Harp Reviews and helping new buyers

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    Does anyone know why there are no standard harp reviews? So much could be achieved by the addition of total measurements, just the height of the soundbox to the knee or knuckle bone, the style of music the harp was designed for. Lever harp or folk harp with levers? Strengths and weaknesses of Solid wood vs veneer harps. Square back, round back or 5 panel stave back how they vary the sound.
    Many newcomers are unsure of how a harp should fit them or as myself buying blind living in places where they can’t try any harps. Laurie Riley’s Anatomy of the Harp is excellent for basic info for buying lever harps it is small informative and affordable.
    Is it just me.


    No. I’m sometimes astonished at the type of information brochures or similar materials omit to give.


    The thing is Rosey, buying harps is like buying cars – there are so many choices and it’s what ever fits YOUR needs, so what would work and feel and sound great for one might not for another. It would be well worth a plane ticket or an overnight drive to get somewhere where you can try out harps yourself. Southwest offers deals all the time . . . Either way, buying a harp is pretty much a “To each his own” situation. Good luck!



    I think harp makers expect you to get in touch and ask if you really need to buy without playing one. I also find some newcomers pay far more attention to measurements and specifications than people who have been playing for longer and know how different two harps of the same weight, height and stringing can be.


    To play the grumpy skeptic, sound and playing are so subjective it would difficult to rate them much more objectively than one rates wine. I have very little faith in anybody’s opinion of a harp’s sound other than my own ears since it’s so dependent on opinion and taste. I think the main result would be harpmakers switching to gigantic soundboxes and boards since players like to assume bigger is always better in that regard. In addition, musicians believe pseudoscience and gobbledygook so easily they’d almost certainly infiltrate such ratings (“But they use magnetically synchronized fairy dust in their varnish!”). General physical dimensions, mostly height and weight, can be useful for buyers with transport or storage concerns, and those figures are readily available already.

    Eric Allison

    As a newbie, I’ve only had opportunity to play one 36-string Blevins floor harp so used it as a beginning comparison. Cindy Blevins and Eve Stone have readily answered my questions via email and phone. Many of the vendor sites provide sound clips and pages, if not full blown brochures, that explain how various boxes, sound boards, string types, tensions, and woods affect playing style and ultimate results. Digging through the sites taught me what was important to consider in addition to providing general information. Here’s the link I used to find most of them:

    There are also a few online communities of helpful people in addition to the crowd at Harpcolumn. Their experiences are broad and opinions are, well, opinions. But a few months, yes months, of reading historical posts, and asking for clarifications, have helped to gel what I want, what I need, and what I ordered. The only stupid questions are the ones I haven’t asked.

    The Virtual Harp Circle:
    You Gotta Have Harp:

    What I really had to dig dig dig for was pictures and videos of people playing specific models. If I have one suggestion for vendors, it’s to post some pictures and videos of people playing your various models so we can get a sensible idea of the harp’s sizing and how it falls on a person. “Fall” is probably not the best term to use. Youtube and some of the conference sites were the best sources I found to help me visualize. Sylvia Wood has a good running list of event sites:

    If you really just can’t get anywhere to play a collection of harps, the answer is just keep looking, digging, reading, listening, watching, and asking until you’re comfortable making a decision. That’s what I did. My harp bookmark folder has 36 (back where I started) links and some of those are pages of links. Hope this helps.


    Thanks for the variety of views we all have personal views. Eric I think we have trodden similar paths and Harp Column has been very helpful. No I was not suggesting one can explain how it sounds or tastes that is too subjective and sound changes with age and is subject to one’s playing technique etc. I can have Grumpy moments and yes I did get the YOUR needs, but if harp makers put out as many “Tech specs” as car makers, we would not be here.
    Well I live in Australia everyone in the world outside of the US : ) I have chronic illnesses and pain issues so some issues were specific to me but so many were not. After my bio was released I have been assisting people who even going to your shops and dealers were having trouble finding a harp that fitted. Or lived a long way from one store with enough variety.
    Like many I also had no teacher anywhere in my area. After 2 years of finding out the “details are very important” I set up a harp room and decided to test a range of harps and keep a showroom for a year. 4 years down the track very soon my last 4 harps some from France will be in and that will be 16 harps I have bought thru a dealer from the US and now mostly sold on.
    Yes I did hundreds of hours research and often came up with some few facts that can make all the difference, missing and often not provided when requested. Which proved after time too problematic to keep the harp.
    As mentioned above by Eric to have a photo of a player at the harp seated and to know the height of the player and stool and soundbox would be invaluable. To have the measurement of the width, sitting from the back of the soundbox straight thru to the last string would be very helpful.
    If the “fall” point is the balance point where the harp stands in mid air on its back feet yes that can be very important as many players choose not to have the harp leaning on their shoulder.
    I feel we are so individual and the harp is so intimately apart of us while playing there could never be too much information.

    Angela Biggs

    Just two cents here, but I think it’s also important to note that players will become accustomed to the harp they’re using. Almost any instrument at which you spend hours per week or day is going to become second nature to you. Of course there will be extreme outlier harps that are much too big or small overall for a particular player (lever harps, anyway) — but I think that the information you can find on most websites is sufficient to weed out those harps. On my current harp, I can’t easily reach the very lowest strings if I’m sitting straight on to the harp. For a while I compensated by turning the harp slightly so that the neck was positioned more at my right upper arm than my shoulder; lately I’ve sliding my right shoulder down the curve of the soundbox to get closer to those lower strings when necessary. Either way — it’s part of the unique combination of my harp and me. I don’t think absolute dimensions are the be-all and end-all of a harp/player unit.


    Rosey, I assume you meant the technical reviews for lever harps, since they do come in various sizes and exist in a variety of specs. Such reviews may not really be helpful for pedal harps. I believe pedal harps are manufactured to have more or less a standard fit, at least by most established manufacturers, so it’s less the tech more the emotional aspect that plays a part. While there can be differences, it wouldn’t be to an extent that the harp “doesn’t fit” the harpist… it is the harpist that needs to be flexible and adaptable.


    Loon You are absoletely correct. I would say as a lever harp player, all the Concert pedal harps I have played tried L & H and Salvi and Venus were a blessing. They tend to have a greater angle sound box, lovely narrow soundbox from top to mid range, round back stave plus there are extended versions and they are perfectly balanced, weighted in the base of the harp. I am awaiting my Camac Lever Mademoiselle Concert 40 gut string harp. Standards are more closely adhered to and the balance point plus I bigger investment in the pedal harp world plus teachers to advise and the bigger companies seem to have more attention to detail.. My first harp was a Trobadour VI the balance was excellent.
    Unfortunately I cannot play pedal weight gut and Camac are making me the Madam 40 and Korrigan 38 in gut at a lighter tension.
    However I will still support the voices of those who struggle to find support to help them buy their lever harp and play its whole range, comfortably, with their arms at the level they need, and the most telling is how long one can play/practise without fatigue or soreness and future injury which is not always obvious for the first few years.


    I am glad you have a bond with your harp. I think the size of your harp is important in to know with your comments and your experience with playing other harps. I to have had and still have harp affairs, where one cannot imagine playing another harp or selling it, but after a point when it may slow ones progress or make some ranges occasional the harp heart grows . I feel reaching the bass strings comfortably is important and some designs make it possible where others do not. I have had this on a wide harp, I found practising finger exercises daily became more of a chore even with a stretching program, and not as comfortable to play long pieces in blues etc with more emphasis on working the bass.
    Happy harping

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