This is kind of my answer to Audrey Nickel’s post below, “The birth of a harp.”
I was thinking of a different tension – but yes, I see, from the point of view of the torsion from the neck, the plywood column would be more likely to bend/break, and would be weaker (although I’m not sure if the 50% figure is quite right).
From my experience building three harp kits, the internal rib does taper in width as it goes up in a larger harp, but is straight in both of my smaller(lap) harps. The external rib does not. With both of my Musicmaker harps I do not have an external rib- this may be due to the fact that it is more of an aesthetic rather than structural necessity. The internal rib of my nylon strung harp is 5-ply aircraft birch, while the wire-strung has a solid walnut strip.
You can download pdf files of all the Musicmaker harp
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