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What Is an Electric Harp?

An electric harp is a mesmerizing blend of tradition and technology, producing the classic, ethereal tones of its acoustic ancestor amplified for modern audiences. With its strings connected to pickups, it captivates by projecting a rich, resonant sound. Discover how this instrument amplifies the harpist's expression, and imagine the possibilities it could bring to your musical experience. Ready to explore its harmonies?
Erik J.J. Goserud
Erik J.J. Goserud

The harp, or harpsichord, is a multistringed instrument that stands vertically on the performance stage. The electric harp is modeled after its original acoustic model, but it is customized to amplify the sound. Musicians can plug the instrument into an amplifier or PA system via a quarter-inch jack using a traditional instrument cable. Unlike an acoustic instrument, the electric harp often has no hollow sound box, which is the reason the harp gives off minimal noise when it is played unamplified, much like an electric guitar.

Plans for the electric harp began in the late 1950s but didn’t become officially constructed until the 1970s. The first electric harp that made successful commercial sales was made by Camac. Each string had a piezo pickup built in at its base. Today, many electric harps have shoulder straps to enhance musicians’ mobility onstage. Clear, see-through models are also available for an extra lightweight feel.

Musicians can plug an electric harp into an amplifier or PA system via a quarter-inch jack using a traditional instrument cable.
Musicians can plug an electric harp into an amplifier or PA system via a quarter-inch jack using a traditional instrument cable.

There are two main types of electric harps: lever harps and pedal harps. Lever harps are the more traditional model and mostly amplified via microphone. They usually have solid bodies, are more expensive, and are also referred to as electric harps. These harps mix more easily on a soundboard, and sound engineers may need to do less sonic tweaking. A harp in this sense should not be confused with a harmonica, which is sometimes referred to as a harp too.

With traditional music cables, electric harps can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment with quarter-inch jacks.
With traditional music cables, electric harps can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment with quarter-inch jacks.

For most players, the cheaper and most practical option is to go with a pedal harp, which is acoustic-electric, and harpists can play them through an amp or on their own. These harps include built-in preamps with volume and EQ controls on the instruments. This allows the user a great deal of control of the sound onstage.

Harpists, or harpers, are also able to use effects pedals with their electric harps. Running one instrument cable to the pedal board and another to the amplifier, the musician can alter and diversify the sounds of the harpsichord. Similar to the electric guitar, a harp's distortion pedal will bold the tone and add density to the sound. A chorus pedal can make the instrument fuller and more plentiful, as if there are multiple harpsichords playing at once. While based in folk and classical music, musicians use the electric harp in a wide variety of genres — it is commonly used in Latin jazz and some rock music.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an electric harp and how does it differ from a traditional acoustic harp?

An electric harp is a stringed instrument that produces sound electronically, either through pickups that amplify the vibrations of the strings or by using individual string sensors. Unlike traditional acoustic harps, which rely on the natural resonance of their body to project sound, electric harps can be connected to amplifiers or sound systems for greater volume control and sound effects. They often have a more modern design and can be played in various settings without the need for microphones.

Can electric harps be used in the same musical genres as acoustic harps?

Yes, electric harps are versatile and can be used across a wide range of musical genres, just like acoustic harps. They are particularly popular in genres that benefit from amplified sound or electronic effects, such as jazz, rock, pop, and experimental music. The ability to connect to sound processing equipment allows harpists to explore new sonic territories, making the electric harp a dynamic instrument for both traditional and contemporary music styles.

What are the benefits of playing an electric harp?

Playing an electric harp offers several benefits, including the ability to amplify the sound without losing quality, which is ideal for performances in large venues or with bands. Electric harps also allow for a wider range of sound manipulation through effects pedals and other electronic devices, giving musicians creative freedom. Additionally, they are often more portable than their acoustic counterparts due to lighter construction and sometimes smaller sizes.

Are electric harps suitable for beginners?

Electric harps can be suitable for beginners, especially those interested in exploring contemporary music or who plan to perform in settings where amplification is necessary. However, beginners should consider that electric harps may require additional equipment, such as amplifiers and cables, and might have a different feel compared to acoustic harps. It's important for beginners to try both types to determine which best suits their learning style and musical goals.

How much does an electric harp typically cost, and what factors influence the price?

The cost of an electric harp can vary widely depending on factors such as the number of strings, craftsmanship, brand, and included technology. Prices can range from a few thousand dollars for entry-level models to over ten thousand for professional-grade instruments. Custom features, high-quality materials, and advanced electronic components also contribute to the higher end of the price spectrum. It's essential for buyers to research and compare different models and brands to find an electric harp that fits their budget and playing needs.

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    • Musicians can plug an electric harp into an amplifier or PA system via a quarter-inch jack using a traditional instrument cable.
      By: matt&stustock
      Musicians can plug an electric harp into an amplifier or PA system via a quarter-inch jack using a traditional instrument cable.
    • With traditional music cables, electric harps can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment with quarter-inch jacks.
      By: Alexey Laputin
      With traditional music cables, electric harps can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment with quarter-inch jacks.