Jamin Wright could make anything out of wood. Harps hit just the right note. | Wender Mind Kids

The Colorado Sun

GRAND JUNCTION — Harps have a reputation that has a lot to do with fat cupids and sophisticated hotel lobbies. Harp music is the soundtrack of Pearly Gates.

But in a metal building tucked between a utility store and a laboratory in Grand Junction’s industrial district, it’s quickly apparent that harps involve a whole lot of down-to-earth work too.

At Blevins Harps Inc., Jamin Wright painstakingly builds harps, ply by ply, string by string and lever by lever.

Each harp takes four to five months from start to finish – from the raw wooden board to the playable instrument. The last two to three weeks of this are used to pluck the same string several times a day to check the sound. Jamin said he usually has around 15 harps in various stages at any one time.

Jamin, 23, is not a harpist. Most harp makers are not. He is a craftsman. He leaves the glissandi—the ethereal sound of fingers gracefully stroking the strings, and the arpeggios—the plucking that creates recognizable melodies—to his mother, Laurie Wright, a harpist and now a partner in this family business.

Laurie, a diminutive harpist (the highest instruments in the shop are almost a foot on her), has been playing with the Grand Junction symphony and teaching harp for decades.

Jamin’s younger sister Malaya, 16, also plays and teaches on her brother’s instruments.

It was Laurie’s idea to buy a harp-making business in order to combine her son and husband Dale’s woodworking skills with her and daughter’s musical talents. Dale also works full-time as a therapist.

The Wrights acquired a business that’s a bit of an outlier in the music world. Only two harp makers are listed in Colorado. Blevins Harps is the largest. Harp maker Dan McCrimmon makes two models of Highland Harps in Fort Collins. According to Harp Wiki, there are fewer than 50 harp makers in the country.

The woodshed was a privilege, not a punishment

Jamin is something of a prodigy in the harp world. He was still a teenager when the Wright family took over the 30-year-old Blevins harp business in 2019 after the founder’s retirement.

Jamin had already worked on the production of high-end cases for several years. Long before that, he had made bows and arrows and other lumber in his family’s garage.

He was such a woodworking enthusiast from an early age that his upbringing was accompanied by a switch to the proverbial “sent to the woods” punishment. Being sent to the woodshed – in his case a garage – was a reward.

“I was homeschooled and was always out in the garage making stuff. I was happy to custom build anything,” he said. “My mom always told me I had to do my homework before I could go to the garage.”

Blevins Harps, which employed 10 harp makers and shipped around 3,200 harps a year around the world, had been closed for a year when Jamin’s parents had the idea of ​​taking it over. Jamin’s first reaction was a resounding “No!”

He envisioned assembling huge, unwieldy symphony instruments with foot pedals. For someone who loves wood, all the mechanization was uninteresting. But folk harps, with their simple beauty, were more fascinating.

Jamin knows that harps are one of the oldest instruments in the world – if not the oldest. They were played in ancient Mesopotamia. They are depicted on the walls of the Egyptian pyramids. David played one for King Saul in biblical accounts.

But while harps are now his livelihood, Jamin is unaware that harps have appeared in recent Latin Grammys or as accompaniments to Lady Gaga or Drake. He’s speechless when he hears that harps have become features of Pornhub soundtracks and TikTok videos. He hasn’t seen the Harp Twins strum Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine while standing on a freeway in metallic bustiers and miniskirts, belying the harp’s prudish reputation.

New hands, old patterns

Most of what Jamin knows about harps has to do with all of their beautiful sweeping curves and resonant bodies. What he produces ranges from delicate 28 inch high lap harps to 5 foot high standing harps. He can make 94 different models that have between 20 and 38 strings made of nylon thread – the longest of them are wire wrapped to prevent sagging. Some of the harps popular today also have two parallel rows of strings.

The patterns for these harps hang on the walls of Blevins Harps. They were designed by previous owner Dwight Blevins. Blevins was a professional recording engineer in Southern California who fell in love with harps through this work and decided to build them.

“Basically, harps are a box with strings on it,” Blevins said.

Harp maker Laurie Wright inspects a double-sided hard shell at the Blevins Harp Factory in Grand Junction. (William Woody, special for The Colorado Sun)

He designed harps under the well-known name of Blevins for 30 years. Along with his wife Cindy, a musician and composer who runs the Blevins music business, he constantly came up with new designs to “get people’s attention”.

One of his signature designs has what he describes as “a blip, curve, or knot” at the center of the harmonic curve – the piece of wood along the top of the harp. The “Blip” looks like a wooden skewer, adding a snappy touch to Blevins’ harp designs.

“I really took something that already existed and modified it. I moved it to the middle of the harmonic curve,” Blevins said.

He gave his harp designs names written in pencil on the stencils Jamin used – Zena, Marie, Eden, Sonata, Meadow Wind and Bourre. In a few months of intensive lessons, he taught Jamin the intricacies of building these different harps.

Jamin makes the harps in more species of wood than could be found in an arborist’s dream forest.

Cherry and walnut are the most popular. A customer asked for a harp made from an apricot tree that she had to cut down. On the shelves along one wall are maple, curly maple, quilted maple, purple heart from South America, spalted pecan and hackberry just waiting to become harps.

Some of the woods have whorls and whorls in the pattern Jamin likes to show off when he laminates multiple layers together to withstand pressures of up to 1,600 pounds on his largest harps.

Woodworker and harp maker Jamin Wright sanding the wood of an unfinished Blevins harp. (William Woody, special for The Colorado Sun)

Then comes the grinding – mostly by hand. Jamin debunks any notion that spending hours grinding by hand is meditative.

“For the first five minutes,” he replies when asked about it. “Then it just gets annoying.”

Once the neck, pillar and sound box are assembled into a wooden triangle, each harp is given six coats of polyurethane coating and in some cases a custom finish. Some of the more recent color requests from harp buyers have included tea green, ballet slipper pink and jelly beans. Some people draw butterflies or flowers on their harp, Laurie said.

One of the final tasks in harp building is the addition of levers — small, gold-plated pieces of metal on the underside of the neck that can change the pitch of the harp’s strings.

Shipped with “Fragile” stickers and a little prayer

Jamin does it all in a store that’s so tidy it might double as an operating room. Drills are lined up on the walls. The drills, the grinders, the band saw, the planer and the planer are all sparkling clean.

“I hate clutter,” explains Jamin.

Pins mark the various locations in Europe to which Blevins Harps were shipped. (William Woody, special for The Colorado Sun)

On a front office wall, a world map is riddled with pins in several places where most of Blevins’ harps land. The Netherlands seems to have been the target of a porcupine. Hong Kong and Japan are covered in pins. Just like Colorado. A single needle punctures Australia.

Most harps are custom made to fill orders for models ranging from $1,500 to $4,000. Many end up being used as ‘therapy’ harps – to provide soothing music to either the harpist or the listeners, some of whom are in hospital or hospice beds. (Although Dale is a therapist, he does not play the therapy harp.)

Before harps leave the door of Blevins Harps, they are carefully wrapped in foam packing materials and crates, which have “Fragile” stickers stuck on them. Jamin admits he “says a little prayer for everyone” knowing all of his work gets slung around in vans and planeloads.

None of Jamin’s harps have ever been damaged in shipping. The angels must listen. After all, these are harps.

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