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 their 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 Trad, 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 to me, and 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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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by daveboling »

You might also look into renting a harp from someone in your area. No worries about finding a buyer if she doesn't stick with it, and you can rent something which will be capable of playing the music in more than one key. I agree with everything Nano says, except the Pakistani harps being hit-or-miss. From what the harp community says, it's more like miss, miss, miss-or-adequate. Never a hit. There are a lot of people who like their Harpsicles, so for a small pile of samoleons, it may be the best bet. I'm currently prototyping a 22-string model, but it's not going to be at an entry level price.

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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by eedbjp »

My apologies for not replying . I appreciate all of this information here. I had no idea of the complexity of the instrument. I’m assuming like the world of flutes and uileann pipes ( especially) that “budget” harps are a waste of materials. Meaning the Pakistani sets etc. found on EBay. However even with those , there are some entry instruments ( David Daye pipes, Tipple flutes, for example) Any examples like that in the harp world?
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by eedbjp »

I should have added “in addition to the Harpsicle”
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by Nanohedron »

If not the Harpsicle - I would call that the entriest of entry level, but no others at such prices - then I agree with Dave that renting might prove a prudent choice; it might turn out that your niece realizes that she has other interests. So, that relatively low level of monetary involvement could prove a relief. Not that you could recoup any of it with a resale, but it's a thought, depending on your priorities. The main thing, that way, is that you can be assured of a decent instrument, rather than stabbing in the dark and risking the allure of bargain prices to your regret. When it comes to instruments, there are few exceptions to the maxim, "You get what you pay for."

Another option is for the control freak: You can get kits, which aren't cheap; or even plans with templates, which are, but even if you're determined to source your own wood - a brave thing if this is your first rodeo - then you'll still have to pay for the right strings, pins, levers, eyelets, and who knows what else to keep track of, all usually provided by the seller. It's their design, after all, and like UP parts, some of these things aren't interchangeable. Think of the first as prix fixe, the other as à la carte. Oh, and how much free time do you have? Me, I leave it to the experts and make sure I'm committed to the investment.
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by fintano »

I don't know where you are located, but Dusty Strings in Seattle is a pretty reputable outfit. I imagine they are willing to do business online.

Triplett and some other companies people have mentioned would be good too.

Quite a few other companies were good, but have gone out of business in the last few years. You might still be able to find some of their instruments available used. For example, Lionwood, which made a killer small harp, along with some dynamite bigger ones.

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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by rykirk »

The only affordable beginners instrument I am aware of is the Fireside Harp: https://www.backyardmusic.com/Harps.html

This is available as either a simple kit or as a finished instrument for a reasonable price. It has a cardboard soundbox, but it doesn't feel cheap, it's quite dense stuff and also seems like it would be easy to replace should it become damaged. My wife bought one and we are quite pleased with it. I'm sure it doesn't have the full volume of a nicer wood bodied instrument, but it's not quiet, its at least as loud as my cedar top classical guitar. And for under $500 you get a stable, playable instrument with a good tone and the all the levers you need for trad music. You can get the Harpsicle mentioned above for around $600, but it has no levers and can't play in any key besides C Major and will be useless for most things besides solo playing. To get one with enough levers to be really useful you need to spend closer to $1000, you can get a Fireside Harp with more levers than you'll need for less than half that.
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Re: Beginner harp?

Post by Nanohedron »

rykirk wrote: Sun Nov 07, 2021 2:06 pm The only affordable beginners instrument I am aware of is the Fireside Harp: https://www.backyardmusic.com/Harps.html

This is available as either a simple kit or as a finished instrument for a reasonable price. It has a cardboard soundbox, but it doesn't feel cheap, it's quite dense stuff and also seems like it would be easy to replace should it become damaged. My wife bought one and we are quite pleased with it. I'm sure it doesn't have the full volume of a nicer wood bodied instrument, but it's not quiet, its at least as loud as my cedar top classical guitar. And for under $500 you get a stable, playable instrument with a good tone and the all the levers you need for trad music. You can get the Harpsicle mentioned above for around $600, but it has no levers and can't play in any key besides C Major and will be useless for most things besides solo playing. To get one with enough levers to be really useful you need to spend closer to $1000, you can get a Fireside Harp with more levers than you'll need for less than half that.
Yeah, that's the cardboard-bodied one I had in mind. Price-wise, it beats the Harpsicle hands down, even with levers.
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