Camac Bardic 27 as first harp?

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    sarva on #218761

    This is my first post after reading many threads regarding that model.

    I’d like to start my journey in the harp path after some years playing the guitar. I want to play Celtic and folk music so it looks like lever harps are the way to go!

    After some research, I’m definitely not buying any cheap non-european harps due to the horrible feedback.

    My budget is around 1500€ so Im looking at the Camac Bardic 27 as a possibility.

    I know it’s discontinued but the Camac shop in my country told me they still have a couple.

    I’ve also read that a lap harp isn’t a good choice for beginners, but I can’t afford a bigger and more expensive one for the moment.

    Is it that bad to start with that Bardic?
    Am I going to go nuts because of the juggle? Isn’t there a chance to put a box or something to make it work?

    I was about to buy a Thomann cheap one, and after reading many forums it was obvious it wasn’t a good option and I’d have to spend more money to get something worth, but I can’t go higher than that is this moment.

    Excuse me for my bad english and the length of the text, and thanks in advance for your advice!

    charles-nix on #218762

    I can’t speak to that model. Regardless, in any harp line, one might be good and the next one not so good.

    I started with a 29-string, down to the same C as the bardic, which is an octave below middle-C. I still have that harp. It is still very portable. And I have it on a 40 cm stool to hit my shoulder high enough to feel right.

    However, almost all arranged harp music assumes a full octave below that. You will be playing many things an octave higher than written, and rearranging to suit your instrument. If you are pursuing folk music, then you may be doing your own arranging, so you may be fine. If you intend to play from score, you will be constantly figuring out how to move up or down to make it fit.

    Since you are coming from guitar, think of it this way. Play the guitar entirely without using the lower two strings. Your D string is only just above the lowest string on that harp. You will have quite a few more notes higher than you can reach on the guitar, though.

    Used harps are a very good option, especially for a limited budget. In many ways, I prefer pre-owned. You can listen and hear what it will sound like when it breaks in, as all harps do.

    It is important to have a used harp restrung and regulated unless it was properly done quite recently. Be sure to figure the expense of that into your budget. New strings will greatly change the sound of the harp, particularly with nylon and wires more than 5 years old.

    Finding a teacher first can be invaluable in the harp purchase. 1) They may have students who are selling their lever harp, whether to move to more strings, or to move to pedal.

    2) They might have fellow teachers with students as above.

    3) They will know where the music conservatories are who might have advancing students.

    Many people start on lever harps, then change larger or to pedal, and no longer needing the smaller harp, but having an emotional attachment, would love the opportunity to sell it on to someone who will appreciate and love it.

    Just some thoughts.

    Charles Nix

    Also, if you want to mention your country, someone on here might be familiar with the harp market in that part of the world.

    (And your English is excellent. I would have thought you a native writer.)

    sarva on #218770

    First of all, thanks for your answer, Charles!

    I live in Spain, and there aren’t teachers near my place (there are a couple on a private lessons website but didn’t receive any answer so far) nor any shop where I can try an harp. I’d have to move ~500km to get something.

    Also, there’s literally no second hand market regarding harps. Looks like is not a common instrument in those latitudes.

    That’s why I’m doing my research online and asking you guys.

    I can’t read music, never took lessons and played guitar by ear and using tablatures, so I don’t know how hard would it be to adapt pieces to a higher octave due to the lack of bass strings in a less than 30 harp.

    But if I have to learn to read music, I’m ok with it since I love how the harp sounds and I’d really love to play it. I’m aware that’s not going to be an easy journey but I’m up for the challenge and decided to make that investment.
    Actually, if I had more money I’d go for the bigger ones.

