Several of us are away at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival, and we may not be able to respond to emails and phone calls as quickly as usual. Thank you for your patience!
Note: We are often asked whether we can supply sharping levers for non-Dusty harps, and unfortunately the answer is no. Each Camac lever set is custom-designed to match the specs of a particular make and model of harp, and we order them in complete sets for Dusty Strings harps only. We do not have the parts and pieces to configure sets of levers or supply replacement levers for other brands of harp or for custom projects. Though Lovelands are a little easier to sort out, due to identifying numbers stamped on the sides, we only stock the levers we need for our own harp models. Musicmakers might be a resource for ordering Loveland levers.
Search the web for sharping lever comparisons and you’ll find a wide range of passionate opinions on what type of lever is the best. (If you’re new to the harp, sharping levers are what allow you to raise the pitch of individual strings by a half step, which means that you can play music in different keys without re-tuning the harp.) Because our current scope of experience is mainly with Loveland and Camac levers, we aren’t going to speak to the other options that are out there, and because we firmly believe that no issue has a single solution that is objectively the best for everyone, we are not going to offer an opinion on which lever is better. What we intend to do is share our observations about the differences between Camac and Loveland levers.
In the interest of transparency, we’d like to disclose our bias here at the beginning. Loveland levers sometimes get a bad rap and we are occasionally criticized for using them, so we’d like to set the record straight. However, aside from mounting a serious defense of our continued use of Lovelands, we have absolutely no agenda in regard to steering people toward one type of lever over the other; we use both Camacs and Lovelands and we appreciate them both.
To make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s a Loveland lever:
And here’s a Camac lever:
Before we get into the differences between the two, there are a few myths that we’d like to address. These are by no means the opinions of the majority, but we have heard them said enough times that we think they’re worth talking about.
Myth #1: Everyone agrees that Camac levers are better
Many people do think that Camacs when engaged come slightly closer to the sound of an open string than Lovelands do (and we mostly agree – more on this later). If tonal preservation were the only consideration when comparing levers, it would probably be justifiable to call Camacs objectively better. But there are a great many other factors to consider, and what’s best for one person may not be best for a different person with different priorities.
Myth #2: Loveland levers are outdated and made of cheap plastic
It is true that Loveland levers are not the newest or most expensive sharping lever on the market, but it does not necessarily follow that they are second-rate. It is also true that the handle is made of plastic, but it’s not cheap cereal-box-ring plastic. It is Teflon-filled polycarbonate, a high strength polymer composite, and the levers are precision-made and very solid.
When they first arrived on the scene around 1989, Lovelands were the best-sounding and most trouble-free lever that existed, and they were “instrumental” in the transformation of lever harps into viable, performance-quality instruments. Other, newer levers have been developed since then, but Lovelands continue to be as well-made and high-functioning as they were in the beginning. We have seen some second-rate installations of Loveland levers, but after using them on our harps for over 25 years, we have learned a thing or two about how to put them on properly. When installed with care and finesse, both Loveland and Camac levers are great-sounding, easy to use and reliable.
Myth #3: Loveland levers are hard on the strings
We can only speak to our own harps here, but over 25 years of using Loveland levers, we have never seen a string break where the lever pinches it. Ever.
So, myths out of the way, here are the things that differentiate (or not, in some cases) Loveland and Camac sharping levers.
Camac levers, which are made in France and have a more complicated mechanism, are more expensive to buy than U.S.-made Lovelands. What builders charge to install them does not only reflect the lever cost, but also depends on what quantities they order, whether they keep that type of lever in stock, and what they are most used to working with. If someone has all of their processes set up for installing one type of lever and doesn’t keep the other type on hand, they might very well charge more to install the other type simply because of the extra time and effort involved.
Camacs are slightly heavier than Lovelands. For many people this makes no difference, but for others, keeping the weight as low as possible is a big deal. On one of our 36-string harps, Camac levers add a little under a pound of weight over the Lovelands.
