What made you want to build harps in carbon fiber?
I realized in 2008 that as I got older, the harps seemed to get heavier. It also occurred to me that, if they’re getting heavier for me, they’re also getting heavier for the players as they haul their harps around for lessons, gigs, etc. I knew that guitars and cellos had been made of carbon fiber for many years, with great success, so I decided to see how it would work for harps. Carbon fiber had been used in harps before, but only for strengthening and reinforcing. This was the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone had tried to build an all-carbon fiber harp to make it as light as possible.
What is carbon fiber, anyway?
Thomas Edison was actually the first person to try using something like carbon fiber, in 1878. Carbon fiber, as it’s used today, is a series of incredibly small tubes (.000,005″ diameter) that are about 92% pure carbon. These tubes are then woven into carbon fiber threads, which are spun into c/f yarn and then into c/f cloth. It looks remarkably like black cloth when all is said and done. The carbon fiber cloth or material is available in various weaves, including tweed, herringbone, twill, etc., each weave having different strength characteristics.
To make the harps, the carbon fiber cloth is impregnated with an epoxy resin compound and layers are carefully placed into custom-made molds and placed in an autoclave under high pressure and temperature for 24 hours to cure. Then we pin and string the new harp just like a wood harp.
How can Superlight Harps™ be so light?
The real secret of the lightweight harps is the incredible strength of the carbon fiber, especially compared to wood. The second key to the light weight is that the molded pieces of every harp spend 24 hours in a large autoclave at 250 degrees and 80 pounds per square inch. This process creates an average thickness of the walls of the Superlight Harps™ (yes, they’re all hollow, both the soundbox and the neck/pillar) of only .035″. That’s about as thick as 6 or 7 sheets of paper. So there’s just not much material in the harps to weigh them down. The other benefit of the thin walls is that they resonate incredibly well. To get technical for a second, a larger percentage of the energy you impart to the strings goes into sound production, producing a louder harp with less effort.
This lightweight and high strength is why carbon fiber is now being used in modern aircraft, race cars, sports equipment, sailboats, etc.
Are Superlight Harps™ really as indestructible as I’ve heard?
Probably more so! In the real world, Superlight Harps™ have been knocked over, fallen out of carts, been clunked by doors, furniture or other harps, and generally taken all the knocks that all harps take over their lifetime. One was even left in the trunk of a black car in the middle of the summer for 4 days. The difference with the Superlight Harps™ is that they’re usually just fine after the incident.
To demonstrate the toughness of these instruments, I’ve hit them with hammers, bashed them with tuning wrenches, poured water over them and even put one in a swimming pool and tried to play it underwater (that part didn’t work so well, because the harp wanted to float). None of this had any negative impact on the instruments. Some of the harp players watching were a little traumatized, though!
How do the painted harps work? Do they sound different from the classic black harps?
We use an automotive finish on the painted harps, from the primer to the color coat to the clear coat on top.You can choose any color from any car, Ford to Ferrari, from the last 10 years, including metallic, opalescent, pearlescent, etc. The painted harps are more expensive, and they require a little higher level of care. Anything that would scratch or chip your car’s finish would do the same with the painted harp. The painted harps do come with a matching bottle of touch-up paint, complete with the little brush in the cap.
The painted harps do sound a little more mellow and very slightly quieter than their counterparts in Classic Black. Because the walls of these harps are so thin, the paint actually adds enough to the thickness to alter the sound somewhat. Some people have expressed a preference for one sound over the other, but the painted and Classic Black harps would really have to be side by side to really hear the difference.
Our new Wood Grain Finish is another popular option.
Can I have custom or handpainted artwork on my Superlight Harp™?
We can put your choice of stencil artwork on the painted harps only. The Classic Black harps cannot be hand painted or stenciled, but they can have decals, either permanent or removable, applied at any time. For more information about color and artwork ideas, click here.
We will probably have gold leaf available in the near future, but it will be pricey, as you can imagine.
How long will a Superlight Harp™ last?
Good question! Carbon fiber has been used in sailboats, tennis racquets and other high-stress applications for many years, and, when properly designed, there doesn’t seem to be a limit in terms of durability or life expectancy. Heartland Harps has been making all carbon fiber harps for over 5 years now (we’ve built and sold over 500!), and Superlight Harps™ for over 2 years now, and those harps are going strong. We do offer a full 10-year warranty on all our carbon fiber harps, as we have with our wood harps for many years.
How many carbon fiber harps have you made so far?
Thus far, we’ve made almost 650 harps in carbon fiber.