Thoughts on single action harps?

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    naisha on #222524

    Hello! Sorry this will be long ^^’
    I’m doing my research to find the perfect harp for me, I’ve never played one, but I know it’s for me. I am still saving, so I have no rush at all.
    Well, as the title says, what do you guys think about single action harps? Some days ago I was pretty sure that my perfect harp could be a Lewis Creek Nightingale (27 strings), for being light, portable, having truitt levers (I’ve read a lot that these and camac are the favourites in general, right?) and having a very beautiful sound and nylon strings. But then I also thought that maybe a bigger harp, like 34 string ones, could be a very good option too. Then I found the single action ones, and saw that a Fischer harp has 34 strings. It’s sold as “children harp” but I honestly don’t need more strings. It has 5 pedals in stead of 7, but if my logic is right it shouldn’t be a probmen to change keys (like, why would I use an E#?). These 2 harps are in the same price range, maybe a bigger single action one wouldn’t be an option.
    I would even say that if I end up with a full levered harp I think I would still go for the nightingale, as I’m ok with arranging music to small range instruments (I play the ukulele and I’m quite used to arrange everything I want to play, damn uke, why you so small? Hehe just kidding). But on the other hand, being able to change all the same notes at once sounds so comfortable and useful!
    I know it’s unlikely but if you guys have tried both harps or similar options I would be very grateful to read about your experiences.

    Oh by the way, I live in Spain, so I’m a bit limited to harps that can be found in Europe.
    Thank you all for your time!

    wil-weten on #222525

    Hi Annie, just google on Einfachpedalharfe and Volksharfe.
    Google translate will give you a first impression about the limits and possibilities and the technical problems some people face with these harps.

    As to a children’s harp with only 5 pedals, you won’t be able to sit comfortably as an adult. These harps are meant for young children.

    Here: you can see the possibilities in keys to play with the 7 or with only 5 pedals. The German H stands for B and the B for Bb.

    There’s a great difference in the technical way the pedals work. Also, most of these harp builders work with waiting times.

    I haven’t tried single action harps yet, though I have done some research.

    Biagio on #222528

    Perhaps you might consider what kind of music you wish to play and if a single or double action would be desirable – as you know all notes would be changed at once (all As or all Cs or whatever). Levers are used to change one at a time.

    A good single action is also much more expensive than a lever harp. I’m not familiar with European ones; here in the US I do know of the Joy Harp – also known as the Douglas Harp – made by Arsalaan Faye:

    My opinion for what it’s worth would be to buy a 33-36 string lever harp at this stage of your experience; or if you are OK with the Nightengale’s 27 that’s fine too.

    When Fischer writes that this is a “Children’s harp” it means that it is in effect a pre-step to a full concert pedal harp. Personally I can’t see much point in buying something like that. You must first learn technique if a concert harp is your aim anyway, and that can be done on a lever harp such as the L&H Prelude or Troubadour assuming that you want concert tension gut strings.

    There are a number of other fine harps around the price range of the Nightingale. Incidentally, Rees levers are also available for that and they are very good too.

    wil-weten on #222535

    As to the Fisher children’s harps, they are a pre-step to the so-called ‘Volksharfen’ or Tiroler harps. These Volksharfen have single action and a string tension comparible to celtic harps. Often, the distance between the strings are a bit smaller than those of concert harps. They are strung with celtic nylon, celtic gut, or pedal gut light, depending on the model.

    The best-known and quality Volksharfen are Mürnseer and Zangerle.

    This is what you said to be important: “being light, portable, having truitt levers (I’ve read a lot that these and camac are the favourites in general, right?) and having a very beautiful sound and nylon strings. But then I also thought that maybe a bigger harp, like 34 string ones, could be a very good option too.”

    What does make you think that you want your harp nylon strung? If for some reason don’t want natural gut, there are several other interesting choices than nylon.
    As you live in Europe where nylgut and silkgut (= a kind of nylgut especially suitable for celtic harps) are easily available, this may be interesting for you as well. It sounds warmer and richer than nylon, a bit like gut

    Another choice, when you woulnd’t like natural gut, is carbon strings. Their sound depend on the company that makes them.

    You want to make your own arrangements, but perhaps you would also like to play from score. There’s a lot of harpmusic written for 34 string harps. One of the great things of such a floor harp is that it is much easier to balance than a smaller one. And when making arrangements, you could have some chromatic notes pre-set at a certain part of the harp and let it unaltered in another part of the harp.

