Disability issues, thinking of returning to the harp

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    Hello again, folks. Here’s where things are at the moment:

    The wire harp may take more tuning than I can keep up with. I just had a chat with Bill Taylor, and he recommended tuning four times a day to start with, and by the sound of it at least daily once it’s settled. He did talk me through fine tuning it, so that at least it can get to a point where I can play a harp that’s in tune. Right now it won’t really hold its tune long enough for me to play it, but I’ll try the tuning method he recommended.

    In general, both harps are holding their tuning a lot better by now, and the nylon harp is behaving well. I’ve figured out a seat and a box to stand it on. It’s still not the greatest to play, the range is small and it’s hard to reach in to get to the top few strings, but I’m starting to enjoy it.

    I’m chatting to a local teacher who is going to give me a lesson on Tuesday so that we can get some feel for whether this is practical, and may be able to lend me a harp short-term. She has one or two with KF strings, including a Camac Hermine, though not with her right now. She’s got students who currently have harps, so I may be able to try a Starfish through them.

    In terms of buying a harp, I am eyeing up the Starfish student or the Teifi Boncaff. Teifi say they know a teacher in Edinburgh with a Teifi or two I should be able to try, although I’m still waiting for them to pass on the details. The Teifi Siff Saff is cheaper, but beech laminate just makes me think of kitchen cupboards, and you know what it’s like with falling in love with woods.

    Speaking of woods, any thoughts on walnut vs cherry, in terms of both sound and appearance? My partner now has a dulcimer with walnut sides and fingerboard (cedar soundboard, mahogany back; it’s a Ron Ewing aorell dulcimer, a beautiful instrument), so I can look thoughtfully at the woods on that. We can now play duets, too, since this one has the frets correctly positioned and we’re no longer running into tuning problems when he’s got the the capo on.

    Any more thoughts on silkgut vs. KF? Practically no one seems to have heard of silkgut. I’ve noticed that Salvi are using it a lot. What are Salvi lever harps like, what sort of sound do they produce, what are they like to play? Not that I’m planning to get a Salvi, just to give me some idea about what they like in a string.

    Marco mentioned silkgut strings a couple of times on this forum, I gather he really likes them. He mentioned that they are similar to the Concedo strings in that they are a fairly visible white, which helps with telling all the notes apart. This might be useful for me with my visual problems. My peripheral vision is not what it once was. Does anyone know more about this?


    I found a very nice comparison of the small Salvi Juno 27harp with silkgut to the Camac Bardic harp 27 with the lowest strings of KF and the rest of nylon.
    Never mind if you can’t understand French, just listen to Eve McTelenn’s harp playing.



    It turned out that getting a stool the right height made all the difference. I picked up a 38cm storage footstool from Amazon, arranged a lamp nicely, and it’s all going much better now with the lever harp. Plus I have something to keep my music and the tuning key in. I found some music that fitted the range, and this got me to the point of realising that yes, I am getting somewhere with this. So a rental Hermine is arriving tomorrow! 34 strings, fluorocarbon. This should give me a chance to learn some proper repertoire and get good enough that when the festival rolls around in April, I can actually make good use of it and figure out which harp will suit me.

    I suspect that fluorocarbon strings won’t be for me, they sound like they’re quite bitey on the fingers, and someone here said that they shouldn’t be put onto a harp designed for gut or nylon because the tension’s too high. So if I did get along with fluorocarbon, that would limit me to harps already made with fluorocarbon. Has anyone tried the Camac Telenn Kadiou?

    I’ve been chatting to various harpmakers, some of which already use synthetic strings. Jon at Silver Spear, who is a total sweetheart, uses nylon, although he’s recently strung a harp with nylgut (more or less the same as silkgut, we think, though I’m going to have a chat with Aquila some time) and is waiting to see how it settles in. I’d assumed that nylon was the poor relation to fluorocarbon and silkgut, but perhaps not. I’ll be able to compare better once I’m used to the Hermine, so I’ll report back then.

    Any ideas about music to buy? So far I’ve picked up:

    Deborah Friou, a collection of early music and a collection of baroque music – too easy and not very exciting, but it’s giving me good sightreading practise.

    Andres, Epices – more my level, at least the first two. I’m making good progress on the first one, Muscade, which is the only one that fits on a 25 string harp.

