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Deagan Vibraharps 


The musical instrument  known as the "vibraphone" was first marketed by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States in 1921. However, this instrument differed in significant details from the instrument now called the vibraphone. The vibraharp (Deagan) or vibraphone (Leedy) evolved in differing designs under the creative influence of two inventive and prolific German instrument designers employed by competing percussion instrument manufacturers.

In 1916, Herman Winterhoff of the Leedy Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis experimented with a variety of motor-mechanical arrangements in his search for a vox humana or tremolo effect from the bars of a three-octave F-F steel marimba, a novelty vaudeville instrument with thin, steel tone bars mounted to the keybed on tapered felt strips. He succeeded in 1922 by mounting a motor on the frame at the narrow end beneath the bars to drive dual shafts fitted with metal discs centered in the tops of each resonator tube. As the discs (pulsators) revolved in the resonator columns under sounding bars, a tonal phase shift was created resembling a vibrato.

The Leedy vibraphone achieved a degree of popularity after it was used in the novelty recordings of "Aloha 'Oe" and "Gypsy Love Song" by vaudeville performer Louis Frank Chiha ("Signor Frisco"). This popularity led J. C. Deagan, Inc. in 1927 to ask its Chief Engineer, Henry J. Schluter, to develop a similar instrument. Schluter's design introduced several significant improvements: making the bars from aluminum instead of steel for a more "mellow" basic tone; harmonic tuning which adjustmented the dimensions and tuning of the bars to eliminate the dissonant harmonics present in the Leedy design; and the introduction of a damper bar controlled by a foot pedal, enabling it to be played with more expression.

The design drew on the earlier Deagan aluminum bar song bells and he large pipe organ vibrato-harps, hence the chosen name for the instrument, "vibraharp". J. C. Deagan is reported to have been somewhat dubious about the sales potential of the mellow sounding instrument in an age of crips and robust mallet instrument sounds. Nevertheless, he approved the new instrument and it ws put into productoin as the Model 145, the first musical instrument of complete American conception and the predecessor of all vibraphone models yet to come.

The new Deagan vibraharp was first heard on a radio broadcast over station WLS Chicago in the fall of 1927 when ace drummer Roy Knapp and the Chicago Little Symphony played a solo arrangement of Mother Machree with string accompaniment. By the time the first promotional flyer on the vibraharp was completed in 1928, a number of percussionists were already featuring "the new sensation in tone" (as it was advertised) in their musical groups. This was at a time when recording, broadcast and dance bands were seeking distinctive sounds in their arrangements and instrumentation. The impact of the vibraharp on the musical world was commencing.


Deagan Vibraharps (arranged by dates)

Instrument Model Number Name Octaves & Range Bar Size Date Built Notes
Vibraharp 145 Concert 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1927-39 First vibraharp 
Vibraharp 145B Concert 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1927-39 Brass resonators
Vibraharp 145C Concert 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1928-39 Walnut frame, chrome resonators 
Vibraharp 143 Radio 2.5 C-F 1 1/2-1 1/4x1/2  1929-39  
Vibraharp 144 Radio 3 C-C 1 1/2-1 1/4x1/2   1929-39 Soprano Vibe
Vibraharp 147 Drummer Portable 2.5 F-C 1 1/4x1/2  1932-35 In case 
Vibraharp n/a King George 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1930 1 built for Lionel Hampton
Vibraharp 55 Imperial 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1937-42 Gold bars, bronze frame 
Vibraharp 55A Imperial 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2   1937-42 Gold bars, black frame 
Vibraharp 30 30-W 2.5 C-F 1 1/4x1/2  1938-42 Wheels 
Vibraharp 35 Mercury 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1938-42  
Vibraharp 45 Diana 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1940-42 Gold bars, bronze frame
Vibraharp 45A Diana 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1940-42 Natural finish aluminum bars, black frame
Vibraharp 35 Rondo 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2   1945-47 Mercury renamed
Vibraharp 48 Serenata 3 F-F 2-1/2x1/2  1946-48 Gold bars 
Vibraharp 555 Presto 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1946-49  
Vibraharp 584 Nocturne 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1947-48 Natural finish aluminum bars 
Vibraharp 585 Nocturne 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1948-50 Gold bars 
Vibraharp 590 Imperial Nocturne  3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2 1950-56 Gold bars 
Vibraharp 510 Performer 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1950-62  
Vibraharp 505 Comet 2.5 C-F 1 1/4x1/2  1952-54 Student  
Vibraharp 580 Traveller 3 F-F 1 1/2x1/2  1956-62  
Vibraharp 1000 Aurora 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1956-64 Gold bars & resonators 
Vibraharp 511 Performer 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1962-64 Similar to 510, bar finish change  
Vibraharp 581 Traveller 3 F-F 1 1/2x1/2  1962-64 Similar to 580, bar finish change 
Vibraharp 1100 Aurora II 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1964-75 Similar to 1000, design change 
Vibraharp 512 Performer 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2   1964-76 Similar to 511, design change 
Vibraharp 582 Traveller 3 F-F 1 1/2x1/2   1964-76 Similar to 581, design change 
Vibraharp 592 Commander 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1965-76 Portable, Similar to Musser M55 
Vibraharp 515 ElectraVibe 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1970-82 Electronic, no resonators, in case 
Vibraharp V-82 Statesman 3 F-F 1 1/2 x 1/2  1971-76 Similar to 582, by Slingerland
Vibraharp V-92 Royal 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2   1971-76 Similar to 592, by Slingerland 
Vibraharp V-110 Granada 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2   1971-76 Similar to 1100, by Slingerland
Vibraharp 1103 Aurora II 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1975- Similar to 1100, motor change
Vibraharp 513 Performer 3 F-F 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2    1976- Similar to 512, motor change 
Vibraharp 583 Traveller 3 F-F 1 1/2x1/2   1976- Similar to 582, motor change 
Vibraharp 593 Commander 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2    1976- Similar to 592, design change 
Vibraharp 594 Commander II 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2    1976- Amplified deagan pickups 
Vibraharp 598 Innovator IV 4 C-C 1 1/2 x 1/2  1976-77 First 4 octave, amplified  
Vibraharp V-83 Statesman 3 F-F 1 1/2x1/2    1976-77 Similar to 583, by Slingerland 
Vibraharp V-93 Royal 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1976-77 Similar to 593, by Slingerland 
Vibraharp V-103 Granada 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1976-77 Similar to 1103, by Slingerland 
Vibraharp 596 Norvo Commander 3 F-F 2-1 1/2x1/2  1976-79 Similar to 594, no motor or pulsators 
Vibraharp 578 Marching Vibes 2 1/6 F-G 1 3/8-1 1/4x1/2  1978-  

 



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