To amplify or not to amplify—that is the question

There are several aspects to consider when deciding on your harp amplification… Where will I be playing? How large or small is my audience? How will I transport the equipment? What depth or quality of sound do I want to project? If you do decide you want or need amplification, the next decision will be how to amplify your harp. Understanding the equipment used in harp amplification is the first step in your decision making process.

What are the various components of an amplification system?

  • Pickup: a microphone or transducer that transitions the mechanical vibration of the strings into electrical signals that allows for magnification of sound.
  • Jack: (often referred to as a ¼” jack) the interface or metallic hole mounted in your harp. This is where the amplifier’s cable is plugged into the harp.
  • Cable: allows for the transmission of electrical signals to your amplifying device.
  • Preamplifier: an electronic amplifier(amp) that magnifies the weak electrical signal and makes it stronger, allowing for further electronic processing though a powered amp to the speaker output.
  • Equalizer: an electronic piece of equipment that allows for the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components within an electronic signal. This device gives the player the ability to “boost” or “cut” the energy of specific frequency bands.
  • Compressor: an optional device that allows you to compress the audio signal, reducing loud sounds and magnifying softer sounds.
  • Amplifier (Amp): an electronic device that processes the electrical signal and amplifies the sound output. This device is then connected to a speaker, either contained in the device or separated and connected by cables.
  • Speaker: (technical referred to as electroacoustic transducer) a device that converts electrical audio signals into a correlative sound. The most widely used type is a dynamic speaker.

How the amplification system works together

Now that we have defined all the various elements of amplification, we can look at how the system works together. First, the pickup is mounted inside the harp, which leads to a jack. The jack is usually mounted on the side or back of the harp. Next, a cable is plugged into the jack. The cable leads to an amp, and then connects to a speaker(s). If you are recording, or need to further modulate the sound, you could add a preamp and compressor between the jack and the amp itself, before leading to the speaker output. At Heartland Harps, we currently offer a Fishman pickup—direct single transducer with a ¼” jack—as an upgrade on all our carbon fiber lever and pedal harp models.

What equipment is best?

The question of which equipment and/or brand is best comes down to individual preference and personal experience. The player may decide to amplify their harp for many different purposes. They may want to play at an outdoor gathering, an indoor music event, or with an orchestra where they would like the voice of their instrument heard at a louder volume. In the end, it is up to the individual player on how and with what they would like to amplify their harp. Quality, features, and price are all factors to consider. An amplification specialist at your local music store can often help you decide what equipment is best, based on your needs.

The future of amplification

There are a myriad of new and emerging technologies in the field of amplification (including 3D audio effect), which are ever-improving the player and listener experience. Here at Heartland, we are keeping our finger on the pulse of this technology and it is our goal to evolve our offerings to meet new demands for improved amplification. With this in mind, you will want to stay tuned for future articles on the subject of harp amplification.