Improve a Pakistani harp?

  • Profile photo of Manon Thuillier
    Participant
    Manon Thuillier on #200991

    Hello everyone!

    I come on this forum out of despair; let me explain very quickly.

    A few years ago I decided I’d want to try to learn to play the harp, and asked my parents for one at Christmas (I think it was in 2012). Since neither me neither them knew anything about the instrument, I ended up with – you guessed it – a Pakistani harp. I didn’t notice before a few months that it was of low quality, and since then it is a big frustration in my life.

    I thought about waiting a few years before buying an actual harp, but I can’t see when I will be able to afford it. I have been considering the possibility to buy a cardboard harp, which are inexpensive and maybe not as beautiful as wooden harps but would at least allow me to actually play. But I still kind of grew attached to my rosewood, cheap, badly sounding Pakistani harp and wondered if there was a way to improve it.

    I think I would have to change the strings entirely – or at least those who were heavily damaged by the levers. I also considered removing the levers altogether, though this saddens me to have a lever harp without levers, since they are impossible to move while playing anyway. But I suspect this would not change anything to the fact that the strings quickly move out of tune while playing, nor to the fact that the highest pitched notes sound really bad.

    Thus my question is: do you have any suggestions? A non-harpist friend of mine (but a musician who built his own guitar) suggested that I should keep some of the wooden parts to re-use them in rebuilding a harp, and mostly change the soundboard – is that a good solution? Did anyone manage to make something good out of a Pakistani harp? Or should I just keep it as a souvenir and use it as decoration only, and either try one of those cardboard harp kits or continue to save money in order to buy a real good harp someday?

    Profile photo of Jaque Davison
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    Jaque Davison on #200996

    Manon,

    Your  posting leads me to think you are not near any harp related people which is why you posted your question here.  You did not mention how many strings are on your harp. I am guessing you have a heather 22 string with carved designs.  The problem with the Pakistan harp is, as your friend says, the sound board.   The sound boards have a nice wood veneer glued to cheap plywood.  Often when the harp gets tuned it is too much for the plywood and it gives away leaving you with bits of wood dangling from strings.  Any new sound board requires daily tuning so being new the tuning may not take as well until the sound board shapes up.  I am pretty sure that these soundboards are held together with glue and do not lend themselves to reconstructive surgery.  I almost bought one my self when I started out but the salesman at the House of Musical Traditions in Silver Spring Maryland talked me out of it.  The reason the harp will not stay tuned is a function of the stress on the sound board and the tightness of the tuning pins.

    Frankly, you would use this harp best as a nice thing to put flowers around.  I am not sure it is worth the money to disassemble it and replace the sound board.

    I recommend  looking for a good 20+string used harp at the Virginia Harp Center (Midlothian VA, Atlanta Ga and Philadelphia)http://www.vaharpcenter.com.  They sell used harps that you can trust. As some one staring out, you will need to find a teacher and information.  Several teachers use Skype.  The cardboard harp you mention requires you to build it.  You might want to consider the harpsicle these have a decent sound and a strong following among the young harpers. http://harpsicle-harps.com/6-harps

    A nice starting harp  20-23 strings (used) can run between 1,000-1,500$ and trust me you want sharping leavers.  You may consider joining this Facebook group which is all about a web based harp resource center that has 1000’s of web links. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1450814398527159/   There are lots of harp related groups on Facebook as well.  It is sad but the harping community does generally look down on the “Pakistan Special”.   If you can’t afford sharping levers there is lots of sheet music out there in the key of “C”.

    You might want to consider subscribing magazines like the Harp Column (where you are now) or the Folk Harp Journal (has music for beginners and lots of adds) http://www.folkharpsociety.org/index.html

    Trust me you will do well to get the best you can afford because you will get better and out grow your first harp.  I’ve been at it for 15 years and I will never be a strong player due to arthritic hands but I would not give it up because it makes me happy.

    Finally, congratulations on your decision to take up the harp. It will give you years of joy and frustration but well worth the journey.   You can contact me through Facebook using the group I mentioned or my email below.

    Sincerely Jaque Davison

    jaqued@aol.com

     

     

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by Profile photo of Jaque Davison Jaque Davison.
    Profile photo of Wil Weten
    Participant
    wil-weten on #200999

    In addition to the information given above by Jaque, the trouble with the carved pakistani harps is that their soundbox is much too thick to make it vibrate with low tension strings and the neck much too thin to put strings with a bit higher tension on.

    So, just love the paki harp as your first entrance to the world of harps and consider it to be a nice ornament.

    As to very cheap, but playable harps with a pleasant sound. Have a look at: http://www.backyardmusic.com/Harps.html  A little harp with a cardboard soundbox and low string tension but with a sweet, though a bit quiet sound. You can buy it as a simple kit ($ 149, as a ‘Apartment-Friendly / No Mess Fireside Folk Harp Kit‘ ($189) or as a completely finished harp. You can even have adequate levers on such a harp (they cost extra). You can find lots of examples of someone playing the backyard harp on the internet

    And there are, of course, the Harpsicle series (preferably with as much levers as you can afford), a bit pricier, but still good value for your money and you can always sell it second hand later on. If you buy one second hand, preferably chose one from the newest generation (which has been on the market for several years now, they have better levers and a bit better sound because they have longer bass strings and some other extra’s)

    While learning to play one of these, you can start finding out what kind of harp you would really like to have (think of kind of sound, string tension, number of strings and also how the model ‘feels’ while you are playing it. Some people have a problem with a square soundbox, others with the  height of a harp)  and start saving for it.

    Another way would be to explore the rent-a-harp-programs.

