Buying a harp can be a complex process. In addition to the obvious issue of expense there are questions of longevity and reliability, stylistic preferences, weight and size considerations, and, to the musician, the overriding concerns of sound quality, projection, and responsiveness.
For some musicians the choice of a new instrument is pragmatic – the harp is a musical tool used in making their living. For others it may be a complex mix of self-image, strong personal prejudice, sound preference, and “the harp my teacher plays”. This page offers a systematic approach to harp buying that should be useful to most harpists. The pragmatic musician will find it vastly more useful than will those for whom only a Wurlitzer DDX will do.
There is one basic fact affecting harp buying that needs to be understood:
The range of sound quality of production pedal harps is so great, even between harps of the same model and from the same maker, that to buy a harp without first playing it is foolhardy. The First and Greatest Commandment of harp buying is “When at all possible, play before you pay!” There are those who have been quite satisfied with their “mail order” harps, but the odds are no better than one would have in taking a mail-order spouse. Choosing a harp is an extremely personal thing. No system of evaluation will make it an exact science. Personal tastes vary greatly. The harp that is responsive and pleasant to one will have “spaghetti strings” to another. One harpist’s warm, rich sound becomes another’s “harp that won’t project”, while another will hear a harp that projects well over an orchestra as overly bright and brittle sounding when heard close up.