Making Soundboard Pegs

On our harp about 24 soundboard pegs were missing, so new ones had to be made.

Old harps with the original soundboard usually have a system of pegs on the rib of the soundboard to retain the strings. The reason for this is that the instrument would have had an 8th pedal which operated a sort of swell box type mechanism on the square apertures at the rear of the body. The idea was a gimmick to give a loud-soft option to the player. Of course, as anyone who plays the harp will know, too much volume is not a problem with the instrument, so I have never seen this mechanism in place except in instruments in museums. However, the sound swell mechanism meant that you couldn't thread the strings in from behind. This is where the pegs come in - you would remove a peg, and push the string with its knotted end through the board from the top. Putting the peg back then secures the string.

The pegs at the higher end are quite small, and on our harp it was possible to replace them with ebony pegs which are made for guitars and available from music hardware suppliers. The lower pegs are bigger, and have an added complication - to reduce the cutting effect on the string as it passes over ivory bridges set in the rib, the hole through the rib is drilled at an angle (see the diagram below).

The existing pegs were made from a single piece of wood, which I assume had been turned on some sort of zany jig. It posed an interesting task to do the replacements. I will describe what I did - you may find an equally effective way to suit what you have available in the way of tools.

Approach one was to carve pegs by hand out of a solid piece of wood. This did work, and is a viable tequnique for one or two, but it is pretty tedious. I needed about 16 pegs, so I had to find a way of mass-producing them.

drawing of pegs
Diagram 1 - First take some 6mm (1/4 inch) ramin or similar wood and whittle it with a knife so that it fits into the tapered hole on the soundboard. Take the peg out and cut a groove for the string using a 'V' shaped carving chisel - test that the peg goes into the hole with the string. Draw on the peg with a pencil (A) to show the line of the soundboard and saw the peg off.

Diagram 2 - I used some 12mm (half inch) dowel for the button part of the peg. I don't have a wood lathe - but I do have a simple metal lathe. I put pieces of dowel into an electric drill which I held in a vice - I then used a very small chisel as a cutting tool to create the shape of the button. Using a wood lathe would be more elegant, but my method worked. Don't part off the button at this stage.

I then put the piece of dowel and with the turned end into a metal work lathe, and drilled in a 6 mm (1/4 inch) hole with a flat ended drill. Using the lathe allows a precise depth of drilling, and ensures that the hole is accurately centred. This hole will take a cap when the peg is finished.

Diagram 3 - Now use the lathe to drill a small diameter hole to take a small woodscrew.

Diagram 4 - Finally, part-off or saw off the button, screw and glue it onto the rest of the peg with a very small wood screw (you can get these at a model makers shop). I then finished it off by gluing in a little 6mm disc of mother-of-pearl. These are used by violin makers to put on the end of the bow tensioner and are really cheap. I then stained the wood black and finished it with beeswax. You can then buff up the mother-of-pearl with a very fine emery paper (1000 grit), and the result looks pretty good.

It may sound like a long process, but I found I could make the pegs in a reasonable time.

Photo - pegs under construction

Buttons and pegs before staining.

Soundboard bridges

I discovered that one of the ivory bridges was missing - the replacement was cut from the bone handle of a knife and shaped using sandpaper. Once the piece was glued into the rib and sanded flush it looked exactly like the rest. (I couldn't now say which one it was).

Home page
Buying a used harp
Technical details
Regulating old harps
Making brass shims for regulating semitone forks
Useful addresses
National Register and Database of Musical Instruments (UK)