Which harp is best for me?

There's no single ideal harp for beginners.  People have been playing harps in Scotland for over 1000 years, and there have always been different sizes and shapes of harps and different kinds of music.  The harps ranged from lap harps, as seen on the Pictish stones (like our Rosemarkie harps), which were probably strung with gut, to the medieval wire-strung clarsachs (like our Kilcoy, Rose and Kinnellan), to the renaissance gut-strung harps with buzzing bray pins (like our Rosslyn and Urquhart), to the modern gut-strung lever harps (like our Dominie) which are used for all sorts of music. 

Some things to consider:  repertoire, range, volume, transportability, stringing material, sound, cost.

Repertoire:  What kind of music do you want to play?  If you're after a harp that will let you play jazz, classical, traditional and everything in between, you probably need the Dominie.  This 34-string clarsach gives players the most flexibility, with the sharping levers to change keys.  It's also the harp that most closely fits a notion of 'standard', in so far as books of arrangements and harp tutors tend to be written for large floor-standing harps.  If you want to play earlier music (medieval, renaissance, traditional) then the Rosemarkie or our other lap harps are great.  The earlier music doesn't change keys so much or depend on the 'blue' notes like in jazz.  They don't have the sharping levers, but you can change keys simply by retuning the strings. 

Range:  Our smallest harps have 19 strings, with the range of a fiddle, so you know straight away that you can play several thousand fiddle tunes on them.  Earlier music tends to reflect the range of the human voice, about an octave and a half.  So if you want to play traditional song airs, ballads, pipe tunes (bagpipes only have 9 notes!), or whistle tunes, then the Rosemarkie or the Kilcoy is great.

Volume:  Certainly, a larger harp will sound louder than a small one.  Will you be playing with lots of other musicians, or playing solo, or with a singer or just one or two others?  The Rosemarkie and Kilcoy are small harps, but can be easily heard as solo instruments.  But they'd be a bit drowned out in a ceilidh session. 

Transportability:  Do you fancy grabbing a harp and going for a walk, or taking one on the train or plane to visit someone?  The larger they are, the more difficult they are to carry around.  The Rosemarkie and Kilcoy can easily be carried.  We also offer cases with shoulder straps to carry them like a back-pack for hiking.

Stringing Material:  Our harps are strung in either nylon, gut or brass wire.  The nylon-strung Rosemarkie gives an inexpensive clear-sounding harp.  The gut strings of the Rosemarkie Deluxe and the Kentigern are very expressive and sound a bit brighter than the nylon.  The brass wire has a wonderful sustain, leading early writers to describe the wire-strung harps as sounding like bells.  The wire strings should be played with fingernails, whereas the nylon and gut strings can be played with the finger tips.

Sound:  The sound of the harp is the most important.  If you enjoy the sound, you'll want to practise.  Try out different harps and listen to them.

Cost:  Your choice may be limited by the price.  Our harps range from around £700 to over £3500.  Hopefully one of our models will suit your needs and your pocketbook.


Care & Maintenance of Your Harp

Most accidents and damages can be prevented by simple precautions.

Keep your harp on an even surface (not tilted, not bumpy) so it does not wobble.

Keep your harp preferably in a corner, in a recess between securely-standing furniture, or between furniture and a wall.  It will minimise the chance that you (or someone in your family, including pets) might accidentally bump against it.  Even if that happens, the harp will have smaller chance of falling.

Keep your harp away from direct sunshine (even with a cover on!) throughout the day.

Keep the harp away from heat (fireplace, radiator and other heating devices, and electrical appliances that release heat) and excessive humidity or dryness.  Humidity is not nearly as harmful as dryness, and fortunately it is easy to adjust dryness.  Natural changes of weather should not disturb most harps, but sudden changes of pressure can cause strings to break.  Regularly tune your harp so that the strings don’t gradually bcome sharp. 

Do not wipe your harp with wet cloth or with washing-up liquid.  Instead, use a dry cotton cloth.  For extra shine and care for the wood, use Danish Oil or a high-quality uncoloured wooden-furniture wax from reputable brand.

Travelling With Your Harp

In any form of transportation (by foot, bus, train, car, aeroplane) make sure that all parts of your harp are well protected from possible shock -- from being bashed at your car door to being thrown by airport workers.  For either hard or soft cases, handles and shoulder straps at good balance points will make it easier to carry and help to  prevent you from bashing it around.  Generally, a well-padded soft-case is the most practical solution.  Provide extra protection for sensitive parts (soundboard, soundbox, lever-mechanism, strings and joints) if necessary.

 When ordering/making your harp case/cover, make sure that the zip does not directly contact the harp.  A zip can easily scratch the wood when you open and close it, and it could cause a dent in the wood.  A waterproof, or water-resistent cover is preferable. 

When transporting your harp by car, never leave your harp in the car.  During the day it can be damaged by the heat, and in the evening there is the danger of theft. 

When you are travelling with your harp in an aeroplane, remember anything that does not fit in the overhead bins must go into the luggage compartment, which means it will be very roughly treated in every imaginable way.  Make sure to stuff your harp case with plenty of shock-absorbing materials (bubblewrap, polystyrene blocks, polystyrene chips, sponges, foam mattress, your clothes, etc). 

If you have a lightly-padded soft case, it is advisable that both the harp and its case go in a box, with polystyrene blocks fitted to leave some space between the box and the harp, and shock-absorbing materials in the space between, so when a shock is applied on the box the blow is not directly delivered to the harp.  Always mark your harp “Fragile”, but remember this may only be wishful thinking, at best. 

Provided that you have given your harp enough protection, you might be able to request to hand-carry your harp through security screening and straight to the departure gate.  The harp could be collected at the gate (along with other large items, such as wheelchairs) and placed amongst the last items into the hold.  Ask to collect it at the door of the plane when you arrive at your destination, and the harp would be amongst the first items out of the hold.  If this is possible, the harp will not go through the automated luggage system.  This service is not always possible, but always ask.

Nowadays the temperature and air pressure in the luggage conpartment is the same as the cabin.  But  you should detune each string by one or two steps to lessen the overall tension and to protect the harp in case it suffers a shock. 

A harp which is over the cabin-luggage size limit but still small enough to fit in an overhead bin may be allowed to go into the cabin with you, depending on the size of the overhead bins and how full the flight is.  There also might be space elsewhere onboard, such as in a cupboard for overcoats.  Again, negotiate when you check in.  Be prepared to minimise your essential travel items so that your harp is to be the only item which you carrying by hand.  Board as early as possible, so that you have a better chance of finding an overhead bin which has enough space to fit your harp.

A recent effort has been made by the International Federation of Musicians to maintain a comparison website devoted to the policies of different airlines regarding handling instruments. Click here for the site. 

Finally, insure your harp, and be aware of the conditions of the insurance. 

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