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This article appeared in the newsletter for the Great Lakes Harpers in Illinois. It was written by Carolyn Deal and with her permission we have reprinted it to help you with your harp research.

Shopping for a Harp

by Carolyn Deal

"On my deathbed I looked back at my life and had no regrets for things I had done, but I did have regrets for things I had not done." LIFE IS SHORT. BUY A HARP.

What an opportunity, to be able to try so many harps to find the one that fits your dream! These are items that will be important to you over the years, adding to your enjoyment:

1. Sound, tone of harp. Soft enough, or projecting enough, for where you'll use it.

2. Feel of the harp. Is it comfortable to reach the bass strings, the high strings, and how does it feel on your shoulder? You aren't supposed to bear much weight on your shoulder; the harp should be almost at its balance point and then tipped back just slightly onto your right knee and shoulder, but it will still be a comfort factor. Sit at proper height to judge this; all harps are more comfortable if you sit correctly.

3. String tension. Some like it light. Some like it tight. Try them all and see what feels best to you and gives you the sound you desire. Light tension is great for Irish ornamentation or if you have hand problems. Firmer tension is great for dynamics and will develop strength in your hands. Ask harp makers and other harpers their thoughts. Feel for yourself.

4. String spacing. You commonly hear "standard spacing" but actually there is not a folk harp "standard." Small hands need closer. Large hands can handle larger spacing. Large spacing means it's easier to not buzz the string you just plucked ---easier not to hit it when you replace your fingers on the next string, especially in the bass. But spacing that is too large for your hands, strains you to do octaves in the bass, or to reach a 10th in the bass. Advanced players may want closer spacing for quicker maneuvering in Irish dance music. Or not! TRY different harps and see for yourself.

5. Appearance. So many gorgeous harps!!! Gotta have three?

6. Weight. A heavier harp can have an impactful sound, and you can always use a harp dolly to move it. Pedal harpists move their harps! And if you want to grab a harp and go, check out the many medium weight or light harps that have "Wow" sounds today. Harp cases usually have shoulder straps.

7. Size. Do you want it to fit in a certain size car? A car trunk? Or do you want a large harp that will make an impressive sight at a wedding? As for a therapy or travel-size harp, does it need to go on an airplane?

8. Number of strings. For a full harp, go two octaves below middle C if you can afford it. This allows you to play all the music out there! A few harps have extra strings below that for added drama and fun. But down to that C is standard. Up from there, 34 or 36 strings makes a "full" sized folk harp. But lots of other sizes are a blast, too. 29 strings, harps that end on a low G, and other configurations… all of these may fit your size needs. More strings in general means more choice.

9. Small harps! Lap harps and therapy harps and "camping trip" harps… Everyone should have one in addition to a full harp!! Go sit by a stream, play at a friend's bedside after surgery, practice on a trip; play in bed! It's a nice break from the biggie, less complicated, and the smaller number of strings helps you learn music principles. When the low string is an octave below mid C, that gives you the most flexibility, but a cool lap harp down to F or G is a blast too. Playing a harp in nature is an experience not to be missed. Gift yourself.

10. Ease of tuning. Can you turn the pins smoothly and fine-tune each string? Or does the pin "ratchet" forward, making it difficult? Since you have to tune and fine-tune your harp often, it should be a joy. How well does it stay in tune: Ask other owners of the harp.

11. Sharping levers. Try them. Do they flip in a way you like? Do they change the tone of the string very much? (Some will mute the string more than others). To save money, you can buy a harp with just C and F levers and play in C, G, and D keys. Or add B levers and you can also play in key of F. And G levers are fun for some Scandinavian and other music. And… Full levers, if you can afford them, give you the most flexibility. Of course your camping trip harp may not need to be fully levered.

12. Price. It's a lifetime investment. It's not hard to sell a used harp on the Celtic Harp Page (internet). Buy the best harp you can afford. It will draw you to play every day and add so much sparkle to your life! And your harp skills will grow in leaps and bounds with a harp that you love.

13. Durability and guarantee. If you follow basic care guidelines, you may never have any challenges, but it's nice to know that the harpmaker or company stands behind their work.


We at Thormahlen Harps want you to have the harp of your dreams. So do your research and we hope that you come to us for that harp.

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Thormahlen Harps | 1876 SW Brooklane Corvallis, Oregon 97333 | (541) 753-4334 | harps@thorharp.com