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A different approach to building a pedal harp

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  • #72265
    mike-c
    Participant

    This question is for anyone who builds or rebuilds pedal harps.

    I was looking at pictures of the pedal action assembly for the first time and, just as I had heard, it was incredibly complex. I was wondering what proportion of a harp’s cost lies in this action ? Equivalently stated: How much cheaper would a harp be if it somehow required no action at all ?

    I thought I heard of a harp that does this but I’m not sure: can the rods be replaced with cables like the brakes on a bicycle or even hydraulic tubes like a bike ? Then the mechanics of the rods would be easier to link together, because routing cables or tubes is easier (I would think) than a rigid 6-foot + linkage.

    I had also wondered about replacing the rods altogether with a servo. To those who don’t know, a servo is like a motor but instead of spinning around it just moves a short distance and back, like a windshield wiper. This idea would be tough because they would have to be silent so as not to interfere with the music, but if you were determined, it could work. Also, this would require electricity which presents its own set of challenges, but it may allow a much simpler design which could lower costs. So you would press the pedal which would just send a message down a wire to the neck which would then activate the levers.

    The reason I’m thinking about these things is that I’d like to know what could be done to bring the cost of harps down so that more people can play them, especially young people who have no jobs or money. I’m not very good at building “things”, but I build software for a living so I often think outside the (sound)box and wonder how designs can be improved. Does anyone have any insight into these what-ifs ?

    #72266
    mike-c
    Participant

    oops up above I meant to say “like the hydraulic tubes of a brake system of a car”.

    #72267
    kreig-kitts
    Member

    Camac pedal harps use aircraft cables instead of rods, but I don’t think there’s a substantial cost savings there, not compared to

    #72268
    barbara-brundage
    Participant

    Camac experimented for a long time with trying to build a computer controlled harp using a hydraulic system, but I believe they found that there just wasn’t anything that responded quickly enough.

    #72269
    barbara-brundage
    Participant

    >When you think of how it works, transferring movement from the feet up the column along a chain to simultaneously turn several discs, it’s actually brilliantly simple in light of the complex job it does.

    I’d have to agree with you, Kreig.

    Mike C, I’d point out that there are many harps without a pedal mechanism: lever harps, celtic harps, paraguayan harps, medieval harps, baroque harps, triple harps, etc., and their prices vary from a few hundred dollars to the same price range as a pedal harp, depending on the maker and the woodworking involved.

    It is possible these days to buy a small harp for a couple of hundred bucks if you don’t care about levers or pedals or a lot of range (see harpsicleharps.com, for example), so there are a lot of options already out there. It’s never been cheaper to get started than it is now.

    If you mean you want to build a harp without pedals that looks like a pedal harp, see the Camac Mademoiselle, the Lyon and Healy Prelude, Salvi Ana, Webster harps, Pratt harps, etc. There’s a limit to how cheaply this kind of a harp can be built, however, because the harp must be constructed both to sound good and to stand up to a LOT of tension from the strings. I don’t think you can expect to make a decent harp for much less than these makers charge.

    #72270
    barbara-brundage
    Participant

    Oops:

    >I don’t think you can expect to make a decent harp for much less than these makers charge.

    Should have read:

    I don’t think you can expect to make a decent harp of this type for much less than these makers charge.

    #72271
    John McK
    Participant

    It seems that the logical end result of refining or redesigning a mechanical action is the electroharp. Basically you get a synthesizer with harp strings as the controls. If you remove the soundbox and make a purely electronic instrument, you can raise and lower the pitch to your heart’s content digitally. Heck, throw on a wah pedal and a whammy bar while you’re at it.

    – Actually once I did run a lever harp through a guitar effects pedal. The results were. . .

    #72272
    Tacye
    Participant

    Pilgrim’s Progress harp comes with or without pedals- same tension and styling.

    #72273
    tony-morosco
    Member

    Actually what you are describing is a MIDI harp. There are a few makers who make MIDI harps in something closer to a lever harp form (Mountain Glenn and Kortier come to mind), and as mentioned Camac has made a workable MIDI Pedal Harp (although I believe it is not in general production).

