Tag: Paul Jefferies

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.


The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 3: top cone)


Maybe it is a bit old school, but I like to get pen and paper out and do a sort of technical drawing before I start making things. “Sort of” because I am not using 0.3mm and 0.5mm technical pens and following the strict methodology that I learned whilst at university, but for something like this sculpture I am using a drawing board, compasses, geotractors, rules and of course erasers. What I find is that the act of drawing helps me to understand the concept, or rather the limitations in my mathematical knowledge, so then I go back to the computer and draw it on there. After drawing it four times on the computer to obtain four different lots of results I got totally fed up and went back to pen and paper and just made some decisions like this angle will be 57.2° and started making stuff.

The first thing I did was to make the ring. I quickly decided to use steel square section instead of my original intention which was to use wire rope. Partly this was because I have the steel in stock, but mainly it was so that I could create a series of lines that would become reference points or datum lines. This enables me to orientate the ring and position the legs.

Now I know roughly where the legs will attach to the ring I can calculate roughly where they will meet at the top and start to make some visible progress.

With the top cone made I can now make the joints which connect the lower legs to the upper and ultimately connect to the ring.

Musser M55 Refurbishment (Job No: 1410)

Originally this vibraphone had a “field frame” which is one of those massive bloody things with huge wheels that Musser created for the farming community. In true entrepreneurial style some clever person at Musser discovered that literally millions of farmers worldwide get so bored when ploughing their fields that they often feel the urge to learn a musical instrument, so why not the vibraphone? Hence the field frame was developed by Musser and I threw it in the bin as crap.


The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 2: Conceptulisation) (job#1457)

Some of the footage shown in the introduction video is repeated in the video included in this post, but only a small element. The previous video was edited by Nordic Music Days to satisfy their publicity requirements. Just how do you advertise and promote something that doesn’t even exist? I’ll leave that job for those that specialise in that area thank you very much! In contrast I edited this video for my purposes, which are to document and demonstrate how I approach the creative process.

A word of warning. Although I am trying to reduce the length of my videos, I just can’t help being a chatterbox – it is a curse! Anyway this is a bit longer than I wanted, but hopefully illuminating and entertaining.


The way I shot this video was literally to set the camera rolling and start drawing and talking about what I was doing. There was two to three hours of footage to wade through, so I won’t be doing that again! Inevitably there were several creative cul-de-sacs, which I omitted from the video. Some of these blind alleys were much longer than others. There are many things that are going through my mind simultaneously; I was thinking both about the visual and acoustic aspects of the aurora borealis as well as making decisions on whether that particular idea would translate into a sculpture that would look cool, and how practical or successful it would be to make. Gradually some of the concepts start to work and a design is created.

IMG_20170218_185823

A new thing for me with this project is having to justify myself. I couldn’t believe it! Normally with these projects (as well as my general work) what happens is that people ask, “Paul would you do this for me/us?” and I reply yes or no and with a price tag. I deliver whatever I have come up at the appropriate time and they are delighted with the results. So to be questioned about my capabilities came as a bit of a shock. So in order to satisfy the South Bank Centre which is the venue, I had to do some better drawings and thus certificate my professionalism. As you can probably tell, what I feel is a huge cultural void between people who work in a large organisation doing highly specialised roles and me, an instrument maker who works by himself and does everything to run his own business. What they fail to understand is that I fix things, but in order to fix something I need to know what the problem is and that requires speaking the same language, and I just don’t speak theirs.

However, I am not a negative person, the opposite, I will go out of my way to help people. Most people take advantage of my nature, but they the arseholes; those that don’t become my friends. It is not altruistic, I get something from the interaction too, be it feeling good about myself for helping a stranger in the street, or pride in my work because I always do my best. So because the South Bank needed help in visualising the concept, they needed sketches in context or some such jargon which meant, “Paul can you show us what it will look like outside the centre please?” Now I have an understanding of the problem, I can come up with a solution which was to draw it on the computer so I could insert the image into a photo. This avoids my inability to do pretty drawings quickly but also gave me the opportunity to work the design more, expose areas that didn’t work and fill in the gaps a bit more.

Northern Lights Concept drawing

And what a useful process this has proven to be. Only positives have come out of the time that I spent doing it. Oh the irony! When I start building the sculpture things will change and develop again, but it is such a useful reference point to show people. I forget that I am exceptionally good at visualisation, I can can close my eyes and go through a whole job; most of the time what I make in my imagination is realised in the material world. I make musical instruments, so of course I am good at it. But I forget that most people don’t have that skill and when questioned I get defensive and irritable, which makes me the arsehole!

sculpture in location