Custom Made Lever Harp

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    califa on #190782

    Tired of searching lever harp.
    Not interested lever harp in the market.
    So I ask several harp maker about my requirement.
    I want Fiemme spruce for sound board.
    European maple for soundbox.
    Maple veneer.
    Savanrez strings.
    And oil based violin varnish.

    I said I will buy wood and find other varnish expert.
    Try to relieve harp maker burden.
    But they all refused my request.

    They mean all the lever harps, compare to violin or classical guitar, lute…. Are low quality, ugly finish.

    They ask for over $ 6k for their custom made harp.
    I know how much for the material, how many hour to complete.
    I feel they ask too much!

    I resist to buy expensive pedal harp, but when I see the quality wood they use, craftsmanship, beautiful finish, and long time work.
    I feel it is worth to spend extra!

    What do you think?

    wil-weten on #190783

    This is not what you want to hear, but I think 6K for a fine, custom made lever harp is a fine price. It takes a lot of expertise (and time) to select good soundwood and build a great sounding (and looking) harp. That’s what you pay for…

    Biagio on #190784

    Well, I have to agree with Wil, although the harp size and other essential details are lacking in this post. Here’s a break down: unless you are yourself an experienced harp designer you will have to leave that up to the maker. Design alone for a custom harp can take several weeks – that is around $1000 at least. Labor at the same rate: $2000 – $4000. So before we get into issues such as depreciation and other overhead that harp has already cost the maker about $4000 or more; never mind that the luthier will have to take time away from his standard models and build new custom jigs and fixtures for yours.

    Many will do custom work but I don’t know of any who will take that on without a substantial nonrefundable deposit. You could of course rent a shop and make your harp to your own satisfaction. Or “hook up” with friendly luthier and help him in his shop in exchange – I know a couple of people who have done that.

    They mean all the lever harps, compare to violin or classical guitar, lute…. Are low quality, ugly finish.

    I really do not understand this statement at all, but good fortune with your search in any case.


    Tacye on #190796

    A lot of makers of harps, and for that matter pianos, do tend to use polyurethane or modern lacquers. In many ways our instruments are furniture. However, french polish has also been used a lot on harps and I would expect harp makers who also repair antiques to be familiar with its use, or have a french polisher they work with.

    I am not surprised at luthiers not wanting to work with wood that someone else selected – who would be responsible if it didn’t work out well?

    Biagio on #190811

    I definitely agree with you Tacye. Especially for a custom harp the maker would want to select the lumber – both for matching grain and for it’s sound.

    French polish is indeed lovely but it is also time consuming and not as hard as nitro-cellulose lacquer, which most professionals prefer. Polyurethane is the least desirable but it’s OK if the instrument is otherwise not particularly high quality. Many have recently begun to follow guitar makers’ lead and use Tru-oil(R) on the body (a hard oil rub which can look very much like a french polish), and lacquer on the sound board.

    I think it is a question more of product quality. If the harp design is meant to be just a decent quality there is not much point in going to extraordinary lengths on the finish. A top quality custom lever harp on the other hand will cost the maker $1500 or more for strings and levers alone, probably up to another $1000 for the wood, so the luthier would undoubtedly devote more time and effort to the finish.


    carl-swanson on #190812

    You said: They ask for over $ 6k for their custom made harp.
    I know how much for the material, how many hour to complete.
    I feel they ask too much!-

    If that’s the case, then make it yourself! That way you’ll get exactly what you want.

    wil-weten on #190813

    Hi Biagio, according to his earlier posts, this young man liked a Dusty FH36H, but he loved a Sandpiper Nova (on a recording that is…), so I guessed the kind of custom made harp of his dreams would more or less be based on these harps. That’s why I thought 6K dollars would be a fine price for that kind of harp.

    Hi Carl, great advice! The guy would be in for a steep learning curve, but perhaps, that’s exactly what he likes.

    Biagio on #190814

    Well, yeah Wil. Dusty’s top of the line 36 sells for $6,395 and while a very nice harp it is not a custom build.

    “Steep learning curve” yes, and also an expensive one. There is no guarantee that when built it will sound like what the customer wants after all, even if it looks like it. Trust me on this:-)


    wil-weten on #190971

    Indeed, Biagio, using quality materials makes building a harp an expensive undertaking. And yes, the way a particular harp sounds, may turn out to be a surprise. Even when I try several (factory made!) harps of the same model and kind of wood, they all sound different.

    Biagio on #190985

    Yup. We can know in general terms how things will sound with a brand new design – hard, closed-cell wood = brighter, crisper; higher tension = more color possible; longer bass strings = more sustain; gut = mellower and less sustain than nylon etc. Put we cannot look at each of these in isolation, we must guesstimate their interaction as a dynamic whole. Once built, there will still be unanswered questions for some time.

    How much belly after it has settled in? How much after five years? How much flex in the neck and pillar? How much string breakage if we’ve pushed the tension envelope? And many more.

    Even the most experienced makers go through several model revisions. It is extremely rare for the first version to be a case of “That’s it!!” So what do they do? Well, they decide on the general parameters and tweak. If the only tweaks are to the strings, that will be a bit of expense, but more likely the next time around there will be structural tweaks…so we’re not talking about the cost of one harp but of several from the harp maker’s standpoint.

    Which also goes some way to explaining why a custom build will cost more than the makers’ standard models – he or she is not going to be terribly motivated by doing a one off:-)



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