TECHNICAL HARP INFORMATION
|We get many requests for information about - and for Deborah's assessments of - the various instruments she uses. The following are her notes and comments:|
|NOTES ON ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENTS & other equipment notes:|
|"RETROFITTING" STANDARD ACOUSTIC HARPS:|
I own five acoustic harps which have been modified to function as electro-acoustic instruments by retrofitting them with soundboard pickups (read on for an explanation of what this means). The harps are: Lyon & Healy Style 23 Natural, Lyon & Healy Style 19 Gold, Wurlitzer Starke Model Gold, Pilgrim's Progress Ebony (ooops - I sold that one, but it was retrofitted), and a small Rubarth "R-Harp" (a lap harp).
Each harp has one or two Fishman transducers or "pickups" mounted on the inside of the sounding board. The pickup is attached to a "pre-amp" and the pre-amp allows me to adjust the treble, bass & midrange and volume of the harp without having to walk over to the amp. The pre-amp is then plugged into the amplifier (which is, in turn, attached to speakers so a hall-full of people can hear the sound).
|SIMPLE DEFINITION OF A "PICKUP" (a.k.a. "transducer").|
|A pickup is a special flat microphone that picks up the vibrations of the soundboard itself. To understand the difference between a standard mic and a "pickup" imagine this: the mic "picks up" the sound from the air. The pickup picks up sound directly off the surface of the wood. Pickups are often called "transducers," but technically both a mic and a pickup are transducers, because they pick up the sound, then "transduce" the sound into an electrical signal which gets sent to the amp. The amp turns the signal back into (louder) sound.|
|EXPENSE: the expense of adapting an acoustic harp with a "transducer" or pickup|
|The cost is anywhere from around $90 to $300, depending on how fancy you want to get.|
|THE TWO BIGGEST ADVANTAGES of modifying an acoustic harp with a transducer|
|The two biggest advantages are the low cost and the fact that the harp can still be used EITHER as an electric instrument or an acoustic one (the transducer doesn't affect the sound or the look of the harp and you can leave it on allt he time). Another advantage is that, if the electricity goes off (and it DOES, sometimes), you can still be heard (because you're playing an acoustic harp). Some people also prefer the sound of an amplified acoustic harp to that of a fully electric instrument. It's a matter of taste, preference and budget.|
|WHERE TO GET A HARP TRANSDUCER|
|You can order the transducer itself, or the complete "Fishman Amplification Kit" from the DHC Mail Order catalogue.|
|HOW DO I DECIDE TO GET JUST THE TRANSDUCER OR THE FULL KIT?|
|The transducer itself will allow you to connect the harp directly to the amp, but will not give you any control over the quality of the sound. For amateur use, this can be sufficient for many years. You can always upgrade to the full kit later.|
|The Kit (around $300) includes everything that I actually use myself, including the transducer, a pre-amp (which allows you to control the quality and volume of the sound), all cables, batteries and adaptors and my own directions for use. For professional use, I recommend the complete Kit. For preliminary experimenting or if you just want to boost the sound for a small reception the transducer alone is a good (and more economical) way to start.|
|TO ORDER the Transducer or Amplification Kit, visit our mail order catalogue.|
|WHAT IS THE "BONZAI HARP"?|
I call my "Bonzai
Harp" is a "Rubarth Harp," a small lever-harp, or "lap
harp" with 22 strings. I used this harp on tour with my band in
1995 and it sounded great. I bought this small lap-harp and turned it
into a prototype strap-on harp. (More on that below.) This was also
the harp I used to convince CAMAC harp builder Joel Garnier that I really
did want him to build me a strap-on body-harp.
I personally think this is also a great first harp for kids (ages 3
- 10) and I bought one for my boyfriend's daughter, knowing that if
she didn't end up playing it, I'd enjoy playing it myself.
NOTES ON FULLY ELECTRIC HARPS:
|THE LYON & HEALY ELECTRIC GRAND:|
used the Lyon & Healy electric grand on tour with the Boston Pops,
with the Pittsburgh Pops and for the recording of "Alter Ego,"
my newest CD. To hear the power and clarity of the electric harp, you
can order a copy of "Alter Ego." (see our mail
STEREO: The Lyon & Healy has a pickup on every single string and stereo outputs (two separate sounds) which make this harp great for recording. The newer versions of the harp are also battery-free, or so I have been told. (The one I use needs a 9-volt battery, which can be a real drag when the voltage gets low unexpectedly during a recording session or a peformance.) This harp has a very clean signal, is great for use in studios, on the radio or on television. It's a very heavy harp, so it's a little harder than a regular concert grand to get around, but it's also wonderfully sturdy.
RECORDING: The soundboard is constructed rather like a "solid-body" guitar. That creates a great recording situation, because you can record with the Lyon & Healy even in a noisy room, by going direct from strings to tape. (Once I was recording with this harp in a room where someone was hammering - don't ask my why I was doing that, but I was - and when I listened back to the tape, you couldn't hear the hammering! That's one thing I absolutely love about this instrument. I mean, not like I expect to have hammering in my recording studio, but it's nice to know that it wouldn't ruin a good take!)
LIVE PERFORMANCE: Because it is "cleaner" sounding than an acoustic harp, the Lyon & Healy Electric is perfect for "contrasting" with an orchestra, so I love it for concerto-type work. The orchestras love it, too, because they don't have to hold back volume-wise. This harp can really crank and can play over even a brass section, if it needs to.
However, in order to do my flamenco/percussion sounds in performance, I had to add a Fishman Transducer to the soundboard, otherwise, even if I bang on the soundboard you can't hear it.
