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Choosing a Harp

How To Choose A Celtic Harp That Is Right For You.

Harps come in many shapes and sizes, so in choosing a harp you might want to keep a few things in mind starting with this first question:

What would you like to do with the harp?

Will you tour with it, perform in a band, work as a music therapist or just play it at home?

Once you have determined this purpose, you can now answer the following questions:

What is your budget?

Harps can be found for a wide variety of prices – new and used. The cost does not always reflect the quality of the harp!

Does the harp fit you?

Sit down and try out the harp. Some people find wider or taller harps uncomfortable to play. Children will need a harp they can grow with.

How big and heavy is the harp?

Does it fit in your car or apartment? More importantly, are you strong enough to pick up and move this harp – now or in the future?

Does the harp come with a case?

An absolute necessity for all harps and costs around $400 plus to have custom made.

Does the harp have levers on every string?

Levers give you more access to different keys. Each lever costs about $30 and harps are very expensive to get retro-fitted. Avoid the old Robinson’s strings since they are very poor quality.

Where does the harp maker live?

Distance can be an issue if you need repairs.

What does it sound like?

Does it project? Does it ring quite a bit or is its sound ‘dryer?’ Does it blend the way you want with other instruments? Is it too loud or soft?

Does the harp come with a pickup?

A necessity if you plan to perform some day with amplification and retrofitting can be expensive and difficult, often requiring drilling holes!

What kind of strings does the harp have?

Nylon, metal, gut, synthetic gut each have their distinct sound. Nylon is the cheapest and is most commonly used. Ask the harp maker if they sell their own strings and if they have the specific string chart dimensions available so you can order them through a harp supply store. (eg-Robinson Strings) Each harp has its own specific strings and using the wrong ones will most likely break.

Does the harp come with a spare set of strings?

Harp strings break without warning, so it is a necessity to have spare ones on hand since local music stores don’t carry them. A spare set for a 26-stringed harp will run $75 while a full 36 stringed set will cost $180 or more depending on the kinds (ie- synthetic gut costs more).  Harps should NOT be fitted with incorrect strings since the tension will be wrong and the string could break or cause improper stress on the harp.

A Note To Beginners – I really suggest renting instead of buying a harp (no matter how in love you might be with a harp you saw in the store). By renting you can find out whether the harp is really for you (or your child) and by the end of three months you will have an idea of what size, make or model you might want to invest in.

During this time you can be researching harps and considering your budget and priorities which will help make a good, informed decision on your purchase. This process will avoid you ending up with a very expensive piece of neglected furniture sitting in the house.

Harp Models

You can usually tell the size of a harp by the number of strings it has. Here is a basic outline of choices along with their pros and cons.

Lap Harps (22 strings)

PROS – fits on your lap, is portable, affordable, nice for weekends at the cabin, has a quiet voice which can be good for music therapy or in hospitals.

CONS – too small a range, tension too loose for a satisfying sound, hard to fit on the lap.

Three-Quarter Sized – (26-30 strings) – usually has legs

PROS – is portable, affordable, nice for weekends at the cabin, easy to fit into tight places like sessions at a pub, sound is better than lap harps.

CONS – too small a range with missing low notes, legs are extra weight

Floor Harp – (30-37 plus strings)

PROS – Full sound and low range for playing all music. Best model for concerts on a stage. (NB – make sure the harp goes to a low ‘C’ since anything less isn’t worth it.)

CONS – Expensive and heavy to carry. Hard to maneuver into cars and takes lots of space at home.