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), 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 Wyvis) 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 Wyvis.  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 and Kentigern 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 by retuning the strings. The Kentigern, Kennetis, Rosslyn and Urquhart all allow fretting on the arn to sharpen individual 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 wil meet your requirements.

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!  The Bray harps on the other hand are ideal 'band' instruments. 

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.

Stringing Material:  Our harps are strung in either gut or a modern substitute or in brass or silver wire.  We have used horsehair too on our 19 string Rosemarkie. Gut strings can be played with the finger tips or fingernails. We would suggest that nails produce the better sound on wire strings 

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 on the sound files.

Cost:  Your choice may be limited by the price.  Our harps range from around £1000 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 so it does not wobble.

Keep your harp in a corner, in a recess between securely-standing furniture, or between furniture and a wall.  It will minimise the chance of you or someone in your family, (including pets) bumping into it. We hang your harps on the wall - 

Keep your harp away from direct sunshine even with a cover on! And do not leave your harp in a car on a hot day.

Keep the harp away from heat sources and extremes of 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 become 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.

Travelling With Your Harp

In any form of transportation 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 considering your harp case, make sure that the zip does not directly contact the harp.  A zip can easily damage the wood when you open and close it.  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 may roughly treated.  One good idea is t to stuff your harp case with plenty of shock-absorbing materials -such as your clothes! You can mark your harp “Fragile”, but remember this may only be wishful thinking.

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 it is worth asking.

Nowadays the temperature and air pressure in the luggage conpartment is the same as the cabin.  Nonetheless 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 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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