Museum of Ancient Inventions: Frame Harp

Frame Harp, Greece, 400 CE

The frame harp of the fourth and fifth centuries had an arched sound box and a post for support on the open ends and was played resting on the left knee while the player was seated. It was designed having between nine and eleven strings and so that the left hand stroked the farther, longer strings while the right plucked the closer, shorter ones. Decoration varied widely: a harp might be covered with ornate drawings of animals or it might be plain and almost bare. Since the harps were of wood, all that remains of them are drawings on ancient Greek vases. From these we can tell that the kollopes, or tuning pegs, were usually located either on the base of the harp, sometimes with an extra base to prevent interference with the lap while playing, or on the neck.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Meredith Walsh ’00

The harp shown here is a frame harp with a post and an arched sound box. The entire instrument is made of oak, its eleven strings tied at the top and wound around tuning pegs at the base. The strings are made of fishing wire that is appropriate for catching sharks. The only decoration is the supportive post which was turned on a lathe. The neck is of solid wood and the hollow sound box is at the top of the arch with a hole beneath the arch to emit the sound. In order to get the desired bend in the wood for the arched sound box, striations were carved into the wood strips, which in turn were steamed, then shaped and clamped into place. The bridges at the top and bottom are not secured to the frame in order to allow adjustment of sound quality.

Sources, Resources and Links

Maas, Martha and Jane McIntosh Snyder. Stringed Instruments of Ancient Greece. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989.

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Musical Instruments
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