celtic harp

Repairing a Llanos Harp Arpa Llaniera Arpa Llanera

Find string charts for our harps so you can order new strings or use them as a guide to design your own harp.  Select the string chart to suit your harp from the pages below. Note these charts are only for harps made or repaired by Geoff Welham.


The owner delivered the harp to me by driving to Mullumbimby from Brisbane

img 002 arpa llaniera general view

view of the Arpa Llaniera with the soundboard and strings removed.
The pillar was tied to the soundbox to avoid damage during repair

This is a typical harp from the plains of Venezuela and eastern Colombia (image002). And it would be safe to say one of a very few ever seen in this country. The Llanos harp quite large and for a folk harp and is unique in construction Using bolts as tuning keys held with double locked nuts, a plywood soundboard and loose stringing. It is typically played in a small band with guitars and singers. The string tension is lower than comparable sized Paraguayan harps approx 400-450 lbs total.


These days the soundboard on these harps is commonly made of plywood (3ply) with the outer grains running up the soundboard instead of spruce or willow like the old Spanish and Ancient Celtic harps.

img004 llanos harp base detail

image 004
view of repaired harp base showing sound hole and and leg mountings

On this harp the plywood soundboard had delaminated .The base of the soundbox was also kaput!

Using a heat gun on the wood and a soldering iron with a thin blade tip made by hammering flat a copper barrel tip, the base was removed. A new one was cut using the old one as a template. Unlike the plywood the glue holding the harp together was tenacious and needed high heat to soften it (a hide glue of unknown type).

After making it as an exact fit as possible, the old wood cleats were cleaned of old glue dirt etc and the new base glued on to the soundbox.
The legs are attached to the base with bolts (see image004). It was stained to a close match with the original.



img006  old soundboard

image 006
old soundboard after removal from harp; note notch for pillar

The sides and back of the soundbox of these harps are usually made of"cedar" or "cedro" a red cedar like timber from the rainforests of south America, probably one of several different species. It is light, reasonably hard, and rings strongly when tapped and is a dark red colour. Apart from the actual design It is a major reason the Paraguayan and YANOS harps have such a distinctive sound. (The only locally growing wood I have found so far which comes close acoustically is camphor laurel sapwood. Light strong full of air spaces and rings like a bell when struck. It gives a slightly harder sound to the harp than the cedar.)

The remains of the old soundboard were carefully removed using heat and a sharp chisel to clean everything up..

In these harps the pillar is mounted into the soundboard with mortise and tenon joint with little reinforcing! The upper and lower string bars were in good order and were removed from the old soundboard by heating (the old glue seemed to be some kind of contact adhesive it came away really easily.

Using the remains of the old soundboard as a template a new soundboard was cut from marine hoop pine 3 ply. Then the socket for the pillar was cut and string bars attached and string holes drilled. (photos 4 and 5)

img008  new soundboard top

image 008
new soundboard top before gluing stringbar.
Note outer grain is vertical vs. most other harps have horizontal grain

The pillar could not be removed from the neck without great difficulty, so the soundboard has to be replaced with it in the way. The new ply soundboard was carefully aligned and cut and shaved to the shape of the harp soundbox, then glued on using weights to press it down. Making a special glue jig for every harp is out of the question!

img010new s board under

new soundboard underside note lower stringbar also has notch to fit pillar
The brown smudge is a stain test prior to applying to top.

The soundboard was then trimmed and the edges sanded flush with the soundbox sides and finally sanded smooth. A damp cloth was rubbed over the soundboard to slightly raise the grain. It was stained with a teak " Wattyl Colourwood " stain. This type of stain which is a suspension in a paint like solvent base gives a uniform stain colour. Pine plywood can be tricky to stain with solvent stains.

Then gel polyurethane ( made by Petrie paints USA ) was rubbed on giving a satin finish similar to original wax finish.

New strings were calculated on the computer using the string formulae given in this publication last year and a new set ordered.





img012neck detail

neck detail left side showing bridge pins and tuning keys

The harp was held together by cord during repair

A new tuning key had to be made to fit the tuning bolts. They appeared to be roofing type bolts with a flat ground on the end. (photo 6)


After the strings arrived they were installed, the original strings were held in place by tying them around thick bits of string and pushing through the string bar holes from the top. Bass strings are secured by knots and leather washers and inserted from underneath via the sound hole in the base of the harp. After slowly tuning up the harp over a couple of weeks it was ready to play. It has a beautiful light sound with a deep bass no doubt due top the very large soundbox. It has the authentic sound of many South American harps despite having an Australian hoop pine soundboard and base. It would seem therefore that the major factor in the tone quality of these harps is the use of the South American cedar for the soundbox. So folks if you want to make a really beautiful sounding South American harp you will need to make it from cedar if you can obtain it! The lower string tension also gives a sweeter softer sound.

Finished harp with new strings 

I am grateful to Andy Rigby for assistance in working out the note range and general background information about this type of harp.

Robert Lives in Mullumbimby NSW and repairs folk harps especially South American harps. He also performs regularly on the Paraguayan harp playing at concerts weddings etc. and teaches and gives workshops on Latin American Harps

Robert Hart  June 2002

Ph 02-6684,1783

Internet  http://www.harpsatsang.com





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