Tag: overhaul

Premier 701 Vibraphone Overhaul (Job No: 1351)


This is the second of the three Premier 701 vibraphones that I am simultaneously working on and is therefore episode two in the, “aging Premier vibes” mini series. If this blog determined what I do in my workshop, the first episode would be the last in the series as it is the youngest of the three vibes. However that is not how it happens, so this vibraphone is actually the oldest of the three.

The most obvious aesthetic difference of this vibe compared to the other two is that at this time Premier were still polishing the resonators. The motor unit has changed, gone is the two cone gearbox design with the push/pull rod that to change the speed (the gearbox that was forever breaking) replaced by a three stage pulley.

As intimated, losing the gearbox was probably done for reliability but we do start to see the introduction of cost savings and the loss of the gearbox would almost certainly have saved Premier a bob or two.

The external note rails were still being polished, but the inner two are now being painted. However the rest of the components are from the original patterns: black balls in the damper bar, white end pegs, and chunky fanshaft bushes.

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!)

This Vibraphone is generally tired, after all it is getting old. As I well know, once you pass thirty your body starts to acquire various aches and pains, now passed forty I am well aware that my body just doesn’t work as well as it did. This vibe is older than me, so it is no wonder that it is falling apart.

As you know I started working on all the resonators which is mainly a job of cleaning up and replacing loose rivets, but there can be issues as seen in (Job No: 1354). On that instrument the whole row of tubes were out of alignment, whereas on this instrument the damage to one of the tubes was just cosmetic.


Premier 701 Vibraphone Repair (Job No: 1354)


Premier updated the 700 series vibraphone to the 701 series in 1963. There is no further differentiation in terms of model and serial numbers to go on to help determine the age of an instrument. Old spare parts manuals do provide a guide and put a time period around the type of motor used. However the problem is that Premier went through a development period where several different systems were employed, more than listed in the parts manuals.

I have three vibes in for repair, so I have taken the opportunity to look at the development of Premier’s vibraphone as well as discussing the repairs. Therefore this is the first of mini series, “Aging Premier Vibes”.

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!)

The biggest problem that I have to fix on this vibraphone is the bent note rail. Premier 700 series vibraphones are meant to be packed away and carried from place to place. They are very good at being portable, in fact they are probably the most portable whilst still being easy to assemble. What they are not good at is being wheeled around whilst set up because they simply aren’t strong enough. The most common way that the note rails bend is downwards, caused by thoughtless dick heads who use the instrument as a convenient trolley to carry heavy objects like amplifiers. I have even seen them used as a bench for kids! In this instance there has been an impact from the side which has caused the bend.


Premier Fibreglass timpani repair (Job No: 1357)


Same picture, same drums, but this time I am doing the work on them.

When I overhaul a set of timpani, there is a lot of work involved over a period of days or even weeks. My approach is to fix everything properly; I am after all a professional and that is what I am being paid to do. So I am fixing problems associated with the usual wear and tear, as well as “the dogs dinner” that the previous person made of the job. The posts on timpani pick out examples of problems I encounter, 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!)

Commonly timpani use three points of contact with the floor (so they don’t wobble), with two wheels at the back and the pedal at the front, with the aluminium casting under the pedal sitting on the floor. As the drums are moved around, the aluminium foot at the front suffers from abrasion until they are completely worn away. This is a problem that I often have to resolve, but the biggest “problem” is reversing the shit solutions that other people have created to repair them! So in this case the “dogs dinner” was how the toes were repaired. Whatever the pads or heel blocks were made of was not the problem, it is those damn screws that were used to fix them in place.

As can be seen below, my ingenious solution of simply welding another bit of aluminium on even looks like it will last, especially in this raw state.


The source of the problem is that aluminium is so soft. It is also lightweight which is why most timpani chassis are made using aluminium castings. On a practical note it is a horrible material to work with, clogging up all my saw blades, files and abrasives like treacle tart. But because it is so soft and wears away maybe it isn’t the best material to use as a wear point. It is all about instrument design again – or the lack of it.

The conclusion of this repair is covered in Job No: 1357 part 2

Musser M55 Vibraphone (Part 3) (Job No: 1321)


This will be the last installment for this Musser M55 vibraphone overhaul. In part one I had a general look at the vibe and worked on the note bed. In part two I did the main structural build. In this part I am essentially doing everything else, and I mean everything!

This seemingly happens a lot with vibraphones. I have said in the past that I think that they are probably the hardest instrument to get working correctly. Oh, it is easy to get them working OK, like most percussion instruments the common conception is that they are simple and therefore easy to repair. Indeed I seem to get comments and requests from people who intend to do precisely that, using my site as an instructional manual. This is totally contrary to the to the consistent message I deliver in the posts and the reason why I write them and make the videos. Obviously this is always going to happen, and there is nothing I can do about it, but it does annoy me somewhat, after all this is my livelihood.


With the frame complete I started looking at the damping mechanism. The little screw above, is one of the main connections on the instrument. The damper system is a fundamental aspect of a vibraphone. Besides the mallets, this is a massive part of player expression, so why am I seemingly on my own when it comes to spending care and time making them work smoothly and silently? I had to re-engineer every single moving component in the damper system.

My best friend thinks that I can be disparaging about the way percussion instruments are made, I guess that he is correct, but what irks me the most is that I am working on supposedly top quality professional instruments sent to me by top professional musicians and orchestras, etc. These instruments are premium products at premium prices, but what I see continuously is a lack of knowledge and skill at the design stage, and penny-pinching in production. Probably the root cause of my outbursts is a frustration with myself for not ever having the time to make a selection of instruments that I can show people – I simply do not have a stock, they are made on commission and then they are gone. The instrument that I haven’t made yet is a vibraphone, and I think that this should be high on my new agenda.


