Secrets of the Harp

Posted In: How To Play

  • Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #191663

    Shhh. It’s a secret.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #192138

    Did you know that wood fibers re-align to the playing of the owner?

    Biagio on #192139

    Indeed they do Saul – LOL one reason you never really know the tone for several years!

    Best wishes for a new year,

    Biagio on #192160

    Let’s hear from all with other secrets. Here are a few more just for fun…..

    Makers prefer air dried wood over rapid kiln drying because the latter burns off volatile compounds leaving the SB dry and brittle.

    By the same token, those compounds undergo gradual changes with age which also changes tone.

    It is a partial fallacy that “Old growth Sitka spruce makes the best tone wood.” OK, I guess for some instruments like violins etc but a harp’s dynamics are different and a) that is getting hard to find with tight winter growth rings b) while nice for violins, cellos and the like instruments it does not have the best elasticity to strength ratio compared to others.

    Those others might be a surprise and include basswood, Engelman spruce, Galacian pine, some cedar, redwood, and sassafras. That’s just for gut or nylon harps, wire strungs are a whole different subject.

    In addition to the elongation of fibers (or more accurately as a consequence) the SB belly gradually becomes somewhat permanent as time passes. “Harps sound best when about to break” – yup and that is why – it also applies to modern composite and laminate boards. Although it takes a lot longer for those to elongate to a permanent belly.

    There are stages of that belly – you can tell in an old harp when it is becoming critical if there are stress lines around the rib or vertical cracks are wider than 1mm, but best to talk to our maker about that. There are some gorgeous old harps out there over 100 years old!

    Small horizontals cracks just indicate that the board is really, really getting to it’s optimal tone (if the ribs are OK).

    It is also a partial fallacy that harps with aircraft grade “plywood” laminate boards do not sound as good as solid wood ones. “Partial” because a) “plywood” sounds “cheap” as a generic name (it is not cheap if a/c grade!) b) while it does stretch it takes a lot longer than all wood c) often amateur makers use it for quick results and do not understand acoustics and d) it is far harder than the soft woods mentioned so has a tone more akin to a hard wood board.

    So much for my mind dump on boards. Strings next?


    byouke on #192671

    Hi Biagio

    I just went harp looking (for next school year) these last weeks.
    Went to camac and salvi.

    And there was a comment about the woods used in harps. The one about plywood isn’t as good as solid wood.

    Me eye (and more especcialy my ears) fell on the camac ecxalibur and the salvi egan. The salvi dealer commented that camac uses plywood and isn’t as good as salvi. (maybe dealer talk)

    If it’s true I don’t know (that’s what I want to ask you), but to me the camac excalibur sounded deeper, richer than the egan.
    Could be the strings (carbon vs gut)? Soundboard was about same width (42-44cm), but to me the excalibur sounded louder, bolder.

    I listened also to some new “silkgut” strings on a salvi titan, but they were a little bitter sharper in sound than gut strings.

    Maybe you or somebody has some more info abouth this. I deffinantely will go again to these stores through the year to listen again, before I decide.

    Biagio on #192675

    Hi byouke,

    “How good” or “better” in my opinion is a very qualitative thing and there are also some rather traditional elements mixed in that may or may not be justified. Further, makers design their harps with a certain tone and color in mind – the choice of both strings and board are inter-related. I think that if it is a well known maker and you like the harp THAT is the best basis for judgement.

    Personally I feel that there are only a few good arguments of the many that have been proposed to favor wood over high density laminate. Those are a) it does continue to improve over time b) the tone will be richer compared to laminate if the strings were designed for it and c) the upper register is generally better unless the maker has thinned the laminate to less than 1/8 inch (most don’t).

    Within reason one can substitute one string type for another without over- or under- stressing the sound board – providing that a professional string designer or the maker has worked the math. Of the three types you mention, gut has the fastest decay and nylon the slowest; “silkgut” and Aliance fluorocarbon in my opinion have a somewhat mellower tone than nylon (the brightest of the three) and longer sustain than gut. But take that with a grain of salt because is only one opinion and based mainly on my own harp designs.

    Of the three, gut is the most expensive and tends to wear out sooner than the others. But when you consider the cost of strings against the cost of the entire harp, if you like gut go for it I say.

    It sometimes surprises people that you can also substitute steel for nylon (at smaller diameters of course), but I don’t recommend that. Steel strings don’t sound to me like either a harp or a (brass or bronze string) clarsach:-)

    Hope that helps and best wishes,

    byouke on #192676

    Thanks for the fast reply Biagio 😉
    It all ends up to personal taste, isn’t it.

    My only concern is, in time, lets say I would take a camac harp (, that it falls apart in 10 years or so… that’s the only worry that’s on my mind.
    But that couldn’t happen, right?
    A dusty string crescendo ( also isn’t made from solid wood, but that doesn’t mean that it would break faster? If break at all?

    They are big companies, they couldn’t make something to displease their customers in the long run (I hope).

    Biagio on #192678

    I think you can be assured that any of these harps will last a good long time – several decades at least. I had one gut strung harp that was over 85 years old and although I put on lighter strings it still sounded great.

    Dusty introduced the Allegro/Crescendo line to give people something intermediate in cost between the Ravennas and FH series; and because some people wanted essentially solid wood sides instead of ply like the Ravennas.

    All of these folks have been making excellent harps for a long time so I would not worry. Actually, Dusty is not that big compared to Camac and Salvi. They only have a dozen or less people in the shop, which is about the size of a small cargo bay. The others are much larger and more automated. Dusty is just very, very efficient!


    byouke on #192699

    Hi Biagio

    thanks for sharing your knowledge on the subject 🙂
    Now, I can choose a harp without worries. Yippie!

    renaissancemanohio on #195011

    I’m too new to the harp to know any secrets. But I encourage all harpists to visit a harp manufacturer and tour the factory. As a musician, health care worker, and engineer, it was fascinating. I learned a great deal and want to learn more. Did you know that holding an extensively-carved harp can take longer than 6 months to accomplish?

    renaissancemanohio on #195012

    Guilding, not holding.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #195170

    Getting back on track:

    Did you know that the elaborate carving of the column is not decorative, it serves an important purpose. It helps disperse the soundwaves emanating from the harp so they fill the room. A column with no carving will allow the soundwaves to travel directly outward in more of a straight line, which means you rely entirely on the acoustics of the room to disperse your sound. If you play an 85 or 30 or such harp, you should probably face straight out to the audience, not at the traditional angle. I believe the many sides of the Salzedo model column are sufficient to create dispersement. I hope that the fluting of the 100 would also do so, but it may not be quite enough.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #195171

    Did you know that the gilding of a harp serves an acoustic purpose, not only a decorative one? The whole harp resonates, including the column and crown, and thus the tones gain the coloring of the brilliant, dark qualities of gold. That’s why gold harps have such glitter and glamour, it’s not just the looks.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #195172

    A less-expensive way to gain the advantage of gold, if you own a natural or walnut 23, is to have a gold crown added to the column. It’s enough to make a difference.

    Elettaria on #195179

    Fascinating! I’m glad I didn’t go for a wire-strung harp from a maker who kiln-dries his wood and wanted to use steel strings, then.

    If a lever harp is described as “fairly new”, how old would you expect it to be?

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 28 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.