Lever harps for beginners (UK) – looking for advice

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    I have been wanting to play the lever harp for many years, as I greatly enjoy listening to folk music (Robin Williamson, Catriona McKay, Fiachra), as well as early music pieces. I have no interest in ever progressing to the pedal harp – I don’t really want to focus on classical music.

    There are two harps that I think I like:

    34 string Robyn harp (Telynau Teifi) and Hempson 34 (Clive Morley).

    I am hoping to see and try them both at the Edinburgh Harp Festival this April, but in the meantime I was wondering if anyone has had experience with them? I have read some feedback on the Hempson, but I haven’t seen any about the Robyn. Both seem like good student harps, but the Robyn has gut strings, and the Hempson – nylon. Which do you prefer? What is the difference in your opinion? Which is softer on the fingers? Which one do you think would you be satisfied with the longest? If I buy one of these harps, I don’t want to upgrade for many years for several reasons.

    I noticed there is a second-hand Hempson harp on sale at Telynau Teifi. Do you know anything about it? It seems to have been bought and sold several times, or am I mistaken?

    Also, has anyone had any experience with Derwent Harps? I couldn’t really find much feedback about them either.

    On a separate note, I am so excited I’m going to quite a few of the Edinburgh Harp Festival concerts!


    Suggest you correspond with Danielle Di in Cambridge-she went thro’ this process last year. The Hempson is on legs and its base is not stable on the floor without the legs.


    I wonder if you have seen another lever harp there in the UK: the Clarsach made by Pilgrim Harps, in South Godstone, Surrey. I owned one for many years and loved the portability, resonant tone, and very good levers. Try to see this 34-string harp at some of the harp gatherings.


    Alison, thank you. How can I contact Danielle?

    Does a harp need to be stable without legs? Also, do you know anything about the Aoyama Kerry harp?

    Patricia, it seems like quite a lot of people have good things to say about the Pilgrim Clarsach. I looked at the Pilgrim Harps website, and it seems like their Clarsach has gut strings. I’ve heard that they tend to be more fragile and unpredictable compared to nylon. To what extent is that true? And have you ever had any experience with their Ashdown or Skylark?


    It is difficult for me to associate those two adjectives with the gut strings of the Pilgrim Clarsach model. As far as being unpredictable, gut strings show a bit of unravelling before they actually break, so there is a visual clue that it is time to change the string, before the break would happen. In that sense, one can predict a breakage and prevent it. Then use the faulty string elsewhere, as in the garden! Nylon strings give no warning, and would just snap unexpectedly , in my experience. As for being fragile, the gut string may not last as long as a nylon one, but the more resonant tone of the animal matter that has that elasticity to vibrate differently from a nylon string that was manufactured by DuPont company and began its existence in a test tube can not vibrate in that way. Many musicians prefer the natural over the synthetic. The sound is worth the greater cost, in their view. You decide. Perhaps others will comment on the Ashdown and the Skylark models.


    Brief thoughts:

    1. Gut, gut, gut. You cannot comprehend how amazingly awesome gut sounds compared to nylon. If you like the tension of nylon, try the some of the Camac harps with Alliance strings. They sound as awesome as gut, break less often and have the low tension of nylon.
    2. The hempson was a bit weedy for my taste, but the key words here are for my taste. Try before you buy. You can get the hempson strung in gut too.
    3. Not that it matters, but I’m pretty sure Daniele is a guy and spells his name the Italian way:) He did a review post of all the harps he tried in Edinburgh two(?) years ago, the thread is somewhere in the Coffee Break section, if you want to have a read. But your best bet is to come to Edinburgh and try them all out for yourself, there’s no substitute. I’ll be there too, doing the same:)
    4. Stay away from Derwent harps.
    5. The pilgrims are nice. But again, try etc.

    Mae (also of Cambridge)


    I was hung up on gut strings for years until I came to terms that the type of music I like to play best, traditional, sounds better and is easier to play faster and ornamentation with the brighter and lighter tension of nylon and alliance. The resonance of the wood of the harp is what I’m after. Personal opinion only, but really that’s all it is anyway, is what YOU like best. Besides I’d rather touch plastic than sheep innards (no offense).


