lever, you may have a loose end of string that is rattling inside the soundchamber. Put your hand inside the harp and touch the knotted ends while plucking the harp to see where the problem is located. Oftentimes we can solve it by simply trimming off a loose end of string or by twisting the knotted end in a different direction.
Our Gothic style harps have stiffener battens glued inside the back of the soundbox, on either side of the access holes. Occasionally we've encountered a buzz or rattle on a harp when one of these battens has come loose at one end. Check for this situation by pressing on the side of each access hole and feeling the batten to see if it comes free at one end. If you find a loose batten, work some Elmer's glue under it and clamp it back in place until the glue dries.
Our Limerick and Studio model harps have backs that are glued into a slot in the hardwood sides. Sometimes we have seen a buzz develop when the back panel is not securely glued all around the edges. Check this by tapping on the back panel. If it rattles, you may need to glue some corner strips along the inside corners of the back to silence the noise.
Packing a Harp
Q. How can I pack my harp for travel/shipping/moving?
A: If you purchased a finished harp from us the best thing to do is to use the box that we made to ship your harp to you. Assuming, of course, that you saved the box. If you didn't save the box and need to ship your finished harp - here are a few suggestions and guidelines.
1. First you need to find a box big enough for your harp. Some of our harps (The Regency and the 36-String Gothic) are too large to ship by FedEx or UPS so these harps must be crated and shipped via truck. To find a box big enough for our other harps you can try asking at large appliance stores or electronics stores. If you can't find a box big enough for your finished harp you do have the option of removing the neck/pillar assembly from the body and shipping the harp in two boxes with the body shipping in one box and the neck/pillar shipping in another box.
2. Once you have found a box that will fit your harp you need to pack your harp in such a way that it will travel safely within the box. If at all possible you should ship your harp in the case. We also recommend de-tuning the strings about two whole steps. If you don't have a case then you can pad the harp with sleeping bags, blankets, shipping blankets, bubble wrap, or something of a similar nature. If your harp has delicate feet on the bottom - it is best to remove these before shipping.
3. Place your wrapped harp in the shipping box. Your goal now is to make it so the harp will not move inside the box. That is to say that when you close the box up - if a very tall and strong person were to pick up the box and shake it around - the harp would not move or rattle around inside the box. Think back to your days in school when you had to fiigure out a way to pack an egg so that it could be dropped from the roof of the school and not end up cracked. We have found foam rubber to be great for this job. It is soft, fills up space well, and can be bent, squished, shoved, and jammed between the harp and the box. If you can find a shop that does upholstery work - they will usually have lots of old foam rubber sitting around that they are only too happy to have taken off their hands.
4. That's about it. Close up the box and don't forget to cover it with Fragile stickers. Another tip that was passed along to us was to write a note on the box that indicates that there is a harp inside. Just knowing what is in the box may help the FedEx or UPS people be more careful.
Musicmakers' 29-string Harp
Q. I have an old 29-string harp built by Musicmakers. What model harp is it?
A: We manufactured three different 29-string harps over the years so there are three possibilities
1. Student Harp (lowest string = C below middle C). Produced from 1988 to 1994. This harp measured 39" tall and had a soundboard that was purposely curved from bottom to top.
2. Apprentice Harp (lowest string = C below middle C) Produced from 1994 to 1996. this harp measured 41" tall and was very similar to the Student model but the front panel was installed flat without the built in curve.
3. Studio Harp (lowest string = A or G below the C below middle C) Produced from 1996 to 2006. This harp measures 47" tall with small feet on the bottom or 58" tall with detachable long legs.