help choosing concert tension lever harps.


  • Participant
    Lawliet on #225542

    Hello! I’m an aspiring harpist. I’ve always loved the sound the harp makes, and recently I finally caved in to the idea of learning how to play the harp and told myself why not?

    I have been researching for the last two weeks on what harp I should get. I ended up deciding that I wanted a harp with concert tension because I may end up wanting to move on into playing a pedal harp in the future, but for now I think starting with a lever harp isn’t a bad idea. I have narrowed my choices to the Dusty Strings Boulevard and Lyon & Healy Ogden. I would like to know what you guys think about the two Harps I mentioned and if you guys can recommend other alternative harps to choose from. I’m also looking at the Ravenna 34 even though it’s not a concert tension harp since a lot of people have a lot of praise for them (also considered replacing the nylon strings on them to gut strings but I don’t know if it will affect the harp negatively in the future since it was designed for nylon strings and I can’t find any sound samples of a Ravenna with gut strings). I also really liked the L&H prelude but sadly it is out of my price range, for now my budget is around $3500 USD.

    In case anyone might wonder, the kinds of music I am interested in playing isn’t really limited. I would like to play celtic, classical, and even cover modern contemporary music.

    • This topic was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by  Lawliet.

    Participant
    wil-weten on #225545

    Hi Lawliet, you’ve been researching for the last two weeks on what harp you should get and you’ve narrowed your choices down to the Dusty Strings Boulevard and the L&H Ogden, because of their concert tension strings. You would like to play celtic, classical and modern contemporary music on it.

    As to your idea of maybe getting a pedal harp later, I don’t think that idea should limit your choices now. It’s not that hard to switch between pedal gut tension and medium strung tension, as the playing techniques would be practically the same. Just avoid harps with lower string tension, as these don’t force you to develop a good technique for harder tensioned harp strings.

    So, my first step would be: listen to a lot of video clips, preferably not those that have been manipulated by some software. And listen well to how they sound in the lower, middle and high registers. Some harps have great basses, other great middle registers, some harps have really nice very high notes and some have a combination of all of the above…

    What kind of sound do you like? Warm and full? Bright and lively? Etc. etc. And then, try to put your fingers on as many of the harp models you found interesting.

    Also interesting: are you a small or a large person or something in between? I’ve got a Camac Excalibur, which suits me fine with its tension somewhere between classic and celtic and I’m able to reach tenths. I’ve also got a L&H Prelude with classic tension, it has an almost pedal harp sound, but my small hands struggle with grasping tenths in the lower register as the L&H’s have a wider string tension in the bass than Camac or Salvi harps.

    Harps do sound very different from each other, this is also the case with pedal gut string lever harps. And also the way they feel while playing can vary a lot. I tried a modern Camac Mademoiselle (before, I owed its predecessor model) and it played like it was strung with lever tension gut instead of pedal tension gut. Yet, it was really strung with pedal tension gut. The L&H Prelude I bought, is also strung with pedal tension gut, but it plays heavier than the L&H Prelude (as well as its predecessor model I owned before). At my teacher’s I play a L&H Ogden, it has pedal tension gut and it feels like it has even stronger tension than my L&H Prelude, perhaps because the strings are shorter and the body is smaller, so one has to put more effort in it in order to make it sound great.

    As to all the kinds of music you mentioned. It is very hard to play fast celtic embellishments on a pedal gut strung harp. So, how important would be able to play celtic music for you? As to playing classic music on a harp, would you like the lever harp sound almost like a pedal harp?

    Which harps did not make it into your shortlist and why? This information would help us to suggest harp models you really would like to try.


    Participant
    Biagio on #225546

    It is good that you have “done your homework” and narrowed your choices. IMHO too many beginners get bogged down when they ask about that first harp because we who reply are so enthusiastic – they soon have a greatly expanded list to consider!! I could easily think of half a dozen more to mention but will try a different tack by asking a few leading questions or thoughts.

    1) Have you located a teacher and discussed the question with him or her? If not, please do so before committing your funds. They may have student rentals which leads me to

    2) Have you considered renting a harp before buying one? Some have rent-to-own plans, others offer a discount if you decide to “grade up.”

    3) Where are you located? I assume in the US – if so are you fairly near a harp dealer? In addition to basic technique you will have to learn how to maintain your harp and a dealer can be very helpful with this.

    4) While technique for a moderate tension harp may be the same aa a concert tension instrument, playing one in the beginning may not develop the strength (and callouses) needed later on if you go on the pedal tension and gut.

    5) WRT to the Ravenna, you can put gut strings on it or any other nylon strung harp (see Dusty’s comparison chart) if you like the gut sound. If the maker does not offer gut, a string maker such as Vermont Strings can do an analysis to ensure you do not exceed the harps designed tension.

