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Immobilizing your nyckelharpa in its case

by Bart Brashers

Most hard-shell cases are big enough that the harpa can ‘slide around’ by a few inches inside the case. This movement could be enough to damage a nyckelharpa, if the case were hit hard enough from the outside. You should immobilize your nyckelharpa in its case for the same reason you should always wear seat belts in your car. You can damage yourself greatly by hitting the dashboard at 60 mph. during a collision, and you can damage your nyckelharpa by accidentally hitting a door jam and having the harpa hit the inside of the case.

There are two very common ways to keep the nyckelharpa stationary in a hard shell case. Both techniques involve the creative use of closed-cell plastic foam, like one might find around a TV or computer monitor in its shipping box. You can usually find closed-cell plastic foam at places that sell shipping supplies, as well. You can use open-cell Styrofoam too, but it tends to shed ‘dust’ (little bits of foam) which are annoying and might get into things that you’d rather be kept Styrofoam-dust free. Make sure you get a reasonably rigid foam, and not a rubber foam that will not have enough stiffness to hold your harpa in place.

The “Wedge”

Foam Wedge

The first technique is very simple: cut a piece of foam into an elongated “D” shape (see figure). Make the rounded end have the same diameter as the curve at the center of the body of your nyckelharpa. Make the other end flat, to fit stably against the inside wall of your case. It need only be as tall as your nyckelharpa body. Basically, you’re making a wedge that holds the nyckelharpa against the “front” side of your case (the “top” side, when you carry it). Of course, this works only if your harpa sits in the case facing the same direction as when you play it. That is, the wedge goes on the same side as the keys, and holds the harpa up off the keys. If you put the wedge on the other side (or if your harpa sits in the case facing the “other way” from when you play it) you will be pressing the keys up against the inside wall of the case, which is not good.

The “Clamp”

Foam Clamps

The other technique also involves the creative use of closed-cell foam, but requires more shaping of the foam. Basically, you want to hold the harpa still in the case, and up off the bottom. To do this, you want to form some sort of “clamp” that holds the harpa in place, and is in turn held in place by the walls of the case.

First, cut rectangular foam pieces that fit securely in the ends of your case (see figure). They should be wide enough to securely hold your harpa, and as tall as the tallest point on that end of your harpa, allowing a little extra room so that the back of the harpa is held up off the bottom of the case. For the string-holder end, make the foam “brick” a little taller than the distance from the back of the harpa to the top of the string holder. At the peg-head end, many cases have a small inner box to hold bows and the other junk we all seem to accumulate. If you have such a bow box, make the foam go from the “front” (bottom in the figures) to the edge of the bow box. It will stay in place if you make it a bit bigger than the space it’s intended to fill, and force it in. Make it just a bit taller than your peg-head sits when you put your harpa on a table.

Now cut two more rectangular pieces that fit into the lid of the case, and fill up the rest of the inside height of the case. Make them long enough that they just fit (with some compression) into the case, about 0.5 cm longer than the inside width of your case. This has now formed upper and lower foam “bricks” that should just touch each other (or require only a little compression) when the case is closed. Think of it as the top and bottom of a clamp. You can put a piece of paper with some pencil rubbings in between the upper and lower “bricks” and close the case: the graphite should leave a mark on the upper brick.

Now that you’ve created the upper and lower halves of a “clamp”, you need to cut away some of the foam from the lower brick, to match the shape of your harpa. The string-holder end is pretty easy: just cut out a notch where the string holder goes. If the brick is wider than the distance between the end-of-the-body of your harpa and the wall of the case, you’ll have to either cut out some foam to fit the body or make the brick less wide.

The peg-head end is harder, as most nyckelharpas have more complicated shapes there. Work a little at a time, cutting away the foam to make a “hole” or “[complicated] notch” that just fits the shape of your peg-head. Make sure the top brick (the one in the lid of your case) fits snugly against the top of the peg-head when the case is closed to prevent the harpa from moving.

You’ve now created specially formed “clamps” made of relatively hard foam to hold your nyckelharpa in place when you close your case. The foam is soft enough to absorb any shocks or bumps the case might receive, but strong enough to keep the harpa in place. If you’ve worked extra hard at it, you’ve even arrange the “clamps” to hold the harpa away from both the bottom and the top of the case (the “sides” of the case when carried) which allows the case to absorb any shocks rather than transmit them to the harpa itself.

If you work extra hard, you can even cut out chambers in the foam to hold things like tuners, cassettes, etc. I have slots for my tape recorder, an extra cassette, and my Korg DT-2 tuner in my case.

Advice for traveling

When traveling in a car, make sure your nyckelharpa-in-case is not in direct sunlight, as this will heat your nyckelharpa and will at least cause it to go out of tune, and could even do more damage. Putting your jacket or a blanket on top is probably enough to keep it reasonably cool.

When flying, I always carry my nyckelharpa on the plane and put it in the overhead compartments, even when I’m also traveling with my fiddle. I’ve never been on a plane where a harpa case couldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. If fact, I usually put my harpa in the overhead first my jacket on top of it, and fit my fiddle directly in front of it. Only once did I check my harpa as luggage, and it was damaged as a result. Just pretend you know what you’re doing and walk right past that airline agent that’s giving you a sternly look, as if you’d carried your nyckelharpa on a million times before. If you look like you know what you’re doing, you will get away with it.

If for some reason they are grumpy enough to not allow you to carry it on, request to “check it at the gate”. They attach a small tag to the case, and you carry it down the jet-way until you’re just outside the plane (within a few feet of the door) where you put it down. A worker then carries it down and puts it in the hold. When you arrive and get off the plane, your harpa is sitting just outside the door, hand-carried up from the hold. That way, it never has to go through the baggage handling equipment in the bowels of the airport, where most of the damage can be sustained. Many families with small children check their strollers at the gate, so they can have access to them immediately upon deplaning. It’s a common thing.

Read more about airplane travel with your nyckelharpa here.

Of Buttons and Bows

by Mel Meer

But what about the bow(s)? Some cases leave room for an accessories box long enough to hold a short bow. But it bounces around in the box.

It is not hard to mount the bow on the inside of the case cover, again like violin bows. Because the bow will be much shorter than the case, standard violin bow spinners may not be effective at constraining a NH bow, though a pair of spinners may work. With foam pads at the ends of the inside of the case cover, I found it easy enough to carve out a small pocket of one and stick the tip of the bow into it. If you don’t use pads, a small pocket for the bow tip can be fashioned out of some fabric stiffened with interfacing and fastened to the inside of the box.

The frog end of the bow can be held by the bow’s button (skruv) by means of a nylon clip sold at hardware stores intended for holding electrical wire against a wall. They usually come with a self-adhesive, or can be affixed in any convenient manner. The very best clips for this purpose, in my experience, are made in Germany but are no longer imported into the US.

You might be able to find them in Sweden. Let us know! Here is a sketch of what they look like in cross-section, shown larger than actual size (about 3/8 inch [1 cm] in diameter):

cross-section of bow holder