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The Dusty Harp Pickup is our answer to the question, "How can I make my harp louder and still have it sound the way I love?" Harps are particularly difficult to amplify because of their long soundboards, and when we spent time testing a bunch of different options, we didn't find anything we were completely satisfied with. We are perfectionists about how our harps sound, and we realized that designing our own harp pickup was the only way to ensure an amplification solution that would meet our standards.
After extensive development and testing, we came up with the Dusty Harp Pickup. Rather than relying on one (or sometimes two) contact points, which can't help but pick up more sound from the notes that are close by and less sound from the notes farther away, our pickup has 4 carefully selected piezo elements spaced along the length of the soundboard. (Three elements in the case of the smaller P10.) This creates a balanced and focused sound throughout the whole range of the harp. The full, rich bass notes blend with the clear mids and highs, providing natural-sounding amplification at any volume level. It's simply the sound of the harp, only bigger!
Although we initially designed the pickup for our own harps, the response was so enthusiastic that we created a kit to allow the pickup to be installed in a wide variety of harps by other makers. We even developed a pedal harp version, and over the years our pickups have been successfully installed in many non-Dusty harps. Harpists and sound technicians alike rave about how easy it is to use and how even and natural the sound is.
The pickup is discreetly mounted inside the soundbox, invisible to the audience. A single jack mounted on the back of the harp makes for "plug and play" ease of use. An instrument cable (not included) connects your harp directly to any amplifier and most PA systems. In most situations a preamplifier is not needed, but if you are playing in situations requiring very high volume, you may want to add one. In addition to boosting the signal, it will give you direct control over your volume and tone. With some amplifiers, a preamp can also sweeten and smooth out your sound.
We can install the Dusty Harp Pickup in any new or existing Dusty Strings harp, and it can also be done by harp owners who are handy with tools or by any instrument repair technician. Installation involves attaching mounting clips to the internal braces or sides of the harp, snapping the cable harness into the clips, gluing the elements in place, and drilling a hole to mount the jack in the back of the harp. There are detailed instructions and a template for placing the elements in Dusty Strings harps. If you have a different type of harp, use the template as a starting point, but it's a good idea to experiment with the element placement to confirm the best-sounding attachment points. The only tool you'll need is a ½-inch brad point drill bit, available at most hardware stores or from us. If you prefer not to drill a hole, you can simply connect to the jack through the bottom soundhole of your harp, or add our Jack Clamp for a secure and removable way to anchor the jack.
Please note that the pickup produces the best possible sound when the elements are super-glued to the back of the soundboard, as specified in the instructions. If you choose to use double-stick tape for a less permanent installation, you will have a challenge getting the volume loud enough, and you will not get the sound quality this pickup is known for. Once the pickup is glued in, it can be removed if desired, although we don't recommend that because it is too easy to damage the elements in the process. In any case, the presence of a high-quality pickup system will enhance the appeal and value of your harp.
If you're curious about the installation process, you can download and read the installation instructions for lever harps or for pedal harps.
For details on ordering a pickup installed in a new harp, see our Options page. The price for the pickup kit does not include installation.
Check out our blog for background information on terminology and amplification basics.
P10 (for 24-30 string lever harps):
P20 (for most 32-40 string lever harps*) and P25 (for Serrana 34):
P30 (for pedal harps and some pedal-harp-styled lever harps*):
*Certain large-stature lever harps are built more like pedal harps, with similar heavy construction and high string tension. The Lyon & Healy Prelude and Troubadour, Camac Mademoiselle, and Salvi Ana are good examples. Although they have levers and not pedals, in all other respects they are much closer to a pedal harp in sound and design, and we would recommend the P30 pickup for the best results.
Please also note that these pickups were designed for and have been tested primarily on harps made of wood. If you're hoping to amplify a carbon fiber harp, we would suggest first contacting the harp maker to see what sort of amplification they recommend. Carbon fiber behaves differently than wood does, and our pickup may not be an ideal solution for a carbon fiber harp.
Impedance and Choosing an Amplifier
The Dusty Harp Pickup system utilizes piezo pickups that are "high ohmic," meaning that they operate optimally in a high impedance circuit. Results will be best when the pickup is plugged into an amplifier that has an ultra-high input impedance of about 1 megohm or higher. This will provide a flat and balanced frequency response.
If you plug this pickup into an electric guitar or bass guitar amplifier, you may hear a thin sort of "quacky" bass response and there may be other frequencies that are filtered out. You may not like the sound! This is not the fault of the pickup, but is the result of the mis-match of this ultra-high impedance acoustic pickup with a high impedance electric guitar amplifier.
In short, coupling the Dusty Harp Pickup with an amplifier optimized for acoustic instruments with piezo pickups will give you the best sonic reproduction - the full, rich acoustic sound of your unamplified instrument, only louder!
