Mikel Celtic Harps

  • Spectator
    Catherine Ashley on #188227

    Hi everyone,

    Just wondering if anyone has any experience with Mikel Celtic Harps? Their website doesn’t specify but I think they are made in Pakistan. I know the rosewood Pakistani harps don’t have a good name (no offense to anyone who makes or plays these harps!), but they are incredibly cheap and I was thinking of buying one just to rent to a student. Does anyone know if they are decent or should I stay well away?

    Participant
    Biagio on #188230

    Well, they do say on “about us” that they are based in Pakistan but that alone I don’t think is necessarily a black mark. I can recall when Yamaha guitars were considered junk. The harps appear to be well made and the levers a vast improvement over what we’re used to seeing – the woods (ash, beech and spruce) are fine and looking at their shop gallery they seem to know what they’re doing.

    I guess one might object to the “reverse engineering” – but to be honest we all study what other makers do.

    I did not see any price quotes though and shipping also could be an issue for the 34. It looks to me as though they are trying to break into the market with a decent harp line and trying to break away from the “harp shaped objects Pakistani” reputation. If you have any trepidation and depending on location there are fine student level harps in the $1000-$1500 range.

    I’ll be interested in what anyone who has played one says!

    Biagio

    Participant
    wil-weten on #188256

    I am by no means an expert. But I do wonder under what climatological circumstances these harps are built. Is it in hot and moist air? Or under moderate airconditioning circumstances? And was the wood properly dried before it was used to make a harp of?

    I must think of the stories I heard of travelers buying great guitars in Spain that explode soon after they got home (in a quite different climate).

    A Dutch harpbuilder of good reputation (now sadly deceased) once told me he believed harps had to be used in the same kind of environment as they were built (he did have the wood he used properly dried, but dit not have an airconditioned workplace).

    I was surprised to see that the two Mikel Celtic Harp of 27 strings (Aster and Saffron) with the lowest note a whole octave below middle C weigh 9 kilo… That seems very heavy to me.

    Participant
    Biagio on #188263

    As an additional note ha ha….the specific lever make is one item that we often overlook, even on well known brands. Some use brands that are readily available such as Camac, Brough, Loveland, Truitt e.g.. Others may not be so easily repaired or replaced as (will happen once in awhile) absent a factory technician- Aoyama, L&H Performance, for example.

    I don’t know about the Mikel levers, but the pivot does appear to be a rivet – the sign of a less expensive design that may be a problem down the road.

    Biagio

    Member
    patricia-jaeger on #188266

    Wil-weten’s comment above concerning harps built in the same climate being advisable when using them, rings true for me, as I have heard this before. I live in latitude 47 and around the globe, London is approximately the same climate. Pilgrim Harps are built in that area so would fare well here. The island State of Tasmania, in Australia, seems about the same distance below the equator as my location to the north of the equator, though of course their seasons are reversed, and on December 25 many Aussies head for the beach!New to me was the comment that getting a Spanish guitar in Spain is not a good idea when that instrument is used in an entirely different climate. Where can we find good research on this interesting subject?

    Participant
    wil-weten on #188269

    As English is a foreign language to me, I may have been not entirely clear.

    I do think it is well possible to use harps made in an entirely different climate.

    The point I was trying to make was that it matters if the wood is dried properly (many years or by a special procedure) and the temperature and moist in the workplace where the harp is put together are kept moderate. If this is not the case, one could be heading for trouble.

    Participant
    Biagio on #188270

    Patricia, I can’t think off hand of any particular reference, but probably any good book on instrument construction will refer to wood drying. I’ll summarize here if it will help.

    For all parts of the instrument air dried wood is vastly preferable to rapid kiln drying. While the latter does indeed “dry” it, the cell walls collapse and elasticity is lost. That is particularly critical for the soundboard.

    Ideally the wood is air dried to about 12% moisture content before it is cut and glued up for the board, then further slowly dried in a chamber to about 8% or less. As a very broad rule of thumb it takes one year of air drying per 2.5cm thickness to reach that 12% – billets for sound boards may be anywhere from 10cm to 20cm thick so one can see why solid wood boards harps cost a lot more than aircraft laminate ones!

    The reason for maximum drying is so that if the instrument “lives” in a humid environment consequent swelling is less likely to result in cracking. Most of the shrinking and swelling on a harp occurs at the board across the grain so for a fairly large one the potential uninhibited movement could be up to 5cm (uninhibited if not glued, i.e.).

    Some excellent Spanish guitars made in Mexico have sprung their boards because in those shops the cedar, spruce or whatever was only air dried and not sufficiently finished off before being glued to the body and internal braces. They were never really expected to end up in radically different climates. This is less of a problem these days.

    If the harp has been well made one can say that “If you are comfortable, your harp will be too.” For a high tension instrument it is still a good idea to purchase a small hygrometer to keep tabs on humidity.

    Biagio

    Spectator
    Catherine Ashley on #189370

    Just thought to let you all know, a student ended up buying a Mikel lever harp and it has turned out to be a very decent instrument! It seems very sturdy and has a lovely clear bright sound. Of course one of the tests of a good harp is how they stand up over time, so I guess we’ll see how it goes!

