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Hint: It’s not quite as simple as deciding between 34 and 36 strings!
A note on naming, for those who have always wondered:
The FH36S has been a beloved model since it was introduced in the mid-nineties. It has drawn everyone from professional pedal harpists looking for “a little harp” to absolute beginners who just fell in love with the sound and knew that’s what their heart wanted.
Comments we’ve heard about the FH36S:
“After hauling around a concert grand pedal harp for so long, I am thrilled with my Dusty String’s portability, yet at the same time I am not compromising the big sound I am used to with my [pedal harp].”
“None have matched the depth of sound and the resonance…”
“Clear as crystal without being hard, even the softest played notes reach the ear of the audience in the last row, and the bass notes are humming deep in the stomach.”
“The fullness and resonance is beyond my wildest dreams.”
“Nothing compares to the clarity, evenness of tone (from top to bottom) and the projection of the 36. It has the rich deep bass and sparkling treble that Dusty is known for.”
“Responsive, resonant, and tonally rich”
“It is the perfect, perfect harp for both the gigs I play and the therapeutic work I do at local medical facilities. The warmth and resonance is just luscious.”
“The full bodied sound is what I personally want out of a harp.”
The FH34S is the new kid on the block, designed in response to requests for a more petite and light-weight harp with a full range, the same comfortable staveback shape, and the Dusty “sparkle.”
Comments we’ve heard about the FH34S:
“Rich sound throughout the entire range. And top notes have “sparkle” in the tones.”
“Balanced, lyric, and easy to play…”
“Gentle, sweet, intimate…”
“I am overwhelmed by the warmth and depth of the sound and love the versatility of the size and weight as well!”
“Wonderful tone and resonance.”
“Light as a feather.”
“Very little adjustment to make coming from a pedal harp perspective.”
“A very balanced and brilliant sound, so clear and focused.”
“A powerful sound; crystal clear, well-balanced and comfortable.”
“Arrangements with intricate bass lines would really shine.”
Both models have the vibrant Dusty sound, just experienced in different ways. Both can project well for ensemble or solo work, and will also respond to a light touch. Both are made from gorgeous solid wood, giving each harp a unique character and allowing for a choice in the flavor of the sound, depending on the wood species.
So how does one decide between the two? Possibly our favorite comparison so far came from a harpist trying both models side by side. “It’s sort of like choosing between a sports car (34S) and a Cadillac (36S)…” Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to compare in person, so we’ve done our best to use words.
The FH36S is a fixed-height harp. It’s 51 inches tall at the back of the harp (measuring perpendicular to the floor), and the short feet are not really intended to be removed. In other words, it doesn’t pack down any smaller for transportation. It will fit across the back seat of many passenger cars, but not all. We don’t provide any integrated options for increasing the height (e.g. to play standing up), but you could easily set the harp up on a box or other platform.
The FH34S was purposely designed to be adaptable in terms of height. Without a stand, it’s 44 inches tall at the back of the harp. That’s a fair bit more compact than the larger 36-string harp, and means that it’s easier to transport because it fits into more vehicles (and into the flight case!). Imagine yourself slipping into a crowded pub session and trying to set up quickly and keep a low profile. The 34S can be played comfortably at a low height right out of the case, without fussing with a stand or legs. To raise it up to a more standard playing height, there’s an included removable stand with 5-inch legs, which increases the overall height by about 6 inches. For those who want it even taller, there are 8-inch legs available. Should you desire to stand while playing, we are currently finalizing the design on a “performance stand,” which will attach to the base of the harp with a knob. We'll have more information about this soon!
Even though there are only two more strings on the FH36S, the soundbox is significantly larger. It’s 14 inches across the soundboard at the bottom and 5 inches across at the top, and the soundbox is a few inches taller as well. This larger-volume resonating chamber and the more substantial mass of the harp contribute to the big, robust sound of the FH36S. It’s much more portable than a pedal harp, though not easy to haul long distances without wheels.
The FH34S soundbox is smaller in every dimension. The soundboard is 13 inches across at the bottom and tapers to 4 inches across at the top, which is very comfortable to wrap your arms around. The shorter soundbox and slightly narrower string spacing make it easy to reach the lowest strings without stretching. With less mass and a smaller resonating chamber, it’s a more lightweight and portable harp, and it produces slightly less volume than the 36.
If you’ve gotten through all of this and still aren’t sure which one sounds right to you, it’s worth pointing out that in many ways, our hybrid-staveback FH34 is the happy medium! It is nearly as lightweight and compact as the FH34S (though not as narrow at the top of the soundbox), and it combines those slightly punchier steel-core bass strings with some of the overtone-rich lushness and volume of the FH36S. The FH34 will also be playable standing up, using the upcoming new performance stand!