Tag: note

Deagan case Glockenspiel (job no 1334)

So many times I get glockenspiels with a note bar missing and enquiries about the cost of replacement. So many times people are shocked at how expensive glock notes are to be replaced.

My Dad used to drive my Mum up the wall when, for instance, he moaned about the price of restaurants when visiting me in London. My Mum’s philosophy is, that if you want to go to London you will have to eat, so it will cost what it costs. This is the same philosophy that is needed for the missing note bar on that beautiful old case glock. Furthermore Murphy’s Law dictates that the missing note will invariably be the one that is needed.

My blog posts continually demonstrate that jobs are not straight forward when done properly. If you want to replace your glockenspiel note with a shiny bit of metal with a hole drilled in it, I am not your man, there are plenty of pretenders who can do that. But if you want to fill the space in your glockenspiel with a note, then you need an instrument maker to make one and making things takes time.


So what is the difference between “the shiny bit of metal with a hole in it” and a glockenspiel note? Well first of all there is material selection – that bit of steel I used is very good quality high tensile steel which is over 70 years old. You just can’t buy this steel anymore, and this is what gives the note bar sustain. It was then cut to size and a hole drilled into it which is the easy bit. After pre-finishing the bar, I tuned it paying special attention to matching the timbre so that it blended with the adjacent notes. With the note acoustically close to where I want it, the metal is polished and plated. In this case I Nickel plated it so it will age to look like the rest of the instrument, then it got its final tune and was put on the instrument.

Because money is always an issue, I do try very hard to keep costs down. In fact I invest all the time in tools and jigs if they will both increase efficiency and elevate standards. However sometimes I just have to draw the line. My milling machine needs replacing, so thicknessing the metal had to be done by hand. I took about 1mm off, but the finished bar was still higher than the others, but it would have taken ages to get it exact.

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Compromises aside, there is an argument for keeping repairs and replacements visible. I never worry too much about getting things absolutely identical. For instance, the pitch marking is different, but who cares? For me the main thing is the musicality, making it sound like the original.

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…How to control humidity

(Every Percussionist Should Know…)
…How humidity can be controlled.

It is humidity not temperature that has the biggest effect on the tuning of wooden note bars. If you ever read so-called “experts” stating the importance of temperature controlled environments with relation to the tuning of xylophones and marimbas, they are talking rubbish. There is a very simple experiment one can do to test the hypothesis; touch a xylophone bar then a glockenspiel note bar; which one is cold? You probably already know the answer – the glockenspiel bar is cold, but why? Glock notes are metal and metal is a conductor whereas wood is an insulator. This is why radiators are made from metal and window frames are made from wood (or should be).

At the extremes, temperature will have an effect on tuning, but that would be an extremely difficult experiment to isolate temperature from humidity. The main cause of atmospheric tuning related problems is humidity. The big word used is hygroscopic in relation to wood, which means that wood absorbs and releases moisture.

A rule of thumb is that hot things like wood and air, can hold more moisture than cold things. If you are that way inclined (and thankfully some people are) you could create a graph to define the maximum amount of moisture something could hold at any given temperature. The graph would depict 100% moisture content. This state is unlikely to happen to your xylophone or marimba, but they will contain a certain amount of moisture in relation its potential maximum, so this is known as relative humidity.

Finally, because wood is surrounded by air and it is hygroscopic, it will absorb or release moisture until it reaches the same relative humidity as the air. The video I made below explains the ramifications of this and what can be done to control it.


Premier Vibe Note Pegs (Job No: 1264)

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This little item has been causing issues for a long time now!  It is the rubber note peg cap off a Premier 751 vibraphone, but it has been used on several generations of Premier’s vibraphones.  Of course Premier stopped producing the 751 and the 701 vibes a long time ago now; it was probably around 2008 when Premier asked me to come and relieve them of all their obsolete spare parts which had been hanging around in their factory for years.

The root cause of the problem with these note peg caps is difficult to avoid; rubber degrades in light and air.  Ultra violet light, but mainly Ozone that are main the culprits, so the only way for you to prolong the life of them on your vibraphone is to remove these two factors.  So from now on practice in the pitch black within a vacuum; I hear that NASA have space suits going cheap now they are being undercut by China.

Back in 2008 I also obtained access to Premier’s tooling for injection moulding these parts.  I dutifully went off and requested quotes from rubber moulding companies to have some made up.  The received quotations were ridiculously high, with the quantities ridiculously large that I just could never see a time when I could afford the £47,000+VAT to have 20,000 made.  Obviously they did not want to make them using the old moulds, and new moulds would also be too expensive, so a non commercially produced method for making the parts had to be developed.

My solution was to use a two part synthetic “rubber” that can be mixed and injected by hand into a mould.  This brought the required investment down to around £1000, which is still a lot of money in my world!  Along with the financial investment into tools and materials, I have also had to invest a lot of time in learning how to use them.