    So, as you can see, I’m a bit limited by the circumstances and a bit clueless about what to do although I’d love to start right now.

    tanyanoel on #218771

    I have (and love) my Camac Bardic 27. I will say however, that it was not my first harp. I purchased a much larger 38 string Camac Excaliber that I love and bought the Bardic 27 to have as a 2nd harp to keep with me when I travel and take out and about. I only started playing harp about 9 months ago, and like yourself was previously a guitar player. I will say that I think it would have been much harder for me to start on the Bardic than on my larger 38 string harp because the smaller harp is harder to stabilize than the larger model and quite frankly the harp is already a challenge! My Bardic did come with nice long removable legs that I use when playing (maybe they all do I am not sure) and that is helpful, and I do like it the best out of the smaller harp models I had tried, it is a solid fun little harp. I would say that if your budget is what you said it is, that would be a GREAT option as a harp for you.

    charles-nix on #218774

    Many do play harp without reading music, especially in the Celtic and folk traditions. There is also a specifically Spanish tradition–at least there was a distinct tradition at one time, because the Latin American tradition is huge, and was established in colonial times.

    sarva on #218779

    Thanks Tanya, your feedback is really appreciated. Afaik, the Bardic comes with that removable legs that I guess would make playing it a bit easier regarding stability.

    Nice to hear that Charles! I don’t think there are tablatures and resources like the guitar ones but I’ll figure out!
    And regarding Spanish tradition, it was lost long time ago and not recovered as Celtic one did in the last decades.
    Aside, the music played with harps in Latin America isn’t exactly what I want to be honest.
    There are some areas in the north like Galicia that still have some Celtic heritage and teach Celtic harp instead of classical one, but that’s like a 15 hours trip!

    wil-weten on #218789

    The Camac bardic is a very nice harp, so I would go for it. It’s rather easy to play tunes an octave higher as all C’s are red and all F’s are blue.
    Yes, the tune will sound nicer when it is played an octave lower, but listen to the many great videoclips on youtube on the bardics and you know whether you like the harp. Later on you could always sell it, as it is a very popular harp.

    There is quite a lot of music specially written for lap harps. Yes, in that case there is never a need to play an octave higher.

    An cheap but reasonable alternative would be the harps of Manfred Gosewinkel in Germany at:
    His largest harp has 2 octaves below middle C. Just like standard harps (and you seldom or never would play the highest A). His largest harp costs 650 euro at the moment. These harps have a rather low string tension but normal string distance. They are made in a cheap way, no sophisticated levers, but real hooks and you might see traces of glue. In Germany these harps are talked about mostly in a positive way in the German harpforum on:

    You may need google translate to understand what is said about them.

    Frankly, I think I myself would go for a Camac Bardic. I played on a little old Camac Troubadour 22 string lap harp for the first two years. It did not go any lower than the middle C. The Camac Bardic has a full octave below middle C. I think it really is a great harp.

    sarva on #218793

    Thanks for your insightful answers, guys.

    I’ve been watching many videos where Bardic is being played, wil-weten, and I like the sound it produces aside of the looks. It’s just a big investment for my economy and I just want to be sure that I’m going the right way!

    Biagio on #218801

    We lever harpers generally suggest a floor sized harp as the first not so much for the modern scores (although that is a consideration) but because one must learn good technique. That is more difficult if one must balance a lap harp at the same time; however there are a number of good solutions: stools, boxes, something like the so-called “Le Stik” by Dwight Blevins, even a purpose-built stand of various designs. I think if the Camac is in good condition, it will be fine for you.

    A word on those modern “Celtic” scores: if you want to play in the traditional style, the arpeggions, glissandos, thirds, etc are distinctly nontraditional. People have adapted the original tunes from the wire harp to the pedal harp tradition, with it’s greater range and much shorter sustain. Lovely, but in the “Celtic” tradition instead of the above arpeggios and etc. they used rather simple chords such as fifths but a great deal of ornaments. Listen, for example to recordings on Youtube by Cynthia Cathcart, Charles Guard, Patrick Ball, and Chris Caswell.

    The 17th-18th century Spanish harp style is alive and well in South America; in fact, the harp is the national instrument in Venezuela. Very different construction from either modern lever or pedal of course, but many do play that way on lever harp designs. Dr. Alfredo Ortiz has many recording on Youtube.

    Happy harping,

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Biagio.
    evolene_t on #218807

    Hello Sarva!

