What’s the difference between a lever harp and a concert or pedal harp?

One common question budding harpist often ask is about the difference between lever or celtic harps and pedal or concert harps (these also sometimes are called classical harps). Although the technique of playing both harps is pretty much the same, they have a lot between them in terms of their size, expense, and versatility.

To find out more you can watch Allan talk you through some of the main differences by watching the video on the right or reading more and checking out the chart below.

For more info on buying a harp you can check out our useful guide here.

Celtic and concert pedal harp comparison

If you are searching for harps, the first difference you will notice between lever and concert harps is the price. In construction terms it’s similar to the difference between a bicycle and a car. Concert harps are vastly more complex than lever harps and so come with a higher price tag.

Lever harps usually have between 22 and 36 strings and are usually smaller in size. Some 36 string harps can sometimes approach the height of a concert harp but there are big variations in height and size. Concert harps usually have 47-48 strings so have an extended bass end. They are bigger, taller, heavier and so not very suitable for young children to play.

Other than size, cost and amount of strings, the principle difference between the two types of harp comes down to their chromatic flexibility.

Lever harps are diatonic which means they are only able to play in a limited number of key signatures. Key changes are done buy using the semitone levers. If you tune a harp in Eb you can access 14 keys but modulating in the middle of a piece is very tricky and due to this and the limited number of keys, the range of repertoire (particularly classical) is more limited.

Concert harps on the other hand are fully chromatic and can access the full range of keys. This is done by using pedals located at the bottom rear of the harp. This allows harpists to change keys and use accidentals in the middle of pieces. Concert harps can play full the full classical repertoire.

Concert harp disks and pedals

Pedals located at the back of a concert harp change can sharpen or flatten many strings simultaneously

Harp Comparison Chart

Lever / Celtic Harp  Concert / Pedal Harp
No. Of Strings 22-36 47-48
Weight 6kgs-15kgs 35-40kgs
Cost Difficult to generalise due to size but £400-£5k. Usually start at around £6k and up to £60k+.
Sound Can sound quite full but usually more limited bass end. More bass and low end due to extended range.
Repertoire Able to play many genres but only a limited classical reportoire due to the limited number of available keys and difficulty of modulation. Able to play full classcial repertoire and any other genre due to being fully chromatic and able to modulate.
Portability Quite easy to move around by hand. Bigger, heavier and more awkward to transport. Trolley needed.