Looking for advice in buying a harp

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    redeagler on #219631

    Hi im new to this site and am looking for advice on buying my first harp. I am looking to buy a lever harp (celtic) with atleast 34 strings. I have learned that I really really like lower somber sounding harps (i think this is known as being warm sounding?) and was wondering if anyone of you could recommend any harps that are like this and have good resonance. I have been looking at lyon and healy’s ogden lately but im a newbie at this and really don’t know much.

    *an additional note* I am looking to buy a good harp that could last me the rest of my life should I never upgrade to a pedal harp, so price isn’t really an issue.

    thank you

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by redeagler.
    hisassociatescoaching@gmail.com on #219641

    Question; if money is not a hindrance, would you like a harp that you will be able to carry and transport even in later years? Important point to consider

    I feel in love with Heartland harps recently at a conference. Pricey, however gorgeous tone, EXTREMELY LIGHTWEIGHT and DURABLE. https://heartlandharps.com/harps/models/.

    I also recommend Lyon & Healy Ogden and Troubadour. However the Troubadour was too heavy for me to cart and carry with me. I am fond of Concert Tension (higher tension) strings so these resonated with me.

    Biagio on #219646

    One question that would help in answering: where do you live? There are excellent lever harps made in several countries but shipping from one to another can add significantly to the total cost. That said, aside from those already mentioned I’d suggest you look at

    -In the US Triplett, Thormahlen, Rees, and Dusty Strings
    -In Europe Camac, Salvi and Teifi

    We “argue” agreeably about the merits of “concert” tension vs. “folk” tension; gut versus nylon strings; solid wood sound boards vs. high grade laminates; one type of lever vs. another. You can only really decide by trying any particular harps for yourself but there are a few points to bear in mind:

    A gut strung concert tension harp will be heavier than folk tension nylon strung since the former must resist the greater stress on board and frame

    A harp with laminate board (the Boulding Concert Oranmore is a real favorite around here) will cost less than one with solid wood and react less to changes in environment but will not develop the “color” of a solid wood board over time.

    Some levers are easier to regulate than others, some require special tools while others do not; some add more to the cost than others. Camacs Truitts and Teifi are favorites of many while Lovelands are less costly but still a real favorite for durability.

    The wood used for the frame will be a factor in terms of weight and to some degree in tone. Cherry is a good “middle ground”; maple (bright tone) and bubinga (rich tone) are quite heavy, black walnut lighter and more mellow. Some countries have restrictions on bubinga if you travel.

    Gut will cost more than nylon, is more sensitive to humidity and has less sustain. None of these are drawbacks if you prefer the tone. Most 34 and 36 string harps have a bass C as standard; most can also be strung with a bass A and Rees offers that as an option; for other you would have to have the maker or a professional string maker come up with the specifications.

    Getting down to specifics…

    Two very favorite harps around here (Puget Sound) are the Dusty FH34 and Thormahlen Ceili; one famous harper plays a Dusty in bubinga for indoor concerts and a Boulding Oranmore for outdoor concerts. Another equally famous harper prefers a Rees. Both are nylon strung.

    In any case, I really think that the first step should be to arrange for a teacher and get his or her advice.

    Best wishes,

    charles-nix on #219656

    It is important which country you are in. Ditto to most everything Biagio said. It is also important that you listen to as many harps as you can. Find a local harp group and go to several meetings. Or go to a harp camp. Even at our small camp recently, there were over a dozen different models represented.

    “Warm” means different things to different people–and context of use is also important. I hear “warm” as pedal tension, with gut strings. Others describe that as woody, and hear the ideal harp sound as something like a Dusty Strings or Fisher, both of which can be wonderful instruments–but different from pedal.

    I hear nylon as much brighter that gut, and with a longer sustain. Nylon also has a shorter life of sounding good, though that is more than offset by a much lower cost–if you’re replacing it yourself. I have nylon and fluorocarbon on my folk harp, but gut on my pedal.

