I am a piano player looking into Pedal harps… the big ones! Piano manufacturers are very upfront about even the most minute aspects of their designs that distinguish them from other makers as well as other lines within the same make, but it seems that in harps this information is not as readily available. In my research of Lyon and Healy for instance, I have read that sonically, there are really three models of the 47 string concert harps: The Chicago Line, 23 style, and Salzedo style. All the other 47 string harps they make use one of these three configurations of neck and soundbox. I was wondering if the same could be said for salvi, camac, swanson, venus or aoyama(sorry if I left any brands out)? For instance: Is the Daphne EX substantially differently made than say the Aurora? If anyone has information on this subject I would be grateful. thanks!
I would discuss the Salvi harps with the sales manager Peter at the Santa Monica Salvi showroom. http://www.salviharpsinc.com. Yes, there are differences between the Salvi harps. Also depends on the year. My personal thought that may or may not be valid: l think the best Salvi harps were made when they used the new concept soundboard. I believe this was from 2008-2015. I have a Salvi Iris and Salvi Apollo with the new concept soundboards. They are both phenomenal and very different in sound. Ultimately, your choice comes down to whether or not you like the feel and sound of a particular harp.
Great point, Gretchen, “ultimately, your choice comes down to whether or not you like the feel and sound of a particular harp.” It must feel good to you when you are playing it, comfortable on your knees and shoulder, and above all, you must like the sound of it. With me, my two harps are like magnets, pulling me toward them with the beautiful memory of how good they felt and sounded to me when I last played them. Even on vacations, one of them must “travel” with me.
Sean, I think that checking with retailers who sell all the major brands of large concert grand pedal harps is your best bet. Also, talk to harp technicians like Tom Bell and Ivan Gardner to see which ones they like best, from working on them and playing them. Our own Carl Swanson can give you excellent reviews, from being a harp builder, technician, and a harpist. I am also a piano technician, so I have definite ideas about the major brands of pianos, and I love Dusty Strings and Camac harps, but this is just personal preference. I love that I can do most of the regulation on my harps, even though I would not call myself a “harp tech,” ha, ha! If you see and play enough harps, you will develop your own feelings about which is your favorite. Best of luck in your quest!
thank you both for the replies. I look forward to playing some different harps for this perspective, but as I am somewhat of a researcher by nature I like to read up on things before hand. I have emailed some manufacturers… one told me to email a dealer… lol! I just wish this kind of information was made plain and available. I think to some types of customers it would be very appreciated to know what sonic goals are set forth for particular models and what designs were implemented to achieve said goals.
” I just wish this kind of information was made plain and available…”
It would certainly be a good idea and I applaud your interest. This sort of information really is not definitive though, and it does not much matter whether the harp is a pedal, lever, or indeed wire strung. The essential elements include sound board material and design, sound box ditto, string materials and vibrating length. These all work in concert (or not) – the most that most manufacturers will probably say will likely be some generalities.
I don’t know what is available for concert harps, being a lever harp maker and player. You might start there anyway though. Musicmakers is the archivist for the Folk Harp Journal and has compiled an extensive collection of essays on CD in The Science of Harp Making. The harpmakers Yahoo! forum also has archived discussions; Rick Kemper of Sligo Harps has a pretty good discussion of mechanical properties and string design, although he does not get into wound strings. Chris Waltham who is also a physicist has some archived discussions available in Questia that are very interesting although you would have to pay a fee. The wirestrungharp has some excellent discussions of the more esoteric aspects and they are applicable really to any kind of harp.
Other sources escape me at the moment, but bottom line is that you may wish to approach the subject as if you were interested in becoming a harp maker. I wish more people did!
I certainly agree with you, Biagio, my friend! All musical instrument players need to learn about how their instrument was made and how to maintain it. When I was an early teenager, complaining about how badly our family piano needed to be tuned, my father, who had the piano tuned only once a year, expressed his feeling: “guitar, harp, and fiddle players tune their own instruments, so I think you as a pianist need to learn how to tune your own piano.” That was that, so I began an “apprenticeship” with our local tuner. It was so good that I did that, and it enabled me to tune my own piano every time I heard something out of tune, and I made a nice business out of it tuning for other folks.
Sean, in the case of “high-end” harps, the more carving, decoration and gold it has on it, the more expensive it is. It is like cars, the more “chrome” and “bling” they have on them, the higher the cost, ha, ha! Once you get to the full professional concert grand size, past any that are referred to as “student” harps, then it is just a matter of personal taste in what the harp looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
There were two nice summer harp concerts at a local church here in NC which featured six L&H and Salvi concert grand harps and four faculty soloists, along with about 20 students. Although the harpists all were very particular about which harp they played, all six harps sounded very much alike to the audience. Many harp conferences feature “harp tastings” where the harps and players are behind a curtain or screen, so that the audience cannot see them. The results of judging the SOUND of each harp are usually a big surprise to the listeners when they are announced!
