A harmonium can last for decades with proper care. Following are the simple steps to remember as you enjoy your instrument.
- Always store your harmonium in a climate-controlled place. Especially here in the Arizona desert, this is vital to the well-being of your instrument. Never store your instrument in direct sunlight or under a heating or cooling vent.
Never leave your harmonium in your car, especially when the temperatures inside your car can reach more than about 85˚ or lower than 60˚. The high heat can permanently warp and damage wooden parts and also can bubble the finish on the instrument. Very cold temperatures can cause the wood to contract, which can also be problematic. Take your instrument inside instead of leaving it in the car.
I have seen tremendous damage to harmoniums left in cars. I have also seen harmoniums that have been left in garages or places with no climate control become un-salvageable.
- If possible, store your harmonium in 40% – 60% humidity. Everyone does not have humidity controlled environment, and it is not essential, but if you have the choice, it is optimal. If you have live plants in the room in which you store your harmonium it will tend to create a better humidity level.
- Most harmoniums go through a great adjustment within about four weeks of arriving in the desert climate. It is not unusual for the wood to dry out and certain moving parts may need a little tweaking. If keys stick, if it seems a little lackluster when you play, it seems like it is not holding air properly, or any other oddity, bring it in for a check up. These things are usually quick and easy to fix.
- Be aware that when the seasons change in the desert, your harmonium may need a little extra care as well. Notice if any notes lose their tune, if keys either stick or wiggle too much, if the instrument has trouble holding air and sustaining a note. These are signs that some repair is necessary.
- Never pump your harmonium without having at least one stop open and one key depressed. The air in the chambers needs to have an outlet when you pump. Otherwise, it can cause undue stress on the bellows.
- Always cover your harmonium with a cloth or cover when you are not playing. Dust is one of the greatest enemies for a harmonium. Dust can filter down into the reeds and create major problems, including broken or cracked reeds.
- Always close the bellows when you are finished playing your harmonium. Push in the stops and drones, then cover your instrument. This will mitigate the possibility of bent stops and drones and keep the bellows from accumulating the dust and debris that can cause degradation.
- It is best to carry your harmonium with the bellows side against you body: bellows to your belly. This alleviates pressure on the edge of the key caps, which can loosen and fall off. Also, if you have not closed the drones and stops, they can bend and distort if you carry your instrument facing your belly. It is fine to pick up your instrument using the side handles, but it is better to carry it by the bottom. It is not uncommon for handles to break.
- If your harmonium has an octave coupler, never engage the coupler while you are playing. If it has a key-changer, do not attempt to engage it while playing. Stop playing first and then engage the coupler or key-changer.
- About once every six months or so, lightly rub the wooden exterior with a high quality natural wood conditioner and a soft cloth. I like using Feed N’ Wax, a combination of bees’ wax and orange oil found at Home Depot.
- Have your harmonium serviced whenever a problem arises. Buzzing reeds and keys that stick are not uncommon problems. It is important to take care of them so that they do not cause further problems.
You may also find that your harmonium stops retaining air, meaning that as soon as you stop pumping the instrument, the sound immediately stops. You may find that a particular note may go out of tune. These are all usually easy things to fix.
Reeds are very delicate and I do not recommend that you attempt tuning or attempting to repair them unless you have been well-trained to do so. They are very easy to break.
- I recommend that you service your instrument about once a year. A general service includes checking the tuning, checking all air seals, conditioning the bellows, and checking all moving parts.