     

     

     

     

     

    Profile photo of Biagio
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    Biagio on #201011

    Dear Manon,

    If it helps, you are not the first nor will be the last with this sort of unfortunate experience.  But the thing is probably not totally useless in the long run, after you have had some experience playing a well made instrument.  Some people in your situation have simply removed the levers, changed to better strings, and used these things for camping, travel etc. where they would not want to take a more expensive harp.  Check with a professional string maker about upgrading those – in the US Robinson’ Harp Shop or Markwood Strings, in Europe Salopian Strings.

    Most harp makers (including me) will regretfully decline working on these things because we know that they will never be worth what we would charge. A complete overhaul (new sound board, tuning pegs, decent levers) will cost more than a brand new instrument and still not be all that great. So, Wil and Jacque, have suggested you should consider acquiring a better harp on which to learn technique and I would agree with Wil about looking at rentals for now. Alternatively, if you are handy and can afford it, consider a kit harp from Musicmakers: the Jolie or Voyageur for example.

    Also, do not neglect the used harp market if you do consider buying a better harp – players change their harps all the time.  I’d also encourage you to join the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen and the Yahoo! group Virtual Harp Circle.  The latter was organized specifically for beginners.

    For a beginner, I strongly feel that the range (and of course, quality) are much more important than how many levers are on that first harp. Most beginner instruction assumes C tuning (no levers required) and additional levers can be added later if you wish.  I’d also suggest that 26 strings is the minimum and preferably a “floor harp” – learning to play is  difficult with a lap harp.  Even more important: if at all possible find a teacher, even if only via on-line lessons.  He or she can guide you in your harp selection as well, and many have student rentals available.

    Best wishes,

    Biagio

     

    Profile photo of hearpe
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    hearpe on #201064

    I have followed the Roosebecks on the net with some interest- although in the past year especially there has been a proliferation of haps from Pakistan of other types and other designs.

     

    I fist bought an unlevered Roosebeck Pixie harp- 19 strings back about 2002 because I’d just completed a movie script called The Hearpe.

    My interest didn’t take n the instrument mostly because of the low number of strings that only played in C w/o retuning by hand and I wasn’t as far musically on either guitar or piano then .

    But I painted it and enjoyed having  it around.

    About a yea back I bought a Minstrel 29 Roosebeck- mostly because I didn’t want to spend more and I saw the prices going up- in fact they went up over $100 and still there a year ad a half later.

     

    My opinion then? The newer harp as much improved, but not enough-the soundboard was totally changed to light birch in color- note that as there still older darker ones around- and the sound was noticibly brighter which I attributed to the newer soundboard.  The sound boxes were then still a damper in my opinion- the visually attractive carvings are weighty an don’t resonate as well as lighter material wood-

    I had heard a lot of negative comments about the levers from American enthusiasts but I didn’t find them particularly bad or non-functional in any. The back of the soundbox is rather inconsequential to the rest I think.

     

    Anyway – didn;t keep that harp long because I found a better deal and sold it for close to what Ipaid wen I needed money fr the home.  Later regretted it a bitbecause the price had gone up-  ANNYANCE was that  it didn’t lever the top five strings

    I think I just may type and not correct whatthis typ bx an/or att/Yahoo intentionaly has messed up someh with agrowig inabili f my Microsoft browser – this sure is a TRIPPY America now,and I’ve EJOYED chep goods from other laces while our own make war on us.

     

    Profile photo of Wil Weten
    Participant
    wil-weten on #201070

    One of the problems with the carved pakistani harp is that they seem to lack quality control. Google at exploding soundboxes, warping pillars and cracked necks in combination with these kinds of harps. Some people end up with more or less playable harps, some people are not so lucky.

    As the OP says it’s a big frustration for her. She wrote e.g. that the strings go quickly out of tuning. This may have more to do with ill-fitting pegs, than with the strings themselves.

    Profile photo of Biagio
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    Biagio on #201074

    You have put your finger on the issues Wil.  In addition, rosewood is rather heavy and relatively brittle compared to other common hardwoods used for harps – sugar maple, cherry, walnut and some “exotics” such as bubinga.  Some may be making them entirely in one shop now, but others continue to contract out – as you suggest, not very good quality control.  Some have improved levers now as well, but the older ones were worse than useless and that seems to be what Manon has.

    It is too bad but a “made in Pakistan” harp still is viewed askance – they have an uphill task to change that perception within the community.

    Biaigo

    Profile photo of randal
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    randal on #201189

    <p style=”text-align: center;”>FWIW, I have a Cunningham mahogany 22-string harp available for sale.  I was keeping it for my kids but they seem to be losing interest.  It comes with a carry bag and tuning tool.  I’ll sell it for $300 + shipping.</p>

    Profile photo of arpamea
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    arpamea on #201311

    I’m interested; email me. arpameaharper AT gmail.com

    Profile photo of Barbara
    Participant
    Barbara on #201371

    Jaque- thank you for sharing that Facebook Group!

    I’ve had a few students with cardboard harps, and I’ve found them to be sweet little harps. There are at least two different providers (Waring and Backyard Music), and the harps are available in different stages of completion. If you’re really handy, there’s also a book all about making cardboard instruments. Jaque also recommended some other good resources and harps as well. You might also want to look into Marini harps.

    Do what you feel best about, and enjoy your harp adventure!

    Profile photo of Elettaria
    Participant
    Elettaria on #201459

    I’m currently working on a design based on the Waring cardboard harp as given in the book mentioned above. Be warned that you will need to do a certain amount of research, as the book lacks some details. I’ll report back once we’ve made it, but we’re adapting it fairly significantly. Hopefully it will be compact, very light in weight, and relatively cheap.

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