Since I am buildng my “fantasy harp” in my mind, the question of the finish has come up.
Margaret, I am also taken with your idea of a fantasy harp with different stains for effects. I am hoping that one of the harpmakers/ restorers will hop in here to answer your question about the practicality of different stains and finishes. To my knowledge as a player, the choice of color is subjective for the most part. I have one harp that is mahagony(stain over maple), with a natural spruce soundboard. I doubt very much that the stain had little to do with the strength
I think traditionally, the carved parts of the harp were gilded, and the rest left unstained. Staining wouldn’t damage the wood, nor would it damage the soundboard. I think it’s also tradition to leave the soundboard unstained and left plain or decorated with decals and/or handpainted designs.
I’m just guessing, but maybe a practical reason why the majority of harps weren’t stained is because you could eliminate that step and get the harp done that much faster.
Oh, I do believe you, Barbara, that staining is faster than gilding.
I was specifically replying to what I thought were two separate questions. Maybe I misunderstood. One about a practical reason harps were left natural rather than stained. The other about what was traditionally done. Not knowing how far back in history Margaret was referring to and since she mentioned carving, I made the comment about the carving being gilded and the rest of the body left natural.
I’ve mostly owned natural harps over the years. Part of it is that I drag harps to gigs constantly, and a natural finish is very forgiving in terms of not showing every tiny microscopic ding. Dark finishes tend to show off even small blemishes. I treat my harps with kid gloves, but when an occasional moving-related ding has occurred, it has been miraculously easy to disguise. When I recently bought my newest pedal harp, I went to L&H and tried an awful lot of harps in various finishes, and I must say that I perceive a slight difference in the tones of the harps based on finish colors. I thought I must be nuts until several other harpists told me the same thing. Whether it’s real or imagined, I think that I do prefer the sound of natural wood, but it’s the cosmetic resilience that wins me over.
I’m not a harp marker, I’ve just been married to one for almost 30 years… sound like a commerical doesn’t it 🙂
The natural harps do have clear coats on them to seal off the woods from the outside bad guys like dirt and moisture, same for the soundboards for same reason.
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