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FAQ Main Menu > Harps












Celtic Harp Information and FAQs



DEFINITION


Small instrument of 24 to 34 strings around 1m tall, with curved neck and pillar. The sound box was once carved from solid, but now is usually a box.

INTRODUCTION


The Celtic Harp or Clarsach is almost unchanged since the 11th century. The famous Brian Boru harp has the same shape as the harps we sell today. Early celtic harps had bodies carved from solid wood, and brass strings, and only played in one key. Nowadays it is usual to use a softwood soundboard, and Nylon strings, and there are semitone levers for changing key. The concert harp developed from the Celtic Harp and features increased tension, more notes, and pedals.

SOME TYPES OF CELTIC HARP


Buhai | Chepkong | Clarsach | Harp | Kipukandet | Konghou | Kora | Lyre | Paraguayan Harp | Rebaba

Buhai

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Definition: Romanian drum-like instrument with a rope running through the drumhead. The vibration as the rope is pulled produces a low bass note. It is used in the traditional Christmas caroling groups called "colinde".

Chepkong

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Definition: Kenyan six string pentatonic Lyre.

Clarsach

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Definition: Scottish folk harp, 25 to 34 strings usually.

Harp

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Definition: Any instrument with strings stretched between the neck and the body. May or may not have a pillar.

Kipukandet

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Definition: 5 or 6 string pentatonic lyre used by Nandi tribe in Kenya, also known as Kibugantet and Chepkong.

Konghou

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Definition: historical Chinese string instrument; harp.

Kora

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Definition: west African harp lute, popular in Gambia and Senegal. It has a skin stretched across a large gourd, a wooden neck and gut or nylon fishwire strings stretched across a tall bridge. Played somewhat like a harp.
Introduction: The kora is a traditional West African instrument, used to pass on stories and legends from one generation to the next in the oral tradition. It has 21 strings, often made from fishing line, and it resonating chamber is a calabash that's been cut in half then covered with cow skin. The left thumb is used for bass lines, the right thumb for chordal accompaniment and the index fingers of each hand are used to play melodies and improvise over the top.
Arguably the worlds best kora player, Toumani Diabate is the 71st generation in his family of kora players continuing this tradition today.

Lyre

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Definition: A harp like plucked instrument with strings stretched across an open frame with no soundbox.

Paraguayan Harp

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Definition: 36 strings; built by the Guarani tribe of Indians from crefully selected local wood that must then be stored for at least 2 generations.

Rebaba

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Definition: Bowl lyre with 5 or 6 strings, similar to the tanbura.

FURTHER INFORMATION

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A 22 string harp has a very similar range to a fiddle, and a much greater range than many instruments used in folk music, so it will allow you to play a vast number of tunes. The main limitation will be a lack of bass notes, so if you are particularly looking to play a bass accompaniment to your tunes you will definitely need a larger harp.


The number of levers on your harp dictates the number of keys you can easily play in. Some celtic harps only have a few levers, or none at all, and this means that you will have to retune the strings to play in a different key. The levers allow you to introduce accidentals without retuning the harp.



Larger harps give you a greater range and louder sound but on the down side they cost more and are more difficult to transport. A 22 string harp can easily be carried on your back like a ruck sack, but larger harps with 29 or 34 strings will need much more forward planning if you intend to travel with them.

Tuning the Harp

Harps should be brought up to pitch gradually, in stages as the wood of the front needs to take up a slightly curved shape with the tension of the strings. First week tune up a tone and a half flat, then increase the tension a semitone at a time over the next week or so. Another useful tip when tuning is to first tune roughly to a diatonic scale, then get the Cs right, then go round in the circle of 5ths, first playing the Gs with the Cs, then the Ds with the Gs etc.

HISTORY

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Harp Origins
The Celtic Harp is almost unchanged since the 11th century. Some mediaeval harps had a very slim body, but the famous Brian Boru harp has the same shape as the harps we sell today. Early harps had bodies carved from solid wood, and brass strings, and were diatonic, only playing in one key. Nowadays it is usual to use a softwood soundboard, and gut or Nylon strings, and to change key, the pitch of each string can be adjusted with semitone levers. The concert harp was developed from the Celtic Harp, or Clarsach, and features increased tension on the strings, a greater range of notes, and pedal mechanisms.


CHOOSING

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Choosing a Harp

There are many factors which should influence your decision on what harp to buy, in particular range and transportability.

A 22 string harp has a very similar range to a fiddle, and a much greater range than many instruments used in folk music, so it will allow you to play a vast number of tunes. The main limitation will be a lack of bass notes, so if you are particularly looking to play a bass accompaniment to your tunes you will definitely need a larger harp.

The number of levers on your harp dictates the number of keys you can easily play in. Some celtic harps only have a few levers, or none at all, and this means that you will have to retune the strings to play in a different key. The levers allow you to introduce accidentals without retuning the harp.

Larger harps give you a greater range and louder sound but on the down side they cost more and are more difficult to transport. A 22 string harp can easily be carried on your back like a ruck sack, but larger harps with 29 or 34 strings will need much more forward planning if you intend to travel with them.

TUNINGS AND FINGERING

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Stoney End 16 string Wee Bonnie Harp string chart
Stoney End 22 string Eve Harp string chart
Stoney End 26 string Anne Harp string chart
Stoney End 29 string Lorraine Harp string chart
Stoney End 29 string Braunwen Harp string chart

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

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It is very important that your new harp is brought up to pitch very gradually over a period of at least two weeks, to avoid damage to the instrument.

The tuning pins should only be as tight as is needed to stop the strings from slipping, which means that the treble tuning pins do not need to be as tight as those for the bass strings.

Always tune your harp from the bass to the treble end and de-tune it from the treble to the bass end.


Read our Full Article on Stringed Care & Maintenance