Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Chicago and 85 series are both a wonderful series of instruments, each providing something special to its player. It could be as concrete as cost or looks, or more personal, such as tone or feel. Inform yourself to their similarities and differences, weaknesses and strengths. Then, whichever you choose, know that either model will bring you much pleasure and joy. Let's play!

The Chicago series is a low cost alternative pedal harp series, well built, responsive with a full even tone. The Chicago's purpose is specific; it's a great instrument at a relatively affordable price.* It's a perfect option for someone moving from lever to pedal, a serious adult student or as a light gig instrument.

The 85 series has been referred to as the work horse of the Lyon & Healy pedal harp line. Closer in comparison to the higher end instrument's construction, the 85's full, rich sound and bright high-end quality make it a choice option for students, professionals, universities and performing arts schools.

In comparing models the Chicago Concertino Extended and the 85-E Concertino are similar in size. So are the Chicago CG-EX and the 85-CG models.The Chicago 40 model has nothing in comparison. This small 3/4 size pedal harp packs a responsive and powerful tone. The bottom two notes, the A and the B, do not have a pedal action.   

The Chicago's focus on a well-built structure, high wood quality, the pedals and the action are the same found in the 85 series. Both series are built from locally harvested hard maple with high quality sitka spruce soundboards. The soundboard tempering or heat treating time with the Chicago series may be less compared to the 85 series, however the tempering methods are exactly the same. Everyone is strung with the same quality and type of nylon, gut and bass wires.

The Chicago bodies are constructed using a 3-rail solid body procedure. You will find this same procedure in some previous Lyon & Healy pedal harp models, such as the 85-P, 85-GP and the 85-SG. Soundboards are generally tapered following specifications to each model. This streamlined method minimizes hands-on construction and allows production costs to be cut considerably. The end result is a low cost favorable alternative to the higher end pedal harps.

The body construction for all other Lyon & Healy pedal harps including the 85 series is a 4-rail body construction with a hand-fitted back panel. Time is focused upon hand-tapering the soundboard to allow the board flexibility in vibrating freely. This construction involves much more hands-on work but which creates a more detailed and responsive sound box and soundboard.  

Because the body construction process is so different between the Chicago series and the 85-series there will be a difference in tone. In general, the Chicago harps have a warm, even tone and overall tend to project well. The 85s have a bright tone quality, particularly full and resonant with a rich, deep bass. Their projection is far more than that found in the Chicago series however for its design, the Chicago series will not disappoint. Both series are musically gratifying to play.

As with any instrument, choosing a pedal harp is like choosing a tool. Consider your needs. What will help you with your playing and performing? Think about size, range, repertoire. Which model financially best serves you? What instrument will help you move forward until your next step up? Which model may work for school, university or second instrument purposes? Which one simply, do you enjoy playing?

Get advice, Talk to your teacher. Ask questions and play everything you can. Always, always, always take any opportunity to try a harp, no matter the model or maker. 

Have a comment or a question? Feel free to contact HILA by email or phone.

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