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What Are the Different Types of Wood Harps?

Paul Cartmell
Paul Cartmell

A wood harp is a traditional musical instrument that has a triangular or square wooden frame with a soundbox at one end. Strings are positioned between the wooden pieces of the frame and plucked or strummed to create sound. The different types of wood harps include those made from maple, cherry, ash, mahogany and other types of wood, and spruce is commonly used for the soundbox. Wood harps are often divided into modern — or neo — and ancient styles of the instrument. The different types of wood harps also include those that use wire strings and those that use hair or animal gut strings.

Modern types of wood harps are often referred to as neo versions of an ancient harp because they are modeled on ancient designs but are manufactured using modern production techniques. A good example of a neo wood harp is the Celtic harp, which includes Welsh, Irish and Scottish designs. Celtic and neo-Celtic harps are designed around the triangular shape that is commonly associated with this instrument. Differences between Scottish, Welsh and Irish Celtic harps are mostly associated with the type of strings used, with wire, hair and animal gut commonly being used.

Harps can be made from mahogany.
Harps can be made from mahogany.

Ancient harps include the ancestors of the modern version of the instruments the lyre and the crwth. Both these wood harp designs are often produced in modern forms of ancient designs. The lyre is an instrument often found in ancient artworks that was produced with ornate designs around the square, wooden body of the lyre. The crwth is a similar design to the lyre but also could be played with a bow or strummed in addition to being plucked.

Wire-stringed harps are made from wood and require a playing technique that is different from the one used with hair and animal gut strings. The wooden wire harp must have the strings plucked while other strings are dampened with the hand of the player. The modern pedal harp is the most recognizable of the modern harp family. A long, straight wooden pillar and carved wooden decorations along the triangular frame of the harp are noticeable features. The modern pedal harp allows the player to decide whether the harp should be played in the sharp, neutral or flat positions.

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    • Harps can be made from mahogany.
      By: Özger Sarikaya
      Harps can be made from mahogany.