    As to weight: how much kilo’s would still be transportable for you? Beware that some heavy ‘lap harps’ weigh almost as much some lightweight ‘floor harps’.

    Are you willing to travel for a harp to, let’s say Germany or the Netherlands?

    naisha on #222540

    Hey thanks for your answers! The truth is that my intention is not playing a concert harp (so no concert tension or space between strings like a concert are needed). Thanks for letting me know the Children’s harp would be small for an adult, I thought it just had fewer strings and the rest was the same as the others.
    As for what kind of music I’d like to play, I honestly like a lot of styles, from classical to modern, I also like songs from soundtracks like Disney, Ghibli, I like improvising, spanish music like soft flamenco… and I haven’t analysed deeply scores from all those styles but just hearing them I think they must be much more difficult with a lever harp, or need a lot of arrangements to make them work, as they have a lot of sudden changes, accidentals (please correct me if I’m wrong)… That’s why I was considering a single action pedal harp, for being not as expensive as concert ones and being smaller, which is a plus to me. Biagio, I read about the Joy harp and in fact that one was the one that made me think “maybe it would be a good idea to look for something similar in Europe”. And then I found Fischer harps and found that small one that would totally fit my budget -which is around 3000€-. But now that I see the options, I’m not so sure if I could afford any of them. So, do you guys think I could still play a wide range of styles in a celtic harp? Not saying every single piece I like, but being able to play different styles would make me more than happy. Wil, what you said about chromatic notes preset at a certain part of the harp makes a 33-36 strings harp very interesting (I guess it’s less doable on a 27 strings one). And I hadn’t thought of the balance difficulty of a small harp, so that makes me think. The light weight sounds tempting to me because I would be able to carry it to the woods and spend some time there playing when the weather allows it, but I’m not planning on travelling too far with it. Good thing I have plenty of time to decide and see all the pros and cons of each option 🙂
    As for the strings, I said nylon was a good point because I saw replacing nylon strings is cheaper than fluorocarbon ones, but I honestly don’t know much about strings. I wouldn’t be confortable using gut strings, though, so I’d prefer the synthetic options. I didn’t know nylgut or silkgut even existed on harps (they do exist for ukuleles), and how you described the sound I think I’m very interested on them. Just to keep it in mind, would it be ok to replace nylon or fluorocarbon strings for nylgut strings? I read that a harp made to wear one kind of strings is better to stick to that kind of string. I can always ask the builder about the best replacements for the harp I’ll end up acquiring. But just in case I’d also like to know, do fluorocarbon strings sound brighter or warmer than the others? I tend to lean to warm tones more than bright (just a note, I chose my ukulele in mahogany rather than koa because of that, I also use nylgut). I’m not sure if this is relevant but anyway I’ll say it too: I also find myself leaning towards softer tension, not sure if “tension” is the best word, I mean less stiff strings, as my way to play instruments tend to be on the softer way, not too energic.
    Biagio, you mentioned Rees levers are good too, I don’t have much information about them, do you have a personal preference? I’ll do my research about this too.
    Thank you very much again, see you around!

    evolene_t on #222543

    Hello Annie,

    Knowing the style you want to play is important to determine the kind of harp you want to buy. I feel like you’re looking at a lot of option but (correct me if I’m wrong) since you’ve never played the harp before, you’re basing yourself on blog posts here and there.

    That’s a fine approach, but you have to understand that someone who plays classical music professionally in an orchestra is not going to say the same thing as someone who just wants to play for schoolchildren.

    So I have two advice :

    First, read and re-read this website : Celtic Harper – What Type of Harp Should I Get? (For beginners)
    This link will tell you a lot about harp differences. Things to take into account first are : the price, the harp quality (no Pakistani) and whether or not you intend to move on to pedal/concert harp. You can read the page with a notepad, writing down what you want to find in a harp and what you don’t care about. Defining your wants and needs is the first step!

    Second, I would consider renting out a harp for a year or so. You seem convinced that you can play with a 27-strings harp but don’t seem to have a clear idea of what it would enable you do to, or not.

    (like, why would I use an E#?)

    This is an example : the thing is, you actually don’t know yet whether or not you’re going to need that E#. What if you end up using it often on your favorite melodies?