    I would quibble over the often repeated myth about gut’s sensitivity to moisture. Gut _will_ break more easily when exposed to high humidity. But nylon absorbs far more moisture (almost 10% by weight) and goes out of tune far more with a humidity change. Fluorocarbon absorbs almost no water, and is very stable. Gut is in between in water absorption. The mass change of the string from water absorption is what affects the tuning. I move both my pedal and my lever on a weekly basis into different locations. I don’t think I have repitched the middle octaves of my pedal in several weeks. I just move the upper end back to match the middle, and touch up a few bass wires. My lever requires a complete retuning (or two) with every single move. My bandmate’s carbon fiber with nylon also requires a lot of tuning when moved. A lot….more than my wooden lever. (Carbon fiber is _not_ more stable than wood over short term (a day or two) humidity changes. Wood takes days to weeks to absorb or lose any significant amount of moisture. Lumber has to be air dried for months to acclimate to building conditions, even when unfinished).

    Dusty Strings FH-36S is a nice harp. Thormalens, like the Swan, sound rounder to me–the Dusty is more pointed and bell-like. Tripletts have always seemed overly bright. I also find the carbon-fiber harps to be thin, and a little on the weak side. (But their selling point is weight–and they are light). I’ve not been inspired by the Ogden, nor the Dusty Boulevard, which are both small harps at “pedal” tension. By far the best lever “pedal” tension I have ever heard were John Pratt’s harps. Extraordinary. The best light tension lever I have heard in person was a Fisher, but the waiting list is years right now. Rees also has an excellent reputation; I’ve not heard one in person. As you can guess, “good” sound is very much in the ear of the listener.

    Some things to think about: Do you want to play for yourself only? Will you ever play in a large room or with other instruments? What kind of harp music do you aspire to play? Folk? traditional Celtic? Hymns? Healing? New Age? Jazz? Baroque? Romantic/Impressionist? Modern? What is your budget for ongoing instrument maintenance after initial purchase? How hard are you willing to work at basic technique to produce a great sound? (I find pedal harp to be less forgiving of sloppy technique than most lighter tension harps, for instance.)

    You asked for opinions!

    Charles Nix

    Biagio on #219679

    Picking up from where Charles left off…very true, the kind of music you intend to play has a bearing on what you might prefer. While any good harp can accommodate many styles, some are more suited to a particular style than to another.

    The Dustys are good all around harps (and I agree with Charles about Triplett’s overly bright sound), with medium tension and a smooth change in diameters and feel. Their bass strings are bronze core nylon wrap which delivers a very deep resonant bass; most others are steel core fiber bedded bronze or copper wrap with a “harder” tone.

    Makers have a particular intention in mind – the Dusty’s for instance have mahogany in the first 3 1/2 octaves for a bright treble and upper mid, spruce in the lower range for a richer tone. They come “standard” with nylon strings.

    Any nylon or fluorocarbon strung harp can also be strung with gut (or vice versa) IF you or some one who understands the physics does an analysis. People often don’t realize this and simply accept that the harp as it is with “standard” strings is the only option.. Ask the maker about this if you love everything else. On one harp I changed the stringing design five times until I got exactly what I wanted.

    WRT to Charle’s comment regarding gut vs. nylon absorption: well, heck quibbling is allowed, and how humidity affects tone depends among other things on how you play – with nails or pads – whether or not gut is polished and or varnished and etc. The more relevant question IMHO is whether or not one prefers the tactile sensation and sound of one type over another.

    Personally I very much like fluorocarbon, except in the highest registers, for it’s resistance to humidity and finer gradations compared to Tynex…and at that the fishing line variety rather than Savarez Alliance in larger diameters. But I’m getting rather far afield.

    The Fisher Eiriann, for example, and the Sligo Harps Luchair are much lighter tension than some others which is preferred by Celtic players for rapid playing and complex ornaments. Both come standard with fluorocarbon strings. On the other hand, the Troubadour is designed for more typically classical music.

    Try as many as you can, talk to other players, listen to as many recordings as you can – and not just those on a maker’s website. That will only tell you how it sounds in the hands of one player.

    Not to be “cute”, just honest – I don’t know any serious player, professional or amateur, who has only one harp after some experience. Many want a 34 or 36 most of the time and a smaller one for more casual playing or traveling. Others branch out to double strung, wire strung or cross strung. I guess the message here is “buy the best you can afford but it may not be the only one in your lifetime!”


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