New harper deciding between purchase of L&H Ogden, Blevin and others

  • Participant
    Harper10 on #189820

    Hello there!
    I’m a brand new harper and have been renting an Lyon & Healy Ogden for two months. I’ve been taking regular lessons and am obsessed with the harp. I’d like to buy a harp, but am concerned the Ogden might not be loud enough. My dream is to play outdoors and in public traditional renaissance and celtic music. I’m in love with the following harps:

    Blevin Meadowwind 36
    Blevin Amadeus 38
    Blevin Riversong 36
    Marini Made Ultra Lite (34 strings)

    I don’t have the opportunity/budget to travel and visit these shops in person so I appreciate your insight. My budget for a harp is no more than $3,750. With that said, I have a few questions for you experts.

    1) Do you think the Ogden has a full voice or could I find a louder harp at a similar string count?
    2) Are flat back harps really truly uncomfortable or does it not make a difference?
    3) With this first harp what is mandatory to ensure the longevity of my purchase? Sitka spruce soundboard, Truitt pickups, etc?
    4) Recommendations for a harp with a mmellow sound like the Ogden but a fuller voice?

    Thank you!

    Participant
    Biagio on #189821

    Volume depends a good deal on your technique and if you are like me it may be that at first you don’t get the most out of any harp at for a while. I’ll leave that topic to more experienced players and your teacher. More generally…

    I think you get the most dynamic range with fairly high tension and a fairly wide sound board. Gut or fluorocarbon strings will be more mellow than nylon and many will say that a walnut box will be mellower than maple with cherry in between. Whether a flat box like the Rees is comfortable or not depends more on you than the harp.

    For the ultimate in volume, consider a wire strung harp. I just finished making a little 3 octave wire strung and it blows the doors off compared even to my much larger high tension nylon strung. But that is a different instrument and technique and teachers in most parts of the world are few.

    Some may consider this next heresy but I am not convinced that a solid wood board (spruce, cedar, etc.) sounds much better “out of the box” than an aircraft grade laminate (ply) if the maker has tapered that correctly. You will certainly have less tuning to do with the laminate if you often play in different weather conditions.

    Truitts, Lovelands, Camacs are all good levers in addition to the Salvi and L&H.

    I’d bet that Balfour will jump in on the Ravenna but I’ll get there first lol: consider the Ravenna 34.

    Hope that helps!

    Biagio

    Member
    Alyson Webber on #189823

    Hahaha! Hilarious with the Ravenna, Biagio. We love you, Balfour! 🙂

    I’d like to add that the Ogden’s screw-on, screw-off legs would drive me crazy for outside playing. They drove me crazy for inside playing, too! Look for a harp that fits into it’s case legs and all, and you don’t have to find a relatively clean spot to lay the whole thing down to put it’s legs on.

    If you really want to be HEARD, you may have to consider a pickup and amp. Huge bodied pedal harps often need amplification in an outdoor setting. Dusty Strings has a well-reviewed pickup that can be installed by them into Dustys (Ravenna??) or by the owner into any harp.

    Also, if you can’t make it to all of their shops, perhaps make one trip to a harp festival. Even if you don’t want to spend the money to attend workshops, there are often passes to visit the vendors. Just pick a big festival that has a lot of the harp makers you are interested in.

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #189827

    My dear harp-friends–you gave me quite a chuckle, ha, ha!

    Yes, I dearly love my Ravenna 34. I do have to use amplification to get the same volume out of her that I can get without amplification from my Large Gothic 36 by Music Makers. It is unfortunate that Jerry Brown no longer makes this large harp–she is very tall, 66″, and requires a higher stool for the player to sit on, like a pedal harp. But there are no legs to screw on, as Alyson suggested–all you have to do is take her out of the case, touch-up the tuning, and play!

    Harperkat, I hope you find the harp of your dreams. It is very good advice to go to a harp festival, too, so you can actually try out and “test drive” all the different harps there.

    My very best to all of you,
    Balfour

    Participant
    Harper10 on #189841

    Thank you for the insight! This is all very, very helpful. The Ravenna is stunning, but I must admit the Blevins Harps have me spellbound. Any insight on the quality of those brand of harps?