    Hence, renting out a 34 or 36-string lever harp and taking a few lessons with a harp teacher is the way to go : you can build up a small repertoire and start seeing what kind of harp you would go on needing. Be honest as you can be with your teacher : it will be their role to advise you as well.

    After renting out a harp for a while, you can then to a harp shop or harp show and try out dozens of harp and brands : only then will you know how many strings you prefer, if you want to play with gut or nylon or fluorocarbon, if Camac or Truitt is the way to go, etc. Your choice will be all the more informed.

    In the long run, renting a harp is actually saving money : it’s much more expensive to buy new harps every 2 to 5 years when your tastes have refined or evolved, than giving back a harp you’re renting!

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by evolene_t.
    wil-weten on #222546

    There’s a lot to be said about strings, but for the moment it’s enough to know that you don’t want natural gut.

    As to single action harps, decent ones to weigh about 20 kilo’s, so just forget to take them with you into the woods. Also, even with 7 pedals, the amount of keys you can play in, is limited (I already gave this link: ). Also, these pedals are not meant for fast chromatic work. And besides, you would need to have them take to a reputable harp repairer every two or three years for maintenance.

    One can play lever harp in many styles, but as you have already guessed, chromatism is somewhat limited, even with the best of levers.

    So, now it’s time for the good news. Have you though of a cross-strung harp (or X-harp? The X refers to the strings that cross one another. There are two main types: 7×5 (layout like a piano) and 6×6. Both types have their pro’s and con’s.

    Now, if you’d like to play in every key you can think of with as much chromatism as you like, an X-harp may the right harp for you. They are not very heavy and not too pricey.

    This: is a very popular 6×6 harp in Germany. Perhaps you like its ‘bohemian’ sound, perhaps you don’t, but this is a decent quality harp for a nice price. You could also choose to build one yourself from a kit in a ‘Baukurs’ of a few days.

    For more information, start by reading this article:

    Biagio on #222548

    Hi Annie,

    Wil mentioned the cross strung harp which would be an option if you anticipate lots of accidentals but don’t want to spend the money for a pedal harp. Technique is substantially different from that of other harps. Another option would be the double strung, with two parallel rows of strings and two full rows of levers.

    The double has become increasingly popular lately. Both rows are usually tuned identically but a little thought would suggest that by selecting different levers on different sides they could be tuned differently – and it certainly makes modulation easy. Rees makes several sizes and contrary to some opinions it is played the same as a single course harp – just much more flexibility. For more information see Laurie Riley and others on Youtube.

    Speaking of Rees – their levers are excellent. Like Truitts, the lever itself presses UP on the string (rather than down like Lovelands) which makes them much easier to mount and regulate. The bracket which holds the device to the neck, however, is like the Loveland, which costs less to make than the Truitt. I would have used them instead of Truitts if they had been available while I was building harps.

    Best wishes,

    talfryn on #222576

    Hello Annie
    Looks like you have received a lot of good advice here. I have several harps acquired over the last 15 years, my sons also play and as they have grown up and left home, then the harps come and go with each visit.
    There are three which I like to keep with me, one of which is a single action Camac sm38, the other two are lever harps a Camac Korrigan and a musicmakers Belle.
    They are all good instruments for the styles I play, French and Celtic folk, classical and pop tunes. Although I made adjustments to the Belle, replacing the strings with new ones from Markwood from the US, changing hardware and adding Camac levers etc…Also the lower string tension took me time to adjust my technique to.
    I can play all my repertoire on all 3 harps. The single action Sm38 is my preferred harp for classical music as it has a very precise and clear sound, however it’s big and heavy. The Korrigan lever Harp I tend to use if I am playing a solo performance, I regularly use the Belle at my local folk club and for dances when playing ensemble, it is very light and easy to transport, also because I assembled it, i can fix it if it’s knocked.
    I do not consider which Harp will play which repertoire because they can all do it. I tend to choose on which is easier to transport and wether I am playing solo or with others. The choice is always a compromise.
    Camac is no longer building the sm38 but they regularly turn up second hand here in France.
    I tried a tyrolian single action pedal Harp 3 years ago at a luthiers festival here in France, it was very easy to play, the string tension was lower than I was used to but it was also quite ergonomic the one I tried had a curved soundbox, I keep promising myself to sign up to a workshop to learn some of the tyrolian polkas, but will probably need to brush up on my German first before visiting Austria.
    So just some experiences but the best advice would be to borrow or rent a Harp to start with, the relationship you have with your particular instrument is the important thing..
    Good luck

