Premier 750 Vibraphone (Job No: 1227)

There has been a little discussion on another blog post regarding the note pegs on this vibraphone, so I thought that it was about time that I wrote up the work I did to the last Premier 700 series vibraphone that came through my workshop.

Premier made the 750 series vibraphone from 1947 – 61, then updated the frame calling it the 701 from 1961 – 79. So I was 5 when the latest version of the Premier vibe was made, which is why I am slightly confused as to exactly what model this vibe is. Confusion is my normal state especially when it comes to Premier’s instruments, this looks like a 700 series, but with a new (at the time) pedal system. The 700 had a damper system with a central pull rod and a small toe pedal, which the became a long pedal attached to the same mechanism. The 750 has the re-designed pedal used on later vibes and a new motor. However I can’t remember how the top frame worked on the last 700 (with centre pull) I worked on, I think it was like this instrument.

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Although these weren’t the first vibraphone that Premier made, they are very old now.  This is not a bad thing, especially with vibraphones.  This is because of the aluminium that the notes are made from simply isn’t available now.  The two aspects of the material that have changed are, the recipe/purity of the alloy that is used and the treatment process it is subjected to.  Material science has moved on since the days when these instruments were made, and newer materials with more desirable properties to wider industry have been developed resulting in a lot of aluminium alloys and treatment process becoming obsolete.  Like most scenarios, what is good for the major consumers of materials is bad for musical applications.

So the note bars are great, but what is not so great about these 700 and 750 series vibes is just about everything else.  To make matters more difficult to discuss, like a lot of manufacturers during this period, instruments were being continually developed.  So there are several different versions of the 700 series which eventually became the 750 and then 701/751 which in turn went through several versions.  This evolution of instruments at Premier slowed down in the 1980s and eventually stopped in the early 1990s, obviously due to the key personnel leaving or retiring, and resulted in Premier’s orchestral range becoming dated which is a great shame, but that is progress, ultimately only the companies that specialise in selling high quantities of low quality instruments survive.  When will we ever learn?

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Anyway I digress as per usual.

The problems with these vibraphones is in the nature of how they are assembled and disassembled.  I still don’t really know the best way to go about it.  The central two note rails and the damper bar comprise one unit which is attached either end of both rails to the leg frames with four wing screws.  The same method is used to attach the outer two note rails, whereas the damper pedal is located on two plastic pegs and secured with “J” bolts as per the later vibes.  The challenge is to assemble the instrument out of all the components by yourself, if you succeed give yourself a pat on the back, you are better practised than I.  It is only after all the rails are in that everything can be tightened and the frame becomes more rigid, before that point the instrument is liable to collapse at any given moment.  If you try and cheat by tightening the screws too early you physically can’t get the other rails into the gap.  After the square is secure it is simple to fix the resonators with their diagonal braces, which ironically make the 700 series vibe more stable than the 751 series.  It is at this point that you will realise that you forgot to put the vibe belts around the inner two note rails, and you have to walk away, make a cup of tea and regroup.

Obviously there is nothing that I can do to repair the inherent design flaws and the subsequent frustrations incurred, my job is to make the instrument playable.  In order to play the instruments the notes need to be suspended off the frame, and this is another case of those perishing rubber note pegs. As can be seen from the photograph above, the rubber note pegs on this vibe are organised in pairs. The reasons for the rubber perishing is discussed in 1264: Premier Vibe Note Pegs, the approach to the repair on this vibe is also essentially the same, and indeed I did the two instruments concurrently. The main difference being that I made only one mould for each rail I needed to work on because these vibes come in to be repaired so infrequently. Typically, I now have more enquiries so I should have made more and not just thought of myself!

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(Photographic evidence that the instrument can indeed stand upright with only three note rails attached!)

The rest of the instrument, in terms of the overhaul, is very similar to all the other Premier vibraphones I seem to have been working on this year. The damper bar is the same as later models, as is the damper pedal with the exception that the 751 series vibraphones have two connecting rods which is preferable to the one that was on this 700 vibe. Had I had all the spare parts available, I would have modified this vibe to include that second connecting rod, but I didn’t, so I didn’t. The omission is not disastrous, just not ideal. When there is only one connecting rod, there is an inbalance in the damping system whereby the end without the connecting rod has a certain level of ambiguity in the damping. The ramifications are that I had to set the instrument up less precisely than I normal like to do. In normal circumstances I set the vibraphones up so that I can make the transition between fully damped/pedal up to fully open/pedal down within the flexure of my toes. On this instrument the ankle has to be used also.

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Of course a vibraphone made in the 1950/60’s will have no consideration to electrical safety. As can be seen, the flex has been condemned by someone who quite rightly cut it off, it is the old cloth wound flex after all. I updated the wiring to use an IEC15 plug and socket after determining that the motor did indeed still work even after all these years, and it passed the PAT test.

With the notes cleaned and re-strung, the resonators and butterflies serviced and cleaned, the end result is a nice, tidy, fully working instrument which sounded great.

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15 comments on “Premier 750 Vibraphone (Job No: 1227)

  1. Brian THOMAS

    How do you think vibes would sound if the butterfly was at the bottom of the resonator tube instead of at the top? I can see this would be difficult to achieve mechanically – just wondered how it would sound if it were possible?

    Reply
  2. willy

    Great job. You are definitely right on the alloy. It sounds great.

