Number of strings/range?

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    Katia on #184163

    Not sure I’ve ever exactly seen an answer to this before, so…

    So my little HSO is the one with 22 strings, has a range from C to C– C3 to C6. Really, it’s a nice range, as it goes.

    I would love to have a harp with more strings– maybe a 29-string, which would be a good middle-of-the-road for me between “OMG EXPENSIVE!” or “fancier than I maybe need,” and “not a lot of strings.”

    But it seems most 29-string harps go from G to G (I assume for sake of cost). Personally, I’d rather just add another octave at the lower end, and go down to C2. I really have no desire to have any higher strings than C6… is there a reason I would need them (for playing probably predominantly Celtic music and at church)? Whereas I could see being able to get down to C2 as being helpful. I wouldn’t see the point in paying more for 7 extra strings if some of them would be in the upper range rather than the lower…

    Alison on #184164

    From the 1800’s and the days of Erard harps, we have a different numbering system for notes and octaves on the harp and never use the standard scientific convention you are referring to and so best if you adopt this nomenclature when talking to other harpists and retailers.
    The recognised harp range of notes is expressed as high 1st E at the top, down to 6th or 7th octaves in the lower register – so numbered in the opposite direction.
    The top note you envisage needing is what we all know as 2nd octave C – however you will appreciate that the vertex of the harp at the top lends itself to being replete with strings so often the top string is 1st Octave G or A, simply because of the physics of string material (mass), tension and length – or you’d have a gap where 6 strings could be.
    Quite sensibly for playing two octaves below middle C, you’ll need to go down to 6th C and you will find that for this you are likely to need a 34 stringed harp – so 30 strings would be a minimum to get to the bass G, on the bottom line of the bass clef. I would also add that if you are an adult the size of 34 strings or upwards is better for your physique, otherwise you will be crouching over an instrument with too small a frame.

    Allison Stevick on #184165

    I can relate to wanting a lower range than “normal” with a small number of strings! 🙂 It’s too bad that physics works against us most of the time for string length and good sound with a small harp frame… 😉

    I’ve noticed that Blevins has smallish harps that tend to have a lower range than other brands of similar size. I’ve never actually played one, but from what I see on their site, I really like some of their harps.
    This one may be a possibility for you:
    It has 2 octaves below middle C, 30 strings total.

    Biagio on #184167

    While I hope not to start an argument here, allow me to point out that the string naming convention she details refers almost exclusively to orchestral pedal instruments. The scientific convention is more often (though not always) the system of choice for lever harps, to which Katia refers. Orchestral harps have been fairly standardized but lever harp designs range anywhere from two octaves to seven and a half, and average tensions from 17 lbs. to 40 lbs. per string, The wide variation in tension is due not only to range per se but in deliberate choice of diameters and material, so it would be confusing to refer simply to “3rd octave C string”.

    Different harps, different purposes and different techniques require different conventions. I don’t refer to my wire strung clarsach by either convention, but am perfectly happy with the pedal convention for my (pedal based) Clark model A. My single and double strungs use the scientific one.

    Having said that, the general answer to Katia’s question is that “Yes, it is a cost issue.” Harps start getting pretty tall right around that G below middle C if the designer wants to stay with unwound strings. The reason is that the tension formula is an exponential one. Harp designers refer to that range as the transition range due to that, and devise varied strategies, all of which add to the cost of designing and building. There are some very lightly strung harps that refute that statement (principally the South American ones) but playing them well requires a very different technique from what is usually taught.


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