About a month ago, I purchased a lyre harp on eBay to use with my Melodie costume. I was a percussionist in school, so I really have very little experience with stringed instruments. Despite that, I was confident that I would at lest be able to pick out a few simple tunes on a harp, and I took the plunge to purchase one for this outfit.
It’s really been something of an experience. And not a very positive one.
The harp I purchased is beautiful. I found it for a great price and, because of that, I was willing to pay the slightly higher shipping fee to get it here. The harp was being sold and shipped from Pakistan. I have no problem with buying international. In fact, a number of my eBay purchases over the years have been from Asia and Europe, and I’ve always found the vast majority of them to be friendly, helpful, and offer great service. I’ve never bought from the Middle East before, but I think I’m going to think twice about doing so ever again!
First of all, the shipping was a disaster. The seller didn’t offer Paypal as a primary option, but rather instructed the buyer to specially request a Paypal invoice. To do that, they wanted the seller to use this strange online pay site, CCNow, to make the payment. I was hesitant about this, since I had never heard of the site. But I finally gave in to buying through here, giving SPECIFIC instructions in the special instructions note to send it to Griswold’s address in Stratford, CT. When I hit submit, it essentially bounced me over to Paypal (for some reason), so I could finish my transaction there. In doing so, I forgot to change the shipping address in Paypal to reflect Griswold’s new address, and instead put down his old one, in Bridgeport, CT. That didn’t worry me too much, since I had remembered to put in the instructions of sending it to the new one.
Well, lo and behold, after two weeks and tracking it online, the harp made it to the U.S. and found itself stuck in Bridgeport. Obviously, the attempts to “deliver” this item were useless, since there was no one there to get them. And that’s when it got very ridiculous. I tried to contact USPS to get the shipping address changed to the Stratford one. The first time they did this, they said they would change it. Apparently, that didn’t happen. When I called them the next time, they said that it hadn’t forwarded and that they were going to open up a claim number for it. Then, I found out that they should NOT have opened up a claim on an International parcel, and it turned into a whole big to do with USPS basically telling me that I had to contact Connecticut Consumer Affairs to get this resolved. Well, Consumer Affairs apparently never picks up their phone.
In the meantime, Griswold had been getting numerous calls to pick up the package in Stratford. However, when he went to do so (at two different post offices), they had no idea what he was talking about, and apparently he found out that the manager had a “habit” of calling people on parcels they didn’t have.
Finally, I got through to USPS one more time and actually got someone useful on the phone who could not only tell me exactly which post office my harp had ended up at, but also gave me a phone number and business hours I could call.
So after work, I sit in my car and call the Bridgeport post office. First, I get this very nice man on the phone who personally goes in the back to check for it and is very sorry that I’m having such problems. He comes back and is very worried that it might have been sent back to its country of origin: Pakistan. He says he’ll try one more place…
I wait a little longer, and suddenly this very “official” sounding man gets on the phone, and asks me what he can do for me, sounding very annoyed. I give him my tracking number and he confirms that the package is there however:
Man: *nasty* You realize it’s ILLEGAL to import tobacco from other countries, right?
Me: *silence, then indignant* It’s not tobacco!
Man: *clearly not listening* But it’s ILLEGAL to import tobacco. That’s a federal offense.
Me: *getting mad* It is NOT tobacco! It’s a musical instrument! It’s a very DELICATE musical instrument that has been sitting in your post office for the past two weeks and I’m very worried that it’s been crushed or harmed!
Man: I see.
Me: But it’s there? I mean, you’ve actually SEEN it and can verify that it’s there?
Me: When will it be sent back?
Man: We should have sent it back already. But we’ll hold it for you in our post office until Saturday ma’am.
Ah, government employees…
So not only was I pretty annoyed at this point about being accused to importing tobacco, but I was also getting a little concerned about WHY they would think that.
Finally, I managed to get up to Connecticut this weekend and go with Griswold to track this package down. After waiting online on a Saturday morning for half an hour, we finally got up to the counter and explained the situation. Scarily enough, the woman knew exactly which package we were talking about (I get this thing’s reputation preceded it). She went in the back, and when she brought it out I was happy to see that at least it was “harp sized”.
The box was wrapped in a muslin sheet, stitched together at the ends, and sealed with wax. I could see why it might be construed as suspicious. Luckily, the woman didn’t give us any trouble, and we were finally able to rescue it from the post office.
Hooray, a happy ending! Right? No. We got it back to Griswold’s apartment and I opened it. I have to admit: It is a lovely harp. However, it looks nothing like the original picture (there is no Celtic knotwork). And, for about an hour’s worth of work, the harp’s strings won’t hold a solid pitch for anything. I have experience in tuning, from working with timpani and such, and I should not have had so many issues with this. Using the tuning key, I started from the lowest note and tried to work my way up. But each time I would tune the next string, the previous one would become out of tune. I tried it from the top down, and the same thing happened. Some of the tuning pegs (there are 10 strings in total) aren’t even able to be turned by the tuning key, so I tried tuning around that note, to no avail.
So now, though the lyre harp is home, I have to take it to a music store and see if it can be salvaged. I may not actually know how to play a harp, but it’s no excuse for not being able to via tuning. That’s rather unacceptable for a brand new instrument. Especially a brand new instrument that retails for between $70 and $120, depending one where you get it. It was rather disappointing.
I was a good sport and gave the seller a “positive” rating on eBay, though the experience was awful. But I think that was rather generous. I’ll be pretty annoyed if it costs more to fix that harp than it cost to buy it. And I’m fairly certain I will never order from the Middle East again.
I won’t post flames in this post specifically, however if you or someone you know is thinking of buying a harp like this on eBay, feel free to message me if you’d like the name of the seller I had so much trouble with. It might not be worth it.