You are very welcome Hallie. I should also mention that Robinson’s offers plans for the original McFall design. I don’t know if WIlliam based his design off Robinsons’ but it seems likely that he did.
Posted In: Harp Column Podcast Episode 65
The Raven is made by Rick Kemper, who is widely respected among professional harp makers. His Luchair is very popular among Celtic style players. The Raven uses fluorocarbon strings which some love while others prefer gut. Since Rick until recently was a professional engineer he has not advertised, relying on word of mouth, as Rees does.
While I have not played any of his harps I have had excellent experiences with him when ordering custom sound boxes and sound boards, or in consulting on vintage harp repair. I would absolutely trust him so if you like the Raven, by all means go for it.
I suggest you contact one of these string makers: Robinson’s Harp Shop or Markwood Heavenly Strings. They both keep a huge catalogue of different model specs and it might be faster than playing phone tag with a maker. Especially since many harp makers do not make their own strings in the fist place, haha.
>Do harpmakers routinely have discounts once or twice a year generally? Or is it fairly rare?<
I would not say they have “regular” sales: it depends on the demand and each one’s particular circumstances. In this environment those who have high production may wish to decrease inventory; smaller shops may not.
Naturally one would wish to start out getting the “perfect harp” but in my experience there is no such beast. I’d bet a sizeable chunk of change that if you asked 100 experienced players how many stayed with only their first harp the answer would not be statistically different from zero. The greater challenge is learning how to play, especially if there is no teacher available!
Some people swear by a particular model, some by a different one but aside from rather gross considerations (concert or folk tension, this lever or another type, tall harp or shorter, price limitations) IMO beginners spend far too much time looking for perfection rather than researching what makes a well made harp. So I would start there, after setting an upper limit on what to spend (assuming that a rental is not possible).
The Dusty Strings Ravenna 34 is an excellent harp within your price range; many people buy that when first starting and teachers like it for a student rental.
If you are minimally handy with basic tools you might consider buying a harp kit from Musicmakers which is currently offering very attractive packages. These are excellent harps; the main difference is the sound board – aircraft laminate versus spruce or cedar – and the fact that you must mount the levers yourself, which is not difficult.
Ditto Charles’ comments and I would also ask: since shipping adds to the cost have you considered any of the following? Dusty Strings FH36, Thormahlen Swan, Sligo Raven, Magical Strings Concert Oran Mor? These are all excellent US made harps of varying cost and tone.
Here is a story in reverse. I sold my Dusty Strings FH26 to a priest who before her ordination had been a concert (pedal) harpist. She had never played a lever harp before but after getting it she only played her L&H for major services, arranging, or her own pleasure, in the sacristy where it was usually stored.
Lisa told me once that she was glad she had the pedal instrument training but was thrilled to have something portable. She often used the FH26 for services rather than lugging out the L&H.
I’d say if you can afford a pedal harp, by all means go for it.
No problem, Molly! Rick is a great guy and much admired in the luthier community. I would trust his guidance on any question.
He is usually very prompt so if you do not get a reply soon give him a call. The last time we were in contact (I bought a custom spruce SB) there were two email addresses on the website; one was from when he still was working as an engineer and is no longer valid.
BTW if Rick asks about dimensions I suggest parallel string rows about 1.5″ apart at the board, with the highest treble having at least 1″ free vibrating surface to the outside; that would make the width at the neck about 4.5″ to 6″. If you use a round back shell the bass width will be determined by whatever that is at the neck.
Please let me know how it turns out!
Molly, I sort of hinted at the idea of asking someone to make a custom double for you if they would do so in your price range. A double is actually easier to make than a single but it’s a Catch 22: not a lot of demand, partly because few make them! Here’s what I would do though.
I would decide on specifics, then contact Rick Kemper at Sligo Harps, with whom I have had great experiences. As to specifics (aside from price) I would want from Rick:
-Minimum 4 octaves (range your choice though at least G-g)
-Aircraft laminate board
-Round back box (Rick supplies those to several pros who do not want to make their own)
-Tension medium, possibly Savarez strings
-Loveland levers (to keep the price down – alternatively Truitt, but Betty is in either Hawaii or Ireland at the moment, I forget which)
-Zither pegs for preference (Rick might advise through pegs for some of the bass strings)
Rick’s Seang and Luchair are big hits with the Celtic music crowd; if you specify the laminate board and round back shell you might be pleasantly surprised by what he says.
Or maybe not, of course but I would definitely give him a jingle. He lives in Silver Springs MD and with the DC area lockdown probably has time on his hands.
If I could afford a Rees, I would by all means get that for myself. I have made several doubles (and other sorts) but no longer build harps of any kind. This is not to denigrate other makers but just to say that I think Rees makes the best on the market, and has been making them the longest along with Stoney End.
Herewith my unbiased (more or less) comments on these makers:
Stoney End: I usually agree with Charles but not in this case. The “ply” used there for the SB is better termed “aircraft grade laminate”: there are no voids. It is trtue however that one usually needs less frequent tuning with a laminate board in a variable climate. What I dislike about Stoney End’s doubles is the way the strings angle in to the center as opposed to being parallel.
The DS is OK but personally I do not like the string choices and tension; their characteristic bright treble and mid, which works so nicely on their singles, echoes too much in the double to my ear.
Argent Fox primarily is known for supplying hardware to the harp community. I am only familiar with their cross strungs.
Many independent harp makers will make a double if requested; I think that was the case with Thormahlen as they no longer have it shown on their website.
Laurie Riley does indeed broker used harps and has two doubles advertised, both Rees Mariposas (34 strings). https://laurierileymusic.com/double-strung-harps-for-sale-used/
Oh, drama. It looks lovely, those gestures, but I would submit more for an experienced concert harpist and even then only maybe. For my money the recent masters of this are Harper Tasche and Caitlin Finch.
His view: “there are many good reasons for the raise but drama is not one of them.” Her view: “play the instrument as if it were your lover, whatever it is.”
Joselyn CHang’s view (my first teacher): “until you can place firmly and accurately with your eyes closed do not worry at all about anything else.” which leads to my next suggestion: put aside some time to just play in the dark or with eyes closed.
I promise, it will be a wonderful and amazing experience.
If you can, watch some videos of Harper, and of Ms. Caitlin – some of the smoothest and most confident playing I’ve ever seen. Joy too but she is no longer with us.
Ah, gotcha. I’ve altered my technique since my nails are trimmed to also ply wired strung. This might help: turn the upper edge of the hand in somewhat more and allow the fingers to angle down.
People talk about “Salzedo” and “French” technique but really, it’s about small alterations that work for each individual IMO. Whatever the technique, keep the hand relaxed – a tense hand is my major cause of buzzing, especially on those bass strings.
Linda, one has a fair degree of leeway especially with with composite (wound) strings. The “trick” is to keep the tension where the maker intended so it comes down to the strings’ mass and frequency as to how low you can go, since that the vibrating lengths are fixed. Ask your harp maker about this if you think you want to lower the range.
Some will be happy to accommodate, others may prefer not to – for instance Dusty winds the strings themselves and would probably not want to change the setup. In that case you would go to a professional string maker such as Robinson’s or Markwood and they will do the analysis for you. Caveat: doing so might invalidate the warranty so check with the maker first.
Jackie, I think you are confusing names with stringing regime. The Brea is the same harp as the Brittany in all respects EXCEPT that you chose one with a range F-F, rather than G-G.
Let me put it another way: my “Selchie 34” model may be strung C-a or A-c. You could if you wished string a Dusty FH with gut instead of nylon. Does that make one different from the other? No, they are the same harps.