    I actually started on the bardic, so I can perhaps answer these questions.
    First, depending on where you are in Spain, you can be rather close to France ; and we in France definitely have a big second-hand market for harps! 1500€ is enough to get a good Camac 34-string harp, if you really wanted one. On websites such as Le Bon Coin, where individuals resell things, I can already see 3 harps under 1000$ in the southern regions. Of course, you would have to practice due diligence and know what to look for in harps.
    At the moment, there’s the Festival International de Harpe Celtique in Dinan (Brittany) going on ; this weekend, there will be a lot of harp-makers. (But if you’re 12h from Galicia, then you must be in the far south)

    As for the bardic I played, it was rented to me by my teacher. Like others have said, she didn’t want me staying too long with it for fear of a bad posture ; but it’s a wonderful little harp, with a beautiful sound.
    You can also learn to play with only 27 strings ; most people tend to go with 34 or 36 after all (I chose a double-strung, so it’s a 2×26 = 42 strings for me!).

    I can’t say my posture is bad : the Bardic, of course, has feet which bring it up to the same size as any 34 strings harp would be. Now that I’ve gone on to the double-strung, I proactively ask for correction on my posture but my teacher can’t find any. So as long as one is mindful of this problem and sits at the small harp (rather than have it in a harness) I don’t think this is a big a problem as it seems. No one is playing these small harp by tipping them precariously on the edge of a seat… And they’re sturdy enough that they don’t wobble on the sides.

    The quality of the instrument is good ; yes, most of the repertoire is made for larger harps but it’s possible to play for a few years on a 27 strings with minimal arrangements. For a first harp, I thing the Bardic is a safe choice ; for a first and last harp though, you might want to save a bit more.
    Most people I know have developed their taste for different models after a few years of playing, and it is the ultimate “troubadour” harp so it’s a good investment.

    As for choosing a Camac Bardic over a small harp-maker’s one, I would say it depends on the trust that builds between the buyer and the maker.

    Biagio on #218810

    Not to be argumentative…well, OK, maybe a little…but I’d like to point out that that some pretty well regarded harpists started out with larger instruments and then moved on to smaller ones. For instance: Martha Gallagher, Harper Tasche. Sure, it’s nice to have more bass, but it is in no way a “requirement”.

    I emphatically do not agree that smaller harps can only do “minimal” arrangements – but you do need to expand beyond the techniques typically taught these days. Those stem from the pedal instrument, which is fine of course, but by no means the sum total of harp technique.

    Take a look for instance at the “small harp” scores published by Tasche: I know some very accomplished players who find them very challenging!


    wil-weten on #218811

    Hi Biagio, for several active people on this forum, including me English is a foreign language.
    I think Evolène with “yes, most of the repertoire is made for larger harps but it’s possible to play for a few years on a 27 strings with minimal arrangements” simply meant that smaller harps usually only need minor adaptions.

    Biagio on #218818

    Perhaps that is indeed Evolene’s meaning, Wil, you would have to ask her. My point however, is to dispell the notion I often hear that a small harp is limiting and I do so from my own experience. My first floor harp was a 34 string and I studied with modified Salzado classical technique. Only after some 10 years did I graduate to the wire strung harp.

    That was an eye opener! I had to learn, for example, that one could play very complex arrangements by interweaving the fingers ( what Ann Heymann calls “Coupled Hands”), the use of ornaments such as runs, grace notes, etc., the importance of finger damping which is often ignored in beginner books but greatly enhances effects on any type of harp. And so on.

    So you are right that a smaller harp can play music scored for larger harps, and do so simply enough. Let’s bear in mind however that for now at least Sarva will play by ear, so the question of arrangements is less relevant than the music itself. Let me give an example:

    One beautiful “Celtic” piece is Port na Bpucai (“song of the ghosts”), originally composed on fiddle as far as we know. Aioffe ni Dowd plays a beautiful arrangement by Janet Harbison with all the arpeggios you might expect on a floor harp and indeed you would find it hard to replicate that on a smaller instrument. On the other hand, listen to Tony MacMahon or Evertjan t’ Hart on accordion and Irish pipes, respectively. Those are much closer to the original and could be played on a 3 1/2 octave harp.