    (Speaking of the 25 string harp, the tuning settled down, but the rest, not so much. The lowest string was never happy, I believe due to the crack in the soundbox at the bottom, and the lever was already unusable due to all the nasty sounds it would make. One day I noticed that the lever had fallen off. It has never been found. The other levers have a good line in deadening the string, causing buzzing noises, and being slightly off a semitone. Poor baby.)

    Anyway, does anyone have suggestions for music, and an idea of what sort of grade level I might be at? A friend of mine who works at Trinity Music has been known to send us the theory books for Grades 1-5 free of charge, which my partner found extremely useful, so I might be able to snag some music off him. I keep forgetting that my idea of being a beginner is with two years’ harp behind me in the past, and more to the point, 33 years of piano, nearly as long singing, seven years of orchestral percussion, and an A-level in music, plus I’m learning as an adult rather than as a child. So I don’t seem to be at what is generally considered a beginner level.

    Apparently someone has arranged some Dowland for lever harp, although having looked at it, I think I could probably do it myself if I could be bothered to transcribe the songs I have and add the lever changes (any idea how to put them in in MuseScore?). I managed a decent job of Can She Excuse My Wrongs the other day.

    In terms of folk music, I prefer the plaintive sounding ones, Dorian mode and such. Fhir a Bhata, for example, is lovely, and I’d really like to find a good harp version. A lot of the folk music around tends to be the irritatingly chirpy stuff that feels a bit like when you mention you live in Scotland and someone yells OCH AYE THE NOO! Erm, if that makes sense. I’m not up for doing my own arrangements right now, I’m not naturally good at it.

    I’m OK on wire harp repertoire, I’m progressing much more slowly on that and have a few books already, including the huge Coupled Hands for Harpers.

    Just in case I decide that a lap harp would be a useful thing to have, what do people make of the basic ones George Stevens makes? They start at £250 for 19 strings diatonic, and then you can have £480 for 23 strings and levers on Cs and Fs, with extra levers being £20 each (I was wondering about Bs). He sounds like a reputable harp maker. How much could you do with a harp like that?


    How does this arrangement look? I’ve altered a few notes here and there in order to keep the C sharps and naturals where I want them, and also written in the lever changes.


    Hi Elletaria,

    Happy to hear that things are working out for you! It is difficult to speak of levels, at least for me – I’ve seen “advanced” scores that look easy and “intermediate/moderate level” that seem pretty complicated. Often that estimate seems to be based on the harmony in either or both hands – the bare bones melody might be very simple. So I’ll just suggest some collections that I happen to like:

    Cynthia Shelhart – “Tunes to Go”, 400 of them as lead sheets – make the arrangement as simple or complicated as you wish:-)

    Laurie Rasmussen – “Dawning of the Day”, mainly Gaelic selections from the CD

    Sylvia Woods – “Music Theory and Arranging for the Folk Harp” contains a very large number of tunes as well as many suggestions for arranging them.

    Harper Tasche – “A Small Harp Taking it Easy” and other collections of his arranged for the lap harp

    WRT the wire harp: one can play these with the same approximate technique as gut/nylon – Allison Kinnaird and Lisa Lynn do for instance – whereas Ann’s Coupled Hands technique is radically different (although there is no reason not to apply it to the gut strung harp). So personally I am learning the tunes in her book using that technique but not trying to relearn others. Cynthias Cathcart’s “Pathways” is another popular wire guide and many find it more easily digestible.

    I have to take issue with people who make statements about not substituting gut for nylon or any other string out of “tension issues,” as it is clear that they do not understand the underlying principles.

    Fluorocarbon is heavier then gut which is heavier than nylon at the same diameter and length – so we use smaller diameters when replacing nylon with one of the others to achieve the same tension. When people speak of “lever gut” versus “pedal gut” they are speaking of a smaller diameter for the same note (gut is almost always named for the note on the concert harp, which causes a lot of confusion).

    Farmers do not raise “pedal harp cows” in one pasture and “lever harp cows” in another LOL. My advice therefore is to choose strings that suit your style, music preferences and technique. People accustomed to high tension gut harps may not like FC or nylon, but that does not make them poor choices by itself.

    I’m not familiar with George Stevens but will say you can do a lot more with a small harp than many people realize. Harper Tasche has published a series of arrangements for the harp with 26 or fewer strings (see above) and they are great!

