A beginner in harp and double-strung harps

Posted In: Mine' s a triple!

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    wil-weten on #211521

    The Stoney End double strung seems a little bit V-shaped indeed.
    I looked at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Double_harp2.jpg.

    This one looks like a real handy travel harp, though I would have preferred a whole octave below middle C instead of the G below the middle C as the lowest strings on this model.

    Biagio on #211563

    Wil answered the V question wrt the Stoney End. I personally do not like that approach either structurally or ergonomically and neither does Laurie.

    One harper that we both know has a Stoney End Lorraine which she has happily played for years. Recently she bought a Rees. When I saw her last summer she said she liked the Rees much better, both for the separate rows and for the tone.


    wil-weten on #211566

    Thanks, Biagio, would you elaborate a bit about the structural and ergonomical aspects of the two ways of designing a double strung harp?

    I tend to think the difference in sound between the two designs mentioned above may have partly (or perhaps even mainly?) to do with the fact that one manufacturer makes all of his harps in a budget friendly way, while the other builds only concert harps, with the exception of one insanely popular line of budget harps (the harpsicle line).

    By the way, a few years ago I almost bought a cross strung Stoney End Esabelle, as, at the time, it would give a lot of bang for the buck. Perhaps the same would be the case for their double strung harps.

    Biagio on #211567

    Ok…first, some history: Gary Stone has been around for a long time, since the seventies, and has pretty much stayed with his design approach of that time. “Budget harp” I think is a relative term, meaning to me “less expensive than more elegant appearance”.

    An ongoing argument among makers is whether a classic solid wood board sounds better than the modern high strength laminates – aka, Finnish Birch ply. I think most makers if they are honest would agree that in a full sized harp the solid wood board is preferable over time, but in smaller harps – not so much. So for purposes of this discussion we’ll use 3mm thick 5 ply laminate.

    Leaving that “elegance” debate aside, when Laurie and Liz Cifani approached their harp makers to design a double, Ms. Cifani’s designer was Gary and that’s the design he came up with. Laurie’s at the time was Steve Triplett, who decided on the two-rib wider course approach.

    Let’s talk about structure first. When you double the load on a beam (in this case the SB) it’s thickness should increase by about 40% to sustain the load at the same resistance to rupture. In this case, a 40% increase of a 3mm board, or 1.2mm. Not a whole heck of a lot. With the angled in approach that “added thickness” is compensated for in a fairly wide internal string rib and a reinforcing outer rib. By comparison, with the wider spacing approach you have two thinner ribs, no external rib, and that acoustic dead space between. But is it really “dead”?

    One of the double’s charms is that you get a lot of resonance from adjacent strings. So yeah, there’s not a lot of SB vibration going on between the rows but there is more sympathetic string vibration than with the “one wide rib angled in” approach. Like so much in harp design it is a trade-off and I prefer the latter.

    It would be even better if they also made the SB wider than a single, but they don’t for manufacturing convenience – it is easier to use the same jigs and fixtures constructed for a single and sacrifice a little volume.

    In point of fact, though, Dusty I know reduces the string tension a little in the lower mid anyway. I have not measured Rees but I’d bet they do too. Another trade-off: slightly lower volume without building an entirely new harp.

    Ergonomically, I would prefer to keep everything aligned on the same plane for my eyes and hands. I suppose one can get used to anything, but the less relearning my hands have to do the happier I am:-)


    • This reply was modified 3 years, 11 months ago by Biagio.
    wil-weten on #211580

    Thanks for your thoughtful elaboration, Biagio.

    Yes, indeed I meant ‘budget’ in the sense of ‘less expensive than more elegant appearance’.

    evolene_t on #211583

    Thank you both for your answers!

    I understand the tradeoffs that were made when building these harps.

    I am curious, though, Biagio, when you say that you do not like the “V”-type harps ergonomically. Would you care to expand a little bit on that?
    With the Dusty FH26, the gap between both rows means that there is an ajustement to make when going from the single to the double. Does it make playing easier?

    Biagio on #211584

    Evolene, I mean that on the Rees and Dusty, both hands will be eqidistant from the string row at every point vertically,as they would be on a single. Further, you cannot play PDLT when the strings angle in to the same point. Although you can achieve the same effect by playing up near the neck, of course.

