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Harmonium FAQ and notes:

Please note: Any work carried out using this FAQ is at the owner's own risk. Buckingham Music, Inc. Inc. is not responsible for problems caused by people working on their own Harmoniums. These tips and hints are useful, but please be patient and careful.
These are just beginning notes designed to inform and help Harmonium people. There will be pictures, etc. in the future and, hopefully, more details if I find the time... Peter Cutchey 5/11/02.

Q? Hi Can you tell me more about harmoniums and send me pics, descriptions and prices by email.
What is the difference between single, double and triple reeds?
How much would the shipping be to France? Thank you, J.J. France.

A Dear Julien, nice to hear from you.
You can find all harmonium details at:
For shipping to France we need the name of your nearest international airport and your complete name and address, including the post code. Also which harmonium it is that you wish to buy as the shipping weight is different from one model to another.

Q? Re: What is the difference between single, double and triple reeds?

A It is the number of separate reed banks that are built into the Harmonium.
Single reed bank harmoniums are generally cheaply made and people don't like to buy them because they are not well made and have problems. They provide just one note at a time when you press one key.
Double reed bank harmoniums are the normal standard for harmoniums. They have two banks of reeds each pitched one octave differently from the other. They can provide one or two notes at a time, an octave apart, when you press one key depending how many reed banks, one or two, are selected by you.
Triple reed bank harmoniums usually occur with scale changing harmoniums (see the harmonium page). They have three banks of reeds each pitched one octave differently from the other. They can provide one, two, or three notes at a time, an octave apart, when you press one key depending how many reed banks, one, two or three, are selected by you.
Please get back to us if you have more questions.

Very best regards.


Peter Cutchey
President and Owner,
Buckingham Music, Inc\
P.S. Please use "reply" for all e-mail replies so we can keep track more easily of the dialog between us.
Thanks, John

Q? How best to look after my Harmonium?
A The first thing to know is that Harmoniums are quite simple instruments.
If you lift up and remove the wooden cover plate at the back you'll be able to see how the keys operate. At first this looks very complicated, but if you press just one of the keys you can easily see what's happening here. Please think about this; every single key carries out its function in a very simple manner. The thing that makes a Harmonium look complicated is really just that there are so many parts! It is like the difference between a V-8 engine and a V-32 engine. All the same parts are used in exactly the same way - but there are really just a lot more of them.
When you press a key the back of the key moves up to release air through a reed. The reed vibrates in the air that is pushed though it and produces a note. Release the key and the air is cut off, so the note stops. As said - simple, really!
Please note: Most Harmoniums work like a teeter-totter, or see-saw. Pressing a key down locks the whole lever on a pivot in the center. Some Harmoniums, such as scale changers, have two levers per note but the basic principle is the same, really.

Some of these photos. have curved the outside surfaces. Sorry, but this camera's lens isn't happy with closeups at angles like these. The edges are actually straight!

Most good quality Harmoniums have a pair of levers at the back (remove the wooden cover first).

Here you can see the Harmonium with the top cover on it.

We have removed the top cover on it by lifting it up.
You can see the key levers and the two levers at the back which you twist in opposite directions to open the harmonium

When you release these levers you can hinge the hinge the whole keyboard forward to see the reeds and stop valves.

Here you can see what the harmonium looks like when it's opened up.
At the top you can see the valves for all the bank stops.
Then the drone stops and in the bottom half, are the two reed banks.

When you pull various stops out you can see the pieces of inside mechanism work in response to this. A few minutes of doing this will show you just "What does what" inside the Harmonium.

Q? What are the worst things I can do with my Harmonium?
a) Let someone pump the bellows really hard, developing so much pressure in the system that something breaks and starts to leak air. A player can feel just how much pressure to use. A child, or another person may not have this "feel" for the instrument. Or perhaps let someone bash on the keys so they break.
b) Keep it in a damp place where parts will tend to swell up and not work properly.
c) Leave it in a closet somewhere and not play it often. Harmoniums like to be played regularly so all the parts move freely. Leaving a Harmonium for a month or two without playing it is similar in effect to leaving a car for the same period and starting it up. Nothing will work well for a while.
d) Leave it in the sun, or in a hot car in the sun. This will cause it all kinds of "interesting" problems! If you are comfortable, so is your Harmonium. Extremes of damp, dryness, cold or heat are just as bad for your Harmonium as they are for you... perhaps you'd like to think about how the instrument feels about this.
e) Take too many parts out at one time while working on your Harmonium. Then it is quite difficult to remember what went where. Try to cure one problem at a time.

Q? Why do keys stick?
A A Harmonium shrinks as the wooden case dries out. In width it may lose as much as 1/4" to 3/8". This tends to squeeze the keys together and make them stick. Harmoniums also shrink from front to back, causing other problems.

Q? What do I do if my keys stick?
A There is a wooden bar that runs over the top of your keys with a screw at each end of it. Unscrew and remove this bar. Put it back when you have finished your work.

We have removed the bar that retains the keys
Please be careful not to lose the two screws and washers.
We usually leave them in the bar so they're there when we come to put it back.

