How to Find a Harp for Rent

If you’re just starting out on the harp, or even thinking of starting lessons, you may be wondering if you really have to plunk down thousands of dollars to buy your own harp before you’ve had a chance to see if you like playing it or not. The answer is, no, you don’t. You you should be able to find a harp you can rent in your area for a few months while you determine whether the harp is the instrument for you.

Finding a rental harp is a little trickier than finding other instruments for rent. Walk into any music store and you should be able to rent a violin or a band instrument, but I would be very surprised if you found  a harp, unless this store is one of the few that sells harps. Instead, you should be looking to rent from harpists in your area.

Start with teachers you are thinking of working with. Many harp teachers own one or more rental instruments for their beginning students to rent. If the teacher you’re interested in does not, he or she may know of other harpists in the area who do rent harps. If you can’t find a teacher, try contacting the professional harpists in your area. You should be able to find a few by googling “harpist + (your town’s name here).” Professional harpists may have extra harps they are willing to rent. If you live in a small town or rural area, you may need to travel to a larger city to find a harp to rent. Harps for rent are often advertised in publications for harpists, such as Harp Column, but if the owner is not within driving distance you’ll have to be prepared to pay the shipping expense.

Rental agreements and prices vary by region. Be sure to understand in advance who is responsible for strings, maintenance, regulation, etc. Most of the time the renter takes care of strings and other expenses. Regulation and other repairs are usually not an issue if you just rent for a few months, but be sure and understand who will be responsible if the instrument needs repair. You should also discuss insurance coverage with the harp owner. Harps are often covered by musical instrument insurance, but it may be advisable to add it to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.

Buying a harp, even a small one, is a significant investment, and there is no reason you should do it if you aren’t certain you’ll want to stay with it. Fortunately, if you get to know the harp community in your area, you should have a chance to try before you buy.

Should I be Worried about those Cracks by my Tuning Pins?

Veneer Cracks around a harp's tuning pins

Cracks like these are almost never a cause for concern

If you own an older harp, say thirty years old or more, you may be familiar with the little cracks that can develop on either side of the tuning pins, as shown in this photo. In some cases, cracks like these crop up in harps that aren’t so old, especially if they have been subjected to a particurly harsh environment (as in, “my Grandma kept this harp in the garage for 10 years. Do you think it’s okay?”).

While I always recommend showing any crack, bulge, or other inconsistency in your harp’s wooden frame to a qualified harp technician, if your harp has cracks like these, chances are there is nothing to worry about.

Pedal harps, even hundred-year-old ones, are covered over much of their surfaces  in a layer of wood veneer almost as thin as a sheet of paper. the old saying, “beauty is only skin deep” certainly applies to the average harp. The gorgeous birdseye or flame maple pattern on your harp’s body is only a veneer.

On most harps made since the 1920’s, when you look at the top of the soundboard you will see its grain running vertically. If you take a look at your soundboard from inside the harp’s body, however (use a flashlight if you need to), you will notice the wood grain running horizontally. Again, the outer surface of the soundboard is a veneer, decorating the underlying board.

The cracks you see in the photo only extend through the veneer. The structural” bones” of the harp’s neck are most likely intact. This condition should not result in loose or slipping pins. What’s going on, in my opinion, is that the harp’s neck warps to some degree over time, due to the constant pressure of the strings. This causes stress to the veneer, weakening the glue joint which holds it to the underlying wood. In addition, each tuning pin is pulled downward on the string side of the harp (and upwards on the opposite side), causing additional stress on the veneer. Over time, it can crack. The good news is, cracks in laminated wood, i.e. two or more layers of wood glued together, cannot transfer from one layer to the next. Laminates are intentionally glued together at cross grains – meaning their grain directions are perpendicular to one another. This arrangement adds strength and stability, and also prevents the spread of cracks.

Could cracks like the ones in this photo be a warning that there may be underlying damage in the next layer of wood? It is possible, but unlikely. If a harp has lived in a harsh environment, there may be further damage underneath the veneer, which could cause problems such as slipping pins. However, I rarely see this. Most of the time the damage goes no further than the outermost layer.

If you’re looking at buying an older harp, or see this kind of cropping up on yours, I would certainly bring it to your technician’s attention. They are rarely anything but cosmetic, though, so don’t be too concerned.

New Video Available: Troubleshooting Salvi Levers

I recently received a question about how to deal with buzzing levers on Salvi lever harps. While they are good quality and sound good when they’re in good regulation, Salvi levers are prone to a buzz when engaged, especially in the lower strings.

Since I had a Salvi Ana to regulate on the same day the question reached me, I took the opportunity to shoot some video segments. I also dug through the vault and realized I had some older footage which deals with the same issue, so I spliced that onto the video below as well.

This was the day I learned I need to travel with my good camera. I shot most of this video on my phone, and the sound and video are not ideal. Since I had the Ana to work with, though, I thought it was best to get some answers out there. Apologies for the sound quality.

Diagnosing Pedal Clicks

I had a reader recently write in in response to my article, “What is a Harp Regulation Anyway?” She referenced a section where I discussed checking the pedals for clicks and other issues:

“I check the motion of each pedal. Do they move smoothly? Do they stay where I put them?
Do they spring back quickly when disengaged? I make adjustments as needed, and also
check for any loose connections, which can cause the pedals to click or knock when moved.”

The reader’s question was, “where would the loose connections be?” Good question. The answer is the connection between the pedal lever and the pedal rod coupling, and between the pedal rod coupling and the pedal rod. If there is wear in either of these spots, there can be excess movement, or “play,” when the pedal is moved, and this can cause a loud clicking sound.

