A beginner in harp and double-strung harps

Posted In: Mine' s a triple!

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    Elettaria on #206781

    I found someone in England making double strung harps!  Simon Capp, making medieval-style 20 string harps with two rows of strings tuned the same.  Any use?  He may well make other types of harp that way.

    evolene_t on #206967

    Thank you Elletaria for the link to Simon Capp : however, i tend to be wary since he talks of “arpa doble” : since the double-strung is, as noted earlier, not yet well-know, I’m afraid this could be a cross-strung harp instead. This is often what I find, sold as “double harps”.

    The price range though is very affordable so I’ll look into that and keep you informed 🙂

    Biagio on #206983

    The harps of this sort are very loosely strung and, as you will notice, with bray pins (so called because the sound is “like the braying of a donkey”).

    This sort may be what Evolene’s teacher was thinking about – they are instruments for the (rather limited) group of musicians specializing in medieval music.


    evolene_t on #206985

    Indeed Biagio, I think you are right and this is what my teacher was referring to! She admitted herself not knowing much about double-strung harps as they were, in her eye, only for those who wishes to specialise in Medieval music. The told me that she could refer me to a teacher that does seminars in France, but, again, these harps are too “loose” in her eyes.

    There are a lot of people in France that specialise in medieval culture (I think in the US you have “Renaissance Fairs” though they don’t relate to the same time period).
    But if one wishes to play “standard harps”, either classical pedal harps, or smaller celtic ones, it is much harder to find a harp that deviates from the models already in place. Then again, playing the harp is in itself rather a niche instrument (unlike guitar or piano), so that explains why.

    evolene_t on #209391

    Hello all!
    I am posting an excited update to this post : I have been able to find what was probably the only double-strung harp in France.
    The seller was Le Magasin de la Harpe (or Harpe Budin, from the name of the owner).
    They are actually resellers of Dusty String harps as well has Camac, Salvi and
    other brands, and are very well known in France.
    They had a single model, just arrived, of the FH26 double-strung by Dusty String, that I rushed to try out.
    I love the model, and am currently renting it with possibility of buying out the harp if I’m pleased with it.

    After we signed the contract, ( => he was just chitchatting, not trying to push the sale) the seller told me there were a few people that had been very interested, including someone that very morning, but that I was the only one that went out to rent it straight off. Since they don’t plan on ordering another model soon, any further sale would have to be custom.
    He was quite surprised to see that a few people were interested : he himself seemed bewildered by the thing, telling me it might serve to play jazz…

    He was very open however, when we chatted a little bit. He saw all of the opportunities that the double-strung offered. That very harp has apparently been rented out by a long-time harp player, who liked the concept but gave it back as he wasn’t sold by it and found it too confusing, too “new”.

    As for me, I have yet to spend a few hours on it and tell you how I feel about it.

    In the meanwhile, if anyone has tried this double-strung, I would love to read a write-up/debriefing. Especially if you have tried out other double-strung harps 🙂

    Thank you all!

    wil-weten on #209399

    Hi Evolène, nice to hear you just discovered and rented the double strung Dusty FH26.

    Would you please tell us your experiences with this special harp in the next few months? Will you keep it? Do you like it, but would you prefer it in another kind of wood?

    I understand the harp you rented now, has been rented before, so it will have been played in, I guess.

    I was interested once until I found out that the total string tension of the double is about the same as of the single strung harp it was originally designed for.
    So, I wonder about the tension of the strings and how it sounds in comparison to a single row Dusty 26 string harp. Yes, the double harp is still intriguing me as well.

    Congratulations on your new harping adventure!

    Biagio on #209413

    Ok, here you are…I’ve played both the Dusty and Rees doubles as well as having made two models myself. First a word on acclimatizing your eyes and so on:
    -It took me a week or two getting used to seeing two strings where I was used to seeing one. However, just like a single, when your hand position and placement is good this becomes less of an issue. Flipping levers on the RH side also requires hand rather than eye motion: place the finger on the string for the flip and then slide it up to the lever. No big deal.

    -As for tension: some makers, like Dusty, will use essentially the same body and SB as their single, so they lighten the tension somewhat – others will design for the double specifically. I calculated the tension of the FH2x26 – most of the difference is in the last four strings and is not noticeably lighter than on the single. Only your fingers will know for sure whether this makes any difference to you.

