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Tips on moving your bridge

(From the Oct 1997 issue of Nyckel Notes)

Recently, an ANA member had to repair her harpa. The repair required the removal of the guitar tuners, so all the strings had to be taken off. When she put them back on, she found that she had acquired a buzz. Looking closely and listening closely, she found that the understring closest to the 2nd row of tangents was so close to the tangent that when it vibrated it would hit the backside of the tangents, causing the buzz.

The string’s position is determined by the nut and the bridge, she reasoned, and since the nut is glued in place, that must mean the bridge had moved. Either that, or the keys have moved, but since the keybox is screwed to the neck that didn’t seem likely. It did feel to her like the distance the keys had to travel before stopping a string was a little longer than before.

So she had to move her bridge. There are several ways to do this, the easiest of which involves no tools at all. Hold your nyckelharpa about the “waist” (where the dents are in the middle, near the f-holes) with your thumbs on the legs of the bridge just where they come in contact with the top, and your fingers on the sides of the harpa. You can support the nyckelharpa on your lap or on a table, or even on a carpeted floor if you like. Then press with your left thumb until, with a satisfying “pop”, the bridge moves to the right. As long as the top of your nyckelharpa is relatively smooth, you don’t even have to loosen the strings. It makes the “snap” or “pop” sound when it releases its current position and stops in the new position. The string tension will keep it from moving radically, and may move it back somewhat. There’s only a small range of spots the bridge can sit without the tension moving it.

Now you’ll have to re-tune, since you’ve changed the tension on all the strings. Play a little, and make sure you didn’t move the bridge too far. If any of the playing strings touches a tangent (other than the one that you’re pressing) then it has moved too far. Keep in mind that different string gauges will deflect different amounts when vibrating, and that a string deflects more when played loudly than when played softly.

The bridge should be placed such that the playing strings just barely don’t buzz against the higher tangents when you play a loud note. That will get you the optimal action, such that your keys have the minimum distance to travel when you play.

I carry a small piece of oak in my nyckelharpa case, to help me move and straighten bridges. But I moved mine just last night with only my hands….