Reasonably Priced Introductory Harps

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    Biagio on #235417

    I thought I would share some reflections in light of recent posts about the Mikel,as I am well into altering a good basic kit harp into a concert grade instrument. Here are my reflections and I look forward to comments.

    1. One should determine a reasonable budget and compare quality harps to that. As a median size and cost, look at those of 29-34 strings, at least partially levered. If you see a “new” harp at anywhere below the median cost, be very suspicious. If you see used one that looks interesting, look it over personally, preferably with some one experienced.

    2 Understand that levers are about 20% of the cost

      to the maker

    and ask yourself – will I be playing lots of music that requires chromatics at first? Probably not, in all honesty but if the harp of your desire comes with full levers, fine. But do not get hung up on this: some harpers just retune if needed, especially those who play the clarseach.

    3 If at all possible, learn something about how harps are made and how they differ in sound and general quality. Most players have ideas about this but it is harp makers who have the deeper knowledge. Most are very honest and will tell you their thoughts without much bias. If one does not, beware!!

    4 Consider a kit if you have the space and a few home project tools: sanders,
    electric drill, a few clamps etc. You will save a lot of money BUT you must be willing to learn how to mount levers if you want them right away. Otherwise, buy a finished kit or something like the Dusty Ravennas or Allegro/Crescendo line.

    5 Note the differences in cost – most good introductory harps have a laminate sound board; more expensive ones use spruce, cypress, poplar or some other wood. Ask yourself if you feel ready for a concert grade instrument or one that you can enjoy while also learning basic harp technique.

    6 Most teachers I am confident would agree: it will take about two years at least to begin to master harp technique. You will not be doing a lot of chromatics in that time.

    7 Do you have or will you look for a teacher? They can guide you and often have rental instruments. Perhaps your aim is to a pedal instrument – that is very different from a “folk” harp wrt cost, although technique is the same at the basic level. But it is best to begin on a pedal tension gut strung instrument if that is the way you intend to go.

    Why this mind stream was engendered…I just computed the cost of upgrading an excellent kit to concert level, vs. buying a concert grade lever harp vs. just a good kit or a finished introductory harp.. The result: about 30% savings excluding labor over the concert one, excluding labor. Contrast that to a good but not concert grade like the Ravenna or Crescendo and the basic kit -no savings at all except some time.

    Going from kit to concert grade, the “saving” of about 30-40% lie entirely in being willing to do the work. And that, my friends, is that is time consuming, albeit fun perhaps. Case in point: from first conceiving of that upgrade to finished harpo will be about two months, although in fairness, much of the elapsed time consists of just sitting around waiting for orders to arrive. On the other hand, the initial design included would take about as long.

    Hint hint: do not go this route if you are want for a good introductory instrument soon in your life. If you really want to understand the harp it might be worth doing some day.there are workshops that include this.

    So to be tiresome and repetitive:if you want a good introductory harp and do not want to have glue on your fingers, assume about $1500-2200 for a good introductory harp if you want one with 4-5 octaves with levers.

    Honestly. I’ve been around harps and harp makers for a good long time now. There are no great bargains unless you are willing to do a lot of work (or are lucky).

    Whew! Late night ramble, but it is cold, there is sawdust in the floor and I got bored with domestic politics.


    • This topic was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Biagio.
    • This topic was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Biagio.
    • This topic was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Biagio.
    balfour-knight on #235607

    Hi, Biagio!

    I’m so glad you posted this information here for our Harp Column readers. I’m looking forward to hearing all about your current journey through building this special harp. I bet our friends at Musicmakers are excited about it, too. They have a video of the Cheyenne being played, and it sounds so beautiful. I assume that sound sample was recorded on one of their regular Cheyennes, with a laminated soundboard. I can’t wait to hear the improvement with a solid spruce soundboard!

    Waiting with baited breath,

    Biagio on #235610

    Thanks Balfour my friend,

    The message was more about keeping a new harp purchase “real” but what the heck, I don’t mind commenting on upgrades. There are ways to bring those laminate board harps up close to concert grade spruce boarded (is that a term?) but probably not from your basic kit. Some change might include just be changing the strings as it comes out of the factory. Still, yes, I’m pretty jazzed…

    We will see but as you and most know a solid wood board will not reach it’s best sound and equilibrium for several years vs. a laminate – with that what you hear at first is what you will have. There are ways to make those laminates sound as or almost as good as a solid wood board as I said, but they will never continue to improve.

    I made some major changes to the string design – I’m confident it will sound good but also not like the standard model; which also sounds pretty darn good!


    balfour-knight on #235835

    Well put, Biagio! But I will add that my FH36S sounded as gorgeous back in 2015, brand new, as she does now. When I first put my hands on that harp, I thought I had “died and gone to Heaven,” ha, ha!

    My former L&H semi-grand sounded real nice when I got her brand new, too, but she improved even more in the next two years. With my Camac Atlantide Prestige, she has been beautiful all along, too. We will see if her tone improves with age–I can’t imagine a better tone than she has right now! Isn’t it interesting how some harps go through major changes in tone, and then some seem to just “come that way.”

    I agree that the harps I have owned with laminate soundboards do not seem to change much over the years, which is good particularly for gigging. However, just having my two harps with solid boards and taking good care of them, tuning is very stable when I take them out on a gig.

    Going back to the “budget” thing regarding introductory harps, I still think the best ones ready made are the Ravennas. You also get a staved back with them, which usually makes the price of the harp go up! Being used to the rounded back of the pedal harp, I crave a staved back on a lever harp, and feel “bruised” on the shoulder and collar bone when I have to play a straight back for any length of time. I know, I am spoiled and I have enjoyed being spoiled by these two “ultimate” harps, ha, ha!

    Hope you all are having a great day, my friends!

    Best wishes,

    Biagio on #235841

    Well, sure my friend, It would be tough to sell a harp on the promise of future tone haha. I do admire the Dustys, in my book Ray Mooer is one of the savviest makers around.

    He and others began to put hardwood veneers over the softwood boards, not just for looks but because makers got tired of explaining to customers tht the hairline cracks that inevitably appear over time are not a problem but actually improve the tone. They will still develop and the wood undergo physical and chemical changes but more slowly and cracks will be invisible from the front.

    I do agree emphatically about the Ravennas, adding to that Phil Boulding’s Oran Mor and Oladion as being overall among the best “budget” harps in the US. There are a few others from independent makers but let’s not get sidetracked haha. A number of those independents are licensed by Musicmakers – they make some tweaks of their own but budget harps all have that a/c laminate.

    From start to finish a spruce board will take a week or three to make depending on how well the shop is equipped; fine grained wood is also expensive and must be dried to about 8% moisture content.

    With the laminate, you just cut to shape and glue it on! Rarely will it be double tapered as a wood board is though I think that Dusty does; Caswell did and so do I but it’s one more labor step that does not make a huge difference on that a/c stuff. Why bother?



    Molly K on #235906

    As a beginner to harp, I must say I appreciate the nature of laminate. Less expensive, it sounds beautiful to my (inexperienced) ears, and I don’t worry overmuch about the environment the harp is kept in. I keep a decent humidity in my home, but I no longer own a solid wood acoustic guitar for the same reason. I’m afraid to damage them, and several humidifiers in several different cases is too much maintenance for me!

    Biagio on #236055

    Please tell us when your Ravenna arrives Molly! I’ll bet you are thrilled and goodness knows so am I for you:-)


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