TRAVELABILITY: This is a very sturdy harp, but also a very heavy one.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Lyon & Healy, 168 North Ogden Ave, Chicago, IL 60607 USA, 1-800-621-3881 X 107,firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail), http://www.lyonhealy.com (website)
|CAMAC ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC HARPS|
use the Camac Electro-Acoustic Grand on tour in Europe and at my Symphony
Hall premiere with the Boston Pops.
or SPLIT SIGNALS: Newer
CAMACs have many possible mono-stereo capabilities. I now have a CAMAC
acoustic-electric concert grand (Grand Blue) and it has four "outs"
or "outputs," which allow me to "EQ" (equalize, or change the sound
of) Treble, Mid-Range or Bass separately. There is a fourth output for
the soundboard itself, which allows me to isolate the percussive sounds
I do by hitting the soundboard, and to EQ them separately as well. It's
still possible to treat this CAMAC as a mono instrument, which I often
find easier in live concert situations.
|THE CAMAC "BABY BLUE"|
since my harp returned from tour in two pieces in 2003 (see below),
I've started shipping it to concerts via DHL (surprisingly affordable
as of this writing, but that may change). It fits perfectly in a Bike
Box. I bought a semi-fancy, rugged plastic bike travel box, which has
great foam padding inside, wheels and a handle. It's not the kind of
thing you'd want to wheel around a whole lot, but the case is sturdy
and so far the harp has been safe and sound.
Update 2003): I've
been travelling with the Baby Blue now for upwards of 50 or 60 plane
rides. I've been padding the harp with my own clothing when I fly and
up until the last plane ride, it's come through fine each time. On the
last plane trip, Northwest Baggage handlers opened my baggage (as they
need to for security), but then decided they didn't need to repack the
harp the way I'd packed it. The result was that, for the first, time,
my harp returned in two pieces (one playable piece and one unplayable
piece). My response? Get the harp repaired and then try to find someone
who can build me a light-weight hard case. Oh, and probably avoid Northwest
Airlines. All the other airlines to this point had been meticulous in
repacking exactly the way I'd done it.
|THE LYON & HEALY "SILHOUETTE"|
|As of this writing, I've only had a Silhouette for a few days, so I only have time to tell you that it looks cool and I'm very excited about playing it!|
|WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE "BABY BLUE" AND THE "SILHOUETTE"?|
I'm thrilled to report that they're simply different. Why am I thrilled? When I first dreamed of strapping on a harp and playing more like an electric guitarist, there was NOTHING available on the market. The only person doing that kind of thing was Rudiger Opperman, in Switzerland -- and he was building his own harps and electronics in his workshop.
It took me a long time to convince any of the larger builders that such a harp was worthwhile to build. I finally had to cluge together a prototype and show it to Joel Garnier before he could really understand what I was talking about and could see how excitged audiences were about the instrument. Less than a year later, he presented me with the prototype for the Baby Blues.
Lucky for us, both CAMAC and Lyon & Healy are run by harp players, men (yes, they're both men) who are passionate about the harp, and not just selling harps as a business investment.
Here we are ten years down the road and both CAMAC and Lyon & Healy are selling wearable harps, both gorgeous instruments and each with a different sound and feel. Why is that so great? Because we have a CHOICE and it's a real choice. These two harps aren't just clones of each other, they each have a distinctive sound and feel and look. Which do I like better? You might as well ask me which of our kids I like the best. The answer is I love them equally, and in part BECAUSE they're different.
|RANDOM TROUBLE-SHOOTING and OTHER NOTES:|
|PRE-AMP TO THE RESCUE:|
|Just came back from the Midwest where I was using an acoustic harp for a solo concert in a 700-seat hall. I fitted the harp with a pickup, but the sound was tinny and edgy and EQ wasn't helping. Also, the bass sounded wimpy and thin. On a whim, I added a Fishman preamp before I gave the signal to the sound engineer. The change in the sound was amazing. It was warm, full, the bass sounded great. And this wasn't even one of the newer "Pro-EQ's" - this was an old one I had in my gear bag. I was very impressed and very happy. (10/15/03)|
|WIRELESS MIC MINI-WINDSCREENS AT THE PHARMACY:|
|Somewhere between WSU and Grand Rapids I lost the miniscule windscreen that fits on my Countryman mic. The mic is great (it tapes to my face and is very unobtrusive). Finding another windscreen in downtown Grand Rapids was unlikely, so I sent my Harptech-for-the-day, Heidi and her boyfriend Todd out to see what they could jerry-rigg. At a local drugstore, they found some cheap Q-tips with foam ends. We pulled the ends off the Q-tips, put the ends on the mic and voila! Instant mini-windscreen. They cost less than a buck and sounded good, too! (10/15/03)|
|SHIPPING THE HARP:|
As of this writing (10/15/03) our favorite carrier is Airborne, believe it or not! (Oops, they changed their name to DHL since I wrote this). When we send the harp Airborne Ground, the cost is far better than any of the other carriers. Of course, we have the greatest Airborne delivery guys in the US in our neighborhood - they actually took a quick harp lesson one day after delivering the harp, they listen to harp CDs and come to concerts, so they're experts!
With Airborne we do need to make a few concessions: they can's guarantee delivery date, they won't carry the instrument under certain conditions (like if the weather is too cold), and you need to keep on top of the delivery-end of things (once they simply left a harp on someone's doorstop - fortunately it wasn't raining). But we're working that out in general, we're pretty happy with the service for now. We ship the concert harp in a standard harp case (yep, one of those huge wooden trunks), but we've added wheels to make it a bit easier to handle once it arrives.