Purchasing at Somerset

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    momcat on #196039

    Hi Everybody,

    After many months of waiting, I am looking forward to attending the Somerset Folk Harp Festival soon! I do not live near any center where I can try out a variety of harps, and can’t drive to one (no car, don’t drive). So I have been saving up and doing my research, and am now anticipating the purchase of my first floor harp. I have several in mind that I would very much like input about before I go. That said, the following information about me is pertinent to my purchasing decision:

    I have a non-levered lap harp which I took about 4 months of lessons on 3 years ago, but which needs repair, and have not played since.

    I am middle-aged, and have had occasional joint problems.

    I am primarily interested in playing folk, pop, Celtic and classical music.

    I will be playing primarily for my own and my family’s enjoyment. If I eventually become good enough, I do not anticipate playing professionally in anything but small local venues.

    My price range is approx. $2,500-$3,000, fully levered.

    The harps I am considering are:

    Dusty Strings Ravenna 34

    Dusty Strings Crescendo

    Musicmaker’s Voyageur

    Camac Hermine

    Thormahlen Serenade (nylon strings)

    I realize that the last two are over my limit, as are the Musicmaker’s Regency and Camac Melusine, which I also considered if I were to spend that much. But I am hoping that perhaps vendors are willing to bargain a little! I also realize that there is no substitute for seeing and hearing things in person, which is why I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy online.

    I would be grateful for any information people can give me to help me make this important decision.





    andy-b on #196040

    Hi, Melinda; one other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the dealers may have pre-owned harps available for less than the cost of a new harp.

    Biagio on #196041

    Melinda, these are all very good choices and they all are very different one from another. If given a choice only between the Ravenna 34 and Crescendo I would go with the Ravenna; they are basically the same harp and the Ravenna costs less.

    I do like the Voyageur though personally I would prefer a custom-designed string band to the  standard sets that they offer.  I have sent that design to Musicmakers and Jerry Brown told me he wants to try it out – so you might ask him or Matt about it. The Regency is also nice but it is also pretty heavy.

    I have not played the Serenade, Melusine or Hermione personally but have friends who like them very much.

    I don’t usually like throwing yet another model into the mix but in this case I will.  I assume that Phil Boulding (Magical Strings) will be there and if so take a look at his Concert Oladion – either the 36 or the 30.  Two fine players had those at a retreat last month and those harps just blew me away.

    Good fortune and best wishes,



    momcat on #196060

    Thanks, Andy. I will keep that in mind.

    momcat on #196061

    Thanks for your reply, Biagio.

    Can you explain what a string band is, and how I might want to customize it?

    I will look for Magical Strings while I’m there, but they are not listed as one of the vendors, so I might be out of luck. I was interested in one or two models from Blevins also, but they will not be there either. She was very nice when I emailed her, though.




    Biagio on #196064

    Hi Melinda,

    By string band I mean the design of the strings from top to bottom.  You have probably read that, for example, the Dustys you are considering are nylon down to about B below middle C, then wrapped nylon on nylon, then steel fiber nylon wrap.  The Voyageur is nylon to C below middle C, then steel fiber nylon, then steel fiber bronze.  Sligo Harps’ Luchair offers either nylon or fluorocarbon….and so on with different harp makers and designs.

    The Voyageur is a kit primarily, and the string band design is good but not meant to be expensive and this is reflected in some places where tension drops suddenly, then rises suddenly.  This is sometimes true of other harps so I’m not picking on the Voyageur, I just happen to be writing a paper using it as a model.

    You can customize a string band by changing some of those parameters – monfilament (gut nylon or fluorocarbon) and the heavier wrapped strings – steel fiber bronze, bronze fiber nylon and etc. to get the tone and response you want.  Provided that you don’t change the tension appreciably.

    Some makers  will not warrant their harps if you do that .  Others offer several different options and will also customize for you.  For example, the Rees Mariposa offers either a range of A to C or F to A.  Most makers are happy to consider an individuals preferences’.  Musicmakers, being primarily a kit supplier, is especially accommodating.

    It’s a lot smoother and for me nicer to play with that customizing – but of course the strings will cost a bit more than the standard set.  For me at least it’s worth paying $100 or so more to get exactly what I want, when I’m looking at around $3,000 for the harp itself.


    momcat on #196067

    Hi Biagio,

    This is really interesting. How would I know, with so little experience, what I might like to change? My old harp has all nylon strings, so that is all I know so far.

    I would like to know also, if you have the time, what differences you have found between the various harps I mentioned. This is the first time I will actually be touching other harps, much less seeing and hearing them in person! And I am trying to be as informed a buyer as possible. I hope to buy the best I can afford, so it will last me many years.

    Thanks so much for your very informed replies,



    Biagio on #196068

    Hi Melinda,

    First, try these harps out for yourself before thinking about alternative stringing unless the maker offers it – and try that out too.  One can mess around with any harp but it’s not usual to do that on a new purchase.  Since I brought this up though here’s how one might like to consider changes, or for that matter just evaluate an existing harp:

    -Sit at a playing position and just look down the row of strings. Are there sudden changes in the size (diameter) or do they progress gradually in size from bass to treble?  Some people find sudden changes difficult to accommodate, particularly if some are rather large compared to adjacent strings.

    -Play a very slow glissando from top to bottom and back up.  Is the tone consistent or do you notice that some spots sound brighter and some mellower?  If the latter, does it bother you or do you like it?

    -Play scales all the way up.  Are there places where the strings suddenly feel looser?  Places where it is more difficult to place firmly?  Those will make it more difficult to play and can even cause injury to the joints if so.

