Play pedal harps without gut strings?

Posted In: Amateur Harpists

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    unknown-user on #163239

    Hello everybody,

    I’m new to this forum and am so glad that I found it. I’m 37 and an absolute beginner on playing the harp, but I felt attracted to harps and wanted to learn to play them for oh so many years. Recently I asked myself what I’m waiting for and decided to start learning.

    I’ve been reading through a lot of your posts here but still have some questions I hope you may have answers to. Sorry if my English isn’t always correct, it is not my mother tongue.

    I really would like to play a pedal harp because of its musical range. I don’t like folk music or the like and would prefer to play pop and classical music. I know that most of the people normally start with a lever harp and some of them buy a pedal harp later. But I think it is cheaper fo me in the long term to spend my money for a Daphne harp now (which I middling can afford) instead of buying a lever harp now, on which I will never be able to play the music I would like to and then, later, have to spend money again to buy a pedal harp.

    So my first question to you is: Is it more difficult to learn playing the harp with a pedal harp instead of a lever harp? Or is there no difference in the level of difficulty and it is just everybody’s own preference?

    And my second question is a core issue for me:

    barbara-brundage on #163240

    Yes, you can string a pedal harp with nylon strings, but the harp should be regulated by a technician when you change the stringing material. It won’t sound as nice, of course, but where I live many pedal harpists use few or no gut strings because of the problem of string breakage from the humidity.

    You can start on either kind of harp, but be aware that you can play pop and classical music on a lever harp. I gig pretty much exclusively on lever harp and I never play folk/celtic music unless requested.

    There is not much difference between learning on a pedal harp of a lever harp if you have a good teacher. (Obviously there is the difference between learning to flip levers and learning to pedal, but the hand technique is the same).

    Evangeline Williams on #163241

    Something you also should watch out for are harp carts that have sheepskin/sheerling padding.

    tony-morosco on #163242

    What Barbara said. String with nylon, but get it regulated by a competent harp tech when you do.

    And I agree, Pedal vs. Lever, neither is harder to learn on, but they are different. If you know you want to play pedal there absolutely no reason (beyond expense) that you should not learn on a pedal harp.

    And also she is right that you can play classical and pop on lever harp. Certainly, there are things within those genres you can’t really play on lever harp, but I think you may be surprised at exactly how much, and what pieces, can be managed on lever harp. I play a lot of classical on lever, and a bit of pop too.

    Personally the reason I want to get a pedal harp (still saving, always seems some emergency happens when ever I start to get close to having enough) because I like to play Jazz, and Jazz is one of those genres where you really need the chromatic abilities of a pedal harp. You can play some jazz, and you can play “jazzy” on a lever harp, but for full on, unhindered, improvisational jazz

    barbara-brundage on #163243

    There is one other possible potential problem for you as a Vegan, Louisa, that I’m not sure there is a workaround for. Traditionally, on pedal harp wire strings the wrapping between the core and the winding is made of silk. I don’t know if that’s still the case or not, but if so, I don’t know of a way around it.

    barbara-brundage on #163244

    Although, if you are in Europe, I suppose you might be able to have strings made to order using some kind of synthetic fiber, but that would be expensive.

    Lever harps that use strings from the major pedal harp string makers would be the same as pedal harps in this respect, although some lever harps use wound nylon over metal for the base wires (those strings are not suitable for a pedal harp, though).

    Tacye on #163245

    Modern bass wired do not come with silk- it is some kind of plastic- I tested once with a match.

    bernhard-schmidt on #163246



    barbara-brundage on #163247

    What brand of wires did you test, Tacye, just out of curiosity?

    Fairy Reel on #163248

    Louisa, Congratulations on your plan to start the harp!

    The main reason why people start on levers is probably price. But also, most beginner music is written FOR the lever harp, with lever notations, etc. I actually don’t find moving the pedals all that difficult or anything, but I know that some people have trouble with hand/eye/foot coordination.

    Nylon will probably give your harp a slightly brighter and ‘shallower’ sound, but it should be fine, really.

    And I don’t know if it’s ‘everybody’s own preference’ to start with a lever…for my family, we quite honestly didn’t know any better!

    Good luck on your vegan harp (I think that is a really good idea. I personally felt rather bad when playing my harp

    barbara-brundage on #163249

    >I personally felt rather bad when playing my harp and my beloved cat walked through the room…).

    No need. It’s sheep and cows you should feel sorry for where strings are concerned, fairy.

    Tacye on #163250

    Barbara- I think I tested Bow Brand- most of the wires I have are BB so it is very likely.

    Dwyn . on #163251


    I just started playing the harp last year, and went for a second-hand

    unknown-user on #163252

    While I understand your Vegan concerns, perhaps, gut is a natural substance and nylon is synthesized from oil. The sheep from whence comes the gut are already slaughtered for food, I should think, so you are utilizing a resource that would otherwise be wasted. Also, they are covered with a synthetic varnish, so you don’t touch the actual gut itself at all. No reason not to use nylon instead, though.

    Briggsie B. Peawiggle on #163253

    The reasoning is odd, Saul. The idea, as far as I can tell — at least from my vegan nephew, is that the sheep shouldn’t be slaughtered in the first place. Using something from the animal because it would just go to waste isn’t quite the idea. If you utilize things from slaughtered animals, you are participating in the slaughter, even if it is after the fact. I believe it is a matter of principle, at least as I understand it.

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