Thursday, April 11, 2013


We are please to welcome again harp technician and guest author Steve Moss of The Harp Herald who presents a series of informative articles to our blog about harp care. In today's article, Steve gives an abridged version of buying used. Thank you, Steve!

You may have noticed that harps cost a lot of money. You check the prices of new pedal harps and then you pick your jaw up off the floor. At this point, you may ask yourself "I wonder if I can find a good used harp?"  

The answer, of course, is "maybe." It depends on luck, timing, the number of resources you consult with, and mostly, luck again. While there are definitely some good buys out there, you’ll need to do some detective work, get to know the market and educate yourself on what to look for when you look at an instrument to determine whether it's a gem or should be sent to the junk heap. 

In my perfect world, only experienced harpists would get into the used harp market. People who have been around harps for a while are more able to assess a given instrument’s sound and may also know better how to assess whether it has reached the point where major repairs are going to be necessary. 

In reality though, it is very often beginners who look to save some money and get into harp playing on an affordable instrument. This is a perfectly logical idea, but unfortunately I’ve seen a few occasions when beginners bought a harp because the price was right, only to find that it was in need of major structural repairs, which ended up adding thousands of dollars to the purchase price. 

So, how do you find used harps, and how do you tell whether they’re worth buying or not? This post is a synopsis of a six post series I did on my own blog, but here are a few suggestions to consider as you delve into the used harp market:

In order to have a choice of harps to buy, you’ll want to look around as much as you can. Talk to
harp teachers and working harpists in your area about used harps for sale. Check harp dealers’ websites to find out if they have used harps. You can even check ebay. I wouldn’t buy a harp from ebay sight unseen, but you might find one within driving distance that you can look at. Aside from finding harps, reaching out and seeking information from as many resources as you can will help you get a sense of the used harp market in general. 

You may be lucky enough to find a few harps for sale in your own community, but more likely
some prospects will be several hours’ drive away. To save time and money, get as much information as you can over the phone and via email. Talk to the seller. Learn the instrument’s
past. Ask how old it is, and whether any major repair work was done. Ask if some photos can be emailed. If the owner is not a harpist, ask if any harpists in the area know the instrument and
whether you can talk with them about it. From the information the owner gives you, it is often
possible to get some clues as to how well the instrument has been cared for in the past. 

Ideally, you should have a technician look a harp over before you buy it. He or she can spot signs of structural damage and warn you if a harp is likely to need major work in the near future. 
It can be helpful to bring your harp teacher or another experienced harpist along with you. He or she will be able to help you assess the instrument’s sound, and may spot warning signs or damage that you might not. At the very least, bring someone with you to look at the harp, be it a spouse, good friend, or family member. A second pair of eyes, even if they are inexperienced in all things harp, will help you make a more objective assessment of the instrument.  

Speaking of eyes, bring along a camera. If you can’t consult a pro, take pictures. If you can’t get an expert to look at the harp, there are some areas where you can spot or rule out the need for major repair. Pay attention to the area where the harp’s body meets the base (the bottom piece where the pedals are). Is the base flush with the body, or is there a gap there? Test for twisting of the neck by pedaling the harp into all sharps and checking the strings in the 5th octave. Most harps have some twist in the neck, but if the sharp discs barely engage the strings in the 5th octave, this twist may indicate the need for a new neck.

If you aren’t sure, take photos (you brought your camera, right?) of these areas and of any others that concern you, such as cracks or other damage, and contact a technician. It may be possible for an expert to tell from your photos whether a situation is troubling or not. 

Not all technicians will be comfortable commenting on a harp they haven’t seen, and it may not be possible to make a definitive diagnosis from your photos, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

If I’m scaring you, well, it would be a lie to say I don’t mean to. I would love to see every new harpist buy a brand new instrument with a nice warranty and no hidden issues.  But it would also be a lie to say you can’t save money on a perfectly good used harp if you know what to look for.

Want to learn more?  

Click here to read the whole used harp series on my blog, and as always, feel free to email me with questions. 

Happy hunting!

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