What Is a Lute Harp?

by Steven J. Miller
Lutes are string instruments that make sound by plucking.

Lutes are string instruments that make sound by plucking.

Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

Having a solid understanding of what a lute harp is will make it possible for you to quickly identify this instrument in a performance. Understanding how it is constructed and its role in music will help you to understand the history and purpose of the lute harp. Spending some time reading about this fascinating instrument will allow you to develop a greater understanding for the lute harp and how this instrument came to be, along with its country of origin.

Folk Instrument

The lute harp falls into the category of string instruments and was used in the Victorian age in small parlors for entertainment and to play popular songs. It was invented in 1798 by Edward Light. The instrument was created to help revive the waning popularity of the guitar in the late 18th century. There were other attempts to make a similar instrument in Germany and France. In Germany, the harp was called a lyra-guitarre. In France, it was called a accord-guitarre.


The lute harp looks like a mixture between a guitar and a harp. The strings on the top resemble the harp, but the strings are attached to a bridge that resembles a guitar's bridge. To create sound, the performer can either use a plectrum or their fingertips to pluck the strings. It has the combined sound of a guitar and harp. The instrument consists of a pear-shaped body, similar to an F-style mandolin. An arm extends along with the neck in a fashion that resembles the pillars of a harp, hence, the name flute harp.


The original strings were manufactured from catgut. While the name catgut brings up imagery of kitty being strung across the instrument, cats were never harmed in the making of lute harps. Catgut more typically refers to the intestines of a sheep or goat. The original instrument consisted of 12 strings. The fingerboard that the strings are strung across had frets just like the modern guitar. These frets made it possible to place the finger in between to shorten the length of the string, thereby changing the pitch. Additionally, the strings were attached to a bridge that had several pedals which could be manipulated by the left hand, similar to the pedals of the harp.

Modern Use

The modern lute harp generally finds its place among Victorian-age musical reenactments and as a hobbyist instrument for playing simple melodies. Modern lute harps are significantly different than the traditional lute harps. While traditional harps only consisted of 12 strings, now it is possible to find lute harps with as many as 22 strings. The modern strings use metal or nylon instead of the traditional animal intestine.


About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

Photo Credits

  • Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images