Best Harps

Updated November 2020
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
Updated November 2020
Written by Katherine Pohl Authors 's image

Buying guide for Best harps

The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world, with early versions dating back to Egypt in 3,000 BCE. Today, it’s used in classical and contemporary music, with some small enough to fit on your lap and others taller than the player.

A harp, in its most basic form, is a frame with strings stretched across it. When tuned, the strings play a range of notes. Harpists use their first four fingers to play, with the pinky excluded since it’s not long or strong enough to pluck the strings effectively.

If you’re interested in buying a harp, you need to know what to look for. Instrument choices vary, and many are costly, so it’s not a decision to make lightly. Our buying guide provides an overview of the instrument’s parts and breaks down the differences between types of harps. Whatever style of music you intend to play, read on to learn all you need to know before choosing a harp.

I1 
Blues and jaw harps are not string harps — they’re part of the harmonica family and are played with the mouth.

Key considerations

Parts of a harp

Column/pillar: The column is the outer, straight wooden portion of the harp, furthest from the player.

Head: The head is at the top of the column.

Neck: The neck is the horizontal wooden portion at the top of the harp. Strings are fastened from here to the soundboard, and tuning pins are located on the neck.

Soundboard: The soundboard is the angled wooden piece closest to the player. This is where the strings are fastened. The top of the soundboard rests lightly on the player’s right shoulder.

Tuning pins: These pins can be tightened or loosened to raise or lower the pitch of a string.

Foot: The foot is the base of the instrument, which allows it to rest on the floor.

Shoulder: The shoulder is the bent portion of the harp where the neck meets the soundboard.

Pedals: If you’re playing a pedal harp, the pedals are located near the foot of the harp and are played with the feet.

Levers: If you’re playing a lever harp, the levers are located near the tuning pins on the neck.

Harp types

Lever harps

Lever harps, sometimes referred to as Celtic harps, are mid-size instruments featuring 30 to 38 strings and weighing between 15 and 48 pounds. These instruments stand between 3 and 5 feet tall. The levers are found on the neck of the instrument; there is one lever for each string. When in a “down” position, a lever plays a natural note; when it’s flipped up, it plays a sharp (raised) note. Harpists can flip levers with one hand while playing to enable them to make music in more than one key. However, the overall number of keys in which a lever harp can play is limited. This type of harp is suitable for beginners because it’s easier to manage in terms of size and mechanics.

Pedal harps

Single-action pedal harps were introduced in the 1700s and improved upon by the double-action pedal harp in the 1800s, with advancements throughout the early twentieth century. The addition of pedals greatly increased the number of notes the instrument was capable of playing (they play in all 24 keys). As such, pedal harps are larger and heavier than their levered counterparts.

Pedal harps feature seven pedals and 40 to 48 strings. The pedals can change each string of a given pitch in varying octaves and can change the note to be sharp, natural, or flat. Pedal harps can be on the small side, weighing 60 to 65 pounds, or as large as 80 pounds. They range between 5.5 and 6 feet tall. Professional musicians and those wishing to play more tonally complex classical music play pedal harps.

Lap harps

Lap harps are small and portable with 22 to 26 strings. They weigh a much more manageable 5 to 10 pounds, making them easy to carry. Some come with a backpack-style carrying case. To play a lap harp, the player must use either a lap bar or strap (similar to a guitar strap) to hold the instrument securely against their body.

Strings

Harps are one of the only string instruments that use colors to indicate notes. C strings are red, and F strings are black or blue. All other strings are white.

Strings can be made of different materials, which vary depending on the pitch of the string. A combination of wire, gut, and nylon is common. Since strings break from time to time, it’s good to keep spares on hand. An important note is that strings are specific to the model of your harp. For example, you can’t just buy generic nylon replacement strings and expect them to fit. Manufacturers sell strings via their websites.

Quality

Take the overall build quality of your harp into consideration when buying. Though it may seem prudent to save money upfront, a poorly constructed harp may need expensive repairs down the line. It may even fail. Check the condition of the wood (keeping an eye out for cracks and warping), and inspect levers and pedals for functionality. Tension on the strings should feel consistent throughout its range. Buying from a well-known manufacturer with a focus on craftsmanship often makes the endeavor more worthwhile.

Transporting a harp

If you have a 3- to 5-foot lap harp, transportation won’t be much of an issue. However, a 6-foot harp may need something known as a “harp cart” or “harp caddy” to help roll to its destination. These carts are much like the dollies used for moving, but they’re specifically designed for a harp’s shape. Always keep a cover on your harp when moving it.