    Participant
    Biagio on #189842

    Dwight Blevins is a very well regarded harp designer – and he has many different designs. I’m not personally familiar with the ones you mention, but he is well known for very good service and the quality of his work.

    Many harp luthiers make some individual changes as requested, once they are satisfied with a particular model. While I don’t know for sure I’d bet that is why Dwight has so many models. In sum, I think you can be confident in his work.

    The Marinis first got into the business – as many do – by doing the assembly and finishing of Music Makers’ excellent kits. Also as many have done, they then began to design their own models, often based on the Music Maker harps with the Marinis’ own enhancements. So I’d not be concerned about their quality either, but that is all I can offer. I haven’t seen them since I left Ohio some years ago (the Marinis are in Pennsylvania).

    Hope that is helpful!
    Biagio

    Participant
    Harper10 on #189843

    Wow, you rock! I appreciate the insight! I’ve always wanted to play the harp and finally decided a few months ago to do it. Went to the only harp rental in the area and picked up a harp and started lessons two days later. Haha, when I make up my mind I move quickly! I went into this thinking of working up to a pedal harp, but honestly the folk harp has my heart. There’s something very special about that early music! Looking forward to the journey ahead. Thank you for your kindess!

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #189844

    Harperkat, have you ever played a Thormahlen Swan, 36 strings? My good friend, Angi Bemiss has one that I dearly love, and I have restrung it for her and kept it at my house on more than one occasion. It is a great harp, and very portable. Just thought about it and wanted to give you yet another option to consider!

    Best wishes to all of you,
    Balfour

    Participant
    Andelin on #189856

    While some may disagree, my best advice is to lean away from buying a harp you haven’t played. Each harp has it’s own voice, and you have to hear it with your own ears. Play as many harps as you can (ask generous friends if you could sit at their harp for a while, perhaps?). It will give you a contrast to what you are used to, and help you better understand what sound you are looking for. There is no substitute for hearing it yourself. It may not always be possible, but at least try. I was recently trying out pedal harps, and I was surprised by what I liked and didn’t like.

    Don’t shy away from buying a used harp, but be familiar with what you are looking at, and have a harp tech (or at least your teacher) look it over, if possible.

    I have heard great things about Blevins, dusty strings, and my own harp is a lyon and healy lever harp, that I have been happy with. All these companies produce quality instruments. The rest is kind of up to you; the right one depends on what you want from your instrument, as far as levers, size/weight, number if strings, etc.

    Whatever you do, buy the harp you love. I think it’s safe to say go with your gut on this one (no pun intended). Take your time, and wait for the right one to come along.

    This is purely anecdotal, and probably not very helpful, but here goes. When I was first harp shopping many years ago, I ordered a harp I didn’t love. I liked it of course (all harps are beautiful, are they not?), and I figured it was the best my 3,000 could buy. A week or two later I got a call from the dealer, saying my harp wasn’t coming, and should she shred or return my check? I was disappointed and a little shocked, but resumed my search. I soon found the harp I ended up buying, and I know I am much happier with this one than the one I was going to buy. If you don’t love it, wait for another opportunity. I was saved by ‘fate’ and I am forever grateful for that.

    Good luck! I hope you find your harp soon. :). And do tell us about it when you do!

    Participant
    Biagio on #189859

    Hur hur hur, Adelin I absolutley agree: if at all possible it’s wisest to try as many different models as one can. And there’s the dilemma for many beginners: there are a lot of excellent models and often the player can’t try very many! Hence my constant admonition:”first find a good teacher, THEN start looking for the first harp.” Which I always follow with the suggestion: “The first harp probably will not be the last unless it is really junk. So get something you won’t mind keeping later on (or can easily sell.”

    I must have gone through a half dozen or more designs PLUS numerous “tweaks”over the past 10-12 years and have only now settled on what I want to keep for the duration. And those were my designs made just for myself – never mind the custom jobs!

    Laurie Riley says that after 30 years of professional performance she only NOW has exactly what she wants. There are four in her house (at last count anyway). Harper Tasche must have at least as many and maybe more, I’ve never counted – every time he sees a new one he can’t wait to try it.

