How To Choose A Harp

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How To Choose A Harp

Things you should know before buying your first Harp

Buying a new harp is an exciting step….but how many strings do I need? And how big an instrument should I buy?

There are two main types of harps played today – of course there are more, but the most common played instruments are the lever harp and the pedal harp.

How To Choose A Harp
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Lever VS Pedal

How To Choose A Harp

Lever Harp

  • Diatonic instrument – you can only play in a limited number of keys
  • Small and easy to transport
  • You can buy an excellent instrument for £2,000
  • Players change keys by raising and lowering semitone levers by hand
  • The majority of young beginners start learning on a lever harp
  • Nylon and wire wound strings are used
  • Often used to play Celtic music
  • Harps with up to 26 strings are usually lap harps
  • Harps with more than 26 string are bigger and stand on the floor

Pedal Harp

  • A fully chromatic instrument that can be played in any key
  • Full sized pedal harps have 47 strings
  • There are 7 pedals at the rear of the instrument (one for each note of the scale)
  • Players use their feet to move pedals in order to change key – enabling quick key changes
  • A larger vehicle is needed to transport the harp
  • Gut and wire wound strings are used
  • An entry level instrument is around £12,000
  • Played in orchestras
How To Choose A Harp

Every harp is different. You could have two identical instruments in front of you but one could sound brighter where the other may have a tighter tension on the strings. 

Which harp would best suit your needs? Have a think about what you would do with your harp.

Ask A Harpist

You don’t necessarily need to buy a new harp. In fact, second-hand harps that aren’t too old are probably better than a brand new instrument because they’ve previously been ‘played in’. Often with brand new harps, the sound is a little thin as the instrument hasn’t had time to mature.

Another good thing about buying a second-hand harp is that somebody in the harp community will probably know the harp – especially if you’re in the UK. The harp community in the UK is small enough that you can surely find someone that knows the history of the harp for sale and can vouch whether it’s a good instrument or not.

Our ‘go-to’ website for second-hand purchasing would be the renowned Affairs of the Harp.

Personal checklist

  • Do you want to focus on playing traditional Celtic music?
  • Do you want to play with an orchestra?
  • Do you want access to a wider range of repertoire?
  • What is your current budget?
  • Do you have the space to store the harp? 

Harps need tuning regularly – when they’ve been moved when the weather gets cold when the weather gets warm. Think how much time you have on your hands. Do you have time to tune 47 strings or 22?!  How about downloading a tuner app for your phone?

How To Choose A Harp - Summary

Let’s keep things easy…

If you want a harp that won’t cost a huge amount, won’t take up too much space and you want to play traditional Celtic music and similar repertoire – go for a lever harp

If you have the budget, enjoy listening to classical music and dream of playing pieces by composers such as Bach, Faure, Debussy – invest in a pedal harp

Keep an eye out for harps made by the following makers:

  • Lyon & Healy (pedal & lever)
  • Salvi (pedal & lever)
  • Camac (lever)
  • Pilgrim (lever)
  • Teifi (lever)
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