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Refinement of gold 23 construction vs natural?

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  • #274400
    Gregg Bailey
    Participant

    I’m curious about something. I think I’ve read that there is noticeable variation in quality even in some new L&H natural 23s and that they can end up being “duds” as far as the acoustic resonance, especially when compared to some better new 23’s. When it comes to the new gold-gilded ones, I’m wanting to know if a 23 has to meet an even higher standard of refinement, sound, and construction in order for L&H to select it for gold-gilding, or do they just randomly select one of their natural 23s for the gold? In other words, when purchasing a new gold 23, is the gilding the only thing you get beyond a natural 23, or does a gold one stand a better chance of sounding good and having supreme construction because of even tighter quality control when selecting it for gilding? Or does a new gold 23 have just as much chance of having relatively poor resonance even in the long-run as the chance that a new natural 23 has? I could ask L&H this directly, but I wanted to first see what people on the forum would have to say about this. Obviously, a new one won’t have the resonance of one which has more volume in the soundbox from the soundboard pulling up over time, if I understand correctly. In fact, do any new harps sound as good as ones a few years old of the same model?

    #274401
    balfour-knight
    Participant

    Hi, Gregg,

    I hope some L&H #23 harp owners will respond to this thread. I have seen and played many good ones, and of course, some not-so-good ones! One problem I have seen pretty regularly, is warped necks after just a few years of use, including the Gold ones. My opinion is that since they are so expensive, I would expect great longevity, without the need for major rebuilding after just a short time.

    In response to your question “do any new harps sound as good as ones a few years old of the same model” I would have to say, my beautiful Camac Atlantide Prestige sounded as wonderful on the day I acquired her as she does now, more than four years later. I do not have to work as hard to get a big, full sound out of this harp as I have to do when playing any L&H 23. Also, the lower shoulder end, the extra space for the RH in the treble, and the fanning out of those treble strings, all make for a much more comfortable, rewarding experience when I play this harp for hours and hours. I also have never experienced the gorgeous resonance of this Atlantide on any L&H harp, in my entire career. I guess this is a good “commercial” for the Atlantide, ha, ha!

    I hope you hear from plenty of others regarding this. I want to know, too!

    Harp Hugs,
    Balfour

    #274402
    Gregg Bailey
    Participant

    Thanks, Balfour! It sounds like one doesn’t always have to wait for a harp to mature into its sound if purchased new. That’s terrible about so many warped necks on super-expensive harps that are only a few years old!! Why hasn’t L&H addressed this by now, especially now that they’re owned by Salvi who HAS addressed this on their harps??

    -Gregg

    #274998

    Certainly, each harp is individual and can vary. The last time I visited the factory, which was several years ago, I tried every instrument and they were all of good quality, even the Chicago models, yes, and very consistent. There were two types of sound, one open and clear-pitched, the other, fuzzy and disorganized sounding, so to speak. Hard to describe, but I think basically they found a way to produce a harp that would either appeal to a Salzedo player or a “French” player.
    The worst harps were by far the two Prince Williams there from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which felt like rocks with zero resonance.
    I have heard from unreliable sources that the gold harps are now made for the Asian market who care about the looks more than the sound, so that the very best harps are the natural 23s, and that is because the wood has to be carefully matched, as the grain is exposed. That said, my walnut 23 has turned out to be a truly great instrument over time. It’s what you make of it.
    But blindly disparaging remarks are an insult and injury to a great company we rely on for our very art and existence. While Salvis now run a very close second, to my ears, and have a very different quality, could take over in the future, the Lyon & Healy remains the ideal, the standard. Venus produced some fine harps, and it is a loss not to have them anymore. To me, a Camac is simply unplayable. (Did I say that?) They are imitations, not musical instruments. (Because they do not respond well to sudden changes in dynamics, and sound like plastic.)
    By the way, I added a gold crown to my harp, and it was just enough to lend a hint of glamor to the sound, adding a tint of brilliance. If you can afford a fully gilded harp, get one, but just make sure they know what sound you are looking for. I would love to have a Style 3!

