Tag: Orchestral Percussion

Fitting My Replacement Motor System for Premier Vibes

These are the fitting instructions for the replacement motor systems that I produce for Premier 701 or 751 vibraphones.

As you can see from the video I have designed the system so it is easy to fit to your instrument. There is a reason behind every feature of the product which is the result of over a decade of development. Each time I have fitted new motors to Premier vibraphones, modifications have been made to the carriage and the assembly. The result is that I have done pretty much all the work for you, so all you need to do is drill a few holes and use a screwdriver. The picture below shows the tools that I used.

Of course the downside of all these hours spent problem solving is that I expect to be paid for all my work. All of my development costs like this, whatever the instrument, are spread across at least ten customers in order to keep the costs for the individual. I do this because I am not greedy, I have personal ethics, and I like to be fair. So if you are not happy with that and choose to steal my ideas to save yourself a few quid, then may you burn in hell!

The photo above shows the kit. Everything you need, plus a extras, are in the kit. Even the correct sized drill bits (to avoid any mistakes) and a small allen key are included.  Three different sized belts so that you can determine the best fit and a long kettle lead.

I fit an IEC C14 socket to the motor and a C15 plug on the lead for versitility – you can use the lead with most electrical music equipment which has a low current draw.  Obviously I fit the correct fuse, but the size of the cable will only handle 10 amperes.  I make the cable detachable so that you don’t wind the cable around the end of the instrument.  This is possibly the most common thing I see with vibraphones and it is bad practice especially if you then go on to pack the instrument down.  When combined with the poor earth continuity readings that I find on most mass produced instruments the result is a potential death trap.  The problem you face is that most instruments have the cables permanently attached, so as per usual I find myself going in the opposite direction to convention because of what I think are more important reasons than preventing you from losing the cable.

Fitting Photograhs:

Do a better job than this photo! Keep the ribbon cable flat if possible.  Do the cable tie closer to the motor first, then the outer one.  The control panel can be orientated so that the cable fits neatly and you only have a little strip showing along the outer edge of the note rail.  Either cable tie this section, use gaffa tape or just leave it – this depends on how rough you are when packing the instrument down.

If you don’t need to take off the transom bar, it will be very difficult to drill the holes for the cable ties. For this reason I have included two tie blocks in the kit. They are very sticky, but I would advise removing the resonator pad and giving the metal a good clean and then de-grease with mentholated spirits first, this way they will definitely stick around for the long term! The cable ties thread through both opposing sides of the pad and it would probably be easier to thread them before sticking them down.

The carriage for the Premier 751 is longer because of the hole to allow access for the damper bar adjustment screw. This screw I replace and is included in the pack. Therefore the 751 motor carriage takes longer to make which is why it costs more.  For ordering the motor system, send an and include your name and address so that I can send you an invoice.

How to change damper bar felt

When I overhaul vibraphones, my approach is to fix everything that I find wrong, striving to make the instrument better than it has ever been. This process takes time, sometimes even months of work as I deal with a long list of minutia. In an attempt to avoid repetition (although that is inevitable), I try to pick the pertinent aspects of the repair rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)

In this video I am demonstrating how I go about changing the damper felt on a vibraphone.  The instrument is a Premier 751, but it could equally be any set of vibes.  In fact the same approach can be applied to all percussion instruments where the damping mechanisms allow.  However a word of warning, if you are considering changing the damper felt on a pedal glockenspiel or a set of crotales, etc a great deal more thought is required concerning the setting up of the instrument after the felt has been changed and is therefore work that is probably best left to an experienced professional.


Every percussionist should know… …How to order spare parts


A bit of a dull post, but I do try and make it interesting, but the answers are:

I have thousands of spare parts in stock, because it can take months for things to come from manufacturers even if they are available.  I don’t have months, I want to start and finish an instrument in one go, not strip it down, order the parts, store the instrument in pieces waiting for the parts to arrive, inevitably get sent the wrong thing because the distributors generally are not as familiar with the instruments as I am, blah, blah, blah!  Instead I just go the shelf and pick the parts I need to fix that vibraphone, timpani or whatever.