    Here is Tony – I especially like his commentary on the spirit of Irish music.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Biagio.
    sarva on #218825

    Hello again!

    Biagio: my idea is to learn from a static position, sitting with the harp resting in my body, so I’d use the 4 extra legs that come with the harp, aside of any box to accommodate it to my shape.
    Regarding the condition, it’s a new one so I expect it to be excellent haha!

    Evòlene: thanks too for sharing your experience. I’d love to be able to travel that far but as you pointed I live not close to France and aside of my French being poor, I wouldn’t know what to look at when evaluating a second hand harp! So I think that going with a new one is safer and grants me guarantees that I couldn’t obtain otherwise.

    I’m still a bit worried that both you and Biagio pointed that the recommended starting harp should be a floor one since I can’t afford one in this moment although the feedback I’m receiving from you guys about the Bardic is a good one.

    evolene_t on #218837

    @ Sarva : well, it’s true that the standard recommendation is to have a 34-strings harp. All of the scores, and recommandations, etc, are made with these harps in mind.

    As for what I meant with “minor adaptations” : the first few songs I learned could be played as such on the Bardic, they were “complete” with 27 strings. No need to change the score in any way.
    This keeping in mind that my teacher, being used to adult students, gives us rather advanced scores from the get-go : no “happy birthday” or “twinkle twinkle little star” for me, songs that would enchant a 5-10 year old (and their parents!)… I played songs I could adapt and sing with. And the Bardic was fine for that, notably because it goes down to the octave-below-middle-C.

    After that, I had scores that sounder better with a 34 string harp that my teacher rented : especially one with a lot of arpeggios, that sounds “tinkly” when played on a smaller harp, but that resonated deep with the bass strings of the 34-strings Camac Mélusine.

    Now, are these arpeggios Celtic? Arguably**, no.
    I think this is the point you are trying to make, Biagio.

    Some songs for beginners one will have to adapt to the Bardic : for example, I very often find that beginner score have only 1-5-8’s (or chord) on the left hand. And these are meant for two octaves below middle C.
    On the Bardic, just moving up one octave will solve that. But some conservative teachers might not like that, and some books might not be written with this in mind.
    (Having a double-strung harp solved all of the “compatibility” problems, such as needing to play the same note with the left and the right hand.)

    The bigger question is not “is a 27-string harp a lesser harp than a 34-string one?”, because that is not the case. But the question is rather “for a beginner, will the expectations of teaching resources be that you are playing a bigger harp? And, because of this, will the first few years of learning the harp be more difficult?” : and the answer is that people will expect a student to start on a 34-string. But in the end (and this is my opinion) I don’t think having a smaller harp is going to be a big of a deal!
    And that is what matters for Salva.


    Another question concerns the report of humans with deeper sounds. Middle-C is close to the female voice, one octave below closer to the male voice, two octave below allow for accompaniment that don’t overwhelm the ear…
    Many celtic harpists I know tell me they are in love with those deep bass strings and would not consider playing on a smaller harp because of that. With the double-strung, I found I did not miss it at all.
    But that is yet another question! Im mentioning it here in order to open up the debate, not to juge people’s preferences.

    ** As for arpeggios question and what is “truly celtic”, I’m also using this post to open up a friendly discussion 🙂

    The song I learned with arpeggios is the Kantik Ar Baradoz (or Canticle for Paradise, in Breton language), composed and interpreted by Dominig Bouchaud. He’s a Breton harpist that contributed and still contributes to the Breton and Celtic harp revival, alongside Alan Stivell and others.

    This song is a funeral song, and he chose to compose song with 3 variations on the same theme. The last variation (starting at 1mn 43) uses arpeggios. I don’t think that this composer can be accused of not being celtic enough, seing as he represents the Celtic Revival… What do you think?


    Lots of questions here! Salva, definitely keep us informed of your questions and evolutions. My final recommendation is that before buying the harp, you go play it (and a few others) in the shop, to get the feel of it.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by evolene_t.
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