First-time buyer’s advice

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    Linika on #189680

    Hello HarpColumn!
    I’ve been thinking that the harp makes beautiful music for several years now and have decided that I want to learn how to play it. I have no real prior musical knowledge. I did play the cello for a bit when I was little, but not for very long. I know pretty much nothing about the harp.

    I am currently enrolled at a demanding software engineering program and will be for a few years yet. So I won’t have too much time to practice and lessons are out of the question, so I doubt renting is a good option for me. I wouldn’t really get all that much value out of the money spent I think.

    I’m into the medieval re-enactment movement and my dream is to one day be able to play well enough to accompany my singing friends during events. I’d probably mostly like to play folk and medieval pieces.

    As a student my budget is very tight, I can put away about $50-$100 a month outside of the necessities. As such this probably mid-east harp is very tempting. I have however come to understand that it’s usually too good to be true?
    The site offers a full year guaranty on the build quality, so it feels like they need to have some confidence in their product right?

    After reading on the forum I have also looked at the Harpsicle line. Including shipping to Sweden, the only ones I think I could afford would be the Harpsicle and maybe the Sharpsicle.

    After an extra googling I also found this from thomann. Not sure yet if it’s actually available. It’s in the same price range as the mid-east one. Anyone know anything about it? It sounds too good to be true, and it doesn’t say anything about the leavers, though the image shows a full set of them. The site offers a 30 day return policy and 3 year guaranty.
    Can you guys help me out? What should I choose?

    Terry on #189683

    Have you considered Musicmakers harps? They have a Smartwood harp for only $750.00. I know that is a bit above your price range, but it would be worth it. It is a great beginner harp. They also sell it as a kit for $479.00, but it sounds as though you wouldn’t have the time to build a kit. It sounds much better than any mid-east harp (the kind you were looking at). I used to have a mid-east harp, so I would know. Also Waring harps and backyard harps have affordable cardboard lap harps. The Smartwood harp has 29 strings, and it is great for playing celtic/medieval/folk music on. Musicmakers has a dealer in Sweden, Sally Sehlin at Nordic Harps. Here is a link to the site. Hope this helps.

    Biagio on #189687

    I think that Terry has given you excellent advice. To expand on that a little – and hopefully not sound disparaging:

    If you ever hope to go beyond the very basics, lessons and a good harp will be necessities. So for now, buy a good harp at the lowest price you can afford, and that you can easily sell later if you decide to go beyond the basics. That emphatically excludes any of these mid-eastern things, even though once in a while you might find a good one.

    Harpsicles, the Music Maker kits, Waring…those will get you started. You would be wise to also buy a good self teaching instruction – Laurie Riley, Pam Bruner, Sylvia Wood are several possibilities.


    Linika on #189688

    Thank you for answering Terry!

    I have considered them. The problem with the Smartwood one, which I can kind of easily fit into my budget in kit form, is that I find it very unpleasing for the eye.
    I love the limerick one, but it’s way more (not harp way more, but it’s a lot of money!) expensive. Thinking about it, maybe I coulde save for a while, rent for 6 months and then buy (as you can put those months payments towards buying a harp form NordicHarps…). But it’s still a lot of money that I could put to good use somewhere else :/ I would also have to put the harp playing dream off for approk 6-12 months I think. It’s such a long time! I know it’s the smartest thing to do. Just so frustrating!

    Oh, I forgot about the cardbord ones. While they are nifty, I woudn’t be able to bring it to any events I would like to go to, it would stick out like a sore thumb 🙁 But I will keep them in mind! Money might yet win!

    Do you know anything about the Thomann harp? It looks very different to the mid-east ones.

    Linika on #189690

    Thank you for answering Biagio!

    I don’t even know if there are any teachers around here, google is failing me 🙁 But in the future it is not at all impossible that I would look for a teacher. As it is, right now my plan is to invest in a self-teaching something to start with, and I thank you for the namedropping! I will check them out!

    Maybe, by the time I can make up my mind about the harps, I can even afford one!

    Terry on #189695

    Hello again,

    If you are looking for a harp that looks good and that has a good price, Dreamsinger harps in California makes affordable Clarsach’s. I know you may not be looking for a wire strung harp, but their Druid harp is only $350 if you buy an unfinished one in plywood. All you have to do is sand it, (it is already put together) lacquer it, and install the strings. It has 22 strings and looks very medieval. It might cost a lot to ship from California to Sweden though…

    Since you said you were looking to invest in a self-teaching method/book, I would recommend a book by Joyce Hershey called “learning to praise the Lord with the harp.” It is very thorough and precise, and it teaches up to an intermediate level. You can buy it from Vanderbilt Music company. (Don’t buy it from harps of praise- their shipping is not always reliable.) It would be a little pricey with shipping, but worth checking out at least.

