Bray harps, also referred to as "gothic harps", are characterised by their long, slender shapes, which resemble the wings of angels. But the real difference is in their sound: they buzz.
Said to "bray like donkeys", these harps are fitted with tiny L-shaped wooden pegs called bray pins. These bray pins hold the strings in the soundbox and also lightly touch them. This light point of contact causes the buzzing sound as the string vibrates.
Although it may be a strange sound to us today, this was the familiar sound of the gut-strung harp across Europe for several hundred years, played between the 14th and 18th centuries, and heard in Wales into the early 19th century. They were the classic harps during the Renaissance, and described by Michael Praetorius in his 1619 publication as "the ordinary harp" (illustrated right).
With the wire-strung clarsach being the choice instrument of the Highland Gaels, the gut-strung bray harp appears to have been the harp preferred by the Lowland Scots. Bray harps have long strings, with often narrow spacing, and over time tend to develop a slightly arched back due to tension of the strings. Evidence from the Welsh manuscript of Robert ap Huw points to their use with fingernails; otherwise, classical fingerpad technique is also appropriate.