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Knee Bone Modification for Lap Harps

Here is an interesting modification made by John LaTorre.

When using “Knee Bones” on my Shepherd harp, I noticed that there was a problem with the way the harp was balanced. When the harp was resting on my legs, the center of gravity was so far forward that the harp wanted to pitch forward and away from me, even when it was resting on my shoulder. I had to grasp the harp between my legs to keep the harp from rotating forward. That got me thinking that if the knee-bone support actually went through the center of the harp instead of being attached to the back, the harp would balance better.

The obvious way to do this, of course, was to drill holes on either side of the harp to allow a dowel to pass through the entire way and stick out on either side. But there were two issues that had to be resolved: determining the location of the holes and figuring out a way to drill them at the proper angle.

As for the location, the position of the knee bones gave me the proper height of the dowel. I had experimented with various positions and found that the harp worked best when the knee bones were located between 7″ and 7-1/2″ from the bottom of the back. (This does not include the little pedestal I made for the harp to allow it to sit upright on its base. I should note that my harp was an earlier model that would not sit on its base and required a special stand to sit upright. I believe that later models of the harp used a different base angle, dispensing with the need for the stand.)

But where were the holes to be located horizontally? After balancing the harp on a dowel to determine its center of gravity, I determined that I would not be too far off if I located the hole’s center at about an inch away from the soundboard. After drilling the holes and fitting the dowel, I found out that I might have been better off locating the hole a little farther forward, at about 3/4″ of an inch from the soundboard, but since I could still rest the harp on my shoulder while playing it without its pitching forward, I decided that filling and re-drilling the hole was not worth the trouble.

Holding the harp to my drill press so that the hole would be drilled at the proper angle proved to be a little more complicated. It wouldn’t do to simply drill the hole at 90 degrees to the side, since the sides themselves were angled to taper upward toward the neck. The solution was to lay the harp on my drill press table, which is provided with an extended table to support the harp, and clamp the base to it. I then slid a piece of 1-1/2″ dowel under the harp. When the dowel was positioned so that the string band was exactly level, which I checked with a bubble level, I clamped everything down and drilled the hole.

Then I flipped the harp over and repeated the process on the other side. I used a 13/16″ Forstner bit, which was 1/16″ greater in diameter than the 3/4″ dowel I intended to use for a knee rest. I figured that it would be a snug fit, since I didn’t think that I would be able to drill the holes so perfectly that the dowel would slide right in.

The dowel slid right in. So it ended up being a little bit sloppier in fit than I wanted, but not distractingly so. I wrapped some electrical tape around the dowel so that it would fit snugly into the hole and not slide back and forth, and that seems to have worked well.


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