A question to the pedal harpist…

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    Loonatik on #193136

    I’m wondering…

    Do you (pedal) harpists also own and play the lever harp at the same time? There’s a workshop to build my own harp and I’m wondering if it make sense at all to do it, and end up with a lever harp. Will I ever play it? If so, would I still enjoy playing a harp with less strings? 28 or 36 strings should I get?

    What do you think?

    Gretchen Cover on #193137

    I think if I built my own harp I would play it. I would go for 36 strings. Folk music, some rock music and Celtic music work best on a lever harp. Ultimately, you will have to answer your own question. Ask yourself if you want another mouth to feed – your lever harp will need the same care as a pedal harp. There just won’t be as many strings to change. When I could not afford a pedal harp, I was very happy to have my LH Troubadour. I sold it to use towards my pedal harp and have not played a lever harp since then. But, at the time prior to getting my pedal harp, I played in a Renaissance Ensemble so only a lever harp would work. Now, I am too lazy to deal with lever changes. Pedals are so much easier to me.

    wil-weten on #193140

    Hi Loonatik, I just wonder, somehow I get the impression you like the sound of pedal harps, that is to say,heavy tension harps. There are some lever harps like the LH Troubadour or LH Prelude or the Camac Mademoiselle that have a string tension and a sound more or less like that of a pedal harp. There are lots of other (ready made) lever harps with medium or low tension, with lots of different sound (and feel!)

    When you go to a harpbuilding week (in Germany, right?) you will usually end up building a rather low tension harp (a ‘bohemian harp’) or in some cases, a medium tension harp. The question is: do you like their sound? When would you like to play on it?

    If you think of a small harp which can easily be transported and be taken with you on holidays, maybe you would be happier with a sturdy travel harp, like the 27 string Camac Bardic, or a Dusty Ravenna 26 string harp. There are also some light weight harps with more strings.

    Anyway, ask yourself why you would like to have two harps.

    mary-keller–2 on #193148

    wait a second, let’s insert some common sense here. A novice is not likely to build a harp that sounds good! Buy or rent a lever harp for a few months, and learn many many
    things about the size, range, tone, and feel of the instrument before you try to make all the other decisions

    Biagio on #193149

    I strongly encourage any serious harpist to at least study their instrument’s design; the best way to understand that is to build one, preferably with professional guidance. Nor is it particularly important for most aspects whether you are a pedalist, lever harpist or even a clarsair (wire harper) – most of the technical principles of design are the same. Further, even if you prefer the pedal instrument there will be occasions when a lever harp is more convenient.

    Not to mention the joy of ownership and being able to say “I made that!” when some one admires your performance. Whether you will actually play it is up to you. But to answer your question: I know many pedalists who own and play the lever harp as well. Some mainly as rentals student instruments, most who take engagements where a pedal harp would be impractical or at least onerous. At least two well known professionals of my acquaintance decided that they actually preferred the lever harp to the pedal – although both were very accomplished with the latter. As to size, a 36 might be a bit ambitious even in a workshop, but a 29 is entirely doable.

    The question I would have is this: will the workshop cover principles of design, string theory, introduction to regulation, types of levers, perhaps pedal mechanism, characteristics of different tone woods etc.? Or will the presenter be mainly focused on the students banging out a pre-designed kit for what will probably cost more than the finished product is worth? The first I would say is definitely worth while whatever your preferred kind of harp, the latter probably not so much.

    At the risk of offending anyone, I have to say that I have been struck by the dirth of technical understanding among players, relative to many other instrumentalists. Frankly I feel that some of the blame for that comes from harp makers ourselves: in an effort to protect our instrument from misuse we seem to have made it all appear a deep dark mystery. Aside from the pedal mechanism it really is not.

    While it is true that a novice is unlikely todesign a good harp at the first attempt, I have seen a number who built excellent ones in guided workshops.

    There are more than a few shibboleths running around the harp world: “you cannot replace nylon strings with gut (or vice versa)”, “the best harps are made with Sitka spruce sound boards”, “a lever harp is just a starter instrument” etc. etc. Actually understanding how a harp is made may dispel these quaint ideas – and perhaps make you a better player with a deeper connection to your instrument.


    Loonatik on #193154

    Thanks for all your responses.

    I was originally interested to learn how a harp is built, but based on what I read I probably should be asking if there’s going to be theory behind it or mostly just fixing up predesigned sets.

    As there are only a few lever harps to chose from to build, I’m was wondering what makes sense, if at all, to a pedal harpist.

    The only reason I can think of in owning 2 harps is to have one that is more portable. But if that’s going to come with 3-4 octaves, not sure how much of my current repertoire could be playable…

    But appreciate the good tips. Will consider them before signing up for the workshop.

    Biagio on #193156

    Dear Loonatik,

    OK that clarifies things…if you just wish to see how a harp is built, with emphasis on the pedal instrument, Salvi offers a virtual tour of the factory and it is fascinating.

    For a detailed discussion of building the lever harp from the ground up, take a look at Rick Kemper’s detailed description at http://www.sligoharps.com

    There are other sources but Rick has done the best exposition for players as well as would-be makers IMHO. It may be an eye opener. Or an eye roller:-)

    Having a more portable harp is certainly nice; on the other hand, if that is the main incentive, why try to build one? There are plenty of excellent ones at very reasonable prices out there.

    Good wishes and please let us know how things work out!


    Andelin on #193165

    This may not be helpful, but….here are my thoughts.

    1) building a harp would be a fascinating experience. If it turned out sounding good, and if I learned a lot about my instrument from it, I would not consider it wasted time or money, even if I didn’t play or keep the instrument long term.