    6) Re: economics – do you have basic wood working skills and tools? Some of the best and least expensive harps come as kits – particularly Musicmakers’ Voyageur, Jolie, and Cheyenne (OK, I was not going to add any names but financials are another question). These harps are somewhat higher tension than most other lever harps, though not “concert tension.” Yes, you can put gut on them too.

    Best wishes and enjoy the journey,
    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by  Biagio.

    Participant
    harpist123 on #225552

    Good morning! I enjoyed your post, as I have owned both the Ogden and the Prelude. So, I will keep this short. Lyon & Healy still offers the Bounty Program, where you can trade up your “new” Lyon & Healy lever harp or smaller pedal harp and put the cost of your trade up harp into a new Lyon and Healy or Salvi pedal harp. A wonderful program, which I took advantage of with my Prelude. They give you 5 years to do this. Which gives you time to save money toward your new pedal harp! Though this may seem limiting to others who have posted here, mentioning many harps to choose from, this is a very fine option for you. And the Ogden has beautiful sound. It may be limiting with regard to number of strings and optimal volume since it is a smaller harp, but it is lovely. It has what you are looking for: concert tension and spacing, and gut strings. Though finances may keep you from buying a more expensive harp in the beginning, you may be amazed what you will be able to do in this regard as time passes. Once you start playing, and hearing many harps, you will want to buy them all!!! So having a grasp of what you are looking for AND aiming for in the very beginning is wonderful! Good luck to you, and always enjoy the process 🙂


    Participant
    wil-weten on #225554

    Great questions and suggestions, Biagio.

    One thing, I do think it’s important to ask oneself why one would really opt for a certain kind of harp. Wouldn’t it be a pity when one bought a pedal gut strung harp and then found out it was not really suitable for playing fast celtic pieces?

    As to putting gut strings on a Ravenna, indeed, the right corresponding diameters could rather easily be calculated, but …thin gut strings sound and feel quite different from gut strings with a bit greater diameter. And they wouldn’t help at all in preparing oneself for a pedal harp. Also, it won’t be easy to find the right diameters for the red and the blue strings…They could be tailor made, of course, but I guess they would cost a lot more than standard lever gut strings, like those of Bow Brand.

    Also, gut strings on a harp built for medium nylon string tension may feel rather thin and therefore uncomfortable under one’s fingers. The Ravenna can be had with Loveland levers, which perhaps could easily be adjusted for thinner strings, but the Ravenna could also be had with Camac levers, but these (great!) precision levers might partly need to be replaced with Camac levers meant for thinner strings.

    Lawliet, if you like the sound of the nylon strung Dusty Ravenna, you may want to compare it to the Dusty Boulevard which is built like a Ravenna, but built heavily enough to withstand pedal gut strings. As you may hear in the soundclips, the Boulevard sounds quite different from the Ravenna. Which sound do you prefer? If you like them both, I think it’s really advisable to first widen your scope before narrowing it again.

    By the way, you might ask Dusty Harps what they think about replacing the pedal gut strings of the Boulevard with celtic gut strings if after some time you’d discovered that you need a bit lighter tension for the kind of music you like to play.

    As to the L&H Ogden, formerly one could have it strung with pedal gut or with nylon. So, it may still sound nice with strings with a not so strong tension. I don’t have experience with that, though. I only know how it sounds and feels with pedal gut strings on it.


    Participant
    Biagio on #225555

    Thanks Wil, you reminded me of a couple more thoughts:

    -WRT the Ravenna (or others) and gut…They don’t indicate on the website where the gut strings begin but I’d bet that is somewhere below the first octave, where they would not seem appreciably thinner than nylon. Many concert tension harps have nylon too in the highest register.

    -A second harp – most (in fact all) whom I know have at least two harps: for different venues, for travel, and so on. It might be a reasonable idea to buy your first with economics in mind over impressive (and expensive) tone. Many teachers will say that mastering technique takes perhaps five years – during that time you could be saving for the next one.

    Re gut vs nylon in general: three things determine tension and tone for any given note: vibrating length, mass, and material hardness. Disregarding the latter and holding length fixed (i.e.you will not be changing the range – although that can also be done) one is left with mass or density. Gut is higher density than nylon – briefly stated, a nylon string would be about 11% larger diameter for the same tension. Not that big a difference when you get down into the mid range (0.045 gut vs 0.050 nylon for example).

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 2 weeks ago by  Biagio.