    #277294
    balfour-knight
    Participant

    Saul, I do not understand what you meant by “you contradict yourself in your opening sentence.” Gregg’s opening sentence was “I’m curious about something.”

    #277803

    Never mind…

    #277826
    balfour-knight
    Participant

    That’s quite okay, Saul. I feel like I should add here that for much of my career, I was all for Lyon & Healy. But when I experienced what some of the other great harp makers were doing, I changed over time. It did not help L&H when harpists like me saw some of their sub-standard quality work, and that they refused to do anything about it. So far, I have never experienced this with Camac. Many great harpists throughout the world champion Camac, such as Isabelle Moretti and Isabelle Perrin, and the head of Camac is Jakez Francois, a great pop/jazz harpist himself. The company’s attention to quality and detail is amazing, and the great harps they are building in the Erard/French tradition, like my Atlantide, won me over. Their customer service is exceptional, and the harps have a 10-year warranty. There are plenty of wonderful recordings of these great harps on the Camac website, and on Youtube. My Atlantide responds perfectly well to sudden changes in dynamics, with great warmth, clarity, and projection of the sound. And being able to regulate the harp myself is a great bonus!

    Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, with plenty of harping,
    Balfour

    #278248
    Tacye
    Participant

    Years ago I took a factory tour and we peeked into the gilding room (no air currents welcomed) where they were working on something very fancy. So I asked the obvious question, and was told no, it would not necessarily sound any better. They are gilded before they are assembled.

    #278349
    balfour-knight
    Participant

    Hello Tacye!

    I have always wondered if the gold “gilding” has any affect on the actual sound or tone of a harp, compared to the same model without the gold. As a physicist, what could you tell us to enlighten us about this? I know harps are very personal to their owners, but what do the actual physics indicate? I wonder if these two models, one in natural and the other gilded, were played behind a curtain in a “blind tasting experiment,” could most musicians tell the difference between them?

    So good to see your post here.

    Happy Holidays,
    Balfour

    #278350
    Tacye
    Participant

    Hi Balfour, From the point of view of the sound (which doesn’t care about electrical conductivity) it seems to me to be the general question of does the finish/varnish affect the sound. Much discussed on the thin wood of violins, but harp columns are so hefty compared to a little varnish or gilding that any differences between french polish, lacquer, gilding, paint, beeswax or polyurethane seem to me likely to be swamped by natural variation in the wood or hand fitting of the parts.

    #278360
    balfour-knight
    Participant

    Thanks Tacye. Your comments support everything I had thought about this. Indeed, there is a great difference between harps and violins, including the heftiness of the pedal harp’s soundboard compared to the violin’s. An “ailing” harp has its entire soundboard replaced with a new one, but who would think of doing that to a fine violin?

    My best wishes to you,
    Balfour

    #278773
    Gregg Bailey
    Participant

    Thanks to all of you for your insightful posts! It makes sense that gilding wouldn’t have an appreciable effect on the sound; I just wondered if gilding was reserved for harps that had to meet an even higher standard of quality above and beyond other harps of the same model (regarding the 23’s and 11’s). However, it makes sense that the gilding takes place BEFORE a harp is even assembled, rather than weeding out natural harps that are already assembled and then selecting certain ones for gilding based on superior tone. I’m not sure why that didn’t occur to me!

    What about the premium models that are only available with the gilding? Does Lyon & Healy pay extra attention to the construction of those most elaborate models above and beyond the attention they give to the construction of any of their other models, or is the extra cost strictly due to the visual aesthetics? Saul, I suppose you already answered that when you said that there were two Prince Williams models at the factory that both had undesirable tone! That seems like such a shame…

    Regardless of what people think of the “Louis XV Special” model, doesn’t it look as though it would sound markedly different from any other harp? I keep imagining that the contrabass wires of that model would sound extra bold and amazing somehow! However, all of the ornateness and extra gilding likely don’t make it sound that different from a natural 23! I personally like the look of the Louis XV Special, but I know some people find it to be too over-the-top. That and the Style 8 Gold are probably my faves as far as how they look.

    Thanks again!

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