So You Want To Buy A Harp...
Harps range in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Designs vary as harp makers use different woods, different lever or pedal mechanisms, different strings and different finishes. Before you decide which harp is right for you, here are some things to consider.
Pedal vs Lever Harp
The strings on a harp correspond to the white keys on a piano. In order to get "black keys" (i.e. sharps and flats) you must shorten or lengthen the strings. There are two types of harp mechanisms that do this: pedals and levers.
Pedals are mounted at the base of the harp and each pedal manages one set of notes. There is a pedal for all the A's, one for all the B's, one for all the C's, etc. The pedal mechanism runs from the pedals up through the harp's column and into the harp's bridge where the strings are tuned. Pedal mechanisms are very complex, thus making pedal harps more expensive and heavier than lever harps.
Levers are mounted at the top of each string. When you raise the lever, it engages the string and shortens it, thus sharpening the note. Some harps have levers only on certain notes (all the C's, all the F's, etc.) and some have a full set of levers - one for every string. Lever harps are typically less expensive than pedal harps, but they are not quite as flexible since there is no lever system for flattening notes, only sharpening notes. You can, however, manually tune down the strings you want to flatten.
If you are a beginner on the harp and don't want to make a large investment, a lever harp may be a good way to start. If you are looking for an easily transportable instrument with which to enjoy the flexibility of folk music, the lever harp is the way to go. On the other hand, if you are interested in seriously pursuing orchestral harp or a career in classical music, a pedal harp may be a much better choice.
Some Harp Names To Get You Started
There are literally thousands of harp makers out there, so be sure to shop around. These are simply some of the most well-known, big names in the harp world.
Mid-East Manufacturing - These folks carry the least expensive entry-level harp out there. If you pursue harp past beginner level, you will probably end up upgrading. But these harps are a great way to get your feet wet in harp playing without investing tons of money upfront.
I generally recommend their Minstrel 29-string, the Meghan 36-string, or their Christel 38-string harps.
Lyon & Healy
Lyon & Healy