I’m a french hornist myself! Not professional yet though – I’m still in music college. =) I’ve recently started learning the harp and I love it! I used to play the piano but switched over to french horn as my principal instrument when I was 18.
I understand exactly what you mean and know all about the many ‘pains’ that come with being a french hornist. I do find playing the harp relaxing. I know how fustrating the horn can be sometimes, some days everything just feels wrong and no matter what you do your breathing feels wrong/you feel tense/keep splitting notes when you don’t normally….
I’m in UK and my harp is the Clarsach model by Pilgrim. The only other brand I’ve tried is Aoyama. Are you looking for a lever harp? Lever or pedal, I think with such good brands like Lyon and Healy, Carmac etc. you can’t go wrong. I think the best thing to do is go to the harp centre and try all the harps they have available, and you’ll be able to tell which one feels/sounds right. Pilgrim makes 3 models of lever harps, the clarsach, ashdown and the progress. The clarsach is at concert tension and spacing, while the ashdown is of lighter tension. As I’ve been playing the piano for years my fingers already have strength and dexterity, so I don’t find it difficult playing at concert harp tension. I’ve read that concert tension and gut strings give a mellower tone, while lighter tension and nylon strings have a brighter sound. So it’s really up to you. Personally I love my Pilgrim clarsach, the tone is so beautiful and it really sings. I think Pilgrim isn’t as popular in the US since it is a workshop in Surrey, UK. But I’ve been to their workshop and I know that my Pilgrim harp is one of the most well made harps available. Derek Bell of the Chieftains plays on clarsachs made by Pilgrim. =)
I think the best thing is still to go and try all the harps you can possibly get your hands on until you find one that ‘fits’, that speaks to you, much like buying a horn – there can be 10 horns of the same make and model but all of them will respond differently. All the best in your search and happy harping! =)