My disability’s been getting worse, and I’m bedbound so much these days that I’m not getting to play the harps as much as I’d like. I’ve looked into the options with a lap harp, and have the plans for one with a cardboard one ready to go, but the friend who was going to be building it has hit some problems and it’s not looking like it’s going to happen any time soon.
A friend suggested the Reverie Harp a while ago. She said it’s meant to be very soothing to play, and the vibrations feel nice against your body. It’s used a lot in therapy work. However, it’s useful in that you can hand it to someone in hospital and they can strum it without knowing any music, because it’s tuned pentatonically, and that’s not what I want. The harp is strung in wound phosphor bronze in the bass, which I like very much, and plain steel in the treble, which I don’t like. I’d rather have something diatonic in just the bass range. There’s also a company making wooden bowls with wound phosphor bronze strings on top, which sound nice, so that’s another thing in favour of the strings.
I’m chatting to a local chap who makes modern lyres, which I think will suit me nicely. The plan is to get a 12 string, range tenor B up to the F# above middle C, and to use wound phosphor bronze for the whole range. This gives me B minor, D major, and E dorian without retuning, which works well both with my vocal range and with my partner’s mountain dulcimers (tuned in D, often capo’d to E minor). As he uses guitar tuners, it’ll be easy to retune, for instance to put the Cs to naturals. It’ll be exciting to learn to work with a limited range, and my partner says he grew a lot as a musician when he started doing that. I haven’t settled on a shape yet, but he’s proposing a size of 50cm x 31cm x 4cm, which will be nice and portable. We’re talking to guitar string shops about which gauges to go for, and they are being very helpful and should be able to give us a stringing chart once we have the exact string lengths, using the Reverie as a guide for tension (there’s a stringing chart on the Reverie page I linked to above).
I rang a UK harp shop which sells the Reverie today, and they generally think this will work, but flagged up one possible issue. The Reverie has a very long sustain. I don’t want to have to damp all the time, I already do that with wire harp and I want something that’s easier for an instrument to be played when I’m conked out in bed. I’ve had a play of my partner’s new bass dulcimer, which has wound phosphor bronze strings (Newtone), and it seems reasonable in terms of sustain. Anyway, how do we get an instrument that has a rich sound, but not so much that constant damping would be required? The Reverie has a much larger resonating chamber, so I’m guessing that’s part of it.
The luthier is proposing sycamore, hollow body, spruce soundboard. Sycamore is what he has in at the moment, though he could check with the timber merchants at some point. I am wondering whether the spruce soundboard would give it too much sustain, and I’ve a feeling I’ve read somewhere that this is why spruce isn’t generally used on wire harps. We’re in Scotland, so sycamore is acer pseudoplatanus, and would be called a maple by Americans. Apparently big leaf maple is about the closest. He has also used ash, beech (European beech is different to American beech), sapele, maple, sweet chestnut, Douglas fir, and cedar for soundboards. He uses birch ply for the back of the soundboxes. Here is a video example of one of his lyres, I think with a solid body and built in ash, which he liked so much he kept. He actually has the body for another one like this already around. You can hear and see a lot more of his lyres on YouTube.
Reading up on woods, the sycamore is sounding like a good one for keeping the sound nice and clear, as people say maple is great for clarity and tends to reduce sustain. I don’t want it sounding overly bright, but I’m hoping the string range will take care of that. I admit that I think his lyres look a lot prettier when they don’t have a different wood for the soundboard, although obviously the sound comes first. He’s had some stunning woods in the past visually speaking, especially some sycamore (darker than the timber he has in at the moment) and beech (which gets used in a few places over here, for instance for Teifi’s student harps). The sycamore he showed me was light but did look like it had a certain amount of visual interest.
Also if you look at his web page and his YouTube recordings, what do you make of the different shapes? I’ll be playing it either flat on my lap or held up on my left side, depending on the situation. Quite possibly if I am really tired I will lie with it flat on my chest, or next to me in the bed. I’m still trying to work out whether I should have the treble or the bass nearer me, but I’ve realised I should probably get something fairly slimline on whichever side ends up closer to me. I like the look of the curvy ones with simpler lines, visually speaking. I suspect the one I linked you to on YouTube might be the most practical shape as it doesn’t stick out much on either side.
People who have played the Reverie, or a lyre, or know about woods and such, what do you think?