Musser M55 Vibe Repair part 2 (Job no: 1321)


The work finally begins! In Part 1 I looked into the problems of the M55 vibraphone in detail. Now I am actually ready to do some work!

It is my opinion that in order to minimise the unwanted noises produced when playing vibraphones, the most import factor in the design of the instrument is its structural rigidity. From this all else follows.

Think about what a vibraphone is and how they are played and work. It is a 3 octave percussion instrument with aluminium note bars laid out flat so that a foot operated damper system can control the sustain of the note bars. Additionally they have a system of opening and closing the resonator tubes which creates the “vibrato” effect. Complicated even to define. For an instrument maker (not a manufacturer – they are not instrument makers in the same way that, for instance, I am) there a several potential problems:

Percussion instruments by definition are struck with mallets, so the frame continually absorbs impacts.

The aluminium bars are heavy and consequently have a lot of inertia. Furthermore musical instruments by definition vibrate, so the frame has to cope structurally over a large frequency range and fixings and fittings are always going to be shaken loose.

The foot operated damping system has linkages and moving parts under tension.

The “vibrato” effect most commonly uses electric motors and rotating butterflies set in the top of amplification tubes.

And I could carry on. When listed like this, it is no wonder really that vibraphones cause a lot of problems. Manufacturers simply don’t understand this, they never see what happens to their instruments over time, and I am convinced that they don’t have the correct skill sets to draw on. If they did, a dullard like me wouldn’t be able to rip their designs apart.

I suppose it all comes down to money. On the one side global vibraphone market isn’t big, we are not talking small car production. So the potential revenue is limited and the competition is large. And on the other side, managing directors want to live in big houses and drive expensive cars, shareholders need their dividends, and workforces want pay rises. So the companies have to continuously grow and increase their profits, something has to give and invariably the wrong decisions are made; the key staff are dispensed with, the products never change, the cost of materials is reduced, the marketing and promotion budget is increased. These high-profile endorsements and collaborations must be expensive!

Musser M55 Vibraphone repair part 1 (Job no: 1321)


Please don’t misinterpret me – I think that Musser vibraphones are probably the best buy on the market. The sound is good, the frames are simple and (erm) sort of reliable. The problem is Ludwig/Musser, they are just not very good at making stuff. Yeah, yeah they have, or rather shout about having a reputation for making great instruments, but it doesn’t mean that they are well made. The sorry fact is that most of the drums I see by Ludwig are garbage and sound shit and year after year get more cheap and nasty but with a premium price tag. The same is true of the Musser vibe, they used to be amazing, now they are just the best of a bad lot.

Being realistic, there is a state of over-supply in the global vibraphone market. Everyone thinks that they can make percussion instruments and everyone makes a vibe. People or companies appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quick. Even VanderPlas Baileo has gone bankrupt; I don’t know the reasons but I sympathise with Nico who has been making vibes since the new millennium [see amended comments below]. But let me clear, vibraphones are probably the most difficult of the tuned percussion instruments to make.

This Musser vibraphone was bought second-hand, so the historical usage is unknown, but for the last few years the vibe has predominantly been set up and used in a recording studio. The general condition indicates to me that it has gone from a lounge to a studio, it does not show the signs of being dismantled and assembled all the time and banged in and out the back of vehicles. Neither has it been wheeled around the corridors of music conservatoires. Essentially it has an easy life, but like all vibraphones it has lots of creaks and squeaks which is why the player has been brought it in to me.

The plot thickens in part two

Additional Comment
VanderPlas Baileo may well have ceased to exist but instruments designed by Nico VanderPlas are thankfully back in production available from Tal Vibraphones

Cymbal Cradle Prototype (Job No: 1333)


There have been many versions of cymbal cradles over the years. What happens is that a fabricator is given an example to copy, they then modify the design to suit their tooling and style of work. All the old style cymbal cradles have disappear into the ether, so when a new fabricator is needed, the process is repeated with the latest version. It is like chinese whispers and is exactly what has happened with this job!

The cymbal cradles that are available commercially work OK but don’t fit the specifications of my customer. So I have been asked to reproduce some from their existing cradles. Of course I want to make the best product possible, which means listening to what problems musicians experience and coming up with solutions.

The first part of a project like this is to define a starting point from which subsequent alterations can be made. I find that the best way to do this is to make up some jigs so the parts can be replicated consistently.

The prototype will now be put out for testing. When it comes back I will probably have to modify the jigs and make a second prototype which in turn will need to be tested.

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.


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.


Premier 751 Vibraphone (Job No: 1327)

There are a lot of vibraphones coming through my workshop at the moment, including the Premier 751. In fact, when I pause to think about it, I seem to have been working continuously on various aspects of the Premier vibraphones for nearly a year now. Whether I have been developing moulds for reproducing the rubber parts, making jigs for the metal components, or working on whole new assemblies, there always seems to be something going on with these vibes.

What I find is that work comes in waves; for months all I seem to have worked on are vibes, before that I just seemed to be doing timpani, then I had three sets of tubular bells in a row… So this is what has happened, and the result is that my stock of parts is being used up. I keep stating that these parts are obsolete because the instrument isn’t produced any more, so now I have been forced to come up with alternative solutions which all take a lot of time over prolonged periods.

Instead of focusing on particular details, with this post I decided to give more of an overview of the work I do. What you will see in the video is that jobs are never as straight forward as you would think, and soon I find myself surrounded by bits…