This is a fascinating topic. It will be good to read more postings about this in the future.
Harp Hugs everyone,
Ah, Balfour, you and I must now disagree. The soundboards are designed differently for many of the concert grand harps. That is particularly so with the new Salvi sound boards in the past couple years. Each harp model has its own soundboard design. Years ago, the difference, say, between a Diana and Aurora was just the carving but that is no longer true. I am not as familiar with Camac and Lyon Healy but it is safe to say that a Salzedo soundboard is not the same as a LH 23. This is when you really need to rely on the expertise of the sales rep and harp technicians.
That is indeed true Gretchen; vibrating string lengths are pretty standard for modern concert harps, although there may be a few differences in material here and there. So the main differences between models will lie with the sound board material, width and tapering, depth of the box and where the access holes are placed (ignoring the action of course). Still understanding exactly what that means would be a good thing for any harpist, methinks.
As all have said, there is no substitute for trying each out personally and the guidance of experienced people. Be that as it may, Sean expressed an interest in research and that too is an excellent idea.
Personally I rarely suggest one harp versus another anymore, or comment specifically on design. Rather, I suggest that that a prospective player identify artists whose music they like and what harp they play. Sure technique will make a difference but comparing, for example, Frank Voltz with Catrin Finch, or Harper Tasche with Kim Robertson might be helpful.
I believe you can look up the patent information for Wurlitzer harps, which is very similar to Lyon & Healy’s early models. The Style 11 used to have different proportions from the 23s, as did the Style 30. Any difference in column or base or box or neck, it all affects the sound, every facet of the harp affects the sound.
You would have to ask Salvi or a Salvi rep. I cannot give you an accurate answer. I presume it is like design changes on cars – build something better and perhaps correct problems. I was more familiar with all this a few years ago when I bought two new concert grand harps. I waited a year on my Apollo because the sales rep thought the new concept soundboard was a huge design improvement.
Thank you all for the discussion! I will need more time to read over all this information, but a quick example of a question I had come up in Balfour’s post about “student” models:
L&H, Salvi, and Camac all have “student models” that are 47 string concert grands with extended soundboards. I have heard that the Chicago line has a different soundbox construction… perhaps that truly separates it from “professional models, but I have trouble distinguishing a Daphne EX from an aurora. I actually heard that the Salvi rainbow was based off the Daphne from a sales rep but the details were scarce and the Rainbow is quite a bit more expensive and I would think considered a professional instrument. And what would make the Athena EX a student model as well? I can’t find this explained clearly anywhere.
Gretchen, my friend, do we ever agree about anything except that we both dearly love the harp?!!!Ha, Ha! In doing further research about Salvi in some older catalogs I have here, the only mention about the “new concept soundboard” applies directly to the Arion model. This model started out with 44 strings, then went to 47 like most of the harps now. You must have some information about their other harps using that new concept soundboard that I do not have-Yay! This is all good for Sean.
Sean, I know all about the changes and innovations that Camac has done to the pedal harp, too much to go into here, but check out Pacific-Atlantic Harps in Pasadena, CA on their website. Carolyn Sykes has put valuable information on there about the Camac line. These new innovations include the cables which have replaced the pedal rods, which are very easy to regulate, along with their discs. The natural discs turn in the opposite direction to the sharp discs, making for smoother pedaling with less buzzing, for example. Also, their soundboard technology is unique, and makes for a super-sounding harp. Bear in mind that my favorite one is the Atlantide-Prestige, which to my ears is well worth the price difference compared to the Athena Ex.
Harp Hugs everyone!
To Gretchen Cover: I am learning the harp. I am currently playing a lever harp but, being so used to chromatic instruments, I find the lever system prohibitive and not conducive to music I have already written much less future music. So I am looking into the pedal harp. For myself, I find no advantage in smaller harps as I am six feet tall and without any physical impairment, so the concert grand size is the most logical choice for me.
To Balfour: I am happy to know these details about Camac! Having said this, your statement about the atlantide vs the Athena is what makes things difficult for me. The local camac dealer only has the Athenas in stock and so in order to play an atlantide I would have to travel a long distance to another dealer who might not have much to play or just shotgun order a harp without playing it. That is why I would be interested to know what is done differently when an atlantide is built vs an Athena, etc. Also, would you happen to know if the Big Blue is based on the Atlantide, the Athena, or something else? … it looks like an atlantide to me.
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