    LOL,
    Biagio

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #189860

    Good advice, Andelin and Biagio. I currently have just what I want in harps, too, like Laurie. Every time I think about possibly selling or trading one of them, I think “what would I do without Bella (or Eglantine or Ravenna)?” They have become like family to me, and I cannot part with them. Now of course, Carol Lynn still has to remind the harps that they are the “princesses” and that she is still the “queen,” ha, ha!

    Best wishes to all of you,
    Balfour

    Participant
    Krfinnegan on #189864

    Hi Harperkat,

    I would like to answer you because I have played outside in public for several years at multiple Renaissance and other festivals. I also own and have used several harps to do so, including an Ogden.

    I currently use a Cunningham 34 string with nylon strings and Camac levers for lengthy outdoor playing. I rarely use any of my gut or carbon fiber strung harps outside. If that is what you really want to do, remember how hard weather, conditions, and the public can be on you and your instrument. You need a tough, extremely sturdy harp that is not strung so tightly as to add unnecessary stress to the frame or soundboard, and so that you can play for hours on end and let children (of all ages:) touch it. But it needs to be tight enough to project and give a decent sound. Outdoors, gut strings break quite frequently, and often those harps are fairly high tension. My beautiful gut Salvi did not hold up well to weather. I also have an excellent carbon fiber Celtic harp that I use sometimes. It stays in tune well and doesn’t break strings often, but when it does, it will take at least 2-3 days to bring a new string up to pitch without more breakage. That is a problem in the middle of a work day.
    Sound quality is only fairly important outside. You are not only competing with many other noises so being heard is difficult, but outdoor acoustics change the way sound is heard anyway. Playing a wire harp is completely different than playing a gut or nylon, the strings break easily and they are quiet. A good harp with nylon strings will last longer and sound quite good enough for the situation. I always amplify, which is another set of problems, but we live in a noisy world and harps are quiet. Also, round or stave backs are more comfortable than square for the many hours you will spend with the harp on your shoulder.
    My advice is that you will love the harp that suits what you want to do with it because it will behave the way you need it to and respond properly to the situation you place it in. You won’t love it if it doesn’t. Look for a harp that will fit your needs and desires for it. Don’t fall in love with one that won’t work for you just because it struck you at a conference or shop. Do your homework before you buy.

    Best wishes,
    Kathleen

    Participant
    Biagio on #189877

    Great advice Kathleen, thank you! Yes, those fluorocarbon strings are stretchy, so maybe not the best idea for some situations.

    Wire is a pretty different beast and a lot depends on how the harp is made. Some are very loud and when a string does break…kaboom! They can also be pretty heavy. On the other hand…..

    I made a 3 octave wire strung specifically to drag around to fairs – one of several (the others are nylon) that kids could play around with. That’s always a big attraction and the parents love it too!

    Biagio

    Participant
    Leslie Jabara on #189905

    One other thing to consider (and I say this as a lever harpist only) is to make sure the instrument you choose has the right tension for the music you wish to play. While I know many fabulous pedal harpists who play Irish music on concert tension lever harps, I would find that challenging.

    I have played at Ren Faires and in pubs at trad sessions in the US and in my new home of Dublin for several years. Volume is important, but a medium/lighter tension is equally if not more so. Choice of wood and maker of harp can also provide more volume (my maple harps cut through more than my walnut and cherry ones).

    Trad ornamentation has several differences (lots of quick slides, repetition, and rolls/crans) from classical ornamentation. Some of the larger manufacturers actually make harps specifically with the “trad” player in mind (ex: Camac makes one specifically designed for Janet Harbison). Yet another reason to try to get your hands on a harp before buying.

    As a last bit of info, three of my four harps (including the two I play in sessions and at faires) are both square backed. It hasn’t bothered me to have a flat back, even when playing for 9 hours at a particularly rollicking set of sessions in Dublin a few months ago.

    Good luck!

    Participant
    Harper10 on #190168

    This is all just fantastic. Thank you so much! The harp recommendations are also very helpful.

    Biagio – Hence my constant admonition:”first find a good teacher, THEN start looking for the first harp.”

    I’ve been playing for a few months, but when is it okay to start looking to purchase? Renting right now (just had my first broken gut string) and have come to the conclusion I won’t purchase this harp.

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