    A small double is very versatile too. I don’t know of makers in Europe although several players in England, Israel and Australia have my double 23 and seem happy with it. I’m not making any more but Rees, Argent Fox, and a few others make them here in the US.



    I keep being tempted by cross-strung harps, but I already have enough trouble seeing two rows of strings where there is just one!

    As well as rearranging Can She Excuse My Wrongs this afternoon in MuseScore, I wrote in lever changes for Flow My Tears. I need to figure out a system for marking which octave a lever is in. I was using the system used for ordering strings, but it’s not terribly intuitive, what with the break being between E and F and starting at the top, and I’ve just realised there’s no particular reason why I should do it. Assuming I am most likely to end up with a harp that goes down to C two octaves below middle C, I am thinking of calling that C to the next B the first octave, and then moving up. What does everyone else do?

    Good point about the strings. I will get started on the Hermine tomorrow and see how I do. It’s way too early to decide, really.

    Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll look into them. Did I mention that I’m in the UK, so I’ll be ordering from UK shops?


    Hi again,

    The books I mentioned are all very popular worldwide,with the possible exception of Harper’s, so they should be in most well stocked harp shops anywhere. If not shipping in not that expensive even with VAT.

    People use different ways of marking lever changes and some can be confusing due to the string naming issue. One method might read C # III between staves: that would be assuming pedal convention ( 3rd octave C). Another uses scientific and it would be marked C5#. It’s no secret around here that I prefer scientific (C4 being middle C, C5 one octave up etc.) since it is generic, not specific to only one instrument. Anyhow, choose whichever makes sense to you if you do it this way.

    My personal preference uses a mark (typically a diamond) and the accidental sign at the point on the score where the arranger suggests the flip to happen – the accidental itself is usually played a few beats later. If your notation software does not have this, just pencil it in.

    Not to beat a dead string HAHA but please do not confuse cross strung with double strung harps. The latter has two parallel rows of diatonic strings, and levers on both sides. The cross of course is already entirely chromatic.
    You can play a double pretty much like a single (the eyes do adjust quickly) but a cross is an entirely different instrument! I often play my double when my back hurts and I just want to fool around on the couch – 46 strings on a 4 lb 28″ tall harp…I like that:-)

    Best wishes,


    So I’m doing a modified version of the scientific method, then? I’m too small to get a harp that goes down past that C, that much has been made clear by the rental harp, so I may as well use that as my first octave.

    The rental harp is here! It arrived Thursday evening, a bit out of tune but very happy. Naturally, a string snapped ten minutes after the folks renting it to me had checked it over and left, but it was only the top G, and Camac had it with me the day after I ordered the new one. I’m guessing it wasn’t happy with being taken from a warm room to a cold car and back to a warm room. I hear Hermines are hit and miss, and either I got a good one, or I really have no concept of what a good harp sounds like, because it is way better than I expected! A tad pingy right at the top – what synthetic string is best for the top octave? – but otherwise a lovely full, rich sound. Fluorocarbon turns out to sound and feel a lot nicer than I’d expected. It’s also way louder, so no more practising late in the evening for me.

    I didn’t know how fast I’d adjust, seeing that I’ve been playing music an octave up on that 25 string harp. Not only did that go absolutely fine, but I found myself sightreading quite happily without being able to see what my right hand was doing much of the time. I am having enormous fun with it. An old friend of my partner’s, only recently back in Edinburgh, was over for some jamming, so we had him on guitar, my partner on mountain dulcimer, and me on harp. We’ll have to do that often, and I’ll have to work out some bass hand parts to play.

    The main snag is that I’m finding it a bit of a large harp for me. It’s on the bigger side for a 34 string lever harp, it seems. This may be a posture issue, especially since I was having a pain flare that day, but I will definitely need to get a good teacher round to look at this. My left shoulder was getting achy in particular, and it wasn’t easy reaching the lowest strings.

    Wire harp update: I have worked out a good spot to play on the sofa, and have installed this clip-on lamp on the kitchen cabinet above and behind me. The light is making it way easier to see the strings, although stretched out that lamp looks like something out of the <i>Alien</i> films and is mildly freaking me out. I was really stuck on the book I was using, I’d been going over the same pages for ages, so I decided to stop using that one and try <I>Coupled Hands for Harpers</i>. Bill Taylor said it’s probably not the greatest book for a 19 string, and he prefers other methods generally, but it’s got me unstuck and will keep me going for a bit, until I can sort out a teacher.

