Many people have never even heard of harp guitars, and their appearance on stage or in a music hall is likely to generate interest end curiosity before it has even begun to be played. A harp guitar sounds very much as though it has managed to combine the standard guitar with an instrument normally seen being manhandled onto a stage by a couple of strong men, and the idea of combining two such different instruments certainly sounds intriguing.
If you have never seen a harp guitar before, you may already be envisaging some instrument in your mind which managed to combine the traditional image of a guitar with the classical, almost fairy tale impression of a harp - but how? In fact, a physical combination of the two traditional shapes and designs of the instruments is almost exactly what a harp guitar is. The harp guitar is certainly rare, but at its heart it is still simply a standard six string instrument, following the design and features of an ordinary six string guitar. However, just above these normal, standard six strings are a number of other strings - harp strings, which are spread between two usually curved parts of the guitar body.
In this way, the traditional six strings of the guitar are stretched across the body and across the frets up to the neck of the guitar, whereas the harp strings are not pressed against any fret or bridge, and simple stand out to be plucked or strummed in the same kind of manner as a harp is normally played. The exact number of harp strings varies from one model to the next, and the tone and pitch of those strings varies too, as indeed does the very octave. In some cases the harp strings are tuned to an octave above that of the guitar's normal six strings, providing a complimentary and very distinctive sound which can give the impression of two quite separate instruments being played, but complimenting each other and resonating together in a beautifully balanced way.
There are also some harp guitars which have the harp strings tuned to an octave below that of the guitar's six strings, and this provides an undertone which helps to lift the voice of the guitar above a background of resonance. Because these harp guitars are so rare, it is difficult to be precise about the exact number of harp strings, their incorporation into the body of the guitar and even the octave they are tuned to, since many of the harp guitars in existence have been specially commissioned, and often the player or musician has specifically designed or requested a particular style, in order to compliment their style, music genre, or even the type of performance.
There are two examples of harp guitars however which are not custom built, and which are available, and whilst not indicative of the majority or range of harp guitar styles available, they do provide an example of how these guitars reflect the nature of two such different instruments. The first case is known as the Pikasso, and has four necks with two separate sound holes. In total the Pikasso has forty two strings. An alternative model is the Oracle Harp Sympitar which only has twenty four strings, although there are a dozen strings which run through the neck and are referred to as sympathetic strings. These instruments are extremely specialised, and to play them is quite a challenging feat.
The guitar is not an easy instrument to learn to play, but through its popularity has generated a large number of teachers and resources to aid learning. The harp is far less popular, mainly through its expense, and so is very much harder to learn. A harp guitar is so very specialised that learning it could well be a life's achievement, and those who can play it well are noted particularly in the musical world.
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