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We've covered sound, sharping levers, strings and woods in other sections, but there are a few more unique features of Dusty Strings harps that we think are worth mentioning.
The Ravenna harp models came about because of a demand for something that didn't yet exist - a high-quality harp at a more affordable price level - and we took that concept even further to create the most flexible, adaptable harp we could imagine.
Harps are complicated instruments to build. They require a large quantity of precision hardware and present a difficult balancing game between producing a lively, responsive instrument, and engineering a structure that can stand up to over a thousand pounds of string tension. It's difficult for a builder to lower the price of a harp without cutting corners somewhere, and that can mean sacrificing the sound, structural stability, or function. One of the wonderful things about the harp is that it's a very friendly and satisfying instrument for a beginning musician, but no beginner should have to choose between saving up many thousands of dollars or playing on a low-quality harp that ends up causing more frustration than satisfaction.
We had long observed the need for a lower-cost harp, but it wasn't until the early two thousands that we finally hit upon a way to make one without sacrificing our high quality standards, and the Ravenna was born. The body is made from a panel of laminated wood with an ash-grained vinyl veneer on the outside. Making use of our computer-controlled router to cut V-grooves in the panel, we can basically fold up the main structure of the harp body out of a single piece of wood, reducing the number of individual parts by about two thirds. This means we save a huge amount of time in the building process, and the resulting instrument sounds amazingly beautiful, is very sturdy, and incorporates the same sharping levers and other hardware as our top-of-the-line harps.
Along with achieving a lower price for the harp itself, we also made the decision to offer most of the features and accessories separately. We wanted to make the harp as accessible as possible, and at the basic level, all you need is a harp with strings and a tuning wrench to get started playing. Everything else can be added later, including a stand, high-quality padded case, and even the sharping levers! By pre-drilling all the lever holes and offering the levers, tools, and a step-by-step instruction booklet, we made it possible for harp owners to add their own levers when the time was right for them.
In the interests of ultimate adaptability, we created the Ravenna stand to be removable and to have three different interchangeable leg lengths. The same harp can be played by both kids and adults, and can be a long-term instrument that grows in height along with its player. For an even simpler support option, we also designed a single drop-down leg that extends to any height, even allowing a player to stand while playing, and retracts into the harp when not in use. This leg has made it possible to play the Ravenna 26 in very tight quarters, including hospital rooms and even aboard a sailboat!
In our initial harp design-work, we developed a unique method of connection between the neck and the body. In this radiused or curved joint, the neck is held onto the top of the soundbox by string tension rather than bolts or screws. A locator pin, wrapped in a cushioning sleeve, fits in a slot and prevents sideways movement, but allows front-and-back rotation. This means that the neck can flex under the tension of the strings (more than 1,000 pounds!) without compromising the strength and tightness of the joint between the neck and the soundbox.
We also believe this radiused joint functions as a shock absorber, helping to dissipate the force of impact from minor bumps or falls that might otherwise cause major damage. And, should damage occur, it's easier to separate the large sections of the harp and repair or replace only the necessary portion.
Harps have traditionally used tapered tuning pins, which are pressed into tapered holes in the harp neck, and hold their position when pressed in tightly enough. Sometimes these pins can work loose and require quite a bit of strength to re-set them.
To eliminate the need to re-set tuning pins, we designed a new type of tuning pin in 1997. Like piano tuning pins, these are straight pins grooved with a very fine screw thread, which is hidden inside the harp neck. When the pins are pressed into precisely sized straight-bore holes, these threads create friction that securely holds the strings' pitch. They give the player a smooth, fine-tuning control not typically found with tapered pins, and they all line up beautifully when you look down the length of the neck - a nice bonus for those of us who appreciate small details in instrument setup!
In another advance in ease of use, we designed a threaded bridge pin that we began using in 2001. This is the small guide pin just above the lever, which plays in integral role in adjusting regulation (lever intonation) and keeping strings from buzzing. The prior round pins needed to be tapped in with a hammer or pulled out with pliers, but the threaded pins can be turned like a screw to raise or lower the height in small, controlled amounts. This makes it much easier for technicians, and also allows non-technical harp owners to maintain their own harps.
We were hammered dulcimer builders first, and we loved the bright tone of our mahogany dulcimer soundboards, so we naturally gravitated towards mahogany for our harp soundboards, eschewing the traditional spruce. This is still what we use on our 26-string harps. But we took it a step further when we designed a larger harp model.
We built a number of identical harps with different soundboard materials and thicknesses, and had a panel of harp players do blind playing tests. At the end of the test, it became clear that most players preferred the resonance and clarity of mahogany in the mid and treble ranges, but wanted the warm, "fat" sound of spruce in the bass. Re-thinking the traditional approach of using a single tone wood, we wondered why we couldn't simply use each wood where it produced the best results.
So we tried out a two-part soundboard, and we've never looked back! Now all of our larger solid wood harps have mahogany soundboards for the upper two-thirds of their range, and spruce in the bottom third. These are overlaid with a thin veneer of book-matched figured hardwood for strength and beauty, and the result is a gorgeous soundboard that enhances the best qualities of each range of the harp.