Salvi, Dusty Strings and Lyon & Healy are just some of the more prominent harp makers in the world today. Each brings their sense of music and style to the table. They all make the kind of harp that one desires.
Major Types of Harps
The harp type can base itself on two things; its size and the presence of a pedal or a lever. Both determine essential things in a harp, from the place it's used for to the level of difficulty in using it. The size also determines the number of strings on the harp. It can be between 20 to 40, regular harps having around 34 strings.
The technology is really simple and effective at the same time. It's just a lever that's connected to the strings in such a way that, when you pull it, you get to play in sharps and flats, depending on where you play the note. What the lever does is, it shortens the string length, stepping up the base note by half a step, or one step (or even more if customized). The best part is, you can change the strings that remain free and the ones that remain attached to the lever by yourself. This gives the lever harp a rich spectrum of notes to play in. It also means easier tuning for the strings, all you have to do is take it off the lever and retune it.
The name can differentiate between the above lever harp and the pedal harp. You change the strings' base notes using the pedal mounted on the harp. The other difference is the complexity of arrangement. A pedal harp generally has seven pedals, four on the right and three on the left. Each pedal controls a particular string, depending on the base note of the string. The thing is, strings ascend from A through B, C, D, E, F and then to G, after which comes the next octave from A again. So, if a pedal has 'A' written on it, this means the pedal controls all the strings with the base note as A. Another development is the positions that the pedal can be pushed or pulled to; there are three positions meant for controlling and changing between the flat, sharp and natural notes. It's therefore obvious that the pedal harp is meant for a more professional artist. If you intend to start off playing the harp, I suggest you stay off this one for a while, they can be expensive and frustrating to play right.
This one contains two parallel rows of strings, giving it huge advantages over other classical harps. They can be made in diverse sizes and shapes as you can fit twice the number of notes in a double-strung harp than a regular harp. The harp has two sets of levers, it is intended to be played with both hands, the left hand for the set of strings on the left and the same for the right side. Each respective hand controls the lever of their side. This makes it much easier to keep a flow in a performance, instead of having a minor pause to pull the lever and change the string base note. Apart from its size, it also poses the advantage of an increased complexity in composition, making it available for almost all styles of play.
The strings in a wire harp are wire, instead of the regular gut or nylon strings. Bronze was the metal more commonly used for wire harp strings. Replacing nylon with wire gives a more bouncy, dense, almost bell-like sound. The advantage over nylon strings is that wire is much more sturdy and with the ability to provide a sharper tonal range. This means wire harps can be made smaller than the harps with nylon strings. The downside to wire harps is that you can't use levers on wires, they will snap. New methods have allowed the bronze strings to be made of a softer quality, making them usable on lever harps.
They are small, easy to play and they fit in your lap; that's the basis of the lap harp. They have about twenty two to twenty six strings, weigh around ten pounds. They are the best place to start playing a harp. They are also very sturdy, which makes them very mobile and can be taken anywhere. They are also quite affordable for a beginner artist to pick up. The downside is they cannot be used for complex compositions like a regular harp can. A lap harp may or may not come with a lever.
An electric harp works on the same basis as an electric guitar- it's a solid body harp with amplification. They are mostly lever harps. You can also buy an electro-acoustic pedal harp, it does not require amplification to be heard, but can provide it if required.
A Gravikord is a derivative of the African Kora, which was a 24-stringed harp with a rather large resonating gourd. The Gravikord is an electric double-bridge harp that does not have a resonating box on it; recent developments have enabled the use of sensors to pick up the notes. The genius concept of using both hands with or against the flow of strings allows the musician to create immensely complex compositions.
Harps by Nationality
The above descriptions are pretty much for all the harps that we see today. Older and more cumbersome harps are now not in use. This includes the ancient Egyptian harp and the harp used in medieval Europe. They are the foundations on which modern harps are formed. Apart from these, you will come across 'Celtic Harp' or the 'Irish Harp'. They are all still modern harps, only called so due to their national origins and styling. The main difference lies not in the structure, but in the kind of music that their culture uses to portray their own beliefs, nature, thoughts and folklore.
Anybody who thought harps are outdated and not really used today will easily be proven wrong. The harp still remains one of the most beautiful stringed instruments, both in looks and sound. They are as vibrant as they used to be in the days of old, in fact now with a lot more diversity than they used to.