Dyk1 
Did You Know?
 Moving the hands across the harp’s strings rapidly is referred to as a “glissando.”
Staff
BestReviews

Features

Sound

Whether you’re a seasoned performer or have never played a harp, it’s paramount that you take time to assess an instrument’s sound. If you purchase a harp without hearing how it sounds first, you’re not as likely to play it. As with all string instruments, each harp has its own sound. Some have booming lows and sparkling highs. Others have rather “flat” middle ranges, while still others feel balanced throughout. The better a harp sounds to your ear, the more pleasant your playing experience will be.

Decoration

Harps are large wooden instruments, and some are more intricately carved than others. Entry-level harps don’t tend to sport fancy patterns, but concert-quality instruments are often highly ornate. This doesn’t affect the sound, but if you’re playing out, you may want a more eye-catching harp.

Cover

If you need to store or move your harp, a cover is necessary. Many covers are padded to protect the delicate parts of the instrument, though some are thinner dust covers. If your cover has a zipper, make sure it’s nylon and not metal to prevent it from scratching the wood when you zip it over the harp. Nylon or another smooth material is best for the interior, so the cover doesn’t catch on the strings. Backpack covers are available for smaller harps.

Harpo Marx of Marx Brothers fame actually played the harp quite well and was self-taught.

Staff
BestReviews

Accessories

Stool: Yamaha PKBB1 Adjustable Padded X-Style Bench
Since harpists sit while playing, a comfortable stool is essential for both practice and performance. We recommend an adjustable stool that you can lower or raise in order to sit at an appropriate height and hold the harp correctly. Yamaha makes terrific instrumentalist stools, like this adjustable padded bench.

Music stand: Kasonic Professional Sheet Music Stand
Reading your sheet music is made far simpler with a music stand. The stand holds your paper music so you can read and play along, just as you would with many other instruments. Make sure it’s adjustable so you have it at eye height while playing. This one from Kasonic is a solid choice.

Electric tuner: KLIQ UberTuner
Electric tuners are not specific to any one instrument, and they’re highly useful for tuning strings to the accurate pitches. The UberTuner from KLIQ is one of our favorites.

Dyk2
Did You Know?
The word “harp” originates from an ancient word meaning “to pluck.”
Staff
BestReviews

Harp prices

Harps can be pricey. If your child intends to play the pedal harp for school, you may want to look into rental options until you know for sure that they are serious about the instrument. Don’t forget to factor the cost of accessories, such as strings, tuner, music, and stand, into your overal budget.

Inexpensive: Small lap harps can cost as little as $40, but many are in the $200 to $500 range.

Mid-range: Lever harps are “middle of the road” instruments that can cost from $1,000 to $5,000.

Expensive: Pedal harps start around $10,000 and go up from there.

Tips

  • There is no standard harp size. If possible, “test drive” some instruments to see what feels best to you. It’s helpful to get advice from a teacher or director who knows how to find the appropriate size for a player.
  • Temperature changes and humidity may affect your harp. Air that is too humid or too dry can damage the wood as it expands and contracts. Keep your harp in a temperature-controlled environment if possible, and store it away from air vents and windows. When not in use, secure your harp in a case. Gently dry dust it regularly to keep it clean.
  • Know the correct position for playing a harp. The player sits with their back straight, and the harp’s soundboard is placed between the legs and angled until the top of the soundboard lightly touches the right shoulder. The strings should be mostly vertical. The player should be able to reach all strings and turn their head without impediment.
  • Wash your hands before playing the harp. The oils on your fingers can affect string longevity and sound.
I2
The largest harp is the concert-grand pedal harp. This is the towering instrument you might see at wedding ceremonies or on stage at classical music concerts.

FAQ

Q. How can I determine which size harp is right for me?

A. As mentioned, there is no “one size” for all harps. Sitting behind a harp should give you a sense of whether it’s the right size. Lever harps tend to be smaller and easier to play, making them a good starting point for beginners. They also are more comfortable for children to handle.

Q. Is the harp a difficult instrument to learn?

A. Some experts say the harp is easier to learn than other stringed instruments. It’s a pleasant-sounding instrument that is enjoyable to practice, even if you’re playing simple beginner pieces. Having a musical background is not necessary, but it makes reading music far easier. Hiring a teacher is a great way to get familiar with the harp, though some music learners find success with online tutorials.

Q. Do I need to tune my harp and change its strings?

A. Yes. Since it’s a wooden instrument, it’ll likely need to be tuned every time you sit down to play. However, a tuning key and electric tuner make this process fairly simple.

Changing strings is more of an intermittent need. If a string breaks, it needs to be replaced, but professional harpists only change strings in their entirety about once a year. Harp manufacturers and videos are available to assist in the process.

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
See more

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey

Our Top Picks