We have not heard a sharping lever that completely preserves the tone of the open string, but both Camac and Loveland levers get pretty darn close. When we were first investigating Camac levers, we did sound tests with harpists to determine which type of lever sounded best when engaged. We built two FH36S harps in bubinga, one with each type of lever, and asked visiting harp presenters at our Harp Symposium to analyze the tonal preservation string by string. On certain strings the Lovelands sounded better and on other strings the Camacs sounded better. When the players were asked to consider the harp as a whole with a lot of levers up, the Camacs did a slightly better job of overall tonal preservation. In our experience, the difference is usually only detected by players with a very critical ear, but to those people it can be an important distinction.
This is such a subjective category that all we can do is show you a picture of each and let you decide for yourself. Everybody has their own aesthetic sense, and we’ve seen people decide both ways based on looks alone. (Note: Dusty Strings has always used Loveland levers with black handles, but many other makers have used gold-colored handles in the past.)
The Loveland lever sets we installed 25 years ago are still going strong. They are made of a durable polymer composite with a brass base and are quite resilient to normal bumps. Every now and then a corner of the plastic handle can crack, but it’s pretty rare and the handle is inexpensive and easy to replace.
We have not been using Camacs for nearly as long, so we can’t speak to their longevity with any authority, but we have no reason to suspect they won’t also last a lifetime. The handles are made of cast metal and are therefore slightly brittle, which means they do not bend and they can snap off if bumped the wrong way. Like the Lovelands, replacing a handle is usually not difficult or expensive.
When comparing levers, it’s important to compare them when properly installed. The performance of any lever depends on the sideways position, alignment and sizing (which is very specific to the diameter of the string) being exactly right. If any of these things are off by a little bit, the lever may buzz, make extra noise when engaging the string, or cause the string to sound dull or twangy. We have found Loveland levers to be highly satisfactory when installed correctly, and we have also seen them perform poorly on harps where they were not installed correctly. We have installed them ourselves on well over 14,000 harps and we have fine-tuned the art of adjusting them so that they work as they are designed to work.
The same level of care is required when installing Camac levers*, and we’ve seen some mediocre installations of them as well. A clicking sound when engaging the lever is a common sign of poor alignment.
*In a recent poll of our harp technicians, 3 out of 5 rated Camacs and Lovelands as equal with regard to ease of installation. The other two were evenly split.
Ease of regulation
Regulation is a finicky process, but can be done on either type of lever by anyone with the proper tools and instructions. It is a fairly similar process between Camac and Loveland levers. As long as the lever was installed properly to begin with, the type of lever makes very little difference in the regulation process. What makes a huge difference is whether or not the harp has threaded bridge pins, and this is not necessarily tied to the type of lever. Our harps have all had threaded bridge pins since 2001, which makes regulation much easier. We have not seen either type of lever require regulation more often than the other.
Feel and ease of use
This is another very personal matter, and opinions are often based largely on what players are used to. The shape of the handle is very different between the two, as is the feel of throwing the lever. People sometimes describe the Lovelands as feeling more direct and having a shorter throw and the Camacs as feeling more smooth and mechanical with a longer throw. One difference we have noted is that the Lovelands have a fairly consistent action up and down the range of the harp, while the Camacs require more push to fully engage on the bass strings than they do in the upper ranges. If someone has developed their lever technique around a particular type and shape of lever, it can be difficult to switch.
The other thing to take note of is the way the C and F levers are marked. Some people find that one style is easier to see than the other, which can make a big difference when flipping levers on the fly.
Noise when engaging the lever
Sometimes Loveland levers make a small scraping noise when they are engaged on a thicker, wire wound string. To many people this is not noticeable, especially in the context of playing, but we have talked to a few players who are bothered by it. It can often be eliminated by flipping the lever repeatedly until the string smooths out the cam a little bit.
Camacs push directly into the string instead of sliding down it, which makes for a quieter operation on wound strings.
The bottom line is that we see Camac and Loveland levers as equally good options. For many people, the decision ultimately comes down to budget, and for others things like feel, tone quality or visibility might be the deciding factors. If you can, try them both out. If you can’t, sit down and think about what your priorities are. Even if you’re totally new to the harp and you just like the look of one more than the other, that’s fine! We are pretty sure you won’t be unhappy with your choice.