Beginner harp?

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eedbjp
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Beginner harp?

Post by eedbjp »

I promise I did a search but honestly I didn’t see what I was looking for. It could be my searching ability I admit. My niece, who is a great musician, plays ukulele, and has a great voice. She is interested in getting into some harp. I have no idea where to start. I’m very cautious, I’ve played Uileann pipes, Irish flute, and other instruments and there’s all kinds of sh*t out there. What’s a good standard harp for her to start with for Irish music? To be more specific like definitely less than US$500
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by Nanohedron »

eedbjp wrote: Wed Jul 14, 2021 10:24 pm What’s a good standard harp for her to start with for Irish music? To be more specific like definitely less than US$500
Depends on what you mean by "good standard". If she intends to play with others in the usual session or band settings, she's going to want a harp with sharping levers. This is non-negotiable, for harps are tuned to C or, if fully levered, you can optionally shift over to Eb as the base (tuning down every E, B and A a half step) to get the most options for available lever-sourced keys to play in. Structurally, standard harps aren't designed to bear any other base tunings (IOW, tuning the whole harp up a full step from C to D is definitely not a good idea). You can get lever arrays that are partial, and these will adequately do the job, but I figure that if you're going to get levers, why limit yourself? But plenty of people use partial arrays to get most of the standard keys out of C tuning. If she intends only to play solo she can dispense with the levers, as I have done, and fit the tunes to the diatonic modes as they sit naturally on the harp, but the viable repertory will be limited due to the lack of available accidentals. Tunes that have both the sharp and natural seventh, for example - Banish Misfortune is a prime example - are out, for the most part: there are ways around the limitation, sometimes, but they tend to be unsatisfying. Plus you'll only be able to play most modes in one key ever (think whistle), although sometimes scordatura is an option. A leverless small harp is a good way to start out, but it will quickly prove not enough for contemporary ITM, depending on your goals. I've heard some really outstanding music of many kinds out of leverless lap harps, but it's an isolated thing in that other instruments, if any, will have to accommodate that kind of harp, not the other way around. Even if she only intends to accompany others who are using standard instruments, at least some levers are called for.

As to cost, I don't think you can get a good no-frills lap harp for much under USD $1000. I did a lot of looking myself. There is (or was) a cardboard-bodied harp kit, and recorded it sounded surprisingly decent, but ... why? Resale alone is pretty much out of the question, one would think. There's also a brand out there called Roosebeck that is pretty cheap, but it's of Pakistani manufacture, and I'm given to understand that the quality is hit-or-miss at best, and the smaller they are, the odder they look. Plus last I checked, you can't get them without lipstick-on-a-pig bogus "Celtic" engravings. Again on the subject of possible resale, I would be loth to foist that on others.

I'm no expert, but from what I can tell, Stoney End and Triplett are repeatedly recommended brands you can count on for entry level (I went with Stoney End because it's local, so I didn't have to bite my nails over the gamble of shipping), for the prices are competitive and the quality good. Nothing available at $500, though. You might find something made by cottage industry, but those didn't attract me for a number of reasons, mostly eye appeal and lack of wider recognition.

TBH, if your niece is ambitious and wants the best functional bang for her buck, she's going to want a fully-levered harp with at least 34 strings, and that can mean shelling out as much as 5k. There's really no way around it unless someone's selling used at a fabulous discount, and you could wait a lifetime for that. As much as any other instrument of decent quality, a harp (even a leverless lap harp) is an investment. Seems that whistles are the only thing in this gig that you can keep cheap and still have a reasonable shot at excellence.

If you haven't done so already, I strongly suggest checking out harp enthusiast websites (search "Celtic harp"), for these sites often have used-for-sale sections. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by Nanohedron »

I'd forgotten about these, but here's an option you might consider: the Harpsicle. The brand's construction method is a departure that is clearly and unapologetically aimed at cutting costs, so I don't know if you'd consider them "standard" per your OP, but people seem to like them, and $525 gets you a 26-string instrument with no sharping levers after a six week wait. Of course there's going to be shipping, too.

Still not under $500, but it's probably as close as you're going to get.
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