Press the sticky keys to see what's happening.
Often keys will stick because they are interfering with each other. Remove a key and file a small amount off the side of the key if it is scraping against the key next to it. Replace the key and try it out to see if the key still sticks. Do this again if the key still scrapes against it's neighbor. File in small amounts at a time, trying the key after each filing. If keys are sticking this way you can usually hear them scraping against each other.

Here's a picture of the file and key.
The file to use can be a flat bastard cut. File from the front to the back so your filing keeps straight
with the key, then up and down so the grooves are right for the up/down motion of the key.

Sometimes a key will stick because it is too long at the back of the lever. If this is happening you can remove the key and sand or file across the back of the lever until it is free. This is because the outer case has shrunk. Often you may find that more then one keys become affected this way.

Here's a pic. of some sandpaper positioned at the end of the key you may need to sand.

At other times you may see a key (or a number of keys) sticking down at the front of you Harmonium. This is caused by the wooden front piece that runs across the Harmonium trapping the keys at the bottom of their travel when you press them. Generally removing the two screws that secure the front of the Harmonium and putting a washer or two on the screws inside will cure this problem as you increase the distance between the front wooden part and the keys.

Q? What do I do if one of my reeds rattles or buzzes as it plays?
A First count the number of notes from the last key to where the buzzing sound happens. This will tell you where to find the buzzing reed.

A harmonium reed.

Move the levers at the back of the Harmonium (mentioned above) and hinge the keyboard forward. Count up the reeds until you find the one you indentified by counting the notes.
Gently "ping" the reed with a fingernail to see if it buzzes or rattles. If it doesn't you may have the wrong reed. Please bear in mind that you also have to figure out which bank of reeds this buzzing reed is in or you may be treating entirely the wrong reed! You can figure this out by using the bank stops on the front of the Harmonium to hear when the buzzing comes and goes.

Two reed banks.

Gently ping the reed to see if the buzzing goes away. If it does, fine. If not, carefully unscrew the reed. Only one screw has to be removed - you can simply loosen the other one as it goes through a slot in the reed's brass frame.
Now gently lift up the reed and blow across it in case there is a small piece of debris in it that is causing it to buzz or rattle. Ping it again to see of you have found the cause of the noise.
If removing the reed causes it not to buzz when you ping it then it may have been stressed by wood shrinkage. Simply putting it back may have de-stressed it and it will be cured.

Q? Should I buy a Harmonium from India?
A This is a tough thing for us to answer as we're in the business of selling harmoniums to people. However we'll try to be as fair as we can with an unbiased answer to this one (grin).
Buying a Harmonium from India can sometimes be successful, but please bear in mind a few things.
a) It is almost impossible to return it for service or refund if it has problems when you receive it.
b) These are often sent with no preparation before packing so there are usually problems with these Harmoniums. We tweak each harmonium that passes through here before shipping it. I know of no other Harmonium sellers in the US that do this to every instrument.
c) If it seems to be too cheap it probably is! We once bought a harmonium direct from India through e-bay. When it arrived we had to put 26 hours work into it to sort out the problems. It is doubtful that the average person could have made this Harmonium work at all.
c) Please, whoever you do buy from, make sure that they can service your Harmonium in case it has problems. We warranty those we sell for 12 months against manufacturing defects. After 12 months we will undertake repairs for those bought from us at $20 per hour plus shipping back. Those not bought from us are charged at $70 per hour as first of all we haven't made any money out of the transaction that we can put against the overhead of the repair work, also they usually have problems that wouldn't have been there if it had come from us and had those problems rectified before shipping. Also these Harmoniums may need special parts sourced or specially made.
Please also ask questions before purchasing a Harmonium as these questions may reveal whether or not the seller can service Harmoniums and how much they actually know about them. Please 'phone us with your questions - we are always happy to help.

Q? Should I buy a scale changing Harmonium?
A Although more complex than a non scale changing harmonium a scale changer, if prepared well by the seller, should give very good service.
If you have taken piano lessons and learned your scales well, you won't need a scale changing harmonium as you already know how to play things in different keys. If, however, you know how to play in one key and not how to transpose your playing key then a scale changer is a definite asset. Please note: Always lock the scale changer's lever in the center position before packing and moving it. If this lever isn't properly locked then the keyboard is free to move and this causes problems with the internal mechanism. Locking the scale changer's lever in the center position is a very simple thing to do and can prevent such annoying problems.

What should I use to polish my Harmonium?
French polish (Shellac) is used to finish most Harmoniums. Use only pure Carnauba wax, available from most auto parts stores, to polish your Harmonium. Never use furniture polish as this may contain additives that can ruin French polish. Do not spill alcohol on your Harmonium as this can dissolve the shellac polish.

There is also more to working on Harmoniums than we have written about here. If you have a problem not referred to here then perhaps you's like to phone us at the number listed below.

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Copyright 1997, N. P. Cutchey, USA. 254-771-2899. All prices and specifications are subject to change without notice.