However if I can make the parts cheaper, quicker and better than the manufacturers then that is obviously what I do.  My job is to improve instruments or resolve problems, so most of the time I am redesigning components and fitting my alternatives to the instruments that I work on.  These are generally not like for like substitutions and require modifications to be made to the rest of the instrument which is beyond the skills of mere mortals, so these parts are only available if I fit them to the instrument.

Be precise, I need to know what the instrument is and the part you require.  The best way to do this is with photos which can be emailed them to me directly, you will find my address on the contact page.  I normally answer emails the following morning, so if weeks have gone by then something has gone wrong, so you might have to pick up the phone.  It is surprising how many people misspell their own email address.

My time is best spent in the workshop where I can earn my humble living and always have too much to do as opposed to being sat in front of my computer which for me is a necessary evil.  Therefore I like to keep administration to a minimum, so please include the address of where you want the parts to go as well as details of who will be paying so that I can generate the invoice and packing note all at the same time.  This is private information so only send it via email, certainly do not put personal details in the comments boxes at the bottom of these blog posts because they are in the public domain and only attached to the corresponding post.  If you require or could require a few parts, then please make a list and email me once; it is a complete waste of my time to make me generate the same paperwork but with one more part added over and over again, furthermore this drives me up the wall!

When taking your photos make sure that they are good quality; I have too many blurry, dark and unrecognisable photos.  I shouldn’t have to guess the part you require, I want to see immediately what instrument and exactly what component you need so that I can answer your question without a long series of emails.  This is especially important if the parts are small, so please apply a little thought and a little bit of effort and use something to point or mark the component and thereby ensuring that there is no confusion about what you want.

Those of you who actually read my blog posts as well as watching the telly bit will realise that I am actually a person, a human being just like you, and as such I have my own little quirks – for instance I like good manners.  If you want me to climb a ladder to the mezzanine, rummage through a box, generate all the paperwork and invoice, mess around with PayPal, package things so they don’t get damaged and finally carry them up the hill to the post office to generate myself £2 of profit; you could start emails with, “Hi Paul” and “Please can you” or other such respectful and soothing sentiments.  If you expect the things tomorrow exceptional manners is your only chance.  This may be like teaching most of you to suck eggs, but in this internet age it is just too easy to send an email via your smart phone whenever the mood takes and a lot of those emails that I receive are direct, shall we say, some borderline rude, and it sometimes takes a great deal of restraint not to just bin them immediately.  So I thought that I would just put my feelings out there and tell you how I expect to be treated, after all manners cost nothing and a please and a thank you in my experience pretty much guarantee a happy transaction and good service which is surely what we all want.

If you have got this far, thank you for reading.

Pixiphone Restoration (job#1416)

First thing every morning I do my administration whilst drinking tea; it is my gentle introduction to the day before I take Archie out for his walk. Most days I have too much too much paperwork to do, so I have to curtail the process and go down into the workshop where I am always busy and actually earn my living. It has been like this for months and months, but all of a sudden the sun starts shining and no one gives a damn about the restoration and repair of percussion instruments, so my email inbox is under control, accounts up to date and tax return done, and I have even cleared the pile of papers.  I still want my cups of tea however, so I have been catching up on video editing (always the slow part of the process – as well as writing this text of course) when I cam across this old and complete video. So I uploaded it and here we are…


Before I started it looked like this:

There was a lot to do repairing the box and giving it every chance of surviving for another three generations.

During one of my many London visits I hopped along on my crutches to several art and model making shops looking for the correct colours to keep this little pixiphone looking authentic. I love these sort of pastel shades that were common in the early 20th century.

In the end I did a little bit of tinkering adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I even mixed the ivory for the box myself.

And here is the finished article. An expensive and time consuming repair that cost me more to do than I charged, but the decision to take on the job was for reasons of my sanity; I was beginning to be lethargic due to inaction and that was making me feel apathetic and in that direction lies depression and other mental health issues; so I took action and created something of which I am proud and I sincerely hope that it continues to give joy to future generations of little percussionists.

