What Kind of Harp Is This?

What Kind of Harp Is This?

Compiled by Joyce Rice

Since its beginnings in 1999, Harp Spectrum has often received descriptions or photos of instruments accompanied by the question: what kind of harp is this?  Usually there is the word “harp” somewhere on the instrument, which can lead to a considerable amount of confusion.

Here are a few of the examples of some instruments with a harp name.




Harp guitar (harpguitars.net) Harp lute (harpguitars.net) Mandolin harp (antiques.lovetoknow.com)

When trying to figure out whether your instrument is or is not a harp, it’s good to remember that harps are triangular in shape with strings that are perpendicular to the soundboard, not parallel to it as they are in a guitar, violin, etc.

In the second half of the 19th century, before the advent of other amusements like cinema, radio or phonograph, not to mention television or computers, there was a lot of music-making in the home and among friends. Ingenious inventors and adapters came up with many variations of stringed instruments and often named them “harp-something” or “something-harp”. Usually they were variations on existing instruments like guitars, lutes, mandolins, etc.

Below is a list of many of these hybrids and links to web pages about them. We hope you can find one that helps you identify the harpy thing that you found in Aunt Florence’s attic!

Apollo Harp http://www.fretlesszithers.com/gizno.html#aph

Autoharp http://www.oscarschmidt.com/products/autoharps/

Gizmo-harps with chords www.Fretlesszithers.com/gizmo.html#mando

Harp guitar http://www.harpguitars.net/history/org/hgorg.htm

Harp lute, also bridge harp – West Africa http://www.harpguitars.net/history/org/org-harp-lutes.htm
Also http://www.shlomomusic.com/banjoancestors_harplutes.htm

Harp-o-chord  http://www.fretlesszithers.net/harpochord.htm

Knutsen zither harp guitar  www.harpguitars.net/knutsen/hgs40.htm

Mandolin harp  http://antiques.lovetoknow.com/about-antiques/antique-mandolin-harps

Nyckelharpa (Swedish key-fiddle) http://www.nyckelharpa.org,  https://www.nyckelharpa.info/history

Aryeh Frankfurter plays at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9fmJd3aMG4

Aryeh Frankfurter, specialist in the Swedish nyckelharpa and many other
stringed instruments, including harp. http://magnatune.com/artists/aryeh_frankfurter/

More Nyckelharpa performance sites   http://earlharpas.com/performers_sites.html


 Thanks to Earl Holzman, nyckelharpa builder, for this beautiful photo. www.earlharpas.com

Phono harp http://home.dejazzd.com/williams/Phonohar.htm


Piano harp (boingboing.net) Harp piano played by Hugo Worch (smithsonianchambermusic.org)


Piano harp (or harp piano) http://boingboing.net/2008/12/07/piano-crossed-with-a.htm

Wurlitzer Automatic Harp
See an article by Rick Crandall on J. W. Whitlock’s Automatic harp. http://rickcrandall.net/article16.php


All photos in this article are used with permission of the owners.


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