    Also, about the Thomann harp… It looks a little chintzy. Not to rain on your parade, but harps that cost that much are usually poorly made. I don’t have any experience with Thomann harps, so this is only an opinion.

    Again, I hope this helps.

    Linika on #189714

    Hello Terry!

    I looked at the Dreamsinger harps, but I think shipping will be awfull 🙁

    I will look up Joyce Hershey when time comes! Thank you for the tip!

    Perhaps you are right! I was in contact with the company and by the time they get the harp in stock (sometime next year) I will probably hava managed to save up enough that the Limerick would be a real possible candidate!

    It does help! I need help beating the “If it seems to good to be true it probably is” message into my head ^^

    randal on #189739

    Hello Linika – I suggest searching online auction sites in your region for a used QUALITY small harp – such as the “Stoney End”; these are often available on “ebay” quite inexpensively here in the US – although I’m sure there are fewer where you are. These are great for the medieval music/scene. I have one available here in the US, but as you mention – shipping overseas would likely be cost-prohibitive. But, I’ve always wanted a nyckelharpa – and they’re rare (and expensive) here!

    BTW, nice-looking cat there 🙂

    Biagio on #189740

    I would urge you not to judge primarily on how a harp model looks. There are some that look really beautiful but are only useful as decorations. Stay with established makers and you will be a lot happier.

    Just saying…


    randal on #189743

    Also, those Smartwoods and others available as kits – much easier to ship overseas…maybe ask a friend to help you build it .. visit the arts colleges on your campus – I’ll bet there are a few who’d enjoy putting together a harp. As Biago says – a good quality is what’s important here.

    Biagio on #189746

    Linika, in most of this thread we have centered discussion on specific harp models and passed over some other things – sorry about that!

    Teachers – There are number of excellent harp teachers who give lessons over the Internet using Skype or similar technology. You would of course need fairly high speed internet access and the necessary hardware, but that is not expensive. Most charge less for internet lessons than for in-person. Even if you do not have a harp – and in some cases especially – a good teacher will guide you in what to get.

    Harp size – most would recommend a minimum of 26 strings (3 1/2 octaves), although you could probably get going with only 3 octaves. These are usually “lap” harps which means you have to find some way to balance them (some 3 12/ octave harps are large but they are also expensive). This is very awkward until you have gained some proficiency… or unless it comes with a stable stand that effectively turns it into a “floor” harp.

    Cost – why does a decent harp cost “so much”? In terms of materials alone from highest to least in USD: levers ($15 to $25 each if installed by the maker – includes time); hardware and strings ($150-$200 depending on specifics); sound board $100 for the least expensive; frame including box $75 minimum. So excluding labor a fully levered 3 1/2 octave costs the maker about $850 of which 60% are the levers. Conclusion: consider starting without levers but be sure that levers can be added later.

    Weight – you mentioned the Limerick and that is a nice instrument but it is also rather heavy for it’s size.

    More sources for information – Consider joining the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen; and the Yahoo! group Virtual Harp Circle. This group was begun specifically for beginners although we now have quite a few professionals as well (I’m one of the owners/moderators).

    When I look over the above, of the models that have been mentioned I’m thinking that the Rees Sharpsicle would probably be the wisest choice for you. If you can afford to wait and spend a little more, consider the Dusty Strings Ravenna – both are available in several countries in Europe.

    Best wishes,

    Alyson Webber on #189747

    I’d like to add that Smartwood harp, while not necessarily the prettiest of harps, can be decorated as you like if you buy it as a kit. Are you or any of your Renaissance friends artists? You can stain or paint or burn decorations in to the harp as you like before the topcoat. Of course, I would ask MusicMakers about the types of paint or stain they would recommend and the topcoat to go with it. Then it will truly be your harp, something to be proud of despite it’s humble beginnings.

    wil-weten on #189753

    Do I understand correctly that you live in Sweden? Unfortunately importing harps from the US may cost you a lot more than you may think. You’ll have to pay VAT on the price of the harps and on the price of the (very high!) shipping costs. And besides you may have to pay for customs costs.

    I don’t know whether there are any harp shops in Sweden. If there are, you may want to look at a (used) Camac Bardic 27.

    There’s a Dutch harp shop that sells harps of several American harp builders. There’s another Dutch harp shop that sells Dusty Harps. They deliver internationally. You can buy Dusty harps also in the United Kingdom (Morley’s) and in France. At least this would give you an idea of the prices. These shops do ship harps, but I would definitely prefer to try and harp before I buy and then take it home with me.

    e-nb on #189766

    Susan Enochson might be able to give you some advice. She can be contacted via her web site

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