    -Play successive fifths and triads.  Do they all sound and feel good or do some sound out of tune (do they clash with each other) compared to those same chords in a different octave (assuming that the harp is in tune)? By that I mean (for example) a C triad in the bass simultaneously with a C triad in other octaves.

    -Evaluate the effort needed to play at significant volume.  Harps are made with different tensions – higher tension means greater potential volume usually bit also more effort.

    -Ask about replacement strings and consider your budget.  Gut costs the most, is more hydroscopic, and tends to be more prone to breakage.

    -Finally, try out other harps for comparison even though they may be outside your budget or which you may not have noticed in you preliminary search.  For instance, many people love the Sligo Luchair (a higher priced one).  Marini Made harps is exhibiting and has gained a fine reputation for lower priced harps and will be exhibiting.  Other exhibitors are harp emporiums – they may have a nice used harp that you just love.

    Of the harps you mentioned and that I have played the Ravenna and Crescendo are “medium” tension, have consistent tone and feel,  and use the same strings.  Personally I don’t much like the rather large wound nylon over nylon ones – but I have small but powerful hands and would prefer a different design.  For other people not a problem.

    The Voyageur with standard strings is higher tension and there are sudden changes at around C below middle C and then again in the last (bass) octave.  That bass (steel core, fiber bedding, bronze wrap) also sounds different than the other octaves. Hence the “customization” I mentioned.  On the other hand, it is a nice harp for the price, volume is very good and if Jerry does offer that “customized” version I would prefer it to the Ravenna/Crescendo.  That is getting into personal preferences though LOL.

    So have fun at Somerset, try out lots of harps, and enjoy the “voyage!”

    Hope that helps!



    momcat on #196113

    Hi Biagio,

    I hadn’t thought to try harps outside my budget. I was trying to narrow down my search because I am only going for one day, and I worry about running out of time. It might be worth it, though, to get a feel for a greater variety of harps. This would fit in with my desire to learn more first hand before I make a commitment.

    I am both nervous and incredibly excited about my trip! Thank you for all your advice.



    woodsong farm on #218045

    Hi Biagio and momcat,
    I apologize as I know that this is an old thread. I am considering purchasing a used 2011 Music Maker’s Voyageur that I have found. Appears to be properly cared for without warping, cracking, etc., full Universal levers, assembled by Jerry Brown, and climate controlled. Great price at $1500!
    Biagio, I have read what you’ve posted on several threads concerning upgrading a harp like this. Considering that this one is already built, I would assume that changing a sound board is not an option. Beyond this, I could still look to make string changes (assuming I can grasp a better understanding of all this) and possibly lever changes later on down the line. Sounds like this still might make a very fine instrument without the tension swings you had cautioned us about. I do like the sound, fullness, and projection from this harp. The Voyageur has a beautifully versatile voice! I guess as I’m a novice, that my other option would be a Ravenna 34. This harp has been very well-received, I know. Just wondering what your thoughts might be considering all your experience and understanding here?
    I am certainly a beginner at the harp though I have an understanding of music (background in voice and have taught piano for many years). I quite beside myself with excitement! Looking forward to upgrading from my thrift store Pakistani special, though I thoroughly enjoy playing it. Momcat, I hope you found what you were looking for and would love to hear how this worked out. Thanks in advance for any advise or direction! I’ve very much appreciated gleaning from your insights!


    Biagio on #218053

    Hi Kristen,

    Musicmakers upgraded the Voyageur strings last year so if this older one still has the older ones you can simply order the new set when the strings need to be changed – probably fairly soon.

    Universal levers are OK if you are not doing fast changes – if you ever want to get a different kind at some later date, no problem there. A harp maker might charge about $20 per lever but it is not hard to learn how to do that yourself.

    The Ravenna 34 is also a good harp and weighs a bit less than the VG. I think you can’t go wrong with either.

    Happy harping,

    woodsong farm on #218054

    Thank you very much Biagio! Good info to work from. Now, decision making time. Would you have a preference between the two options considering that not all the modifications can be done to the VG? I’m trying to get a good comparison of sounds, which is difficult. Seems like the Ravenna will be brighter, while the VG will be fuller and possibly louder. Any comments here? Appreciate your response and help!

    Biagio on #218064

    Hi Kristen,

    I think I’d favor a new Ravenna over a used Voyageur – although I really like the VG as a kit to customize. “Brightness” depends a lot on your technique, so hard to say. I guess the VG is somewhat louder and fuller, mainly because the tension is somewhat higher.

    Both are popular harps that teachers often have for student rentals; both are also sometimes seen in informal concert settings. Around where I live the Ravenna is very popular, but I guess that’s because Dusty Strings is right here ha ha.


    woodsong farm on #218072

    Thank you so much Biagio! That gives me confidence in making the decision. So thankful you took the time to help me! I’ve learned a lot from your posts.

    brook-boddie on #218078

    Hi Kristen,

    I recently traded in a Voyageur to VA Harp Center. The harp is about a year old, and, honestly, it’s a very fine harp with a beautiful warm, rich sound. I only traded it in because I am getting a harp that is a little larger. The harp was made from scratch when I custom ordered it. It has Camac levers and is in perfect condition. It’s honestly one of the best lever harps I’ve ever owned. It’s a little out of your price range–$2,895–but, in my opinion, worth every cent. I have no financial gain for recommending this harp to you–it is already the VA Harpcenter’s property–so my comments are purely based on the quality of the instrument and my experience with it. I’ve played Ravenna’s before, and there is no comparison. The Voyageur sounds 10 times better. I know the Ravennas are meant to serve a specific purpose, but the Voyageur is in a whole different class of instruments. I encourage you to check it out if possible. Here’s a link to the posting: https://www.vaharpcenter.com/used-harp/music-makers-voyageur/ Best of luck to you!

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