Wheelharp – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is a Wheelharp?

A Wheelharp is a unique musical instrument that produces sound by bowing strings with a spinning wheel. It is a keyboard-operated instrument that allows the player to create a wide range of sounds similar to a string orchestra. The Wheelharp combines the mechanics of a hurdy-gurdy with the keyboard layout of a piano, making it a versatile and innovative instrument.

How does a Wheelharp work?

The Wheelharp consists of a series of strings that are attached to a rotating wheel. When a key on the keyboard is pressed, a mechanism activates the corresponding string to be bowed by the spinning wheel. The player can control the pitch and volume of the sound by pressing different keys on the keyboard.

The spinning wheel creates a continuous bowing motion on the strings, producing a sustained sound similar to that of a string instrument. The player can also manipulate the speed of the wheel to create different effects and textures in the music.

History of the Wheelharp

The Wheelharp was invented by Jon Jones, a musician and inventor from Nashville, Tennessee. Jones was inspired by the sound of string orchestras and wanted to create a way for a single player to replicate that sound. He spent years developing and perfecting the design of the Wheelharp before introducing it to the public.

The Wheelharp made its debut in 2013 and quickly gained popularity among musicians and composers looking for a unique and innovative instrument. It has since been used in a variety of musical genres, from classical to contemporary, and has been featured in concerts, recordings, and film scores.

Types of Wheelharps

There are several different types of Wheelharps available, each with its own unique features and capabilities. The most common type is the standard Wheelharp, which features a range of strings and keys that allow the player to create a wide variety of sounds.

There are also electric Wheelharps that incorporate electronic components to enhance the sound and performance capabilities of the instrument. These electric Wheelharps can be connected to amplifiers and effects pedals to create even more dynamic and expressive sounds.

In addition, there are custom-built Wheelharps that are designed to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual musicians. These custom Wheelharps can be tailored to suit different playing styles, genres, and performance settings.

Notable musicians who use the Wheelharp

Several notable musicians have embraced the Wheelharp and incorporated it into their music. One such musician is composer and multi-instrumentalist Björk, who used the Wheelharp on her 2015 album “Vulnicura.” The haunting and ethereal sound of the Wheelharp added a unique texture to Björk’s music and helped to create a distinct atmosphere on the album.

Another musician who has embraced the Wheelharp is film composer Danny Elfman, known for his work on films such as “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Elfman has used the Wheelharp in several of his film scores to create eerie and otherworldly soundscapes that enhance the visual storytelling on screen.

Overall, the Wheelharp has become a popular and versatile instrument that is used by musicians in a variety of genres and settings. Its unique sound and innovative design make it a valuable addition to any musical ensemble or recording project.