First rehearsal for the Clarsach Society Edinburgh Branch “Harps of Gold” Christmas concert. One of only about four men there in a group of about 70 or 80 harpers! Sitting at the back in the “naughty boys” row, playing the easier parts – but it’s good fun to have the lever harp back in action again. I have some plans to make some tweaks to it in the New Year ….

Harps of Gold rehearsal
There are a lot of members of the Edinburgh Branch of the Clarsach Society

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Here’s the kontrabasharpa with its new tailpiece. I think it looks somewhat smarter than it did before.

Many thanks to lots of people for useful suggestions: Boris Koller, Kjell Lundvall, Magnus Holmström and Bo Nilsson. What’s not obvious: the tailpiece has a removable extension so it will go in the box, and the drone string is gut – an ancient violin D string from my youth, that cost me 2/3 or 2s 3d (that’s two shillings and threepence in old money), or about 11p in today’s coinage , and there is a very thin leather strip on the keybox to reduce key rattle.

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A great day with the nyckelharpa at the Scots Fiddle Festival. I played a couple of hour or so sessions in the cafĂ©, one when I arrived that attracted two or three fiddlers and a mandolin, and another later in the afternoon with people from the Edinburgh Scandi Sesssion. Several of Vicki‘s IKEA-style nyckelharpa information leaflets were also given out to interested people in the cafĂ©.
I also enjoyed several of the recitals: Mairi Thérèse Gilfedder, OBT (Tom Oakes, Jon Bews and Daniel Thorpe) and Carly Blain. All truly excellent.

OBT playing to a packed audience!! ?

Posted by Scots Fiddle Festival on Saturday, 18 November 2017

Not difficult to spot me in the audience! (until the link breaks …)

The Fiddle Festival starts! Chris came over from the west and came to the opening concert with us; we went to the Southern Bar in Edinburgh to eat, and they had reserved the table in a rather grand way! The concert was excellent – Snuffbox supporting Graham Mackenzie and his band. We had heard both Charlie Stewart (Snuffbox fiddler) and Graham Mackenzie before at the Young Traditional Musician of the Year concerts at Celtic Connections over the years.

An appropriate bottle label!


I had to take all the strings of the kontrabasharpa off, of course, to fit the new tailpiece. This gave me the opportunity to do other little jobs. I wanted to stain the tailpiece black, and thought it would also look quite good if the keybox sides are also stained. I also added a thin strip of fine leather (thanks Kjell Lundvall!) on one of the key retaining strips, to help prevent key rattle. This image also shows the tailpiece extension added, to give a longer rest for the elbow. It’s an extension because a long tailpiece won’t fit in the box I use! Thanks Magnus Holmström for this suggestion, and also for tricks on how to set up the keys properly.

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I have been refurbishing my clarsach (lever harp), built (by me – of course ) in 1984. The neck and pillar are oak from my granny’s old wardrobe. Originally it had semitone hooks, but I mostly replaced these with levers a few years ago; I have been adding a few more, and replacing some damaged strings. This is in preparation for playing with the Edinburgh branch of the Clarsach Society in a few weeks’ time – I’ve never done it before so it should be fun. I’ll sit with the beginners at the back!

31 string lever harp

Here’s a close-up of the soundboard decoration, which is pokerwork done with a fine tipped soldering iron:

soundboard pokerwork

My harps are described on the archive site on John’s harp page.