Have you ever come across a particularly gorgeous instrument with a wonderfully lush tone and fallen instantly in love? Maybe you were looking, or maybe you were just wandering along minding your own business when you were struck by Cupid’s arrow. There probably followed a period of bliss as you drooled over the possibilities, and then the practical part of your brain kicked in and said, “Wait, I don’t play well enough yet to deserve such a nice instrument."
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! We’ve all said this to ourselves, and in many ways it’s completely logical, but we’d like to suggest an alternate view of the situation. A master artist can probably create a compelling picture with a single blunt crayon, but for most of us, our enjoyment of drawing (and therefore the progression of our skills) will be vastly improved by having a nicer set of crayons - maybe 12 different colors and a crayon sharpener. The same is true of musical instruments. Based on countless stories we’ve heard from customers and other musicians over the years, we’ve come to believe that you should get as nice of an instrument as your budget will allow.
On the surface, this may seem to be a conveniently self-serving philosophy, and there are certainly times when we feel like we’re peddling drugs, but the honest truth is that we build harps and dulcimers because we know how much joy music brings, and we love helping to match people up with instruments they’re going to love playing. There are many similarities between musical instruments and drugs, but there are also a few key distinctions, one of the main ones being that music brings happiness to so many more people than just the musician. Also, playing music develops your brain!
If you need a little convincing, here are a couple of stories that we feel really illustrate the power of playing a nice instrument. These both happen to be stories about Dusty Strings harps, but the concept applies to any musical instrument. And yes, there are quite a lot of fabulous instruments out there that are not made by us!
Many years ago, we heard from a woman who was relatively new to playing harp, but bravely put in an order for an FH32, even though she felt it was more harp than she really needed at her level. She had just received a small inheritance and knew that if she didn’t use it to buy the harp she’d dreamed about, she never would get the harp. Her eventual goal was to play in her local nursing home, but she didn’t have the confidence yet to play in front of people. She told us some months later that when she sat down to play her new harp the day it arrived, the tone was so beautiful that it gave her the courage she’d been lacking, and she took it out the next day to the nursing home.
Another harp story came from a woman who approached Ray at the Edinburgh harp festival this year. The year before, she had fallen in love with and bought an FH36S at the festival, and she came back to tell Ray how glad she was that she’d listened to her heart. In her words, “It was nice to be able to thank you in person for this beautiful harp that has given, and continues to give me so much pleasure – and my family and friends who hear it too! As I said at the festival, I do feel this harp has turned me into a musician – from someone who had played but not really taken it very seriously (I think because I just wasn’t really enjoying playing a rather basic harp) – there is something about the beauty and quality of this instrument that immediately met and lifted my aspirations and commitment. I just love it, and so love playing it!”
It’s a lot like playing in an ensemble. It’s totally possible to enjoy yourself and make progress while playing with a group of people at your own skill level, but it’s amazing the leaps and bounds you make when playing with musicians who have more experience than you do. You could also relate it to learning a language by immersion. When you surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do, you can’t help picking it up. Similarly, when you play an instrument that’s “better” than you are, it pulls you up to its level.
It’s also worth noting that “nice” can mean different things to different people. It applies not only to tone and range, but also to visual appeal. If you love the look of abalone inlay and it fits into your budget, go for it! Everyone tells us they’re glad they did. Especially with ornamental decorations, it’s really easy to listen to the “I don’t deserve this” voice. If you feel the need to rationalize it, here’s your argument: Feeling little sparks of joy every time you set eyes on your instrument will increase your satisfaction and you’ll find yourself drawn to playing it even more. And if it’s easy to play and has a gorgeous tone besides, your twenty minute practice sessions will slide into hours without you even noticing.
Give yourself permission to own a nice instrument. You do deserve it! Your desire to learn is reason enough. In the worst case scenario, you might end up selling it in a few years if you find you’re not playing it as much as you thought you would. But at least you won’t be wondering how it might have been…