minstrel: Lap Harps

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at socrates.Berkeley.EDU
Sat Jan 13 10:46:54 PST 2001

>I am looking into buying a lap harp and could do with some advice.
>I was posted a catalogue of harps from a local maker. The one I like 
>best had a caption at the bottom saying that it could also be bought 
>with 'bronzed strings'. What is the difference between these and 
>regular nylons? And does anyone know where i can pick up some online 
>hints on learning to play? Thanx. I remain-

Lap harps come in two very different types: nylon (or gut) strung, 
and wire strung.  The construction of the harp is different for these 
two types, due to the much stronger tension needed on the wire 
strings -- a wire strung harp will be much more solidly built and 
heavier.  But if the catalog is listing a particular model as "also 
available with bronzed strings" then we're probably talking about a 
much more trivial distinction: the type of metal used for the wire. 
The cheapest way of stringing a wire-strung harp is with the same 
brass wire used in pianos.  A more traditional material, but more 
expensive and often harder to find a source for, is bronze.  Check to 
see if the catalog actually says "bronzed" or "bronze".  If it's 
actually "bronzed", it sounds like you're just getting a bronze 
coating on a string of some other material (which seems like a waste 
of money), but I would guess they actually mean that the default 
strings for the model are brass, but they can also supply (presumably 
for a higher price) bronze strings.  The functional difference 
between brass and bronze strings is fairly subtle if you're a new 
player, but the bronze does have a somewhat nicer tone.

The important point for you is that the nylon-strung and wire-strung 
harps are, in many ways, entirely different instruments.  (More 
different than a nylon-strung versus metal-strung guitar.)  The 
playing technique is somewhat different and the sound is very 

The biggest hint that I'll give you at this stage is to find a local 
harper with a fair amount of experience and have them check out any 
harp you're thinking of buying.  Without meaning to cast any 
aspersions on your local harp maker, there are a lot of people out 
there making very mediocre harps and charging prices comparable with 
the better models.  For someone new to the instrument, it can be hard 
to judge the quality of a particular model on your own, and it always 
breaks my heart to see someone who has scraped together the money to 
fulfill their dream of owning a harp and has ended up with an 
instrument with all the tone quality of a rubber-band banjo.

Look into some of the "big name" makers -- for price-comparisons if 
nothing else.  Shipping is cheap compared to the price of playing an 
instrument that you outgrow in six months.

Heather Rose Jones
hrjones at socrates.berkeley.edu

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