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Pedal Harp Shopping


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#1 AWebb

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 13:00

My teacher has suggested I start looking for pedal harps now. I have arranged to go to Holywell Music and play on some of their harps to get an idea of which ones I like. I am sooooo excited biggrin.gif

Any advice from harpists here with buying experience?
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#2 GMc

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Posted 15 January 2013 - 23:04

How exciting. Play everything you can get your hands on. New and second hand. Budget, size and weight, no of strings you want, ability to get into car single handed if you want to take it anywhere, will you need a new car, ability to access regulation. All of which is secondary to which one you fall in love with....at which point the budget might get reviewed.

They are all different. Even within one maker and one style. Some people have a very firm ideas about their preferred style and colour, others only look for sound and feel. Different sound, different space at top end for hand, different balance points, different width to get arm round and reach pedals if you are petite. Even the pedals are different! If you are lucky enough to be able to test blind ( you listen, someone else plays, you dont know which they are playing) that is useful. But that requires a visit to the sort of event all the manufacturers attend to get all the makers next to each other.
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#3 Collyermum

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 07:11

No advice because I am a confirmed lever harpist (at the moment..) but HAVE FUN!!!!
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#4 AWebb

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 13:03

QUOTE(GMc @ Jan 15 2013, 11:04 PM) View Post

How exciting. Play everything you can get your hands on. New and second hand. Budget, size and weight, no of strings you want, ability to get into car single handed if you want to take it anywhere, will you need a new car, ability to access regulation. All of which is secondary to which one you fall in love with....at which point the budget might get reviewed.

They are all different. Even within one maker and one style. Some people have a very firm ideas about their preferred style and colour, others only look for sound and feel. Different sound, different space at top end for hand, different balance points, different width to get arm round and reach pedals if you are petite. Even the pedals are different! If you are lucky enough to be able to test blind ( you listen, someone else plays, you dont know which they are playing) that is useful. But that requires a visit to the sort of event all the manufacturers attend to get all the makers next to each other.


Thanks both. My main worry is that I don't really know what I am looking for. I am still fairly new, and have only played on 1 pedal harp two times. All my lessons are on a lever harp, so I'm not sure where I stand on the 'balance points' and things like that.

I'm 6'2 so shouldn't be a problem reaching around the harp and reaching the pedals smile.gif Anyway, hopefully the people at Holywell music can give me some guidance when I go in.

Collyermum - what makes you want to stick with the lever harp?
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#5 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 13:15

QUOTE(AWebb @ Jan 15 2013, 01:00 PM) View Post

My teacher has suggested I start looking for pedal harps now. I have arranged to go to Holywell Music and play on some of their harps to get an idea of which ones I like. I am sooooo excited biggrin.gif

Any advice from harpists here with buying experience?

Hi! So glad for you, AWebb!

I sincerely hopes this doesn't come across in the wrong tone, but can't your teacher give more help and advice on buying a harp, not least because he/she is best placed to know your individual needs and characteristics and the ins and out the instrument in general? It seems such a shame that you're (apparently) left at sea on this.

In any case, I really hope you enjoy getting your hands on lots and lots on instruments during your shopping 'spree'!
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#6 AWebb

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 15:52

QUOTE(Ligneo Fistula @ Jan 16 2013, 01:15 PM) View Post

QUOTE(AWebb @ Jan 15 2013, 01:00 PM) View Post

My teacher has suggested I start looking for pedal harps now. I have arranged to go to Holywell Music and play on some of their harps to get an idea of which ones I like. I am sooooo excited biggrin.gif

Any advice from harpists here with buying experience?

Hi! So glad for you, AWebb!

I sincerely hopes this doesn't come across in the wrong tone, but can't your teacher give more help and advice on buying a harp, not least because he/she is best placed to know your individual needs and characteristics and the ins and out the instrument in general? It seems such a shame that you're (apparently) left at sea on this.

In any case, I really hope you enjoy getting your hands on lots and lots on instruments during your shopping 'spree'!


I probably gave the wrong impression. My teacher is definitely going to help out when it comes to actually buying, but she suggested I go to the showroom and just play on some to see what I like the look/sound of. I'm just worried that my ability to critique harp sound is not particularly good since I'm still fairly new to it.

Anyway, I'm not going to be committing to anything yet, just getting an idea of differences.
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#7 Collyermum

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 16:04

QUOTE(AWebb @ Jan 16 2013, 01:03 PM) View Post

Collyermum - what makes you want to stick with the lever harp?