    naisha on #222581

    Hi again! Thanks for the extra explanations. Wil, I’ve been looking through the links you posted, thanks for that. After reading a bit I’ve seen that pedals is not what I’m looking for after all.
    Evolène, thank you very much for the links and your advices. Unfortunately, I have no way to go to a harp show or harp store to test many of them and compare their sound. Where I live they just don’t exist, there’s no “harp culture” at all. There’s the Camac store 500km from home, but nothing else. The renting option sounds really good, that way I could really see if the kind of harp that I’m renting at that moment is for me, or if I miss something I don’t have with that harp (like, if I rent a big one maybe I miss portability, and if I rent a small one I could miss range). So yes, I’ll most likely try to do that before buying one.

    The X and double options sound very convenient if one wants to play chromatic! I’ll investigate these options too. By the way, I watched Laurie Riley’s videos, Omg, she’s amazing! And her explanations are just perfect. I should also make sure if the kind of music I want to play really requires double or cross strung harp. Maybe I’m just a bit overwhelmed thinking I won’t be able to change levers quickly but all it takes is practise and there aren’t as many changes as I imagine now. Coming from guitar and ukulele, the idea of “not being able to play ALL the notes” is something I’m not used to, but then again every instrument is limited in its own way (try to play a harp music on a ukulele, ha!) 🙂

    I think from now on I know what I have to look up and consider. After this research I’ll probably open another thread asking for other specific things (I think it’s better that way because otherwise the title of this thread would have nothing to do with its content), but now I already have work to do ^_^ thank you very very much!

    naisha on #222582

    Oh, Talfryn, I’ve just seen we sent the reply at the same time, thank you very much for your message too! I’ll keep that in mind. Hmmm the luthiers festival in France sounds very nice, I’ll look it up and see if I could go. It’s still very far from where I live, but at least it’s next to Spain, so not impossible either 🙂

    wil-weten on #222583

    Hi Annie, if possible, do go to the Camac Store in your country and try out different harps to get an impression about how they feel and sound. Camac harps have great levers which one can flip very easily. Also, you may find a good second hand harp there for a nice price, which you’ll probably be able to resell later on for… a nice price. 🙂 Really, Camac harp give you a lot of bang for your buck.

    I think it’s best to start harping and finding out along the way which kind of instrument suits you best. A lot of people want a different harp after a few years of playing.

    This article may help you to think again about your fear for accidentals in music:

    Good luck with your further research, and with trying some harps for yourself: you may have more opportunities to try one than you may think.

    E.g. you could order a harp from and have two weeks to decide whether you want to keep it or sent it back for free. Beware that the ’30 days money back guarantee’ just means that after the first two weeks, but within the 30 days period, you will have to pay for the costs of sending the harp back. Thomann sells harps of Lyon & Healy and Salvi (as well as some harps made in Pakistan which are definitely NOT what you are looking for). You could find sound samples of most of these harps (these sound samples are generic, so from the right model, but not from that particular harp; sometimes you can’t find a sound sample from a particular model, but when you look at the same model in a different colour, you do find a sound sample).

    But, again, frankly, I would go in person to the Camac shop, even if you’d have to travel 500 km for it.

    Biagio on #222584

    Hi Annie,

    I am glad that you are being careful and taking your time to do this research; too many eager people just dive right in and buy something that is later a disappointment.

    A word about doubles….the hand techniques one uses are the same as for a single strung harp. The advantage of a double (aside from not having our hands bump into each other) is that it allows effects that are not possible on any other kind of harp. Or not if you do not want to use them of course! Nor are they all that much more expensive (see the Rees Morgan Meadows and Morgan Meghan for example).

    Some have felt intimidated by thinking about two rows, but there is no reason to; it just takes a few days for your eyes and hands to become accustomed. And let me dispel the idea that one would be better off to start with a single.

    A bunch of us will be getting together (including Laurie) next week at the house of one of Laurie’s students. She started on a double immediately and now has two: Laurie’s Rees 30 and a 23 I made for her.

    Have fun!

    naisha on #222601

    Oooh Biagio that gathering with Laurie and company sounds so awesome! Have a lot of fun! 😀

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