In Pursuit of Perfection

Alison Reese is Editor of Harp Column.

Alison Reese is Editor of Harp Column.

The quest to find the perfect harp gets a little easier.

The harp buying process is ripe for analogies.

Choosing a new harp is like choosing a spouse—you want to make the right decision because you will have to live with it for a very, very long time.
Finding the right harp is like finding the right pair of jeans—what fits you best may not fit your friend.

A harp is like a teenager—you want to find one that speaks to you.
Okay, that last one may be a stretch, but while there might be some truth in the analogies, buying a new harp is really an experience beyond comparison.

Back when my family decided it was time to look for a harp to buy, my teacher insisted we make a trip to Chicago. So one hot June morning we made the nearly four-hour trek to the big city to visit Venus and Lyon & Healy. All I could think about during the trip was how uncomfortable I was in tights and dress clothes on the interminable drive. Hey, I was 11 years old, what can I say?

If ever there was any shred of doubt about why you pay thousands of dollars for a harp, a tour of any harp factory will squelch them soundly. When we walked into the first factory, the smell of freshly cut wood wafted over us as I gazed in awe at the rows of soundboxes, necks, and soundboards hanging from the ceiling like huge slabs of meat in a butcher’s freezer. I think I walked the entire tour with my mouth agape.

We grabbed a polish sausage for lunch and headed  over to the second factory. Mind blown again. The guys in the factory that make these harps were like characters out of a novel—their hands were dirty and worn, their accents were thick, and their craftsmanship was second to none.

A lot has changed in the harp-buying process since then—most notably availability, selection, and accessibility. Finding a harp you want doesn’t necessarily mean a cross-country pilgrimage or a trans-Atlantic flight anymore. Harp retail shops dot the country from coast to coast, giving harpists opportunities to shop closer to home without the pressure of having to make a decision after one trip to the factory. And it’s good thing we don’t have to feel rushed because there is so much more out there than there was a generation ago. Twenty-five years ago you could have written down the list of available harp models on a cocktail napkin. Today the selection of different models has exploded—petite harps, semi-grands, acoustic-electric—there is really something for everyone. Looking for a lever harp? The choices are even more dizzying! Thankfully technology has developed right along with selection, so it is easier than ever for a harpist to peruse different models on the Web, and listen to soundclips online, and maybe even watch a video of the the harp they want on YouTube.

So what does this all mean? Where are you supposed to begin if you want to buy a harp? We’ve got a simple answer to that question: page 30.

We’ve devoted 12 pages to our first harp buying guide, “Finding the Harp” on pg. 30. We’ll walk you through the process of finding the best harp for you—where to look, what to listen for, and how to make a well-informed decision. We won’t tell you which harp to buy or how you’re going to pay for it, but I think our experts lay out some excellent advice that should point you in the right direction. But that’s not all! We’ve also pulled together the specs on nearly every pedal and lever harp being manufactured and available in the U.S. today. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new harp, it’s sure fun to look.

So go take a look around—maybe grab a polish sausage if you get hungry from all the shopping.•

Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. E-mail her at


About Author

Editor of Harp Column, freelance harpist, private teacher, hot yoga lover, and grammar geek.

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