Welcome to another blog post!
What do levers and pedals do?
“So what exactly do the levers and pedals do?”. This is a question that I have been asked many times. The basic answer is that they change the key of certain strings.
If you are familiar with the piano, think of the black keys. Essentially, the pedals or levers will change the pitch of the natural strings (which sound like the white keys) to sound like the black keys of the piano. They do this by adjusting the tension.
The levers are located on the neck of the lever harp while the pedals are located at the base of the pedal harp. There is commonly a lever associated with each string on the lever harp. However, there are only seven pedals on the pedal harp – one for each note in the octave.
On the pedal harp, each pedal connects with a rod that runs through the column which then connects to a system on the neck. When you press one of the pedals on the harp this mechanism turns some of the discs associated with certain notes. It changes the key of the strings to sharp, flat, or natural (depending on the tension). For example, the G pedal would change the G string to G flat, G natural, or G sharp depending on its position.
On the lever harp, the levers change the key of each string – but instead of changing the key of multiple strings at once, they change the key of one string at a time. Also, it is somewhat limited in its scope compared to the pedal harp. If the harp is tuned in natural, the key of the string can only be adjusted to sharp. If it is tuned in flat, then using a lever will adjust the string to natural. However, one cannot simply switch from flat to sharp or sharp to flat on a lever harp.
It is safe to say that harps tend to run on the expensive side. Pedal harps are typically far more pricey than lever harps. This is partially due to the fact that they are larger and have more mechanisms built in.
Lever harp price range: $500-$5,000
Pedal harp price range: $10,000 – $30,000 or more
The lever harp and the pedal harp also vary in size. Lever harps are much smaller than pedal harps. This can be a nice benefit for those who like the idea of traveling with their harp.
Lever harps can range in size from about 3ft tall to about 5 ft tall. They usually have between 22 and 40 strings.
Pedal harps are typically around 5 or 6 ft tall. Most pedal harps have 47 strings.
Generally speaking, pedal harps have better sound quality. This is due to the fact that they have more robust sound-boards and string ranges.
That being said, it is not to say that lever harps have a poor sound quality. There are many well-made lever harps that still have a great deal of richness in their sound. I have a Dusty Strings lever harp (for instance) that still has a very robust sound.
Which harp is better?
My answer here is… it depends. What are you planning to do with your harp?
Are you a beginner? Most beginners start on a lever harp. It is less expensive and more portable.
Are you looking to do gigs? If you are hoping to play gigs (such as weddings or other events) pedal harps can certainly look more impressive. However, I would not even say that it is necessary to get a pedal harp if you are looking to do gigs. There are still plenty of people who enjoy hearing hymns or Irish music on the lever harp.
Are you hoping to advance your repertoire? Now, here is where I would recommend looking into a pedal harp. You can still play some very advanced pieces on a lever harp, however some harp music does require you to make certain maneuvers which are impossible without a pedal harp. For example, pieces that require a key change from sharp to flat would be impossible to play on a lever harp.
Ultimately, as to which harp is better… I can’t really say. It is really up to you. 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this blog post!