Mostly practicalities like money, no more room etc. But to be fair, it is the lever harp I fell in love with and it wasn't until I discovered the lever harp was a "real" instrument that could play in many keys without retuning and had grades through to 8 that I was interested in taking it up! Over this summer I had the chance to go on a residential harp weekend and hear a professional Lever harp player perform and it was so amazing, I was really inspired to carry on my journey all the way as far as I can on the lever harp, she played so brilliantly and musically that no-one could ever say after hearing her that it is an inferior instrument, just different!

So I am pleased that I haven't changed my mind about the lever harp since I invested in the best one I could find and loved back when I was a complete beginner. I still love the same harp and have no regrets over the model I chose with my limited knowledge back then, it will take me as far as I want to go. So my advice would be to use your ears and your body to make sure its comfortable, and if you aren't sure between two models, buy the best you can afford as you will be grateful later. (I bought one that was reduced in price because it was custom made for someone else and got it only a bit more expensive than the model I had been looking at and now I have improved I am very glad that I did!).

HTH. harp.gif
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#8 GMc

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 20:29

You will know what you like. Teachers often have a strong loyalty to their own make! The US favour L and H, europe lots of salvis and camacs. Then there is Aoyama and for you Pilgrim in the UK. There are bright and less bright sounds. Orchestral players like a bright top end to penetrate but some find that too bright for the living room. Just look for even tone that you love. All harp shops have people who can play them for you in my experience. You tube is really hard cos of quality of sound recording but many harps are on there. Just google the style and maker of each.

If you are that tall you will prob not want one of the petite ones! If you are a bloke you might favour the plainer look but I know men who play with gold leaf and flowery soundboards and look fine.

Even my very unmusical dh knows what he likes when he hears a harp being tested.
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#9 soccermom

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Posted 16 January 2013 - 20:34

The good thing about the harp is that it sounds good even if you are a beginner (unlike, say, the violin which, with the best will in the world is going to sound pretty dreadful when you start, however good/expensive the violin).

I wouldn't worry too much that you're not that good yet. Even playing a simple piece or even scales will give you an idea of whether or not you like the sound of a particular harp or not.

I have recently bought a harp for my daughter. We spent a couple of hours at Holywell and at Pilgrim 18 months or so ago, and well over a year later went back to Pilgrim for a second trip and ordered an Aldeburgh. We've only had it just over a month but are very pleased with it. If you're 6'2" you'd probably prefer something a bit bigger.

As well as the very good advice you've already, my tips are:

1) Allow plenty of time. You've presumably already made your appointment at Holywell. We found David, who I assume is still there, extremely helpful. He expects you to take your time when choosing, and understands that a harp is a major purchase that is not to be made lightly and that you will want to find one that is right for you. His does not expect people to wander in off the street and buy something within 10 minutes! David pairs up harps of similar price so you can compare (try out) a Salvi with a similar priced Lyon and Healy. Then when you've picked your favourite of those two, he'll give you another pair to try. Most people apparently are fairly consistent in always preferring one or the other. My daughter was unusual in that of the 6 or so she tried, her favourite 2 were the most expensive Lyon and Healy and the cheapest Salvi.

2) Try other places too. Obviously I would recommend Pilgrim. Everything I have said about David at Holywell also applies to Naomi at Pilgrim (except obviously that they only stock their own harps so the pairings are two of their own harps rather than pairings of different makes). Depending on where you live and how far you want to go you could also try the Aoyama range at Morley Harps in Gloucestershire. I have no personal knowledge of them though and I know lots of people prefer to stick with Salvi or Lyon & Healy as being "safer". Personally I liked the idea of buying a harp that was made locally so that if there were any problems they could be sorted out quickly and easily by the people who made it. I know someone whose Salvi harp was badly damaged a year ago after being knocked over. She was without it for over 11 months while it was sent away to be mended (admittedlly there was also an initial delay while the insurance was being sorted out, but even so)!

3) Ask them to give you a "blind test" (see GMc's description). David and Naomi will both happily do this for you. As well as being able to isolate the sound from other factors, it means that you can hear the harps being played by someone who can play better than you can!

