Buying a new Paraguayan harp: Which wood for soundboard and other questions

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    digait on #210863


    my wife, just playing a pedal harp, has the dream of a Paraguayan harp. We will order it from Gustavo Arias. But there are still some questions to be cleared.

    Certain is that it shall be / have
    – diatonic without sharpening levers
    – 42 instead of 37 cords
    – cords with red Cs and blue Fs (thus, to be equal with the colors of a pedal harp)
    – a stand (because we don’t like the idea to lay down the harp on the ground)

    If you have any comments please let me know.

    Not sure is whether it is advisable to spend over 250 $ more for the better Gotoh machine heads. Are they worth the money? Gustavo said that with the Taiwan heads they never have had any defects; they are really good. – Will they do their job satisfactory? Can we save the money?

    Which wood shall be choose for the soundboard, spruce or red cedar? Gustavo had sent a description of the tone qualities for soundboards made of these woods. Spruce: “… very rich, bright, and clear tone. Its noble, focused voice and rich overtones offers a wide range of color. It has a woody sound that ages into a very powerful tone.” Red cedar: “… overtones … are rich over a narrower range than spruce, their full tone, darker coloring, and warm enveloping sound is enchanting. Cedar and redwood are also more responsive than spruce at least initially, but they do not improve with age to the degree that spruce …”

    Ok, I know: It’s a matter of taste and of the music you want to play.
    (My wife will preferably play Latin American music.) But as we never have heard instruments with red wood soundboards, from the pure description it’s a bit difficult to decide.

    I would be very glad if YOU could record a small sample with spruce and with red cedar soundboards, and give a link to the MP3-files.

    Finally, but that’s not so essential, my wife is uncertain about design and color. She tends to a very simple appearance: no carvings for the soundbox and the neck, and no color varnishing, and most probably even without inlays.
    (But I don’t know whether such simplicity might give a scarcely appealing look. If there is a nice wood texture it will do alone.)
    Unfortunately there are no photos of a plain, smooth surface of red cedar and trebol, the two woods Gustavo uses for the harp body. We would like to see the wood textures in direct comparison.
    By chance, have you some photos?

    And for pilar and head? Hmm … pilar maybe with some turnings, or what do you think of this form? Design
    Many thanks in advance, and if you have any other
    suggestions I’m very glad to hear them!

    Best regards

    wil-weten on #211201

    I can’t help you with your questions, but I think you may like to know that the sound of a harp is depending on much more things than the kind of wood used for the soundboard.

    I haven’t got a clue about the woods used for Paraguayan harps, but as to pedal harps and lever harps, the sound also depends significantly on the kind of wood used for the soundbox (e.g. walnut being warm and mellow and maple being bright), also the thickness of the used wood and the design of the model. And, of course, on the kind of strings being used, even within nylon there are different tensions varying from harps with very low tension (like on the Camac Llanera harp or the Camac TKadiou or the Dusty Serrana) to middle string tension or even rather strong tension.

    Also, the way the soundboard is designed is important for the sound of the harp. So, in addition to what I wrote above, listening to soundclips of a harp with a soundboard of one special kind of wood would not say much.

    Besides, every piece of wood is unique and therefore every harp is unique. Therefore when you’ve got five of ‘exactly the same harps’ in front of you, they will all sound a bit or even significantly different.

    Biagio on #211233

    I think you might ask Dr. Alfredo Orland Ortiz for an expert opinion:

    He is a perfectly lovely gentleman. As for the description of wood tone, what they provided seems accurate but every harp is different, as Wil mentioned. Gotoh machines are excellent and if it is a question of cost I would forego carvings etc. Turned pillars are pretty standard for such harps.



    digait on #211264

    @wil-weten, @Biagio

    Thank you both for your answers!

    Well, the decision is made and soon, Gustavo Arias will begin building our harp! As it should have a warm tone, soundboard and soundbox shall be of Red Cedar.

    We hope that the harp will arrive in time for Christmas!

    From Dr. Alfredo Ortiz, I just downloaded one of his sheetmusic collections, Rhythmic Collection 3. Thus, my wife can already start with Latin American patterns – playing on her pedal harp.
    It is a single action pedal harp with medium tension nylon strings and therefore, the feeling of playing is somewhat closer than playing a classic double action pedal harp. And with a weight of about 20-22 kg, it’s possible to use it for street music. If you are interested:

    Thanks again!


    Biagio on #211298

    Very glad to be of help Dieter! One of Dr. Ortiz’ DVDs might also be useful; I have a copy and it is wonderful:

      Special Effects for All Harps

    Best wishes,

    digait on #211305


    That is the DVD resp. the video which is mentioned in the “Rhythmic Collection” book: the “Easy Video Harp Method”?

    Screening the internet I found that are existing two old VHSs, an edition from 1984, and (I suppose the same material) two DVDs from 2006:
    – Basic method for all non-pedal harps
    – Special effects for pedal and non-pedal harps

    But where did you get it from?
    As far as I could find (or better: not find) no shop sells them.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 9 months ago by digait.
    Biagio on #211308

    Those are the ones and I ordered the DVD directly from Dr. Ortiz; I only bought the second volume (Special Effects), as I already had several others on basic methods; but since you are just beginning it would a good idea to order both. The Special Effects specifically covers techniques used on South American harps which are also applicable to lever or pedal.

    Be sure to get the DVD format that is used in your country.

    Best wishes,

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 9 months ago by Biagio.
    digait on #211310

    I will ask Dr. Ortiz. Maybe he can create an ISO file and
    share it on a file server for direct download.
    (On PC there is no problem for any DVD using with option “region free”.)

    You say you have several (DVDs) on basic methods.

    Could you list which ones, or which particularly you recommend?
    And for advanced techniques: Any further proposal for DVDs etc.?
    (We are always speaking about methods/techniques for South American harps.)

    Thanks again!


    Biagio on #211314

    On basic harp technique and exercises:

    Grossi – “Metoda per Arpa (only available in Italian)
    Kondonassis – “On Playing the Harp”
    Friou – Exercises for Speed and agility
    Pool – “1-2-3 Play” and “3’s a Chord”

    Bruner “Play the Harp BeautifullY vols.-3
    Riley – “Secret of the Celtic Style”
    Ortiz – “Special Effects”

    Nice to have:
    From The Great Courses – “How Music and Mathematics Relate”


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