    The electroharp is something different. Several makers make electro harps, including Camac, Lyon and Healy, Kortier and Mountain Glenn, and a couple other makers. An electroharp is more like the harp version of a solid body guitar. No sound box. They use crystal pickups that are pressure sensitive to detect the vibration of the strings and convert them to electric signals that get run through an amplifier to be heard.

    The differences between the two are, an electroharp still requires the use of a standard pitch changing system, either pedals, or levers, since like an electric guitar, the actual rate of vibration of the string determines the pitch produced. With a MIDI harp the string vibrating is a trigger, and transmits information about things like duration, dynamics, etc… but the actual sound is produced by a sound module of some kind and so the pitch is independent from the actual tuning of the string. Raising the pitch is a matter of signaling the sound module to play a different recorded pitch when the string is played.

    A wah pedal or whammy bar wouldn’t work with a MIDI instrument. The whammy bar works by loosening and tightening the string, and since the tuning of the strings is irrelevant to the sound produced by a MIDI instrument a whammy bar wouldn’t work.

    A guitar effects pedal works by manipulating the electric signal produced by an electric instrument. It works with an electric instrument, but not a MIDI instrument. MIDI instruments can mimic these effects, but that is done thorough a sound plug-in at the sound module and not by an actual effects pedal.

    Think of it this way. An electric instrument still produces the vibrations that get converted to sound, they just take it through the additional steps of converting the vibrations to electric signals and then back to sound.

    A MIDI instrument is just a triggering device. The sounds produced are triggered by it, but they are actually produced by a computer that holds pre-recorded sound samples that it plays.

    That is why a MIDI instrument can look like anything (a harp, a recorder, a guitar, a keyboard…) and produce a sound like any other instruments or even non instruments (Jingle Bells barked by dogs for example). In fact they can do things other than just produce sounds. Play a specific string or key and instead of it playing a sound it can control a light (or do both at the same time). That’s why they are called MIDI controllers. They control other things. Most often a sound module, but they can control other things as well.

    There is video on youtube of the Camac MIDI pedal harp being played here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOObcnzN_oI
    And of the Kortier MIDI harp being played here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ct6YMfjMHM

    To see an electric harp check out Alan Stivell (who is pretty much one of the Godfathers of the electric harp) here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z593IhlhR4s
    And Deborah Henson-Conant here playing an electroharp with guitar effects pedals:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYGaxdxcuMY&playnext=1&list=PLD150535E92D37D07&index=9

    These are just examples to demonstrate the difference between a MIDI harp and an electroharp.

    #72274
    kreig-kitts
    Member

    If the sound becomes too far removed from the physical instrument, as I’d accuse a MIDI harp of, I think you might as well just use a keyboard. I once was at an outdoor concert with a harpist using an amp to sound just like an electric piano to play and sing r&b, and the whole time I thought “If you’d just brought a keyboard, you’d sound the same and wouldn’t have needed a van for this gig.” Except I suppose “mediocre R&B keyboard” doesn’t sound nearly as good in the press kit as “R&B electric harpist.”

    #72275
    tony-morosco
    Member

    Well, that’s all well and good IF you happen to play keyboard. Not every harpist can play piano too.

    That is one of the reasons they make different kinds of controllers. If you play piano you can use a midi keyboard controller. If you play guitar you can use a guitar equipped with a Rolland system. If you play a wind instrument you can use a wind controller.

    You don’t have to relearn how to play in order to use MIDI.

    I can mess around on piano a bit, but I can’t play piano anywhere near as well as harp. If I am going to play using MIDI why would I want to have to spend the time and effort to learn to play keyboard better when I can already play what I need on a harp controller?

    #72276
    bernhard-schmidt
    Participant

    #72277
    tony-morosco
    Member

    Interesting. So how does the pitch recognition work on yours and the Camac? Does it read the exact pitch the string is vibrating at?

    #72278
    bernhard-schmidt
    Participant

    Tony,

    yes, the string vibration frequency is exactly dedected

    This is done permanently (several thousend times per sec)

    #72279
    bernhard-schmidt
    Participant

    For security I like to say, that English is not my native language. So I’m sorry for misstakes by writing. I really would like to have a

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