    Participant
    harpist123 on #225563

    Hello again! After reading the replies I started thinking about how I came upon buying my first harp. I live in Colorado and Dwight Blevins built harps in Grand Junction CO (he is now retired). I thought it would be wonderful (somehow appropriate) to have a harp from a builder in Colorado. Also, his harps were affordable (I only paid $1,700 for this harp new, fully levered, 36 strings, made of cherry). He was also considered one of the top builders of lever harps. I never actually heard this harp before purchasing it. I lived too far from anywhere to listen to a variety of harps. I tuned it up and every string was clear and resonate, top to bottom, without too many overtones that can create a muddy sound in the low end. It sounded beautiful. It held pitch perfectly, and rarely broke a string. So my first harp was a Blevins Espre 36. It was nylon strung. It was pretty and graceful as it sat in my livingroom. Though I have a classical music background, I knew that I wanted to play the harp for my own enjoyment, so wasn’t interested in the harp classical repertoire. I had a strict music education, so wanted to free myself from sheet music. When I discovered harp music notated for both hands AND chord names given, I was ecstatic! My theory background allowed me to play whatever worked within the chords indicated in the left hand, as I read the music and melody line for the right hand. Though I can read and play both hands from sheet music, chord names freed me up somehow! So there are as many reasons (if not a substantial number of more reasons) to buy a harp as there are harps available to buy! What a wonderful dilemma! I truly believe that there is something very precious in the process of buying your first harp…and yes, your second, third, fourth (and so on…) My suggestion: JUMP RIGHT IN!!! Oh! I should mention that I wish I had never sold my Blevins Espre. Because I am back to “square one” getting back into a folk harp that is nylon strung. I bought a Dusty Strings FH36S, and have now settled on a Triplett Eclipse. So go figure!!!!


    Participant
    Lawliet on #225585

    Thank you for the response, Wil, Biago, and Harpist.

    First things first, I’m really not trained musically so I am unable to describe verbally if a sound is bright or warm or anything. I just know that I like how the Ravenna 34, Boulevard, Ogden sounded. I actually just listened to a Salvi Una, and the Merlin, I really liked how they sounded as well.

    As to how important playing celtic music to me is… I don’t really have a preference over it than over classical. I mainly just narrowed my choices because of how the harp sounded like and the string tension of the harp to help me build strength to use a pedal when I do end up switching to one(and maybe a bit of how pretty they looked).

    I have not located any teachers yet, and tbh I’m not even sure how plausible it is for me to get one since the nearest one from my home would require me to drive close to 90 minutes away. I have considered doing online lessons though…. not sure if that’s a good idea.

    As for harp dealers, I am approximately an hour away from Virginia Harp Center and I am going to drop by there on Thursday or this weekend to actually check out some harps in person and just to see how they feel and how they actually sound like in person, and if they resonate with me. I have also considered renting, but most renters require to check your credit history… but the thing is, I just moved to the US recently so I have no actual credit history yet. If I do end up getting and Ogden then the bounty program that Harpist mentioned will help me greatly in the future. Also on a different tangent. I probably have to get it delivered to me since I’m not sure if a 34-38 strings harp can fit on a civic-

    Sadly I have atrocious wood working skills and it takes me a long time to even set up IKEA furnitures LOL!

    Hopefully my visit to the harp center will help me choose which harp to get.( or make it harder haha)

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Lawliet.

    Participant
    Biagio on #225591

    Hmmm…well, here are my thoughts for what they’re worth:

    First – there are “teach yourself” books and DVDs as well as what you can find on-line but you must study them assiduously and it will be a slower process without a teacher’s guidance especially at the early stages.

    Learning harp technique is absolutely vital and it is not intuitive. Since none seem to be within a reasonable distance, in my experience, having been in the same boat, personal lessons online are almost as good and there are excellent teachers available that way. As for books etc, I suggest the following brief list:

    On Playing the Harp by Yolanda Kondonassis
    Music Theory and Arranging for the Lever Harp by Sylvia Woods
    Play the Harp Beautifully by Pamela Bruner
    The Harper’s Manual by Laurie Riley
    Troubleshooting Your Lever Harp by David Kolacny
    Harp Tuesdays – online series by Josh Layne

    Second – the harp. I don’t think under the circumstances that you should be worrying about gut vs. nylon, concert tension vs. “folk” tension at this point, so buy a less expensive harp with the thought that you may sell it down the road, or keep it as a second harp later on.

    With this in mind I suggest the Ravenna. There is a larger second hand market for that, if you sell it later, than the Boulevard and it costs less than the Ogden. Don’t assume by the price that the Ravenna is an inferior instrument – the price reflects the manufacturing labor and Dusty created these designs expressly for people looking for low cost but high quality. There are some professionals that even use the Ravenna as their touring instrument; others who rely on it for student rentals.

    Full disclosure: I am a harp maker – or was before retiring – and live practically within spitting distance of Dusty Strings as well as four other top notch harp makers.

    Best wishes and happy harping,
    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Biagio.