    Wil wrote: “I was interested once until I found out that the total string tension of the double is about the same as of the single strung harp it was originally designed for.” I think there is some verbal confusion here. The total tension PER ROW is slightly less than on a single; by about 50 lbs. if I recall (out of 675 or 7.5%). One should realize as well that a double has two internal string ribs, so it is not necessary to reduce tension per string very much, if at all.

    -One thing not readily appreciated: there is more sympathetic vibration on a double so when you strike a string on one side the other will ring as well, which augments (enhances) the tone.

    Have fun!

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    evolene_t on #209419

    Hello all,

    Thank you for you replies and your interest. I am, of course, still getting used to the harp. Tuning it takes quite a bit of time (there are “forty-twelve strings”, after all, like my boyfriend says). Since it is almost new, the last few strings slide out of note rather quickly, but the rest holds up.
    Like you said, Wil-Weten, it had apparently been rented before but it still very much feels like a brand new harp. I think the previous owner only kept it for a couple of months.

    I actually still have the Camac Hermine 34 strings that my teacher is renting me (I’ll try to include pictures in my message) :
    Camac Hermine

    This enables me to give you a true side-by-side comparison. I’ll also try to remember how it was with the first harp I rented, a Camac Bardic 27 strings of the “troubadour” type.
    Camac Bardic

    And, of course, this is the model I have :
    Dusty String FH26 Double

    String tension and sound :

    First, my main fear was soothed : as you know, my teacher told me double harps have very loose strings, hard to play with. I can safely say, with the Camac Hermine by its side, that the string tension is the same (for the mid- and upper strings, of course) for both harps. There’s a relief! (And also the reason I needed to try it out in the shop).

    Both harps have nylon strings, that are more flexible that the gut strings with which my teacher plays. Of course, nylon and gut have two different sounds but I’m always very pleasantly surprised with nylon : I expect a “plastic” sound and yet it always makes me shiver with pleasure.

    The sound is, indeed, very nice on the Dusty Double : a very clear sound.


    Now, of course the most apparent difference is with the size of the harps : the Camac Hermine truly is a “harpe de salon“, an instrument that you expose in a living-room and move around of. A good part of what attracted me towards the double-strung is the possibility to have a harp that can be carried around (ex : to play outside in the woods) whilst not sacrificing range.
    And this is definitely true : now, I have carried it from the shop back home, and although the bag-case it very well-made, I don’t think I can go hiking with the harp 😉 Like the Camac Bardic 27, it starts weighing after a while.

    The small size of this Dusty harp also makes it strangely cute : men in my house themselves have used the term (and that’s not a common thing for them to say :-D).
    Plus, I really love the deep wood colour. So overall, the appearance is definitely striking.

    String spacing :

    That was the next things that hit me when I started playing : I thought I was still trying to find the strings “through” the other row, but it turns out that what confused me was actually the fact that the strings are closer together. In fact I wouldn’t recommend this harp for someone with big hands.
    To give you an idea, playing with the Camac Hermine, I sometimes have trouble playing arpeggios, especially with my left hand, and specifically with the 4th finger. The strings seem just a tiny bit too far apart. I’ve not once had this issue with the Dusty!

    Seeing the strings

    Like you say, Biagio, two rows of strings presents a new challenge. I had already braced myself for the difficulty of seeing through two rows. The left hand plays fine, but for the right hand I have to compose with various things
    – First, playing “higher up” or closer to my shoulder, since this is a smaller harp
    – Not being able to perceive the strings as well. I try to rely on the colours, by just focusing on one colour-string ; and I also try to play less with my eyes and more in the “feeling”. I was aiming for that anyhow. After all, the trope of the Blind Bard playing his celtic harp is a strong one. You don’t need to actually see if you know what your hands are doing.
    – The separation : obviously, there is a gap between the left and the right hand. They don’t play on the same plane. That still takes a little while.

    However, I was expecting it to be blurry. The testimonies I could read here and there all said that people found it very hard to focus. This was actually a problem for me when I moved from the Camac Bardic to the Camac Hermine (again, the string spacing probably plays a role there). But the strings are not blurry ; they’re just “not quite there, oops”. I’m confident I’ll get over it quite fast.

    The Sound

    One element that definitely surprises me is the sound that little harp can bring forth. Is it just, like Biagio said, that the strings ring in unison?
    I think the soundbox plays a lot there, and I had read some time ago on the Dusty String forum that the FH26, when in walnut, has a very deep sound.
    I just checked the Dusty String website : the harp I am renting is in Bubinga, I believe? The soundboard, as you can see pictured above, is in wood of a lighter colour.
    Anyhow, I am having fun comparing the loudest sound I can bring out of the Camac and the Dusty and I can definitely say they are almost equivalent (perhaps the Dusty is a bit quieter on the lower strings, but it is hard to tell).

