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Why so many different harps?

There are many different harp types, and even more different musical styles. Even within the European continent and within what we now call the Baroque era, there have been at least three very different types of chromatic harps, each with its own timbre, its own tuning system and its own (im-)possibilities. And that is even without mentioning the diatonic harps, with and without semitone mechanism...

If you want to hear what the music of a certain period, in a certain place, might have sounded like when it was still modern (and, being curious by nature, I want to hear it!), if you want to hear what sound a composer might have had in mind, long ago, then you need a period instrument. 

This can be an original, if you are lucky to find one that is in a playable condition and hasn't been 'restroyed' too badly. My 19th C. pedal harp is an original, but unfortunately she is not in her original condition.

A period instrument can also be a copy of an original. My Gothic harp is an example of this; although it doesn't have all the decorations that are on the original, all its vital statistics (string length, thickness of wood etc.) are as close to the original as one can get.

But sometimes there are no originals left, in which case a maker can design an instrument which 'could have existed', using information from other period instruments, iconography and historical descriptions. My Italian triple harps (arpa doppia) are reconstructions, as the only two surviving instruments of this type are no likely candidates to copy: One (the 'Barberini' harp) is over two metres tall, and was also in its own time an extraordinary instrument, not something that your average harpist would play. The other (the 'Bologna' triple harp) is a monster creation, made out of parts from two different harps which don't fit together well. This means for instance that the string length and the thickness of the soundboard were never meant for each other. If you make an exact copy of this instrument, it won't sound like any of the two originals, of whose parts it was put together, ever could have sounded when they were still intact.

However, even this monster is a great source of organological information, when one is making a reconstruction of an early 17th C. Italian triple harp.