First Wire Harp

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

  • Keymaster
    HBrock25 on #156128

    Hi Everyone,

    I’m totally new to the harp, just decided i wanted to play it recently. I’ve decided i want to play the wire strung harp, and i need some advice as to who and where to go to find a not too expensive student level harp, that is still good quality. I’m thinking $500-$700. Can anyone recommend a good maker who does this? I live in Perth, Australia, so either local or a wordlwide company, it doesn’t matter. i’m kinda lost about where to start looking… I’ve had a look at some makers near where i live but they don’t have any cheaper wire harps, only ones in the $1000’s.

    Also,, can anyone tell me, is there anything that’s particular about the Clarsach harp other than the fact it’s wire strung?


    Karen Johns on #156129

    Well, I don’t know if this would help or not since you live in Australia but I have a wire-strung harp I built from a kit for around $550 from Musicmakers. Go to to have a look. It has 26 steel and wound strings, and its range is from C below middle C to G.

    Now, although there are a few who play wire harp with fingertips (like me) there is a “traditional” method currently taught that involves playing with the fingernails. This method does not sound good with steel strings, only brass & bronze (also considered traditional). If you are looking to learn this method and play this type of harp then the Limerick is not what you want, and I’m not sure where you would find a decent clarsach in that price range. These clarsachs also tend to have holes in the soundboard in the front, and usually the soundbox is carved from one solid piece of wood, which is also considered the traditional way to build this type of harp.

    As far as sound goes,when I play on steel strings with my fingertips, the result is a very lush bell-like sound with great projection and huge sustain. If you would like a sound sample go to and check out Pamela Bruner ‘Irish Journeys’. Her method is the same as mine, incorporating nylon/gut harp method. With a traditional clarsach, with fingernails and damping techniques, the sound is also beautiful, just different. There are nuances in the technique that take years to learn, and there are many skilled players in this area as well. Jeff Pockat is one that comes immediately to mind.

    If you decide to learn the traditional wire method, I strongly suggest you get a teacher, and a few sets of spare strings. Brass & bronze strings have a tendency to break more often than steel, but they have a wonderful sound so many don’t mind this inconvenience. You could compare the difference with nylon vs. gut, with gut being traditional and having a “warmer” sound, whereas nylon is more modern and tends to have a brighter sound.

    Either method you choose is fine, in my opinion. Just depends on what works for you, and what sound you prefer. Best of luck in your search! :-)


    Karen Johns on #156130

    Did a quick search for a traditional clarsach- check out Ardival harps Kilcoy model. 19 brass strings,

    jan-fetty on #156132

    A good source of info is also available through the yahoo groups “wireharp”

    adam-b-harris on #156133


    I live about 2 hours away from you in Goomalling. Last year I had William MacDonald from Skye make a small 22 string wire strung harp for me. It ended up costing about $1000 by the time I got it here. You are welcome to come up and have a look and play and see what you think. The problem with getting ANY sort of harp to Perth is the transport cost. I have a Limerick as well (but with nylon strings) so you can see what that is about.



    Alison Louise John on #156134

    hi there Adam,

    i sent a reply to you a couple of weeks ago but i just realised you probably wouldn’t have got it, i just replied from my email to somewhere in the internet! That would be great to be able to come check it out. I was thinking of getting one from them as well actually. Is next weekend ok to come up/ down?

    Alison Louise John on #156135

    hi there Adam,

    deb-l on #156136

    hi Alison, if you click on Adam’s name under ‘Posted by’ they click on it again after it brings up all of his posts, you will see his e-mail address.

    hannah-roberts on #156137

    I’ve been thinking about getting a first wire harp myself. I really like the Limerick! but I’m wondering if I could sort out the technique differences on my own.
    There are no wire harp teachers in my area. I have three years of weekly lever harp lessons behind me and am planning on at least two more. Could anyone tell me if I might be able to play simple things on a Limerick with my fingertips, like, A versions in Sylvia Woods’ books without wire harp lessons? (or maybe just watching Cynthia Cathcart’s Youtube lessons?)
    Here’s a Limerick on Youtube the player built herself, to give you an idea of the sound:

    adam-b-harris on #156138

    Have sent you an email.

    adam-b-harris on #156139


    The Limerick is a great little harp for the price, I have the nylon string version, not the wire one. I believe the limerick uses steel strings instead of the brass usually associated with wire strung harps.

    I’ve of the school of thought that there is no one “correct” way to play a musical instrument, however, with a wire harp I believe you should really be looking at playing with your nails rather than your fingertips because 1) it won’t sound that good 2) it will probably hurt.

    Wire harp is such a rare thing that most people would find it difficult to get hold of a teacher nearby. Some may offer skype though so maybe check that option out. Given your background, I’m sure you would be able to play a tune on a wire instrument straight away. Just to get it to sound great, you need to get a handle on the string spacing (although the limerick spacing would be the same as their nylon instrument), playing with your nails and muting techniques.

    I feel that the small amount of playing that I have done on wire (comparitively) has helped my harp playing enormously.

    Good luck with it – adam

    barbara-fackler on #156140

    Look also at
    includes a library of great public domain resources

    look for Cynthia Cathcart’s teaching videos on YouTube

    Look here for a great source for wire. Buying coils of wire and learning to knot your own strings saves a bundle:

    If you subscribe to the Folk Harp Journal, look for the articles in there about wire harps, they’re very instructional.

    Harriet van der Putt on #156141

    Hi Alison,

    you might probably have a harp already, but if not:
    Check out

    Alison Louise John on #156142

    thankyou so much! No i don’t have a harp yet, i’ve had a hard time finding a suitable one, so thanks again! i really like the sound and look of these ones 😀

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