Harp Care Do's
* Do tune regularly so that your harp gets used to being in tune
* Do hydrate your harp by setting a bowl of water near it, especially in dry weather
* Do polish it once a quarter or so with furniture oil (wood finishes only - check the harp manufacturer's recommendation first)
* Do check your strings regularly to make sure they are not corroding, fraying or wearing thin in places.
* Do use the strings recommended by the harp's manufacturer
* Do check your harp periodically for loose screws, loose joints, cracks or other minor problems. Catch them early before they turn into major problems.
Harp Care Don'ts
* Don't use strings that are not recommended by your harp's manufacturer - at the least, this may void your warranty and at the worst, you can warp your harp by using heavier or lighter strings than were intended for your harp
* Don't set your harp near a heat vent, window, front door or any other area that rapidly changes temperatures
* Don't store your harp in a very cold or very hot room
* Don't store your harp outside in a garage, barn, porch, or any other place that is not temperature/humidity-controlled
* Don't store your harp in an area where it's likely to be knocked over - harps are more fragile than they look
Troubleshooting Your Harp
* What do I do if my string is "slipping?" (i.e. the tuning pin keeps loosening, making the string go flat)
Try hydrating and polishing your harp (see above). The wood may have dried out and thus not be gripping the tuning pin tightly enough. If that doesn't work, try using violin peg drops. Just a few drops around the base of the pin will often help the wood grip the pin more tightly (be sure to wipe any excess fluid away after applying). Another idea that can help is to use a hammer to LIGHTLY tap the tuning pin further into the harp's wood. Do this on the TUNING side, not the string side.
* What do I do if my lever doesn't seem to be sharping truly? (i.e. it's a little too sharp or too flat)
Most levers are mounted on the harp with a screw that goes through a slot (not a round hole) in the lever. You can loosen the lever and slide it up or down in the slot until it sharps truly again. This is called "regulating." (Note: Pedal harpists should always leave regulating to the professionals. This tip is only for lever harpists.)
* What do I do if something on my harp is buzzing or ringing and I can't figure out what is causing the problem?
Try tightening everything on your harp that screws in. All of your levers can be tightened, the harp's feet can be tightened and there may be other things that can be tightened as well. Check for string ends that may be vibrating against the tuning pin. If this doesn't work, try hydrating and polishing your harp (see above). If all of this still doesn't work, give your harp a week or two to settle down and then contact a harp service person.
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.
If you're just not sure what you want to do, start with a lever harp and you can easily sell it and buy a pedal harp if you decide later you'd like to go that route.
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. Start with something that is around 26-29 strings - 36 strings is even better.
Lyon & Healy