    Participant
    hearpe on #189424

    I just saw a listing for these- a 34 Saffron- on ebay, and I think they look pretty good, especially considering cost. You get into some longer wound strings here- I think the string range is the same as Dusty Ravena 34, but at half the cost- a grand less than the Ravenna with full levers.

    As far as the levers- no expert here! But Biagio said above the levers appear to be rivets. Looking closely at the listing:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Saffron-34-strings-Lever-Harp-fully-Levered-with-Deluxe-Carry-Bag-/121715186277?hash=item1c56ca5a65
    the levers appear to have a slot head on the top of the pivot point- perhaps not rivets then, but screws? At any rate, the levers look better than the standard Roosebeck levers, and the 29 harps have just gone up to $500 on ebay, the 31 Ashley harps are a grand or more and the 36 Roosebecks are now at about $1200. The Mikel Celtics appear to use a generally agreed better combination of woods too.

    So to me, it looks like the Mikel Celtic harps are a pretty good buy all things considered. I’d like to have one myself, and lets hope the prices stay down awhile!

    Maybe some less expensive folk harps will be more manufactured in America someday- the shipping costs add a lot of cost on the foreign harps these days- more so than in the past obviously.

    http://thehearpe.tripod.com/index.html

    Participant
    Biagio on #189429

    Hearpe, they may be just fine, I’ll be interested to find out. Regarding “less expensive harps” – I think that in general you pay for what you get most of the time. I also think that many folk harpers do not understand what they cost, no offense. For comparison purposes: I just finished a 3 octave wire strung, not a big deal. Here’s the run down: wood $250, hardware $60, strings $45, misc. $50 – so about $400 for raw materials. How about my time at a reasonable $40 per hour? Design – 5 days, construction 10 days total 15 days or $600 – total cost to me $1,000. I haven’t even mentioned blades or levers; figure $15 a pop; and I’ve ignored depreciation.

    Good thing I made it for myself, right? Point being that harp makers are not in it for the money:-)

    Blessings all,
    Biagio

    Participant
    hearpe on #189431

    Yes- with all respect to your hard work and the costs of the materials- I’m sure harp makers are largely there for the passion of the instrument. But not in it for the money? The larger ones would never stay in business I think.

    I’m just coming from the other end- the novice consumer with not a lot of money to spend. I’ve done quite well on guitars and ukes and fiddles- it’s a “buyers age” on the internet for the more popular instruments, if you can avoid the very chintzy and cheap- then playable decent instruments have never been more prolific. A hard situation to resell though I’ve found- used instruments are prolific and cheap too.

    Anyway I’ve been looking at harps again, and hoping I can expand my experience there with as little investment as I can- About two years back I got into exploring the paki harps at the Alibaba “direct from manufacturer level” There seemed to be quite a lot of variety and most of the importers would ship out one harp direct from Pakistan, although I think they are more slanted to selling wholesale quantity there.
    There was a bit of a language problem, and the sellers usually quoted me a FOB “freight on board” cost meaning it was a low cost partly because I would have to pick up the harp directly off a boat at a seacoast port. As I am in Jacksonville, I though maybe that would be possible, but the more I explored it, and realized how many ports are actually here – I had my doubts about “freight on board” shipping. The prices were incredibly low that I was getting quoted then. I started looking for smaller harps-22 and the went up gradually. I think I was getting quotes in the range of 150-170 for a 22 string Roosebeck type of harp and upwards from there.

    Anyway to make a long story short- I nixed the idea of getting one off the boat- hell if I wasn’t 60, I was ready to go in business!- and I still had one distributor tell me he would ship a 36 harp to my door for about $400- or less than half what the cost was on ebay. So I was trying to arrange that, but finally couldn’t arrange payment. They didn’t take paypal then and wanted me to deposit money directly into a bank account. I didn’t really trust that much, but the point was moot because I couldn’t that do when I tried- his link simply didn’t work. Eventually I gave up.

    So recently I went harp hunting again- and tried Alibaba a little bit once more- started getting FOB prices and stopped short of them translating that to my door delivery- I could tell right off- the prices for that arrangement have seemed to go up across the board in two years time- and really up to ebay prices now. So I gave up on that, and ended with said Stoney End Eve in the other thread.

    I also now have a Roosebeck 29- I got that just before the prices went up another $55 at the low end on ebay. I was glad to get more strings but it was another double or more in price up to the 31, 34 or 36 level then. The Roosebeck has stimulated my interest and definitely another experience from the 19 Pixie I’ve had for years. I’m glad I didn’t buy two years back, because I believe the soundboards have improved substantially on the Roosebecks- the new lighter finish birch ply board feels stronger, and has a more hollow “knock” to it. Much much stronger, and responsive and better sounding than the one on the turn of the Millenium Pixie harp.

