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Jew's harps found in Badsey

Jews harp
Jew’s harps found in Badsey.

What have we here?

Three strange looking objects found over a period of years from sites in Badsey were scrutinised recently and found to be Jew's Harps or perhaps not so appropriately, since there is no evidence for such an instrument in the Jewish culture, It may once have been a jaw's harp, for it is the jaw that does all the hard work.

The earliest Jew's harp in Europe dates back as far as the 15th Century, but by the earlier 1700s they were being produced in Birmingham by a brass-maker, Walter Tippin; by a cart load a day in 1715. It was a poor man's instrument, a harp with just one string. Made of brass or steel and bent into the rough shape of a keyhole and down the middle a thin tongue of metal, which when plucked with the finger gives the Jew's harp its characteristic twanging sound.

Of all the unconventional instruments introduced into pop music in the Sixties – harpsichord and sitar, dulcimer and mellotron – one of the most unusual is surely the Jew’s harp. “The Who” experimented with it, as did “Black Sabbath” and most gives the Jew’s harp its characteristic twang. Put the whole thing to the lips, and modulate the tone by varying the size of the mouth. As one can still purchase modern versions perhaps one day we will see a member of the Badsey Chordites Ukulele Group using one.

Modern Jews harp
A modern Jew's harp.
Jews harp
Picture painted by Dirck van Baburen in 1631 - Young man with jew's harp.

Peter Stewart, September 2020


Will Dallimore of Badsey Chordites responds:  “Believe it or not a member of the Chordites does have a Jew's harp, me!  I had it as a present for my 70th birthday. It's not my favourite instrument as it needs to be held between the teeth and twanged. You get the same feeling as if someone had rubbed their fingernails down a chalkboard.”