A Little About the Harp Maker

My name is Rob Tompkins and I am the sole proprietor of "Telenn Ar Menez - Mountain Harp". Like many people of my age (hint: old) I first became aware of celtic harps and "celtic" music back in the early 1970's when the manager of a musical recordings store I was working at ordered in an album called "Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique" by Alan Stivell. Upon the first hearing I was mesmerized by the sound of both the wire strung and nylon strung folk harps as played by Stivell. This opened up a world of exploration for me and I gradually became more interested in searching out all kinds of traditional and traditional-inspired music from all the various celtic countries and provinces (Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, and also Galicia and Asturias in Spain).

I purchased a wire strung harp from Jay Witcher in the mid 1970's, although I have to admit I never learned to play it aside from some very simple tunes and chords. A rather interesting instrument to become interested in for someone whose main musical instrument focus was the drum set (although I had taken piano lessons when I was 8-9 years old). Although I never learned to really play the harp, I maintained an interest in searching out players of the instruments over the course of 30 years, when the idea finally popped into my mind to build harps for a living.

Having essentially no woodworking background, I took a one week class in basic woodworking from Alan Mitchell at the Homestead Woodworking School in New Hampshire and found that I really enjoyed using both hand and power tools to fashion wood into something I could use or admire. I then delved into several classes in Fine Woodworking at Santa Fe Community College, New Mexico. There, thanks to the many very talented instructors, I learned the basics necessary to become (with lots of practice) a competent woodworker, while building a couple of my own smaller folk harps. I then took some lutherie courses at the Timeless Instruments school in Tugaske, Saskatchewan.

The harp maker in the shop

In 2006 I had the incredible fortune to be able to work for six months as an assistant to Brandden Lassells of Harps and Harps in West Gosford, New South Wales, Australia. This was where I really learned how to design and build harps, thanks to the graciousness and patience of Brandden, who makes truly fine harps and loves to take on special, one-of-a-kind harp projects. It was amazing to learn so much in such a relatively short time, as Brandden builds many different models of folk/lever harps, but also unique, custom harps and repairs various types of harps. I thus gained exposure to the design and structure of not only various folk/lever harps, but also some basic knowledge of single and double action pedal harps.

After returning to the United States I continued my learning by taking some more fine woodworking classes at Santa Fe Community College, and by building several more harps, refining my knowledge and trying numerous variations of soundboard, shell and stringband design. Finally in late 2013 I built a 36 string nylon harp that satisfied my requirements for a harp that I could be confident of and proud to put out for sale. Nonetheless, I am constantly striving to improve our harps with minor changes here and there to perfect their sound, playability, comfort and looks. I take great pleasure in working to produce a harp that I hope will become a cherished possession of yours.   



Inspiration for Our Company Name and Logo

While I love lots of the traditional and traditional-inspired music from all of the various celtic countries and provinces, there has always been something about the music and musicians of Brittany that has had a special pull on my heart and soul. Perhaps it is because so much of the traditional dance music of Brittany (Breizh in the Breton language) has a rhythmically "primal" feel to it, even if the dance steps are often delicate and refined. I am sure it is also due to the "continental" and world influences that modern day musicians in Brittany bring to their adaptations of Breton musical traditions. This combination of the seemingly very old and primal with the very modern and world-wide cosmopolitan makes the music that comes out of Brittany quite different from that of Ireland and Scotland and, to some degree, the other celtic countries and regions. And when it comes to songs with a truly sad feeling, the Bretons seem to have the other celtic countries and regions beat! I encourage those of you who have not yet explored the treasure trove of Breton music to do so. You will find links to various websites of both organizations and musical artists from Brittany (and elsewhere) on the "Links" page.


Our logo contains two very Breton elements in it: the ermine or stoat (a short-tailed weasel) which has been a symbol of Brittany since the time of Anna Vreizh (Queen Anne of Brittany), and the ermine heraldic symbols placed on either side of the logo. In addition, I have a love of the mountainous regions of Brittany (and I love living in the mountains here in the United States). While Brittany certainly does not have high mountains (many would call them hills), the mountain regions of Brittany have a character different from that of the "Ar Mor" or the areas near the sea. It is in the interior "Ar Goat" or wooded lands in the mountainous regions of lower Brittany (Breiz Izel) that the Breton language (Brezhoneg) still survives as a language used everyday within some families. I try to contribute some money to the Diwan school system in Brittany each year to help the Breton people in their uphill struggle against the indifference and sometimes hostile attitude of the central French government towards the survival and widespread usage of the Breton language (and other, indigenous, "minority" languages in France) in all facets of social and commercial life. I hope you will take some time to become aware of this situation and the history of this amazing, little celtic region.