There’s a thread or two on the Merlin right here on Harp Column. In lieu of a search feature, you can probably find them by googling “r harps merlin harp column” or similar. Also, one of Rubarth’s two sites quotes from this forum in “What People Are Saying” or a similar topic. Meko of the International Harp Museum also had high praise for it.
I also found it disconcertingly small, though at 54″ it is taller than, for example, Hearland Harps’ Sylvan, and I was able to play it sitting on an ordinary chair. That matters to me, because I want a true floor harp that doesn’t require a special support for the harp or for myself. In my case I think it was a question of getting used to it after years of playing on a harp that stands 63″ high. I am still considering eventually getting a Merlin.
Kolacny music here in Denver has a Merlin on their show floor. I have had the fortune of playing it multiple times and comparing it to many other harps. I have always found myself consistently going back to the Merlin as my favorite harp in the store.
As was previously mentioned the Merlin smaller than other floor harps, but I did not find it’s size uncomfortable. It projects very well and has excellent tone. All of the registers ring out beautifully, and I could not detect any significant muddiness or problems when playing.
I purchasing one from a harpist that lives in Pueblo Colorado, and will be receiving it over the Thanksgiving holidays. I would be happy to post pictures and video of the harp online if anyone is interested.
I was not aware that the tension was supposed to be lower than that on a Dusty Strings or Triplett–I’ve heard it described as “medium.” The thing that strikes me most about the Merlin is that Rick Rubarth himself describes it as “passionate and expressive.” If that’s what you want, this is the harp. I have heard harps that have a perfectly good tone, even from top to bottom, but that left me unmoved. Also, I like the accounting he gives on one of his sites–the one devoted entirely to the Merlin–of what he did and why (struts, fluorocarbon strings, materials, &c).
I played a Merlin at HarpCon this summer and liked it very well. It has a lot of lovely sound for a compact instrument! And it’s very comfortable to play. Like you I’m not overly tall. The Merlin fit me quite well in an ordinary chair with the harp standing on the floor. I found the string spacing and tension especially comfortable. The tone is very even, and the harp is quite responsive, which means you can put a lot of expression in it. In an exhibit hall full of harps, the Merlin sang out sweetly over the din. R Harps can add a built-in pickup, too. All but invisible and good quality sound. Great value for the dollar.