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dowel at harps neck

Building a Harp: Woodworking Tips and Customization Ideas

home built harps by Jerry Brown

Here are a collection of articles Jerry wrote for the Folk Harp Journal about building a harp for yourself.  These features were written to celebrate and encourage the craft of harp-making by home hobbyists around the world. The goal was to publicize the excellent, and sometimes surprising, results of several of these adventurous woodworkers.  The focus is on amateur builders, those building harps as a hobby rather than as a business, sharing some of their interesting experiences, woodworking tips, customizing ideas, etc. for the benefit and encouragement of other amateur builders.

Lee Gayman

Lee Gayman is from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He brought his latest home-built harp to the Somerset Harp Festival in July, 2004. We say his “latest” harp because he has been building harps from scratch as a hobby since 1991. That was 33 harps ago. Not bad for a hobbyist! We think Lee deserves public recognition for his excellent work. The following is an interview conducted for the Folk Harp Journal by Jerry Brown of Musicmaker’s Kits.

  • Variation of the Regency Harp
  • Round-back “shells”
  • Soundboard woods
  • Choosing a blueprint vs. a kit

Read More about Lee Gayman (Article 1)

Harp with striking design elements made from Lyptus wood.
Harp with striking design elements made from Lyptus wood.

Royce Kessler

Royce Kessler is from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He sent me a snapshot of his first harp, built from blueprints, and I was immediately impressed by both his workmanship and by his interesting selection of woods. I hope you enjoy his story.

  • Acoustic experimentation
  • Using exotic woods: Ambrosia Maple & Lyptus
  • Striking design elements

Read More about Royce Kessler (Article 2)

Hidden connectors join the  neck and pillar on this beautiful "Curly" Maple harp
Hidden connectors join the neck and pillar on this beautiful “Curly” Maple harp

Kees van der Leek

Kees van der Leek is of Dutch birth, and he emigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1967. He lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia where he is a retired vocational instructor. “My interest in musical instruments began in 1995 when I was introduced to the Bowed Psaltery and Hammered Dulcimer,” he explains. Since then he has made a hobby out building Bowed Psalteries, making 34 of them so far. Other Instruments to his credit are an Irish Harp, Classical Guitar, Hammered Dulcimer, and a four octave Concert Marimba. He admits, “I am no musician, but play several instruments by ear, in a fashion.” He belongs to the Oceanside Community Arts Council, and the Coombs branch Old-time Fiddlers Association in British Columbia.

  • Variation of the Regency Harp
  • Using exotic woods: Western Broadleaf “Curly” Maple
  • Staved-back design
  • Hidden connectors to join pieces together
  • Beautiful red-gold lacquer finish

Read More about Kees van der Leek (Article 3)

dowel at harps neck
Customized neck with maple shield at front and dowel at back

Arthur Germani

Arthur Germani is a woodworking hobbyist from Baddeck, Nova Scotia, who ordered his first harp blueprint from Musicmaker’s in 2001. After building a couple of harps from our plans, he purchased the book, “Folk Harp Design and Construction” so as to gain confidence in making design alterations on his own. His latest creation is a variation of the Musicmaker’s Regency design, which I think is notable for its innovations.

  • Variation of the Regency Harp
  • Dowel joint at neck and body
  • Unique decorative details
  • Hidden connectors to join pieces together
  • Re-imagining of harp’s base

Read More about Arthur Germani (Article 4)

10-piece staved back
10-piece staved back

Jerry Haynes

Announcing the World’s First Ecologically-Friendly Harp! Jerry Haynes showed it to me at harpcon 2005 this past summer, and I could hardly believe the story. Jerry and Linda Haynes live in the forests of Washington State, just below the Canadian border. Big Leaf Maple is plentiful in these woods, and it often has wonderfully figured grain patterns for which people pay lots of money to use in furniture, not to mention musical instruments.

  • Fallen tree stump made new growth
  • “Living Tree Harp”
  • 10-piece staved-back design

Read More about Jerry Haynes (Article 5)

A beautiful showpiece instrument, masterfully done!

Steve Barnett

What is so great about designing and building your own harp? In the words of Rev. Steve Barnett, “It is the joy of creating a beautiful instrument, learning just how these beasts work, and the satisfaction of being able to say that, from beginning to end, ‘I did it!’” Rev. Barnett hails from Lehigh Acres, Florida, where he and his wife both minister in the Assemblies of God Church. In addition to his pastoral duties, he does some TV voice-overs, a little on-camera acting, and he flies DC-3 airplanes for Mosquito Control. But in this article it is my pleasure to brag on his woodworking skills.

  • Staved-back design
  • Laminated neck
  • Maple inlay stripes
  • Rotating “knuckle” joint at neck
  • Adjusting the string tuning to the harp frame (graphing a string chart)
  • “Buttoned” centerline

Read More about Steve Barnett (Article 6)

The Grecian Harp with round fluted column

Charles Story

This is a two-part feature because of the amount of interesting details to look at in Chuck Story’s workmanship. Chuck is a retired professor from the College of Applied Science and Technology at East Tennessee State University where he taught industrial design and engineering graphics. He became interested in harps after seeing the ancient Trinity College Harp in Dublin, Ireland.

  • Variation of the Limerick Harp
  • Variation of the Regency Harp with round front column (pedal harp style)
  • “Grecian Harp”
  • Staved-back design
  • Fluted Grecian column
  • Curly Maple veneer on soundboard

Read More about Charles Story (Article 7)

Jerry Brown is owner and founder of Musicmaker’s Kits, Inc., in Minnesota, and author of Folk Harp Design and Construction, a 150-page manual on harp making. An admitted kit-monger, plywood soundboard pusher, and incurable do-ityourselfer, he corresponds regularly with hobbyists who build their own musical instruments.

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