The reader goes on to say that it sounds like the clicks are coming from the top of the harp, not the bottom. Though I haven’t heard the harp for myself, she is probably right. Nevertheless, it is worth taking a little time to check the pedals, because sometimes pedal clicks can “telegraph” their way up through the column and sound like they are in the mechanism. Since the harp is built to resonate, the source of an unwanted sound can sometimes seem to be coming from someplace other than its true source. In the video above, I point out these locations and describe the procedure for diagnosing pedal clicks.

Proposed: A Harp “Blue Book”: Please Join the Discussion!

For Sale: But for how much?

“How much is my harp worth?”

As a professional harp technician, this is the question I dread the most. Why? Because there is so little information available on what harps actually sell for on the used market. When someone asks me or another technician for an appraisal of an instrument, we can give detailed information on its condition and what repairs it needs, but when it comes to market value, the best we can do is make an educated guess based on a few harp sales we’ve heard about and a search of current asking prices for harps on the market.

In other industries where market value appraisals are performed, such as the real estate and  used car markets, there are resources, such as the MLS and the “Blue Book” which help in determining the value of a particular item. When a real estate appraiser completes an appraisal, he or she provides documented evidence of prior sales of comparable homes. The piano industry, which I’ve also worked in, has its own version of the Blue Book, which is updated annually.

The harp world needs a similar resource. We are of course too small of an industry to support a published blue book, and the sale of real estate leaves much more of a paper trail. What I propose is a Web-based database to track the actual selling price of harps across North America, and possibly worldwide. The site I have in mind would allow anyone to view a list of the selling prices of harps by model, and the date of sale. Optionally, additional information could be included, such as harp serial numbers, location, etc. Individuals or businesses who sell harps would have a way of submitting these details on a sale, and controlling what relevant information was published.

I envision this as a free service available to anyone, both harpists and technicians. It would benefit technicians in providing data that would help us provide more substantive appraisals. It would help harpists get a ball park idea of a harp’s current market value if they are considering selling. Such a site would possibly also provide harp-related advertising as a way of supporting the cost of maintaining the site, and possibly compensating the Webmaster for time spent.

I am willing to spearhead, fund, and run this project, act as Webmaster, chief cook and bottle washer, etc. What I’m asking you for right now is your ideas. My first question, of course, is whether you personally feel this service is needed (although if you don’t now, believe me you will if and when you try to sell your harp!).

Secondly, a huge question is how to see that the information provided is accurate and honest. I’ve had the idea of doing something like this for years, but this has been the big sticking point for me. Many community driven resources on the Internet are run on the honor system, and my understanding is that the vast majority of contributors to sites like Wikipedia or are honest and legitimate, but there is always the potential for abuse. A harp dealer, for instance, with an interest in keeping harp prices high, could conceivably feed the site inflated or false data, thus ruining the site’s credibility.

What are your thoughts? Could a resource like this run on the honor system, given that we as a community are a fairly honest, close-knit bunch? Alternatively, would there be a way to provide supporting details, such as some kind of official sales contract, without forcing people to disclose too much personal information online?

I could really use feedback on ts proposal. I think this could be an invaluable resource for our community. But I want to do it right. I encourage you to comment below, so that your thoughts are visible to others. If you would prefer to contact me privately, you can reach me at

Deadline Extended for Rocky Mountain Springs Summer Harp Program

Catherine Barrett

The application deadline for the Rocky Mountain Springs Harp Program, which runs June 26 until July 17, 2011, has been extended until April 30. Scholarship applications are also available with a deadline of April 15.   Taking place in lovely Steamboat Springs, Colorado, this program boasts a fine faculty including  Grace Bauson and Catherine Barrett. More information is available at

Thanks to John Bernard, Operations Manager for sending along this info.

Steve Moss to Undergo Heart Surgery

I will be undergoing heart surgery to replace my aortic valve on April 11, 2011. After the surgery, I will not be able to lift more than 5 pounds for 6-8 weeks. I have canceled or postponed my scheduled trips to Salt Lake City, Sioux Falls, and Dayton for April and May. I hope to be sufficiently recovered to resume my normal schedule in June, including visits to Austin and Salt Lake City.

I expect to be in the hospital for five days, away from access to email and phone. After arriving home, it is difficult to predict how quickly I will be able to begin returning phone calls, but I encourage you to call or email with any questions you may have and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. It will still be possible to order my DVD, Harp Care with Steve Moss, during this period. My family can help fill the orders if I am not able to.

This surgery came about because I was born with a defect in my aortic valve, and its function has slowly worsened over time. I have been aware that I might need this procedure at some point. I expect to make a full recovery after healing up from the surgery, and the doctors tell me I’ll feel better than ever, since the mechanical valve will improve my heart function.

I apologize for any inconvenience to you, and would like to take the opportunity to thank all of my clients, associates, and friends for your business and your support over the past few years. I look forward to working with all of you again soon.

Those Pesky Soundboard Dings

Those pesky soundboard dings

Photo by Amber

Q: I dropped my tuner and nicked my soundboard.  Is there a relatively easy way to patch it?  I know it’s very minor, but it really bothers me.  Hope this isnt too dumb a question!
I appreciate your advice.


A: Dear Amber:

This certainly isn’t a dumb question, and it’s one I get asked a lot. Without seeing the damage, it is impossible for me to be certain, but my general inclination is to try to discourage people from doing their own touch-up work. It is very easy to make a nick like that look worse by trying to fix it if you don’t have the skills and experience.

My advice would be either to live with it or talk to a qualified touch up expert. You should be able to find someone in your area by contacting piano tuners (you can search for them through the national Piano Technicians Guild website at and asking who they recommend. Piano Technicians will often have a better handle on local experts such as these than us harp technicians, who travel all over. I recommend locating a piano technician through the Guild because its members subscribe to a code of professional ethics and they are often the most skilled and knowledgeable technicians in their areas.
Good luck,