    I am having trouble with painting the strings, though. I’m using the Posca paint markers, and the red is actually a lightish pink and comes off within twenty minutes of playing. The dark blue on the Fs is fine. Any suggestions as to what to paint the Cs? I wear orange-tinted glasses after 9.30pm to help my sleep patterns, so a dark green is going to look exactly the same as a dark blue by that point. I was wondering about the light green, maybe the purple (apparently it’s a lavender). Or else a different brand. Has anyone else had this problem? Bill says model paint works fine, and my partner does have that in his flat, but he says it doesn’t stick on metal without an undercoat.


    Going back to the stringing issue, because chances are I am not going to be able to hear my preferred choice of string on my preferred choice of harp before it’s made up, which is making it harder to choose: I chatted to Bill about Ardival’s 34 string lever harp (whaddya think?), and he mentioned that they’re tried Nylgut (which he is pretty sure is Silkgut, they just rebranded it). He says in the end they decided that they just preferred gut, the Nylgut wasn’t quite as nice, but he does understand some people not wanting animal strings. He said it’s heaps better than nylon, though, and very close to real gut, including being the same diameter.


    The harp festival starts on Friday, and here’s where I am so far.

    I’m making good progress on the Hermine, enough to realise its limitations for me and have a much better idea of what I want. At 122cm tall, I can’t reach the bottom few levers comfortably. I’m playing a Bach Prelude which involves flipping the bottom F, and I have to hold on to the top of the harp to do it. This might be easier with different levers. I had a lesson on Thursday with a teacher who brought over her Starfish Glenelle, and they were easier to flip, but they look so different, they’re not coloured as obviously, and they’re laid out differently, so I was getting a bit lost when using them. I also had the brains of a beetle on Thursday, it wasn’t a good day for my health, which didn’t help.

    Anyway, shorter, smaller harps seem more likely to suit me, at my giant height of 4’11. I was having trouble figuring out the balance point on the Glenelle for me, but hopefully I will manage that better at the festival. A lighter harp is also going to make it easier to carry it between my flat and my partner’s when we move between them twice a week, which I would love to do if we can find the space for it in my flat.

    I’m told the tension on an Hermine is relatively low, and it’s too low for me. Rubber-bandiness, especially on the bottom few fluorocarbon strings (they go down to the D below middle C), where I’m sometimes having trouble holding onto them. You can also hear the difference when they switch to wire. It’s easier on the fingers than higher tension strings will be, I think, which makes it hard to judge where my limit is. So far, the only blister I’ve started has been on the fourth finger of my left hand, after practising lots of rolled chords in the bass on an Andres piece last night. (I iced it and it worked, it’s gone today!)

    Starfish are still the top of my list. A lot of harps are being ruled out by simply being too tall for me, such as the Silver Spear ones. Starfishes are about 117cm high, and mercifully have closer spacing than the Camacs. They’ve made a fluorocarbon-strung harp in the past, and tried stringing a harp in silkgut recently but only had two weeks to give it to settle in, so I hear it was hard to tell what it was going to be like. The chap at Starfish I spoke to said he thinks fluorocarbon will sound better and silkgut will be easier on the fingers. So they have some familiarity with synthetics, I’m sure they can do a good job of putting them on a harp for me, but not enough that I can figure out which stringing materials will work best.

    I don’t know whether I should be mixing and matching strings. The fluorocarbon does sound a bit pingy in the top octave. Some of that will be my technique, I’m still overplaying with my right hand thumb, but I assume some is down to the materials. What are the best synthetic options for avoiding a pingy sound and a bitey feel on the fingers? Nylon? Silkgut?

    Does anyone know of fluorocarbon harps which have a higher tension than the Camac Hermine, so that I can try them at the festival?

    I’m getting very mixed reports on silkgut. I spoke to a store in the US which sells various harps in nylon, gut and silkgut, and they said the silkgut was no better than nylon. It’s certainly not very popular. Other people think it’s amazing. The only harps I know of which are strung in it are the Salvi student range, and they’re apparently not the greatest harps in other ways, so I’m going to find it harder to single out the strings in terms of sound. Does anyone know what the tension is like on them, at least? Or how bitey they are in the upper register?