    Just wandering if you have an idea to improve the “impossible to change easily” belt system ? I have exactly the same vibe (except for the pedal system) and I project enlarge slightly the wood flank to do so.

    Reply
  3. willy

    Great job. You are definitely right on the alloy. It sounds great.

    Just wandering if you have an idea to improve the “impossible to change easily” belt system ? I have exactly the same vibe (except for the pedal system) and I project enlarge slightly the wood flank to do so.

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Willy,

      I rarely see these instruments, so I am going from memory.

      There are two processes with the belts; setting up the instrument, and changing the belts.

      For helping setting up there should be two pegs to stop the belt falling down the gap; these should really be removeable to facilitate belt change. Can the resonators be raised? (I can’t remember without looking at the vibe) Could you take a gouge to the intermediate wood to create a gap?

      Changing the belts only happens periodically, so it is less critical for it to be easy, but how about cutting a channel into the intermediate board to encircle around the motor pulley, basically a space to feed the belts up and over the pulley.

      regards,
      Paul

      Reply
      • willy

        Thanks for the answer. I will make a gap on the intermediate wood. (in red on the picture) I was wandering if there was an other way.

        The thing is I will try different size of belt because I don’t have an existing one. Measuring length is easy with a string but I want to keep it on the small wheel (speed variation only goes down). So tension matters, and only real test will help.
        The peg are on the other piece of wood I will cut. (underline in yellow)
        [url=http://www.hostingpics.net/viewer.php?id=643472fororchestralpercussion.jpg][img]http://img15.hostingpics.net/pics/643472fororchestralpercussion.jpg[/img][/url]

      • pauljefferies

        Ok Willy,
        It seems like you are happy to do the work yourself. Whilst I am happy to give brief suggestions, you need to be aware that I get paid for my knowlege and expertise including web based consultancy and this is my only income source.
        Good luck with the work.
        regards
        Paul

  4. Matt Cable

    Hi Paul, I have what looks to be this exact model of 1950’s Vibraphone. All still works but needs some serious TLC on the corroded frame Rubber motor drive belts and Dampening felt.
    Call you give me a ballpark for restoration or tell me what it might be worth to sell as is ?
    I can send some snapshots if you like.
    Thanks Matt

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Matt,
      If you could send photos please, they always helps. Meanwhile I will think of some prices.
      Regards
      Paul

      Reply
  5. John Fry

    Where can I source a rubber belt from for a Premier 701 Vibraphone. My 83 year old Father in Law’s belt has broken.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Thank you for your comment. I have in stock a whole range of vibe belts in lots of sizes. This is the new way that I organise these spares because previously, when I supplied the “standard” belt for that particular vibraphone they were not the right size. There are sveral reasons for this:

      I might have made a mistake, after all we are all human – but why now?
      The belt manufacturers might have changed the sizes or made a mistake – doubtful and unlikely.
      Premier went through a period of tweaking the design of the motors and housing – possible, but rare.
      Someone has been tinkering with things over the years, fixing problems or removing rattles – a much more likely scenario.
      Missing parts general state of repair – ultimately from my perspective the most likely cause for any issues.

      However from the customers perspective, I have supplied the wrong size belt, because the old one worked which ignores the fact that I have not seen the instrument, have no way of knowing what belt they have been using or how much that belt has stretched. All in all it is becoming a minefield, so now I have a massive selection of belts that bracket the correct size, so if there are any problems I can now exchange the standard belts with another size that will work.

      The best way to proceed is to take a couple of photos; I need to determine the motor and control system that Premier fit to the instrument. With this information I can refer to the original technical drawings that Premier used when ordering their belts to ascertain the correct size. Then I post out a couple to the address you have given and invoice you. Of course then you have to pay, but typically the bill will be less than £20.

      Reply
  6. Lim Boon-Kah

    Dear Sir, can you please help me up with the Premier 700 Series Vintage Vibraphone Black Rubber Bar Holders? I would like to buy a whole set of them to replace what’s on my broken Premier 700 vibraphone. Hope to hear from you soon. Many thanks.

    Reply
  7. Christian Weaver

    Hi, I have recently acquired a Premier 700 Vibraphone. It has no sustain pedal. Do you know if, and if possible, where I could get the parts to repair this. The damper bar is there and working. It is pedal and the mechanism that connects it to the damper that I need.

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Christian,

      There are two types of pedal system for the 700 series vibe, the latter version (pictured in this post) was first seen on the nearly identical 750 and continued to be used on the 701 and 751. Since the writing of this post I have been doing some research into Premier vibes which has resulted in some minor edits to this post including the title.

      However to answer your question, all of the components for all of the damper pedals are obsolete, therefore everything would have to be fabricated. As I run out of Premier parts for these vibes I am gradually investing in alternatives, but when it comes to the pedal system I have either just had the one part needed or the musician’s requirements have meant that I have gone in another direction. This means that there would be a time delay whilst components are made and that I wouldn’t know the prices until after they are made. The pedal bar I make in house, but the metal for the cross bar is no longer readily available, which would mean alternate parts being made anyway.

      All in all this is a deceptively big project, one that I have done once already and although that worked perfectly, I was not happy with certain elements. The other factor is the financial investment required to fabricate so many components in one go, which is why I have been doing it piecemeal.

      So not really a definitive answer, but I hope that I have been of help.
      Paul

      Reply

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