    Participant
    wil-weten on #225593

    Hi Lawlett, how great that you can visit Virginia Harpcenter. In your first message you asked for alternative choices for the harps you already mentioned. I had a look at their website and saw that they also sell Camac lever harps.

    I love Camac harps (as well as L&H harps). As to Camac lever harps with pedal string tension:
    Do try the 38 string Camac Korrigan. It has pedal gut strings.
    You may also like to try the 38 string Camac Isolde Classic. It has Kürschner fluorocarbon strings with classic tension.
    Perhaps you’d like the 34 string Camac Telenn. It has folk pedal tension gut strings.
    It surprised me that the Camac harps cost a lot more than they do in Europe. On the other side: the Dusties are cheaper at your place than they do in Europe.

    I also saw several interesting used harps there. The great thing about used harps bought in a reputable harp shop like this one, is that you get a good harp for a nice price. And when you later on would decide to resell it, with a bit of luck, you can resell it for the price you bought it or for even a bit more, as harps get pricier and pricier…

    For some of the used harps at the site, unfortunately the sale is already pending. Like the 38 string Salvi Egan, or a 38 string L&H Prelude.

    Where I in your shoes, I would definately try out the Camac Stivell. It has folk gut strings, but it is a ‘concert harp’ and so, perhaps you will really like its sound.

    I also saw an old Camac Petite Classic. I had such a harp, then still called a PH38. I sold it mainly because I wanted more sophisticated levers. I was surprised to see it costs as a used harp still about twice as much as it would be sold for as a used harp in Europe.

    I am not a fan of the newer Salvi harps, especially not from their recent Chinese levers. The used Salvi Egan still has performance levers, the same levers as you will still find on L&H harps.

    There’s als a used Ogden of 2016. Frankly, I had expected a nicer price for a three year old harp.

    I can’t tell much about Dusty’s. I can only tell you that I once had a harp (not a Dusty) with Loveland levers. And I do know, that when I would have the choice between a harp with Loveland levers or Camac levers, I would gladly pay the extra price to get Camac levers on that harp.

    Finally, I myself have a Camac Excalibur (as well as two other harps). The Excalibur has a string tension somewhere between celtic and classic. There is a used one in the Virginia showroom.

    Oh dear, I just saw that Virginia Harpcenter has two showrooms… and I saw their current inventories… I expected they had more Camac harps in stock. Anyway, it may have inspired you to test some of them later on.


    Participant
    harpist123 on #225594

    Good morning! Both Will and Biagio have covered all the bases! So good you will be visiting a harp store with a large selection. They should have someone available to play them for you as you listen from a distance away. And then you can narrow down your choices by sitting at them yourself, and see how the “fit” you! You will want to pluck away on them, just to feel the different tensions. Have a wonderful time!


    Participant
    wil-weten on #225595

    Biago and I must have uploaded our messages almost at the same time. I agree with Biagio’s preference for a Ravenna. The point with a harp with heavy strings, such as the L&H’s, is that when one doesn’t have a teacher who can prevent that you develope chronic injuries with one’s finger or wrist or shoulders, one would better chose a (lower) medium tension lever harp. Also, a Ravenna is better suitable for celtic jigs etc.

    By the way, when going to Virginia Harp Center, they may know about professional teachter that do live in a reasonable distance of yours.

    Edit: I just saw Harpist123’s latest message appearing and I completely agree!

    Enjoy your harping queeste.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  wil-weten.

    Participant
    Biagio on #225597

    I concur with you, Wil, in a preference for Camac levers over Lovelands. The latter have been the “work horse lever” for many years and there is nothing inherently wrong with them but….they must be regulated (adjusted) more often than some others – Camacs and Truitts being my personal preferences.

    So yes, indeed, try out all those harps at the VHC and be assured that whatever you decide you will have a wonderful journey.

    I can’t resist a couple of stories regarding the importance of a teacher.

    First my own: I was having fun making instruments but never interested in playing them until making a harp for the first time. I had an excellent teacher but she passed away after only a year…I was then on my own and stuck pretty much in one place until moving to the Puget Sound region (which is alive with harpers). I started lessons with Laurie Riley, first via Skype, then in person and progress was rapid, thank goodness.

    Second, Laurie herself: Laurie was an excellent professional musician already before taking up the harp and in her own words, “thought the harp would be easy. How wrong I was! After a few years I managed to take lessons and it took some time to correct all the bad habits I developed on my own.”

    Don’t let that discourage you (there were really only two books available in her day and one was in Italian) , but just to emphasize that all the exposure you can get from other player, even if only in a harp circle, will pay off greatly.

    Best wishes,
    Biagio

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by  Biagio.

    Participant
    wil-weten on #225771

    Hi Lawliet, would you like to share your experiences last Thursday or weekend with the harps you tried in Virginia Harpcenter? Just curious. 🙂

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