Scrapheap Orchestra


I have an important interview on the near horizon which will require me to do a presentation. It is a scary proposition for me to have to stand up and talk about my work to an adjudication panel, something that I haven’t done for decades. However technology has moved forward considerably in that time, and I thought that a bit of video content will both relieve my stress and is probably better suited to actually demonstrate both the detail and the breadth of my work than listening to me waffle on.

So I took the opportunity to produce the video above which is derived from my brother’s recording of the television documentary (nope we weren’t even given a copy or even thanked in the credits – how rude?). This edited version is to show only my bits for my website, but I did try to keep some sort of story to make it watchable. I hope you enjoy it.

The Scrapheap Orchestra was a television documentary for the BBC and was shown on BBC Four. It was a great idea that was hijacked by risk averse and non creative executives and the end product was not what I signed up for. However it was an entertaining television programme, I did learn a lot during the whole project and I do look back on it with fond memories. The laughter and then roaring cheer that greeted my clash cymbals is clearly audible in the video and watching it took me instantly back to the roller coaster of emotions that I experienced that night and seeing again the instantaneous and exuberant standing ovation that the performance received (nearly) brought a tear to my eye even after all these years. I am left wondering if those instruments that I made still exist or whether they have been returned to the scrapheap.

Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 4: Legs and rails)


The biggest problem that I had whilst building the main structure was logistical; it was simply too big to fit in my workshop.  This meant that I was forever moving things around to squeeze it in.  It is a good job that I decided to make all machine stands and benches on wheels after ruining myself by carrying and lifting when moving into this workshop.

As can be seen in the video and photograph below, I needed to tie each leg together using the rails that the cityscape will sit on.  Therefore I needed three legs connected, one either side of the connection plates that I was making.

Premier Deluxe Timpani For Sale (Job# 1540)

FOR SALE £3500

Here is a pair of very old timpani that a customer wants to sell due to retirement. They have had two owners from new and these drums are rare. There are a few scratches in the bowls but no big dents, and there are a couple of T handles that need to be replaced, but I may well have some of these buried in a box of vintage spares. There is also a tie bar missing to one of the legs, but to be honest this is much easier to make than to find an original replacement. Neither of these issues poses a massive problem for me because the costs of correcting them would be a fraction of the instrument value.

As can be seen they have calf skin heads on for which the drums were designed to be used. In reality it will probably be problematical finding easily available plastic heads – any size can be made, but you will have to wait for at least three months and expect to pay at least three times the price of standard heads. But who wants plastic over calfskin anyway now?

As with all of the second hand instruments I sell, I handle all the negotiations because my customers are selling through me for precisely that reason. The drums are currently at the owners house in southern England, but I will collect the drums for viewing when there is a serious buyer.

By 1927 Premier Drums had introduced the De luxe Model Tympani. These were still “classical timpani” so had retractable legs on the basic pot, but these were the drums that saw the development of the bowl shape and the fittings. For instance by 1928 the drop handle was introduced on these drums and self aligning lugs.

Also in by 1298 Premier had developed the pedal mechanism. It is the obvious choice to put their best bowls onto their newest flagship product and called them the inspirational name, “Pedal Tympani”. It is interesting reading the catalogue description where it mentions the Premier guarantee; I have no idea what that was, but the fact that these drums are still working and sounding great nearly a hundred years later is a testament that British engineering was and will always be the best in the world.

Premier 1928 catalogue

The last time these drums were seen in the Premier catalogue was in 1951. They were almost a footnote on the same page as dampers, badges and drum keys! I think that this is more a reflection of post war austerity than anything else, but it was the end of the run because in 1966 West Ham United won the football world cup (I mean England) and Premier launched the Series One Timpani – out with tymps and in with timps!

Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job no: 1468)

“Made for the UK market”

What a familiar sight the above image represents! This vibe must be nearly three years old and just look at the build quality. In the UK we have a different voltage power supply to the centre of the universe, and our instruments are still tuned to A=440Hz. So when instruments are sold to the UK we get a wall wart adaptor for the voltage and the note bars are stamped 440 as opposed to 442. For me it is not really good enough, these instruments cost the same as a small car (which is ridiculous on so many levels but is the state of the world we live in), so how about putting a damn transformer and UK plug on the instrument for export and even tuning the bars to the correct pitch instead of just selecting the zero stamp.