    I see a major supplier here in Florida has reshot new video example clips for the new soundboards in the past couple of years too.
    I think the sides of the box may still be a little heavy- I see people here talking about the sound of a cardboard box, and my own experiences with classical guitars especially is that lighter weight woods let the resonance ring. I’ll probably do some sanding on the inside sides of the box. The soundboard obviously has to take the stress of the strings, but I’m not sure what stresses are involved in the rest of the sound box, or how much opening is on the back. The Roosebeck 29 is at least an attractive piece of furniture in my living room, and sounds adequate for this nubie, though I’m sure there are better sounding 29 harps- at a substantial higher cost- unless a good used one floats past.

    Anyway- so yeah, by comparison to what I’ve seen exploring harps the past month or so, this Mikel Celtic looks pretty nice on paper at least.

    Participant
    Biagio on #189450

    Hearpe, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s great that you are exploring harp design in some depth! If more people did (including some professionals I know) they would be happier. One well known player that I know has been performing for over thirty years and she says that only in the last two has she gotten exactly shat she wants!

    Larger makers with a consistent model line (e.g. Dusty Strings, Triplett, Rees) save some costs because they have set up jigs and fixtures and get discounts from suppliers. On the other hand, they also have administrative overhead:-) As a generality, though, the profit margin is quite slim even for them too: about 10% of their total expense. Rees for example does not advertise and makes their own levers, DS makes their own strings.

    The “problem” many of us have with those Pakistani harps is that the quality control is very inconsistent. Mikel has their own factory which is a big plus – others are simply marketers, the components are farmed out to many small individuals. They are aware of the reputation and are beginning to exert some control – sometimes you get a pretty good one, sometimes not.

    It’s revealing I think to build your own harp from a kit – Stoney End for example or Music Makers. That is where you will get the best “deal” on a good instrument that will last more than a few years. Even more revealing to study a high quality harp being made from start to finish. Rick Kemper did the folk harp world a big service by showing exactly how he makes his line – click on the link “Building the Folk Harp”:

    http://www.sligoharps.com/

    The closest I know to that “good inexpensive US made harp” was the Sweetharp by Chris Caswell. Chris was a brilliant musician, his harps are so coveted that you never see them for sale, and he was a beloved teacher as well. The Sweetharp concept was brilliant: laser cut from high quality ply so it could be just snapped together. Therein lay the problem: precision laser cutting machines are extremely expensive and he had innumerable issues wish his sources. Orders were backlogged; Chris died tragically of colon cancer with his reputation in shreds. He could have been a physicist instead of a musician.

    Ray Mooers of Dusty Strings was training to be a dentist when he fell under the harp spell; Dave Thormahlen was a doctoral geology student; William Rees a violinist; Rick Kemper is a recently retired industrial engineer. I was a highly paid corporate consultant. There are many such stories.

    No, we are not in it for the money.

    Rant over:-)
    Biagio

    Participant
    hearpe on #189457

    I saw those Caswell videos on youtube, and immediately wanted a sweetharp-
    besides being absolutely beautiful, you can tell the soundbox really had that “something” quality about it, lightweight and resonant. And they weren’t expensive. The Caswell site is still there, but when you click a link to add to the cart, you always get a notice the product is not available, so I guess no one was able to continue the work. Outside of the unique designs, the harps really sounded good. And Chris could really play.

    Participant
    Biagio on #189458

    One good inexpensive harp to consider would be the Music Maker Smartwood. Tension is pretty light but some like it for their students and it can be strung with better strings if you wish.

    Nope, no one wanted to take over the Sweetharp, what with the problems in CNC sourcing and the ill will that the backlog generated. Several of us tried to find a buyer for the business – no takers. In his last few months Chris asked me to move to Berkley and work with him instead of retiring to Puget Sound. Loved the guy but no regrets – among other things I hate the East Bay:-)

    Best to all,

    Biagio

    Participant
    hearpe on #189479

    Just a note on the rising prices of the Paki Roosebeck harps- There’s just one 29 string harp listing left at the “old” price-

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roosebeck-Minstrel-Harp-29-String-Vine-HMNA-V-/151596345341?hash=item234bd8a7fd

    The seller had several last week- three different styles. I thought I’d see if I could get some money off with the “make offer” link, and offered them $400.

    The seller not only turned my offer down but put that model immediately up about $50. I ended up paying his original price for another one- the similar designs didn’t matter much to me.

    Now all the 29’s are up to $499 or more on ebay, new that is. 27’s are annoyingly mostly priced HIGHER then, leaving a big gap up to anything else with 31 or 36 strings. I’m happy with my 29 for now- the sound is decent for a hack like me, as I mentioned the sound boards seem much improved. And the instrument is pleasing in appearance to be sure. I thought the low “C” was buzzing and was tuning it to C with the lever slightly engaged, because it wasn’t clearing the lever. It turned out the string had come out of the groove on the pin above it. I slipped that back in the notch and the buzzing problem went away.

    anyway this may be the last chance to get a 29 Roosebeck new for under about $500- $434 in fact- or just as a price marker in time.

    Here’s an older video with an older 29 Minstrel harp with the older style soundboard:

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