    What does it mean when lever harps are strung with pedal gauge strings an octave light, and are there any fancy options of this nature with fluorocarbon, or indeed silkgut? I’ve noticed that the Camac Isolde is strung with two different brands of fluorocarbon, Savarez for lever tension and Kurschner for pedal tension. Has anyone tried this one, and if so, how does it feel and sound?

    Teifi harps are still an option. The Telor is 10kg, which is manageable. Everyone says they feel heavier than you’d expect, so I will see how they sit on me in person. I’m going to bring my folding stool to the festival, and I will be able to put my wheelchair cushion on it if I need to be higher, as I do with the Hermine. Rumour has it that they are going to be unveiling a lighter harp at the festival.


    I’ve just seen Mark Norris’ new website, and am really excited to learn that he uses three different gauges of fluorocarbon. He’s a bit more expensive, but I think I could stretch to it. Opinions on his harps too would be lovely!


    Hi there

    I tried some carbon stringed harps. And indeed I also found the fluocarbon much richer in tone than silkgut (too “muddy” for my taste).

    I’ve been on the Salvi titan gut and silkgut, and the camacs isolde / excalibur and mélusine (nylon). (all harps here are medium tension harps)
    My preferance in sound was excalibur first, isolde second, melusine third and last salvi silkgut.

    I asked the seller, and normally the camac isolde and excalibur should have the same kind of carbon strings, but the soundbox is bigger with excalibur, so sounds richer.
    I also asked about the top octave (like you said if it’s too thin for your taste). Normally you could replace them with nylon strings for sound (like most harps have, see camac mademoiselle and korrigan, or salvi ana and egan, they are gut-strong harps, but their top octave is in nylon).

    Nylon sounds more nasal and a bit rougher around the edges, the carbon strings are more rounded and more sparkly. Depends what you like of course ;).

    I’m a newbie so don’t take me too seriously, it’s all about taste. ^_^

    You could always replace the top octave with nylon, and save your FC strings. You could then always switch if you’re not certain you like the sound.
    You could also buy some silkgut if you really want to try them for the top octave, I don’t think it will very expensive for those couple of strings. But I wasn’t sold over with them. Gut and silkgut, day and night!


    Making comparisons among strings I find is a good deal like comparing apples: some are good for baking, some for eating in salads, some try to be all things to all people. We can generalize about them of course, but so much also depends on the rest of the harp and your individual technique.

    WRT “Silkgut” my informants tell me that it is the same as Aquilla Nylgut; if so the it has the same mass as gut but higher tensile strength, which may mean different overtones.

    Personally for mid t0 high tension lever harps I favor nylon in treble, Savarez Alliance fluorocarbon or Nylgut in the mid and composites in the bass – preferably artificial silk with silver or bronze winding. This is entirely due to my tonal preference. “Why not gut?” you may ask. Because I don’t want to deal with humidity issues and the greater expense, that’s all.

    Others my just love gut and for the bass bronze core nylon wrap.


    Biagio, amen to the bass strings made of bronze with a nylon wrap! My Dusty Strings FH36S has them, in addition to being strung with nylon the rest of the way (nylon wrap over nylon and solid nylon). This is my first experience with this kind of bass strings, and I absolutely love them, both for tone and that they are so easy on my fingers. I can tell a real difference when I go back to the pedal harp with the steel bass strings–the calluses grow overnight, ha, ha!

    I played several Dustys strung in gut and found them to be very beautiful, but I prefer the nylon. To me, the nylon has the characteristic bright Dusty sound that I crave, and the gut sounds more like my pedal harp. I love the DIFFERENCE! Also, my FH36S is made of cherry and has a very warm tone, which would be too mellow with gut but is just right with nylon.

    Elettaria, have you checked out any Dusty harps? The Ravenna 34 is much like the Camac Hermine, but strung in nylon, which I think feels better to my fingers. Also, the Ravenna is a great little harp with a reasonable price-tag to match.

    Best thoughts,


    Mark Norris makes beautiful harps. If my finances would stretch to it I would love to buy one of his harps. I’m looking forward to trying his light bright 36 string harp at the Festival.

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