P10 and P20 Lever Harp Pickups
"I just had to tell you that I have taken the Dusty Strings P20 pickup on three test runs in Maryland, Jalisco, and most recently here in Los Angeles and I have to tell you it sounds absolutely amazing!!! The sound engineers and stage crews are literally commenting, "what the heck are you running under that hood!" Thank you for making it happen."
-Sergio (Checo) Alonso (Los Angeles, CA)
"The install went fine. This is a wonderful pickup system. Your instructions are clear and well-researched. I really appreciated the predrilled jack hole [in the Ravenna 34]. As mentioned in the instructions, the glue drying overnight helps to secure the amount of sound transferred to the amp. I kept the harp overnight just to make sure all was done properly and heard an improved difference in the sound when the glue was completely dry."
-Stephen Hartman (Phoenix Harp Center)
"I was amazed hearing the internal pickups when amplified. After I play, the sound guys are always first to rush up and find out what I'm using to get such great sound. These guys are the ones that know and who give the system the highest marks. Thank you again for making quality your priority. It shows in every aspect of my beautiful harp."
-Jeannie Page (Albuquerque, NM)
"This pickup is the closest thing to getting an electric harp! It covers the harp's full range and I don't have to worry about internal rattles like I did with my former pickup. When I'm playing with other amplified musicians, I finally feel like the harp is in equal balance with the other instruments. It makes a clean and rich connection with the sound system. If you're in need of a harp pickup, this is the best investment."
-Monica Schley (Seattle, WA)
"It was so nice to just plug into the church sound system, and not have to worry about a separate microphone for the harp."
-Balfour Knight (Balsam, NC)
P30 Pedal Harp Pickup
Pickup demonstration video by Katie Buckley, principal harpist in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra:
"So excited! This is for the Iceland Symphony's harp. I convinced them to buy one because I love mine in my harp so much. It's amazing!! We do a few amplified concerts a season, plus, I like the help it gives with tuning in noisy situations."
-Katie Buckley (Iceland)
"I've used the Dusty pick-up with my Dusty Strings 36, which I bought from Sylvia Woods about 12 years ago, and I had her install the pick-up at the time. I love the big sound in such a small instrument (size comparison to my LHealy Concert Grand). I've used another pickup in my two pedal harps for the past 10 years, but it only has one place that it "sticks" onto the sound board, and doesn't amplify very evenly. I've been desperately trying to get a bigger sound without sounding overly amplified or boomy. I remember reading up on the DS pedal harp system a few years ago and recently decided to re-visit the option. After reading through the reviews online and seeing a demo on YouTube, I decided to jump for it and am so happy I did. I think the biggest hurdle I had to get over was installing it myself. The pick-up sat on my office desk for four months before I mustered up the courage to install it! Thank you for the very user friendly directions, it took me about 2.5 hours to install, which I realize is a bit much now that I know the routine, but I was being very careful. I didn't want to mess any of the placement up or get glue all over the place. Now that I've installed the system in one harp (and know the outcome), I'm very confident of my next install into my other pedal harp and look forward to taking it out on the gig!"
-Krista Strader (Pleasant Hill, CA)
"I am a harpist and I use your pedal-harp pick-up - these days I play amplified music whether it's in a jazz, band, or larger production setting... and I LOVE it - it works much better than any other system I've used before and has a clean enough sound to use effects without the danger of lots of feedback and other problems like many amplification systems for the harp."
-Elisa Thorn (Vancouver, BC)
"My Dusty Strings pickup has totally revolutionized the sound of my harp. For the first time I have the volume I need to play with drums and electric guitars on big stages without compromising the beauty of the natural tone of my harp. The Dusty Strings is the only pickup that captures the full range of my harp. It has a full warm, rich sound in the bass and mids without losing any of the power and definition of the higher strings. It's vastly superior to any other pickup I've tried. Without it, the best I could hope for was for a few high, thin notes to pierce through a wall of sound coming from powerful electric instruments. The Dusty Strings pickup has given me my harp back."
-Sarah Page (Barr Brothers Band, Montreal)
"I had time to test out the new Dusty Strings pick-up in my Lyon and Healy Style 23 last night. I love it! It is very natural sounding and gets a very "real" warm sound from the instrument. It also is very even and balanced throughout the full range of the harp. It is by far the best pick-up I have ever used. Having it permanently installed is a real plus also, so I don't have to deal with sticking it on every time I need to use it and then worrying if it will stay stuck on when I need it! Peter [Wiley] installed it very quickly. Please thank the Dusty folks for me and let them know I really, really like the sound and balance of the product! I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation!"
-Paul Baker (Los Angeles, CA)