    Which ever design one chooses, and I think from a player’s perspective it is entirely a personal decision, it will take a while to get accustomed to two rows. I’m not saying that one is intrinsically better, just what I prefer as a player, and believe makes more sense to me as a designer.

    goatberryfarm2010 on #212326

    This is an exciting topic for mme, as a beginner. I decided, immediately, on the harp & manufacturer & I truly believe the fascinating possibilities that are inherent in having two sets of strings that may be tuned differently, if one prefers, is the biggest advantage.
    When i order my harp from Stoney End, I’ll emphasize that I’m NOT a soprano & prefer a harp that has a rounder, warmer tone for singing alto/second soprano.
    Could someone recommend music theory classes? books or online (both would be good)
    I want to increase my knowledge base & get the theory before I’m able to get the harp.
    Additionally, what do older harpists do who have arthritis? What adaptations have you found helpful?

    wil-weten on #212327

    Hi Jennifer, as to harps with a warm tone, you may prefer walnut or cherry. Mahogany is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between warm and bright, and maple is the brightest of the woods. There are more kinds of woods, all having their special sounds and you may like to research what you like in sound and looks.
    As to ’rounder’ tones, though wood does make a bit of a difference, the way the harp is built, is even more important. To begin with, I get the impression that the larger the sound box, the richer the tone. Also, the sound ideal of the harp builder does make quite a difference: does he prefer hearing ground tones with few harmonices, or does he want ground tones with a lot of harmonic?
    And then, every single piece of wood is unique.
    Shortly, there is so much that goes into the sound of a harp that you really want to try before you buy.

    I love Sylvia Woods’ Music Theory and Arranging for the Folk Harp. It’s easy to understand and there are lots and lots of tunes to directly apply what you have just learnt.

    If I was to start the harp now, I would begin with Pamela Bruner’s Play the Harp beautifully, Vol. I. No need to do music theory before you start the harp. Learn them together.

    Edit: as you are thinking of buying a double harp, there may be other harp books more suitable for you to start with than the ones I mentioned above.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by wil-weten.
    Biagio on #212336

    We have covered strings and wood used for the frame and Wil’s remarks are all helpful. But how about the soundboard? We often say that strings are the heart of the harp and the board is it’s soul.

    A harp get’s part of it’s distinctive sound from the board. Dustys are known for a bright crisp sound in the treble to lower mid – part of that is because they use mahogany in the upper 3 1/2 octaves and Sitka spruce for the lower octaves.

    Rees harps are known for a smooth transition and mellow tone: they use a species of poplar.

    Boulding’s harps (Magical Strings) have a big bold sound but are somewhat lacking in subtle overtones; the SB is high density birch laminate. The R harps do also and some people feel that they lack “color”.

    Smaller harps – 3 1/2 octaves or fewer – may benefit over time from from a solid wood board, but many makers think it is not enough to justify the greater expense over high density laminate.

    All interesting things to consider and nice to listen to sound samples too. But remember as well, how the harp sounds in a professional’s hands may not be what it sounds like in yours.

    Try first, then buy!


    wil-weten on #212346

    Agree with Biagio. As to sound samples, try to hear samples which are made in the same space. The acoustics of a space can make quite a lot of difference to the sound of a harp.
    A few weeks ago, I had to (temporarily) remove the curtains of my living room and put some furniture elsewhere. The influence on the sound of my harp was remarkable: it was significantly more lively than is normally the case.

    Elettaria on #213979

    Evolene, I’m thrilled to hear about the harp you’re renting! How are you getting along with it? I hear bubinga Dusty harps are amazing.

    Biagio and Wil, thank you for the detailed discussion of one vs. two internal string ribs, which I have copied into my notes. Two string ribs it is, then.

    evolene_t on #213986

    Elettaria, indeed, I continue to enjoy that Double-Strung very much! I’m thinking about buying it out soon.

    At the moment I’m working on a breton piece that has a lot of arpeggios. On the one hand, having those deep chords sound very nice ; but on the other hand, I’m also able to play the whole piece on the double 2×26 Strings whereas it would have been impossible on a single strung 26.

    That said, I do plan on lowering the strings on the left-hand row, from C to A perhaps, for a few pieces. I had a chat with the seller who said that was definitely doable, and then tried it out.
    It definitely sounds great, and enables me to « win » two more strings at the bottom and a couple on the top (right-hand side, and I’m keeping the left-hand higher Strings as they are), but I reversed back to the usual pitch because I was getting mixed up with the string colours.
    I really love that versatility and the options it enables!

    evolene_t on #213988

    As an aside, and because that seems to be a worry for people starting the double-strung : I truly have never had a problem with double vision.
    Sure, there are two rows : but because of the gap and the fact that they are perfectly parallel, I find it very straightforward to distinguish the right and left hand-sides.

    By the way, my harp teacher – who is of course an advanced player – had fun with my Dusty and she also had no problem adapting to it, in a matter of minutes, not weeks!

    My initial observation still stands, however : compared to both the Camac 34 Strings harp I am also renting, and the Salvi 40 Strings harp that belongs to my teacher, the FH26 Double has strings closer together. For example, when playing an arpeggio from C to C, I need to use (and stretch) my thumb and fourth/ring finger (1 and 4) on the floor harps, while I can almost play with thumb and middle finger (1 and 3) on the FH26.
    This can of course be explained by the aim of making the FH26 as small as possible, and makes for comfortable playing.

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