    2) as for repertoire, there is a lot of lever harp music that is not so difficult, and it may not be hard or time consuming to build a suitable lever repertoire, depending on what your venues and tastes dictate…that would be up to you. In other words, whether a lever harp would be useful depends on what you would use it for. You could improvise or adapt some of the music you currently play. Even if it’s just for your own pleasure to play at home, if it brings you joy, then it’s worth it.

    3) I don’t currently own a pedal harp, but when I do get one (which I have been wanting for a very long time), I don’t plan on selling my current harp. Aside from not being able to bear to part with it, there are several Other reasons for keeping it. If I were to teach lessons, there’s a good chance students would be learning on a lever, so having one means they don’t have to haul theirs from home. Even if I had a pedal harp, I think I would take he lever harp out now and then. For example, once in a great while I play for church, which generally includes only one piece, so if it can be played on lever harp, it would make sense to take the smaller one. However, my perspective may be different, as I have played on lever only all these years.

    Hope this is helpful. Keep us updated. 🙂

    Biagio on #193176

    One quite economical way to understand the basics would be to build a kit AND (I emphasize “and”) analyze the string band, perhaps customizing if to you taste. We say that the strings are the soul of the harp and the sound board it’s heart. Making a solid wood board is a bit specialized (though you can also buy one), but understanding strings is almost pure mathematics and there are computer programs available. Some free.

    There is one such kit of which I am very fond for this sort of thing; that is the Music Maker Voyageur. They offer three different string sets and some of us have come up with our own variations. MM also offers a free string analysis Excel spread sheet which is excellent. It’s the one I use (except for wire strungs). At least one person made a very slight modification to the pillar in order to accommodate a spruce sound board (which she bought rather than making it herself); I’ve heard that one and it is outstanding, easily rivaling some of the best out there in the $5000 range.

    The kit costs $1295 US; a spruce sound board will set you back another $250 or so. Custom strings might be another $100 so not bad – about $1700 for a great harp. Levers of course will cost you extra – I suggest Truitts for the novice.



    balfour-knight on #193906

    Very nice thread, all my friends! I also play both pedal and lever harp professionally, and right now if I had to pick one over the other, I would choose my new Dusty Strings FH36S in cherry. “Cherie” has the most delicious tone and feel of any harp I have ever played, and I just want to play her all the time! She is also very much more portable than my L&H pedal harp, and requires much less effort to play and get a beautiful tone out of than a pedal harp which has a higher string tension, of course. So, I am ONE pedal harpist who could not do without a lever harp. Hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #194012

    It’s useful to have lever harps, but I do find them annoying to play, not as much because of the levers, but because they constantly rock and move about as I play.

    Biagio on #194019

    Saul makes a good point. One should adjust oneself to the harp and not the other way around. Unlike a pedal harp, lever harps are not designed to “tip back and rest lightly on the shoulder.” It’s one of the most common frustrations I see when going from one to the other.

    If your lever harp rests lightly against your thigh, however, it should be quite stable even if you play with a lot of force. But that will require some slight modifications in posture and technique which we may not wish to do.


    balfour-knight on #194079

    Saul, it is indeed an adjustment to make between playing a heavy pedal harp and a smaller, lighter lever harp. The older I get, the more I like smaller and lighter in a harp, including the string tension. I keep both knees gently against the sides of my FH36S and she does not move unless I need her to. I can easily play very vigorously, with glissandos, etc. and the harp remains very stable, gently resting on my shoulder and between my knees.

    I am not fond of lap harps, however. I never feel that they are very secure, even with “knee bones”, straps or any other way of supporting them. Also, 36 strings are about as few strings as I can get by with, ha, ha! I need that five octaves and use every string. I really missed the upper two strings on my Ravenna 34, and always wished for the 36!

    Best wishes to all of you,

    balfour-knight on #194161

    Small harps placed on a good stand can feel very secure, which can solve that problem I have had with the lap harp on “knee bones” or straps. I owned a Christina therapy harp for quite some time, and played it at the bedsides of hospital patients, sick friends, or people under Hospice care. A nice stand like Biagio makes would have been wonderful to have back then!

    After I purchased my Ravenna 34, I stopped playing the Christina, since she lacked the bass octave which Ravenna has, and because Christina was just about as difficult to move around as Ravenna was, even though Christina had only 25 strings and Ravenna had 34. I also kept running out of strings on Christina, and the low string tension made me feel like I was plucking her strings right off, ha, ha!

    So, all harpists seem to have their own peculiarities about what kind of harp they enjoy playing on. To each his own, I always say!

    Happy Easter, and my very best wishes to all of you,

    Biagio on #194162

    Thank you Balfour!

    Different harps for different situations, methinks. Some may be satisfied with just their concert grand, many others will have two or more harps for different situations, one of which will be a lap harp. Not having a nice stable, portable base is the most common complaint that I hear about these.

    I am not making the bases that my friend refers to nowadays (not making any more harps either) but they are quite easy to do. I published a detailed description in the Spring 2015 Folk Harp Journal just to get out of doing any more. Honestly.

    You can find the article and lots of other good stuff on the searchable FHJ website: FolkHarpSociety.org/pages/journal.html

    Not to blow my own horn (well, OK maybe): the nice thing about these stands from my perspective is that they fold and can accommodate oddly shaped harps. Two styles I often get asked about: harps with rounded bottoms and those with an extended pillar.

    A very nice stand is made by Timothy Habinski (Timothy Harps) – kinda pricey, but worth it if you do a lot of gigging with a small harp and want matching wood.

    Best wishes to all and keep on pluckin’,


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