Not all harps are made professionally. Some are made by amateur woodworkers who know how to make wood beautiful yet know nothing about the physics of a nice sounding, playable harp. We have heard strings that “thud” on such harps. Look for harpmakers who have made a dozen or more harps already as their designs. They are more likely to be successful.
Harp making methods and technologies have progressed tremendously in the last fifteen years as the North American harping interest has expanded. Some earlier folk harps, even those made by long established companies, were not particularly well designed by modern standards rendering them obsolete with poor sound, bad weight-to-size ratios or lesser playability. These outdated harps are simply not enjoyable to own and are best described as hard to sell “orphans”. As a result these harps may end up on eBay alongside the cheap but usually unplayable carved rosewood Harp-Shaped Objects from Pakistan.
There are no free rides in the used harp world. Used harp Buyers on a budget tend to have any two of these three choices but usually not all three – cheap, beautiful or playable. Any larger used floor harp priced much below $2000 must be considered to be a cheap deal. It is the Buyer's guess as to which remaining choice applies - either beautiful or playable. It is unlikely to be both. It may very well be neither.
Harp Pricing Stability
Buyers tend to get what they pay for with these musical instruments. Harps are expensive and time consuming to make. The average professional harpmaker or luthier works with a very slim profit margin and has limited production capability. All harpmakers understand that their peers too work with similar constraints. As a result there is very little “specialing” of professionally made new harps. New instruments of a similar quality tend to be of a similar price. This makes for a stable industry where Buyers generally get what they pay for and where a professionally made new harp of modern design tends to retain its value over time.
This new harp pricing stability tends to extend to used harp pricing too - good, playable, well designed and nice sounding harps tend to retain their value as they age. If the new or used harp design is not to current standards their value tends to drop more quickly. It pays long term to buy a modern design at the outset from a reputable dealer and avoid the more rapid depreciation.
Harp Buyers experience more choice
The biggest differences in the new harp dealer's offerings over used private sales for quality harps are to be found in design, service and ease of acquisition - not necessarily the price.
Every harp is a compromise. When buying a used harp in a private sale a Buyer is on their own. The shipping difficulties, lack of warranty and attendant payment hassles rest solely on the private sale Buyer. A Buyer with harping experience may be able to discern a good deal from not. There simply are not very many accessible ways of safely buying a new or used harp.
- Stephen Vardy - Original author of this opinion piece.