This whole project has, in reality, been a massive spanner in the works – whole days would be lost producing a pattern or some “bit” I needed, only to discover the next day that it wouldn’t work.  This continuous distraction has been the reason for my absence!  Below is a highly condensed video of how I went about it.


Having finally made a sufficient number moulds for me to replace all the pegs on a vibraphone, I had eventually got to the position when I could completely use up the two pots of gunk I will use when making up the kits and thus discover whether my idea is actually cost effective.  Because the original note pegs cost £3.75 each, but are sold (by me) singly due to their scarcity, I certainly want my replacements to be cheaper than this, but what I really want is to get a whole instrument done for less than £200, which is a unit cost of £2.25.  The material costs for one pair of pots are currently £19, so I had to form more than 6 to beat the cost of the original spares, and more than 8 to achieve my target.  In reality I got 20 note pegs reproduced out of one pair of pots which is fantastic, so the main costs associated with the job, will be the moulds.

Replacement Kit for Premier 750 series Note Peg Caps.

Initial Kit at currently £60 contains: 2 moulds, 1 x 50ml part A (black), 1 x 50ml part B (white), 10 mixing pots, 10 x 5ml syringes, 20 tea spoons, 20 nitrile gloves, 5 cocktail sticks, 2 Kebab skewer.

Refill kit at currently £20 contains the same minus the two moulds.

Below is an instructional video on how to use the kit from preparation to completion.


LP Xylophone Notes (Job No: 1242)

Out of the whole family of keyboard percussion instruments, xylophones suffer the most with going out of tune.  There are two reasons, first the note bars seasoning, second from being played.

Due to atmospheric changes wooden note bars absorb and release moisture, as the moisture leaves the wood, it takes a bit of matter with it, so the note will always go out of tune even if the instrument is not played.  However this is more evident in marimba bars which are wider, thinner and more extensively arched, whereas xylophone bars are more chunky and tuned to fifths, or should be, but more of that later.

When xylos are played, hard beaters are used, and these damage the surface of the note bar leaving indentations.  Therefore nothing harder than the note bar should be used to play it, so no hard plastic beaters if the piece has lots of fortississimo.  Furthermore the edges of the bars take a battering, and they become frayed.  When the bars are tuned, I have to remove this loose material, which further affects the tuning.  Eventually I run out of wood to tune the bars, or the internal structure of the wood has been softened or split thus killing the sound, so new bars need to be bought or made.

One last bit to finish off, there is a trend now in new instruments towards thinner bars which have been octave tuned as well as using cheaper woods like padouk.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  Thinner bars don’t give the stacato sound of a xylophone, octave tuning just sounds wrong – a xylophone has a jarring sound, that is what it is for musically, and padouk is even more prone to damage and splitting.  So not only are they not xylophones, but more like piccolo marimbas, they will not last very long – years instead of decades!  Finally, because the bars are so thin, my job of retuning them is severely limited.

So lets get into the job.  First I get a plank of Honduras Rosewood that will do the job.

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This is then ripped to give me the width.  I got two lengths out of this plank which is enough to do all the notes.

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These batons are then cut down into the lengths required for the note bars, resulting in lots of sticks of wood.   I then plane to faces to get them flat and square.

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I can then thickness them to the correct width and depth.  I now have a pile of equally sized sticks of wood.

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The next job is to drill the holes for the note cord.  It takes ages to set the drill up so the notes are held in the correct place, and flat on the bed of the vice.  Getting the angle right is the easy bit (if you have the right equipment).  However once everything is set it is quick to drill all the sticks.

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I can now put the radius on the edges of the bars.

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Now I finally have note bar blanks which can be varnished and tuned.

Bergerault Vibraphone (part 4) (Job No: 1214)

This post continues on from 1214: Bergerault vibe (part 3) and started with 1214: Bergerault vibe (part 1)

The inner two note rails are only supported at the high end of the vibraphone by a metal bracket.  Onto this bracket is also mounted the motor.
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Because I have increased the depth of the two outer rails this bracket no longer fits.
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So I just modified the design a little, and welded new outer supports in.  Now it will also be stronger, and certainly welding is a lot stronger than brazing which is how Bergerault make their instruments.  Welding is fusing two like metals together, so essentially it becomes one piece, whereas brazing uses a different metal to join the two elements, like glueing them together.
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Now this bracket is on, the top frame is rigid, all it needs is the motor unit.  Then I can put the legs on the vibe, and put the notes back on.
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It’s both satisfying and dissatisfying to see it all finished.  On the one hand it is good to see a finished instrument, especially when the job has been so involved.  On the other hand it looks just the same as it did when it came in, which is the point, but still I can’t really see any evidence of all the work I have done.

Bergerault Vibraphone (part 3) (Job No: 1214)

This post continues on from 1214 Bergerault vibe (part 2) and starts with
1214: Bergerault vibe (part 1)

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The above image shows my progress with the Bergerault vibraphone over the last three days, from the left; prime, undercoat, top coat.

