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)

InstrumentModel NumberNameOctave and RangeBar SizeDate BuiltTuningNo. of ChimesNotes
Vibraharp145Concert3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21927-39First vibraharp
Vibraharp145BConcert3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21927-39Brass resonators
Vibraharp145CConcert3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21928-39Walnut frame, chrome resonators
Vibraharp143Radio2.5 C-F1 1/2-1 1/4x1/21929-39
Vibraharp144Radio3 C-C1 1/2-1 1/4x1/21929-39Soprano Vibe
Vibraharp147Drummer Portable2.5 F-C1 1/4x 1/21932-35In case
Vibraharpn/aKing George3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/219301 built for Lionel Hampton
Vibraharp55Imperial3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21937-42Gold bars, white frame
Vibraharp55Imperial3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21937-42Gold bars, bronze frame
Vibraharp55AImperial3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21937-42Gold bars, black frame
Vibraharp3030-W2.5 C-F1 1/2x1/21938-42Wheels
Vibraharp35Mercury3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21938-42
Vibraharp45Diana3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21940-42Gold bars, bronze frame
Vibraharp45ADiana3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21940-42Natural finish aluminum bars, black frame
Vibraharp35Rondo3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21945-47Mercury renamed
Vibraharp48Serenata3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21946-48Gold bars
Vibraharp555Presto3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21946-49
Vibraharp584Nocturne3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21947-48Natural finish aluminum bars
Vibraharp585Nocturne3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21948-50Gold bars
Vibraharp590Imperial Nocturne3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21950-56Gold bars
Vibraharp510Performer3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21950-62
Vibraharp505Comet2.5 C-F1 1/4x1/21952-54Student
Vibraharp580Traveller3 F-F1 1/2x1/21956-62
Vibraharp1000Aurora3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21956-64Gold bars & resonators, black frame
Vibraharp1000Aurora3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21956-64Gold bars & resonators, walnut frame
Vibraharp511Performer3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21962-64Similar to 510, bar finish change
Vibraharp581Traveller3 F-F1 1/2x1/21962-64Similar to 580, bar finish change
Vibraharp1100Aurora II3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21964-75Similar to 1000, design change
Vibraharp512Performer3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21964-76Similar to 511, design change
Vibraharp582Traveller3 F-F1 1/2x1/21964-76Similar to 581, design change
Vibraharp592Commander3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21965-76Portable, similar to Musser M55
Vibraharp515ElectraVibe3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21970-82Electronic, no resonators, in case
VibraharpV-82Statesman3 F-F1 1/2x 1/21971-76Similar to 582, by Slingerland
VibraharpV-92Royal3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21971-76Similar to 592, by Slingerland
VibraharpV-110Granada3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21971-76Similar to 1100, by Slingerland
Vibraharp1103Aurora II3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21975-Similar to 1100, motor change
Vibraharp513Performer3 F-F1 3/8-1 1/4x1/21976-Similar to 512, motor change
Vibraharp583Traveller3 F-F1 1/2x1/21976-Similar to 582, motor change
Vibraharp593Commander3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21976-Similar to 592, design change
Vibraharp594Commander II3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21976-Amplified Deagan pickups
Vibraharp598Innovator IV4 C-C1 1/2x1/21976-77First 4 octave, amplified
VibraharpV-83Statesman3 F-F1 1/2x1/21976-77Similar to 583, by Slingerland
VibraharpV-93Royal3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21976-77Similar to 593, by Slingerland
VibraharpV-103Granada3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21976-77Similar to 1103, by Slingerland
Vibraharp596Norvo Commander3 F-F2-1 1/2x1/21976-79Similar to 594, no motor or pulsators
Vibraharp578Marching Vibes2 1/6 F-G1 3/8-1 1/4x 1/21978-