New Harp/Harpist, Some Advice?

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    kenk on #194588

    Hi All,

    I’m a long term multi-instrumentalist (45 years experience)
    Quite by accident I recently acquired a 1984 Markwood Celtic Harp.
    It was practically given to me ($50).
    The former owner just wanted to ensure that it would go to a good home.
    She did point out a crack in the sound board next to the eyelets.
    I thought it was just a fracture, but it does seem to go all the way through the soundboard.
    The strings were/are detuned, completely slack.

    I recall reading many years ago that harps by nature of the string tension have a short life span.
    So maybe this is not going to be a playable instrument.

    Can the soundboard be reinforced? (I know a good repair person)
    Is there a lower tension set of strings? (the strings are very old)
    I don’t mind tuning it a little lower, so I can play it.
    I’ll just be playing solo and recording-
    So it doesn’t need to be 100% pro-performance ready.

    Thanks for any input


    Biagio on #194595

    Ken, the first question is whether the crack is vertical or horizontal.  It is very common for the latter to occur over time and the harp still be playable – indeed with an improved tone.  “Short life span” compared to a violin or cello, sure, but a well made lever harp can last for up to 100 years, sometimes more.

    And yes, a sound board can be reinforced if necessary.  I may be doing that to a Caswell wire strung if the client decides to – in that case with light weight fiberglass (inside).

    By all means though have a knowledgeable technician examine it before stringing.  Laurie Nielsen bought Markwood Strings from Mark Bolles, who made your harp. Her husband, Glenn Hill, is a respected luthier; it might be worth while contacting  them.  They are in Oregon.

    Best wishes,


    kenk on #194618

    Hi Balgio,

    thanks for the answer.

    I also joined a yahoo harp group- so I’m copying my response from there

    I hope you don’t mind as most of the replies were similar to yours : )

    <br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16633″ clear=”none” />I am encouraged and pleased to learn about my mistaken notion<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16634″ clear=”none” />that a harp has a limited shelf life.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16635″ clear=”none” />The crack is indeed vertical, <br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16636″ clear=”none” />and on closer inspection appears to be 2 separate small cracks running on the grain.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16637″ clear=”none” />Also it looks like some repair work has been done in the past, <br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16638″ clear=”none” />so maybe this problem has already been taken care of.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16639″ clear=”none” /><br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16640″ clear=”none” />I won’t tune it until I take it to my repair person next week.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16641″ clear=”none” />He usually works on the guitar family, from classicals to ukes and everything in between. <br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16642″ clear=”none” />He also does brass and woodwind repairs-<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16643″ clear=”none” />so I think if this does need some reinforcing, he’ll be up to the task,<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16644″ clear=”none” />and he’ll tell me if he isn’t.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16645″ clear=”none” /><br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16646″ clear=”none” />His dad, (now mostly retired) was in the shop when the harp came in.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16647″ clear=”none” />He was talking to the 2 woman who were hoping to sell it when I walked in.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16648″ clear=”none” />He declined so they offered it to me.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16649″ clear=”none” />One of them said it came from Hawaii-<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16650″ clear=”none” />My friend George thought it was either walnut or koa.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16651″ clear=”none” />Very interesting but not surprising to hear that koa was used at the time.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16652″ clear=”none” /><br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16653″ clear=”none” />Thanks again for the response-<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16654″ clear=”none” />I’ll update you when I get an answer.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16655″ clear=”none” />I think my friend will be able to take care of it, or it’s already good to go.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16657″ clear=”none” /><br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16658″ clear=”none” />Looking forward to learning this new instrument.<br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16659″ clear=”none” /><br id=”yiv0249876368yui_3_16_0_ym19_1_1461701147530_16660″ clear=”none” />

    Biagio on #194682

    Hi Ken,

    I’m happy that you have received more feedback, that’s great.   Herewith a few comments that I hope are helpful or at least interesting…..

    You did not mention the model, but I’ll assume it is Mark’s 33 string.  That has a total tension on the sound board of about 800 lbs. or more, concentrated about a third of the way from the base.  If the board is cracked across the grain (as I read your note) you may well have to replace the entire board.  Check to see if the string rib is also cracked or has separated.  Not to diss your technician, but if he has never worked on a harp he may not be prepared to do a replacement.  The stresses on a harp are totally unlike any other instrument and often so are the adhesives we use.

    If a replacement is called for that in itself is not difficult, but the SB construction and tapering may be problematic – one must use special purpose fixtures and a drying booth for a solid wood board.  It may be easier in that case to simply buy a  spruce board ready made.  These are available from Betty Truitt (Dragonwhispers) and Rick Kemper (Sligo Harps) for about $250.

    Another option that is often used in these cases is to replace a sprung board with high density aircraft grade laminate,  often called Finnish aircraft birch ply.  For a harp of this size one would taper that from about 1/4″ thick at the bass to 1/8″ in the treble – all that is needed for that are a large belt sander or preferably a thickness sander.  Labor aside that approach costs only around $150 for materials.

    Finally if the crack is not terribly bad you can patch the board internally with thin two-weave (2oz – 7 oz) fiber glass and a strong epoxy resin.  Tone is affected with the last two options but since you don’t plan on a performance grade instrument, not that much.

    Koa is a popular wood for many lever harps; black locust is related and sometimes that is what “Koa” actually is.


    Best wishes




    kenk on #194687

    Hi Biagio-

    Yes that info does interest me- And you’re tight about it being a 33 string harp!

    All but the top 5 strings have levers, there’s no “model #” on the plate,

    it just says Markwood 1984.

    It definetly has been reapired before, I can see the glue on the inside,

    and what looks like a series of wood shims going beneath what I’ll call the inside bridge-

    The string rib? The other rib (on the oustside) seems intact.

    I’m just going to see what my repair friend says. He certainly wouldn’t attempt to do something he’s not qualified for. I’m hoping the problem is already taken care of,

    and that’s what I’m wanting him to assess. I’ll keep you informed about it.

    Thanks for your advise.




    Biagio on #194745

    That’s all good news Ken!  They’re very nice harps and as you suggested you may wish to use a lighter tension string set than the original.  For further interest, here is a friend (and neighbor), David Michael playing his Markwood 33.  It was probably made about the same time period as yours.  You will notice that on his the harp has sharping blades rather than more modern levers but David has been playing that for many years and never replaced the blades with levers.  So I guess it does not bother him:-)

    Best wishes,



    kenk on #194766

    Hi Biagio-

    Thanks for that vid! Kind of inspiring- I watched several of David’s videos and to some degree, he’s a kindred spirit. I noticed in one of his guitar vids he has several unusual instruments on the wall.  But it was especially good to see “my harp” in action.  Sharpening blades, rather than levers- so much to learn. : )

    On another note-  strangely serendipitously, a friend sent me the following vid. He does send me a lot of jazz or world music vids, but no one yet knows I have a harp! I’m sure you’re very aware of Edmar Castaneda, but being new to the harp universe, I had never heard of him. Astounding!

    Possibly today I’ll get that assessment from my friend, William.

    Thanks for all your help.




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