What is the Difference Between a Harp Luthier and a Woodworker?
A luthier, a builder of stringed instruments, is schooled in and experienced in bringing out the voice in woods. A fine woodworker focuses on bringing out the appeal in woods in a variety of forms. Both craftsmen can create an object of beauty but there are fundamental differences between an instrument built by a skilled luthier and that made by a fine woodworker.
1. Voice – For a fine woodworker, it isn't all that hard to put a harp together but just as with all craft, luthiers spend years mastering the subtle details which give a harp a voice with volume, color, clarity and balance.
2. Mechanical Integrity – The soundboard of a large harp will often have well over 1000 lbs. of string pressure, essentially, trying to pull the instrument apart. Luthiers understand the mechanical physics of each instrument and the importance of the angles at all the joints. There is much more than art to the building of an instrument. It is the science of the mechanical construction that will determine the lifespan of a piece.
3. Aging – Due in part to both of the above and also to the nature of woods, luthier's instruments improve with time. This is the primary reason for the value of a Stradivarius Violin or an old Martin Guitar. New instruments must have a proper voice and correct mechanical integrity in order to become fine old instruments, but it is the aging itself that is the true measure of a fine instrument.
When purchasing an instrument, it is always essential to understand the skills of the maker. Do not be fooled by instruments, such as some Pakistani Harps, that look lovely today.
William Rees and a handful of other craftsmen and women in fine harp lutheries around the world, are preserving the art and science of luthierie. Your instrument purchase is an investment. Only the talents of a true luthier will preserve the value of that investment.