I agree with everything said here, including getting at least 28 strings to allow for accompaniment of melodies - my 34 string is a good size to learn on. I basically have taught myself to play the harp but I regret not having a teacher, because now I realise I have gone the long way around to get to a level of playing which is still only very basic.
There were no teachers here when I first started in 1980, and there are no folk harp teachers here now, although I did have some lessons for a while, about 10 years ago. I didn't practise at all, so I wasted the lessons in one sense, but I stored the information up for later reference when I started to understand the process more.
Now, if I could find a teacher I would be really happy.
Getting the right hand positions, and using the most effective finger-placement makes a lot of difference, and getting into the right habits from the start is really important, so that you don't have to break bad habits and relearn good ones. It is all to do with getting the best sound out of the harp, and making it easier to play and memorise tunes in a logical way.
There is an e-mail based
It is a wonderful international community, much like Mudcat, and a great place to ask questions and meet up (cyberly speaking, and in the real world) with other harp players.
I agree with leeneia too, that it would help to try out a harp, but it also helps to try out lots of harps before you buy one so that you can hear the difference and find one that you really like. There is a lot of variation between them, and the way they are constructed is important.
Ask around and find one which other harp players recommend, and definitely don't fall for the ones built by those type of amateurs *who haven't done their homework* (although some amateurs do do it right). Some people look at a harp and say "I can build one of those" but they don't understand 1) the dyanmics of the harmonic curve, i.e. the best string lengths and gauges to get the best sound, and 2) that there is a huge amount of pressure on a tiny wooden construction, so the harp has to be able to withstand that pressure properly.
So, what I am saying is to try to resist this condition you have contracted, which is commonly referred to as "harplust", so that you can buy once and get the right one. It's a big expense and it is better to get a good one to start with than one you want to get rid of later. Also check out the harp kits, available in various stages of completion, from the plans only, right up to the constructed but not lacquered stage.
I am really happy with the Cambria 34 string which an instrument maker friend of mine made from plans. The design is based around the best string lengths and gauges.
Helen (in Oz)