    So, if I compare to the “troubadour” Camac Bardic 27 strings, this Dusty Double plays louder.

    The comfort

    Now, one of the reason my teacher had me move quickly from the Camac Bardic to the Camac Hermine was because of posture : she wanted me to learn the correct posture at the harp, fearing that a smaller harp would make me hunch over.
    Another issue was that on a floor harp, the right hand rests comfortably on the harp and you only have to hold up the left arm. But on smaller harps, one can’t rest the forearm as easily.
    Now, those issues are neither specific to double-strung harps, not to this Dusty String in any way. I’m just commenting on the differences.

    One thing that is linked to this harp, though, is the small issue I’ve encountered with the edge of the harp that rests on my shoulder. Compared to the Camac Hermine, which is rounded, this one has a small angle which can be felt on the clavicle/collarbone. Wood against bone, although not exactly painful, doesn’t feel that great. Anyone have this issue?
    I’ll take the time needed to get used to it ad update you in a few weeks or months, about that.

    So now I’ve “troubleshooted” the harp, all there’s left is to practice, practice practice!
    I’ll show the harp at the end of the week to my teacher, and will be very interested in what she has to say.

    Thank you all, again!

    Biagio on #209420

    On the comfort issue:

    -First, one should not rest the wrist on the harp’s side. Touching it lightly is OK, but actually resting it there is a good way to injure both nerves and tendons.

    -Second, a pedal harp is designed to be balanced when tipped back; lever harps are not. A lever harp’s knee should not rest on your shoulder; rather, rest the harp against your inner thigh. At most it should just lightly touch the shoulder.

    I don’t know if this is the case with your teacher, but I have observed that some whose total experience has been with pedal harps or pre-pedal ones have some misconceptions about the lever harp. This is understandable, but can lead to difficulties. For one example aside from posture, since the nylon lever harps strings are more elastic, playing with the same force as on gut may lead to poor tone and even injury EVEN IF THE STATIC TENSIONS ARE THE SAME.

    To quote Marta Cook: “Adjust the harp to your body, not the other way around.”

    On volume: the double is wider than the single and while that does not give more effective vibrating surface to the SB (the area between rows is acoustically muted) it does make for a larger acoustic chamber.

    On wood: yep that is bubinga. Dusty does not reinforce the neck on their doubles (I asked Ray to be sure), and they feel that walnut would not be sting enough to support the doubled tension. Hence your choices of bubinga, maple, or cherry.

    On tuning: haha, same as with a wire strung – tune one string and the adjacent ones go out, until the harp has stabilized. Just keep at it and it will hold tune after a little while.


    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by Biagio.
    evolene_t on #209431

    Thank you again Biagio for all of these informations.
    So it is bubinga wood : interesting, I’ve never hear of it. I looked up the term in french and it doesn’t come up (it says on the Dusty String website that some countries have an issue with it at customs, because it is rare, exotic wood). Very interesting!

    I’ll keep you updated about my journey with the double-strung. Right now, I’m loving it 🙂

    wil-weten on #209493

    Hi Evolène thanks for sharing your first impressions.

    Hi Biagio, I compared the string chart for the one row 26 strung harp at http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/harps/strings/fh26-allegro-26-or-ravenna-26 with the two row 26 strung harp at http://manufacturing.dustystrings.com/harps/strings/fh26-double-strung. So, while the tension per string is in my eyes significant lighter on the double than on the single row string, which may be audible especially on the lower strings, the total string tension on the double is a lot higher than on the single. So, I was mistaken (and probably thought of a double harp of another manufacturer). Thanks for your correction!

    According to the Dutch Wikipedia, Bubinga is wood made of Guibourtia demeusei or Guibourtia tessmannii, trees from Middle or West-Africa. Another name would be: Kevazingo. Perhaps these names sound more familiar in French? I haven’t got a clue, though. The name ‘Bubinga’ as well as the official name of the wood is rather unknown in the Netherlands as well.

    Evolène, I am looking forward to your updates!