This is the moment, before I put the new note rails into the instrument, to sort out any problems with the inner two note rails.

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Unsurprisingly, these rails were also loose.  Like the original outer rails, these also have a single tenon towards upper side of the rail.  This is supplement with a tiny bracket at the bottom.

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As Paul the Porter pushes the instrument at the top, there is greater friction at the wheels making the instrument rock from side to side.  The leverage exerted by the very long rails on four octave instruments is enough to break open a single tenon joint, especially if it is located at either end (top or bottom).  Again this is a design flaw; a demonstration of a lack of knowledge, forethought, and expertise.
I go to museums and see objects made literally hundreds of years ago that demonstrate the type of joint needed to resist a particular force.

Once the glue is dry on the inner note rails, I can then glue in the outer rails.

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If you look very closely at this end of the outer note rails, there are two holes.  This is an idea that I ripped off those museum pieces.  It’s called a pegged tenon joint.  Back in the day, they would have used a wooden peg, today I use a big screw.  This screw ensures that the tenon cannot be pulled out, and massively increases the strength of the joint – why wouldn’t I do it, it took less than five minutes.

At the end of the day, I will remove the clamps and do one final coat of paint so that it will be finished for the final assembly.

This post continues in 1214: Bergerault vibe (part 4)

Premier 600 Xylo (part 2 of 2) (Job No: 1187)

This blog post follows on from 1187: Premier 600 Xylo (pt 1)

After all the xylo notes have been varnished, they get tuned and resealed.

The last part of the job is to service the frame.  The note pegs on these Premier xylophones are solid rubber mouldings.  Because they are natural rubber they do age and become brittle, this process can be slowed by removing UV exposure.  Just like people do to prevent sunburn, this can be achieved simply by covering up with a blanket.

I do have a diminishing supply of these note pegs; like most parts I have for obsolete instruments, I strictly control the distribution.  The last few are to be used to repair as many instruments as possible.  They are not to sit on someone else’s shelf just in case they need them for their particular instrument in the future – I deem that selfish, and it won’t happen on my watch!

Premier offered me the moulds to make these parts, however besides storage problems (they are massively heavy), the cost of making the parts was prohibitive.  Essentially the moulds are too old compared to modern techniques.  At some point however, (when funds allow,) I will invest in the equipment I need to make alternative spares using different materials.

Getting back to the Xylophone; besides a few broken note pegs, the frame was in excellent condition, and just needed a thorough clean.  Once the notes were back on, it looks like a new instrument.
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Bergerault Vibraphone (part 2) (Job No: 1214)

This post continues on from 1214: bergerault vibraphone (part 1)

The timber I bought is European Oak.  I could have also used Ash, but that was not available.  Both are known for their structural rigidity as opposed to the original timber, which is hidden behind a plastic veneer, but looks to be African Mahogany which is a cheap easy to use timber, which is not known for its strength.

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After planing the timbers to size, I marked off the length and angles, to duplicate the existing note rails.

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Because I am doubling the depth of the note rail, I put a double tennon at the ends to go into the end boards.  This will massively increase the overall strength of the instrument.  These outer rails are the only joints that hold the whole instrument together, so they must be good (unlike how they were).

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Pictured above are the note rails with double tennons roughed out ready for the mortices to be dug.

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Once All the new mortices were dug, I ended the day with a dry assembly to expose any problems.

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Bergerault Vibraphone (part 1) (Job No: 1214)

These Bergerault four octave vibraphones are massive!  Even though vibe notes are made from aluminium, that doesn’t make them light, in fact the opposite is the case.  Percussion instruments are heavy, but vibraphones are particularly so.

The reason for this vibraphone coming into my workshop was because the butterflies in the resonators were hitting the underside of the note bars.  When I went to collect it, I spotted the probably cause, and verified it with my straight edge once back at base.

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Because the vibraphone is so big, it is hard to get it all in the photo and still see the issue when the notes are on, but after I have removed the notes it can be clearly seen that the instrument sags in the middle.

The first job is to remove the base frame, which are attached to the end boards.  It was at this stage that I noticed another potential problem:

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The little blocks that Bergerault have put in to hold the resonators, are wonky.  I will have to investigate this, because I also noticed that the resonators didn’t hang straight, they were pulled in at the bottom.  I suspect that this is a Bergerault design error, but it just seemed wrong to me.

Once the legs are off, I can now remove the High End board using the motor support bracket to hold the note rails.
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Next the motor and control unit are removed.  I will take the opportunity to improve this whole area which at the moment looks like a dogs dinner.

Finally the offending rails can now be removed from the Low End Board.  Classic understatement, I had to sit down and take a breather after I finally got them out!
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Now I am ready to make some replacement rails – time to go shopping for timber.

The story continues in 1214: Bergerault vibraphone (part 2)