    Deb L – The part about the sheeps’ innards was my reason for choosing KF composite strings. Just mentioning this as a viable alternative for anyone who is contemplating the same problem.


    Hi Hester, where in the UK are you? I can recommend a Dusty Strings 34 string and I personally have a few friends with Teifi harps who love them and have no regrets.


    Hi! I’ve owned a Starfish harp and a Telynau Teifi, and both makers are very serious.
    The Starfish was a Mamore, and had lever gut with a low tension.
    the Eos I now own has the same gut strings as a pedal harp and there is much tension.
    The sound and feelingis also different,
    Mamore is best for traditional music in my opinion with a great resonance, full bass, and cristalline sounds.
    The Eos is very reactive, and really great for classical music! It has a great range of sounds and dynamics.
    I also know the Dusty Strings harps that are very good harps.
    The ravenna 26 and 34 are very good student harps, and even if the strings are in nylon, the sound is rich, and not too cristallin.
    Camac can be also good but maybe expensive in UK?Here in France a lot of beginners own the Melusine, in nylon.
    I don’t know Pilgrim harps, but the clarsach seems to be a solid and good instrument.
    Another point, I agree with Mae, yes…avoid Derwent harps.
    I’ve unfortunately bought them their little harp, and it was really a bad experience.
    I got an instrument bad regulated, the levers I’d paid a high price where out of tune (on the upper notes it was near a tone!!!) , with apparent screw in the table, the tuning key broke the first time I used it…and they didn’t agree to take the instrument back.
    I finally sold it again really cheap, in two times: the levers to an amateur harp maker and the harp for a very low price to another person.
    what a waste of time and money!


    Hester, I’m from San Francisco and go to the Harp Festival most years. All I can say is with advice on what not to purchase due to problems with the instrument, you need to pick the one that “speaks to you.” It’s a matter of personal preference for sound. DO get someone – or two different people – to play while you stand back and listen. I have played all sorts of harps in Scotland over the years as I don’t take my own over (Dusty 36) and frankly don’t see much difference in gut vs. nylon – except sound. Would love to meet you there. Sharon Affeltranger. You can ask most anyone as I know a lot of the people there.


    Thank you so much for your replies! They have all been very helpful and made me see a few things in a different light.

    Patricia and Mae, thank you for your input on gut strings. I don’t really have qualms about them anymore 🙂

    Deb, that’s an interesting point. I mostly want to play folk music (Scottish, Irish, Breton, etc) so that may be something I should keep in mind. Personally, I’m not really bothered by having to touch sheep’s innards, but that’s only because gut strings just look like strings and don’t have a smell XD I can understand what you mean, though.

    Andee, I’m in Edinburgh. I don’t think I’ve seen Dusty Strings 34 online. Could you give me a link, please? Do any of your friends have a Robyn in particular? It’s good to know that they have a good experience with Telynau Teifi harps. I suppose I am interested in the Robyn because it is not as expensive as other student harps and the price actually includes a carrying case.

    Lili, thank you! I am sorry you had such a bad experience with Derwent Harps! It’s a shame there aren’t any reviews of them on websites like Yell, so that people would know what to expect from them.

    Sharon, thank you for your advice! I will probably lurk around and listen to other people playing all the different harps, because I don’t know anyone who can play the harp and so I can’t really ask anyone to play and let me listen. I would love to meet you too, so I’ll make sure to ask around 🙂


    You won’t have a problem finding someone to play harps at the festival! Most of the stalls have a harpist there for a start. Make sure you also visit Holywell who will be tucked away in another building.

    I have also just sent you a private message.

    Just for the record, Bow Brand gut is cow, not sheep.


    Hester, not sure if they have a Robin, will check for you. Here is the link to Clive Morley Harps page on Dusty Strings FH32:


    Tacye, thank you for telling me about Holywell. I will be sure to visit them! And thank you for the information. I didn’t really know what gut strings were made of exactly.

    Andee, thank you. The FH34 looks fantastic! I am mostly looking at harps that are less pricey at the moment, though.

    Has anyone ever played a Mark Norris harp? It is a bit intimidating that there are no prices on his website, but he does appear to make good student harps.

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