    Biagio on #209496

    Wil, ha ha yes; as I wrote, Dusty chose to lighten the string tension somewhat from that on their single. Ray and Sue are fairly conservative and also pretty canny. From a manufacturing view, it would make more sense to keep the double close to the same specs as the single – no extra strengthening such as braces or neck reinforcement – and just reduce the load a bit. I have to say, with considerable respect for the folks over there, that I personally would rather have higher tension but of course that would mean a greater expense. I’d also prefer zither pegs to through pegs but you can’t have everything. Well maybe one can, but now we’re getting into a custom design. Oh well:-)

    Evolene, I forgot to mention this – now that you have your double, I suggest that you watch Laurie Riley’s Introduction to the Doulbe” on Youtue – and perhaps even order the book(s) and DVD. Both great!

    Blessings all,

    evolene_t on #209499

    Hello again!

    I’m back for an update on the new harp.

    To answer you guys in disorder :
    – No, I’ve never heard of the other names of bubinga. Then again, I’m not a specialist in wood types.

    – Concerning the Laurie Riley video, it would be better to say that I’m re-re-re-re-watching it in full. I’m always amazed at how easy to understand it is. Plus, I’ve shown the part where Laurie plays a melody on a single-strung, then on the double-strung, showing the possibilities, to many people.

    On a more general note :

    The harp still need tuning once or twice a day, and the 3 last strings are consistently lower than the others by the same notes. Nothing to be concerned about, the harp still feels so new.

    Today, the big event was my first lesson with my teacher who came by my house to see the harp directly for herself. Because of the holidays, we did an especially long lesson and a lot of time was spent just talking about the possibilities of the harp and her trying it out. She’ll recommend a friend of hers specialized in medieval music, that plays the type of harp Simon Capp (seen above) designs. She had trained for a while on this style but favored the “normal” Celtic harps in the end.
    Anyhow, she felt renting this harp was a great idea and opportunity. And BTW, it also was the first time that she played with this kind of double-harp.

    Again, this is a typically American model, from what I understand : from the people who ordered it (Riley and Kollé?) to the makers (Stoney End, Ree’s and Dusty Strings). That’s a market that the French haven’t explored, apparently.

    As confirmed, tension is great, the sound is beautiful (we both agree) and the soundbox is loud and strong.
    My teacher was surprised at how far-spaced the two row of strings were from one another (about 5cm – 2 inches), which makes it confusing to the eye. However, the spacing between the strings are standard, even if they are less wide than the Camac’s.

    Playing for me is getting smoother and smoother. Of course, I’m not advanced to begin with, so it’s easier to reach my beginner lever on a different harp.
    As well as Laurie Riley, I’m steadily following Carolyn Deal/Smilingharp’s YouTube videos. Now, I’ve only had the harp for 3 days, and with work I’m practicing slowly.
    At the moment, I’ve only gone through Waterfalls, Cascades, and starting on 1-5-8´s (for those who saw the videos and know what I’m referring to). It’s still clunky but I’m truly enjoying myself.

    The next step will be to buy Laurie Riley and Beth Kollé’s books about the Double-Strung, but I’m taking it one step at a time. Too much of a good thing…
    On the other hand, I’ll be buried in work in September and October so I’m just enjoying myself now.

    So that’s it for this time! I’ll keep you updated when I can 🙂

    Biagio on #209511

    That’s great of you to keep us updated Evolene!

    A little historical background which may interest you and your teacher…the modern double strung harp was conceived in 1990 by Laurie Riley and Elizabeth Cifani, who approached their respective designers – Steve Triplett and Gary Stone. [side note: Triplett no longer makes doubles, Gary does]. There is some discussion still about whether the strings are better angled in to a single string rib (Stoney End’s design) or more widely spaced with two ribs as with Dusty, Rees and others.

    The relative newness of the modern double perhaps explains in part why there are few makers and players as yet; usually they will only be made when someone orders one. Technically, a double is actually easier to make than a single since there is no lateral torque at the neck-pillar and neck-body joints. It does seem that interest is increasing recently; I see more and more people with small doubles as travel instruments. As of now, only Blevins and Rees make a 3 octave double, aside from individual crafts people.

    Happy harping!

    evolene_t on #211512

    Hello Biagio!

    This is a late answer to your last post, but you’ve mentioned a point that I’ve been wondering about recently.
    I had not realized that while the FH26 Harp has two parallel row of strings, separated by a little gap, the Stoney End models have the Strings coming out of the same rib in the soundboard.

    Does this mean that the strings are V shaped?

    You’re saying that there is discussion ongoing as to which is better : what is your personnal opinion? You’ve apparently tried out a lot of models. Is one easier to play than the other? How are they different?
    Anyone else have tried out both?

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