Compound tapering. This means that the soundboard is tapered from the bass to the treble and also from the centre string rib to the edges of the soundbox. This method of making a soundboard is much more labour intensive than straight tapers, but well worth the extra time and effort. The product is a more responsive instrument.
Asymmetrical design. The string rib of our soundboard is offset to the right by 1/4″. This small offset is dramatically effective in helping a harp to achieve its fullest acoustic potential. The string rib divides the soundboard into two separate resonating panels. If those panels share exactly the same dimensions, they tend to be equally responsive and equally unresponsive to the same frequencies. This can result in “dead spots” (notes that are duller than their neighbours), or in “hotspots’ (notes that tend to sing out more stridently than you’d like). However, when the string rib is offset the two resonating panels are of slightly different dimensions, and any “dead spots” on one side tend to be compensated for on the other. The end result is a more completely and evenly responsive soundboard. In addition, the offset of the string rib helps the upper treble strings to encounter sharping levers at a better angle.
A floating base. The bottom edge of our soundboards is not glued down to the frame of the harp. Because tone-woods have almost all their strength along the grain, and virtually none across it, there is no structural benefit to be had by gluing this edge down. If, instead, the edge is left open (we sculpt away about 3/16″ from the base of the harp to let the soundboard have a little space to move) the harp gains as much as 24 square inches of vibrating free-board without increasing the size of the harp at all, and the entire bass register of the harp becomes livelier and more responsive.
Solid tone-wood construction. We use the finest Sitka and Englemann spruces for our soundboards, carefully dried to less than 5% moisture content. Unlike plywood soundboards, solid soundboards ensure that a harp’s voice will continue to develop and grow richer throughout its life. In guitar making, piano making, and violin making, a solid tonewood soundboard is a pre-requisite for a premium instrument.
We never veneer our soundboards at Timothy Harps, though this practice is becoming very common in the harp community. Soundboards are sometimes veneered to hide the fine horizontal cracks or “checks” that can develop in a solid soundboard over the life of an instrument. The checks may still occur, but they are invisible behind the veneer. Occasional checking can happen to any instrument with a solid soundboard — guitars, pianos, cellos and, of course, harps. They are rarely detrimental to an instrument’s voice, do not affect its longevity, and, if a client so wishes, they are very easy and quick to repair for cosmetic reasons.
Veneering a soundboard ALWAYS results in a loss of acoustic potential. You immediately sacrifice between 5% and 10% of a harp’s voice when you veneer over it. Because our primary focus is sound quality, we will not veneer our soundboards at Timothy Harps (until the day that Avalon Guitars begins to veneer the soundboards of their premium handmade guitars). Sound quality trumps a minor and easily repairable cosmetic issue, as far as I am concerned.