Anyone who follows the composites industry knows that makers of musical instruments have had their eyes on carbon fiber for a while. Some have already created carbon fiber guitars, cellos, and violins. Now it seems like instrument makers are ready to transition another classic: the harp.
The move to carbon fiber is what prompted Henderson, NC’s Heartland Harps and Music (HHM) to invest in their new Asheville Composite Technologies facility. The facility will be the home base for HMM’s carbon fiber harp manufacturing. Time will tell if the company expands into other carbon fiber instruments.
Classic Harp Construction
The harp is an ancient stringed instrument with roots that date back as early as 3,500 BC. It consists of a soundboard and multiple strings running across it at a prescribed angle. The strings are connected at either end by angled horizontal and vertical axes.
Traditional harp manufacturing has relied on wood and metal materials for thousands of years. Because the harp is such a large instrument though, weight has always been a concern. Moving a harp around can be a very laborious task for even the most physically fit harpist. It turns out that the weight issue was the impetus behind HMM’s decision to look at carbon fiber.
HMM owner and founder Dave Woodworth realized a decade ago that it was getting harder to move his harp as he aged. He also realized that if he was having trouble, other harpists were probably having trouble too. So he set about reducing the weight of the harp by exploring different materials. He settled on carbon fiber.
How Carbon Fiber Harps Are Made
The company’s carbon fiber harps begin as a carbon fiber cloth sold by a company like Utah-based Rock West Composites. That cloth is infused with epoxy resin and then layered in a mold to create the shape of the harp. The layup is then vacuum bagged to remove air and evenly distribute the epoxy resin before being put in a high-heat autoclave to cure.
Cured harps are taken out their molds and finished by skilled craftsmen. Those craftsmen remove excess material, perform a bit of detail tooling to create just the right shape, and then polish the frames to make them look good. The finished frame is then ready to be fitted with its various accessories before being strung.
A Lightweight but Durable Harp
Rock West Composites says that carbon fiber is a very good material choice for harps. It’s considerably lighter than the heavy woods and metals normally used for harp construction, yet it is durable enough to withstand a lot of punishment. A good quality carbon fiber harp continues to perform at peak even after years of travel and performing.
The only downside to carbon fiber as a musical instrument material is that it doesn’t look like classic wood. This can be a problem to purists who are uncomfortable with the idea of making classic instruments out of the space-age material. But to musicians willing to embrace a new look along with reduced weight and increased durability, carbon fiber is welcome.
Carbon fiber has already proved useful to guitar, cello, and violin makers. It stands up extremely well to the punishments of the road. Moreover, it’s not affected by temperature and moisture levels to a degree anywhere near that of wood. So that’s another advantage.
Here’s hoping the carbon fiber harp does as well as those other instruments. Having access to a lighter, more durable instrument will allow harpists to play longer without having to worry about not being able to move them around.