First pedal harp – L&H, Pilgrim or Aoyama?

  • Participant
    bunnyandco on #251869

    Hi all,

    I am an UK-based amateur harpist new to this forum, and I need some advice re buying my first pedal harp!

    A short background about myself: I started learning harp at school around 10 years ago but stopped about 5 years ago as I frequently relocate for study/work. I have recently settled down (at least for the next few years) so am now in a position to start playing again! I have always been learning with pedal, but have never owned one as I used to have good access to practice rooms.

    I am working with a budget of £15k, but can push it to no more than 20k for a L&H concert grand. I should add that I am a petite harpist and the harp probably will be played exclusively in my tiny living room. But ideally I would still like to have a harp with 46/47 strings and extended soundboard.

    With these considerations above in mind, I am currently looking at the following models:
    L&H – Chicago Concertino/ CG Extended or Style 85E
    Pilgrim – The Malvern or The Aldeburgh
    Aoyama – Orpheus 47 or Vega 46 or Amphion 47

    Sound wise, I am most fond of L&H (as my teacher had an amazing sounding Style 30), but the unfavourable exchange rate means that I have very limited choices within my budget. I have also read mixed reviews about the Chicago line: I read that their bodies are constructed with a 3-rail instead of 4-rail solid body procedure, which makes their tone not as full and resonant (?). While Salvi is more readily available in the UK (esp second hand ones), I am not particularly keen, as unfortunately I don’t like the sound of Daphne (I used to practise mainly with 40 and 47S) and their professional range felt overwhelming on my shoulder.

    Price wise, I think Pilgrim and Aoyama are much more affordable. My high school had a Malvern (extended) that I used for practicing as well as my Grade 5 exam. The harp felt right on my shoulder and it had the depth and resonance that I look for in a harp (though I still prefer the Style 30…). Another good thing about Pilgrim is that it’s UK-based, so maybe I can pick my harp from their workshop (?)

    I visited an Aoyama showroom in Tokyo 10 years ago and their harps had a very unique sound that reminds me of oriental instruments like Koto and Guqin. As my first harp I am not sure the sound will limit my choice of music (I have heard that it doesn’t sound as good for classical repertoire). Also I tried their Princess Sakura which was SO pretty, but even as a petite harpist I found the harp too light on my shoulder which felt a bit weird, probably because I was not used to it. I have not tried either Orpheus, Vega or Amphion though so would appreciate any reviews from owners or people who have tried it!

    I have read other threads on this forum and the general advice seems to be to try out as many harp as possible, as even two same model harps won’t have the same sound. I am planning to do that, but I realised there are things that I can’t figure out by just trying harps in a showroom, specifically

    1) Sound projection: Which harp projects best in a tiny apartment? My living room is around 3mx4m with normal ceiling height.
    2) Serving and maintenance: It won’t be a problem while I am in the UK, but I may relocate back to Asia at some point, in that case I don’t know if it will be difficult to service/repair a Pilgrim (or even a L&H if I need major repair)?
    3) Value retention: Which harp(s) holds value better? I am hoping to play this harp for at least 5-10 years, but a long way down the road maybe I will sell to upgrade/relocate so value retention is a consideration too.
    4) I think harp generally takes a while to resell, so to speed up the selling process I hope my harp will appeal to both students and professionals. This is not a major consideration though.

    Thank you in advance for reading my post – I know it’s a very long one but pedal harp is a big purchase for me so any advice is much appreciated!

    Participant
    karen on #251912

    A first pedal harp is so exciting…congratulations. I had an 85E as my first pedal harp (kept it for 3 years and then got my dream harp a bird’s eye maple L&H 23 that had the exact tone I wanted. I did not know what tone I wanted for my first pedal harp, but I was crystal clear on my second (last?) harp. It might be helpful to understand that an 85E or even an 85CG will not sound like a 30, and a 30 won’t sound like a 100, so do not base your purchase on the sound of your teacher’s harp. Also, know that the Chicago series is essentially L&H’s student harp series–they use less quality wood, cheaper components, and not made with the same craftsmanship et–there is a reason they cost less. A Chicago series will never sound like or feel like a Professional series harp…it’s can’t. That said, I have heard decent sounding Chicago series harps, but understand that they are their low end series. You might find a great used L&H for the amount you are considering spending—people buy harps and then change their minds, etc. Worth looking. I went to the factory in Chicago and played several harps–they truly each have their own sound. I left Chicago without buying a harp–none of them were “the one”. If you want a particular sound and feel, you truly need to play the harp before making the purchase. Michelle Abbot at Vanderbilt harps has a great, slightly used Salvi Iris that sounds more like a L&H than a Salvi—it has incredible sound. Consider contacting her…she ships harps all over the world all the time.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by karen.
    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by karen.
    Participant
    billooms on #251916

    My first pedal harp was a Chicago Petite 40. After 3 years, I upgraded to an 85CG. I went to the factory in Chicago and played a wide range of harps in the “under $30K” price range. There is a definite difference in the construction and sound as soon as you get into the “professional” harps. To my ear there was a big difference between the 85E and the 85CG harps that I played. As Karen said, the Chicago series is made quite different from the professional series. When I was there (June 2019) the price difference between an 85E and an 85CG was only $2000 (and well worth the extra).
    Definitely look for a low mileage used harp that you can play in person.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #251918

    Hi bunnyandco- I happen to have a Lyon & Healy style 11 for sale at the moment. If you contact me privately, I can send you pictures, a sound clip, and other information. My email address is: swansonharp@gmail.com

    Participant
    Tacye on #251940

    When I looked into importing a pedal harp to the UK it didn’t come out as attractive as it seemed at first glance – there are a good range of options in the UK.

    I suggest you look at the harp which you like, now. Rather than trying to establish the hypothetical market for reselling it in a decade’s time and in Asia or maybe the UK. Though as a general rule, buying a well chosen second hand harp is a good way to get a good resale return. But that limits your choice to what is available. I see Pilgrim now have a stockist in Beijing.

    I find the Sakura I tried very different from Aoyama’s cheaper models and sadly I liked the Sakura much more – harp makers often do that to me and make the ones I like more expensive up until the price is because of gilding and carving.

    The important thing is to choose a harp you like – there are lots of good choices and you have a realistic budget but different people have different preferences.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #251962

    An 85E strikes as the best choice for your price range. You could go smaller for a 15 if you are willing to give up the extended soundboard. The Chicago harps are a budget line meant for students.

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #251981

    I would try to play as many harps as possible before you make your actual purchase. Have you also considered Camac? Don’t leave any stone unturned, as they say! Happy harp hunting!

    Best wishes,
    Balfour

    Participant
    Philippa mcauliffe on #252012

    I agree with Balfour – you should try everything available and if you cant get to one then delegate the trying to someone you trust to send you recordings. I would not ignore Salvi or Camac either – the second hand market is not enormous in most places so just try everything possible. Nothing should really feel heavy on you if you are positioned properly as all harps have a weightless balance point. I did have trouble getting my arms around an Apollo when I was ten while reaching the pedals but it wasn’t heavy! I have tried shockers of all the harps mentioned and good ones too. Well, not a great Chicago but a reasonable one. If its a nice harp in good condition and you maintain it you should be able to sell it again OK. I would have a chat to people about what the tech position is wherever you end up – what harps they can work on and who visits from overseas and how often. But in most places you have to be able to work on it yourself at least to some extent. With help from books and online.

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