4) Know your budget and tell them. I confess that I exaggerated mine when I went to Holywell to give my daughter a bigger choice to play. If she had really fallen in love with something outside our real price range we might then have considered again, or looked for a second hand model. The price of all Pilgrim harps is on their website. With Holywell, it isn't (or wasn't, when I last looked) so it's worth asking for a price list for the Salvis and Lyon and Healys in advance if you haven't already done so. Don't forget to factor in the the cost of the VAT, the covers, any special finish and the trolley. It all adds up!

5) Don't decide anything at your first trip, even if something perfect leaps out at you. Everything will sound wonderful, so don't be seduced by the first one! Take your time and don't be afraid to go back a second (or third) time.

Good luck. Do let us know how you get on.
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#10 GMc

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:39

Not buying if you see "the one". Thats a tricky one. I have heard 100s of pedal harps. But the one that got away was in Milan. We were on holiday and dd was very young. Had only been playing just over a year but we knew pedal was on the horizon. Just went in cos in our country it is literally impossible to see a good range in one spot. She fell head over heels with a harp. There happened to be an Italian professional in the shop picking up some strings. She played blindly for us and said this was the best example she had ever heard of a Diana. It blew all the most expensive harps there away. We thought no, too early to decide, not played everything in the price range. I rang a week later to say we would have it. It had gone the same day we saw it as that professional sent in a colleague as soon as we had left who took it! Took dd ovr a year and a trip to the usa to decide on another harp and no, not a Diana! If you are sure, move would be my advice. It might not be there again.

Wouldnt matter where ours came from for mending as it would have to go half way round the world no matter whose it was but a local maker would certainly be worth looking at as you have a good one available.
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#11 AWebb

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 13:20

Thanks so much all for your posts. I'll report back on how the trip to Holywell goes smile.gif
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#12 erard

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 22:28

I would add - don't worry about asking to try harps out of your price range, that is how you find out if you are green with envy and need to take out a second mortgage. (Don't worry, you probably won't actually want them that badly.)

If you can make it to one of the harp festivals - Edinburgh for instance - you get to try all sorts of different makes on the same day.

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#13 AWebb

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 21:18

QUOTE(erard @ Jan 17 2013, 10:28 PM) View Post

I would add - don't worry about asking to try harps out of your price range, that is how you find out if you are green with envy and need to take out a second mortgage. (Don't worry, you probably won't actually want them that badly.)

If you can make it to one of the harp festivals - Edinburgh for instance - you get to try all sorts of different makes on the same day.


Well, the trip was great. It was so lovely to see all those harps in one place and felt really fantastic to play on them. Of course, now I want one more than ever tongue.gif

I played on a few different ones and got them to play for me too so I could hear from the 'other side'. My favourite was definitely the Salvi Diana but it is much more than I was planning to spend. They didn't have an Aurora but hopefully they will get one next week and I'll be able to try it.

Got some thinking to do...
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#14 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 21:24

QUOTE(AWebb @ Jan 25 2013, 09:18 PM) View Post

QUOTE(erard @ Jan 17 2013, 10:28 PM) View Post

I would add - don't worry about asking to try harps out of your price range, that is how you find out if you are green with envy and need to take out a second mortgage. (Don't worry, you probably won't actually want them that badly.)

If you can make it to one of the harp festivals - Edinburgh for instance - you get to try all sorts of different makes on the same day.


Well, the trip was great. It was so lovely to see all those harps in one place and felt really fantastic to play on them. Of course, now I want one more than ever tongue.gif

I played on a few different ones and got them to play for me too so I could hear from the 'other side'. My favourite was definitely the Salvi Diana but it is much more than I was planning to spend. They didn't have an Aurora but hopefully they will get one next week and I'll be able to try it.

Got some thinking to do...

Absolutely fantastic news; thanks for taking the time to update on this. So glad you had a wonderful time and enjoyed your shopping visit.
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#15 GMc

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Posted 27 January 2013 - 13:37

Ah, the perils of harp shopping. Glad you had fun. What did you play? Some Auroras are lovely so fingers crossed. DD just been playing an Arianne every day this week at harp camp. Wonderful sound and so elegant to look at. And makes a Diana look cheap! It's owner told her harp teacher she had found a harp that sounded like sunshine. She went to Piasco to find it. But they are very heavy to move.....as I can attest to having moved this one a lot. DD still likes her Atlantide best though and I can tell that it is 100 x easier to pack up, move and transport. I heard an interesting statement from a great harpist that the easier the harmonics the better the harp. That fits with DDs experiences.
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