Tag: Paul Jefferies

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.

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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

The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture: (part 1: Intro)

Nordic Music Days host an annual festival to celebrate and promote music from all over that vast region. This year for the first time the event will be held somewhere else and they have chosen London. Running from September 28 to October 1 it will be held at the South Bank Centre. The theme for this years festival is the northern Lights.

To celebrate this event I have been commissioned to create a new instrument. Below is the promotional video using footage I shot at the very beginning of conceptualising my ideas.


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Ludwig Professional Timpani For Sale (Job no: 1390)

SOLD

For Sale a set of 4 Ludwig Professional Timpani with discs and covers.
[serial nos: 32″=5220, 29″=5218, 26″=5219, 23″=5126]

These drums have been in my workshop for a while now, which is too long for such a good set of timps to be unused.  Obviously this means that the price is too high, but all of my prices are just a starting point for the negotiations which follow.  So I am going to try an alternative method; you suggest a price and we can go from there…

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Those of you who read my blog and watch my videos already know that I am rubbish at remembering model names and numbers, I classify it as useless information, why retain it in my head when it can be easily researched if needed. However in this case, I think that I just told or learned the name incorrectly, so when I was clarifying exactly what to call the drums I discovered after many many years that Ludwig don’t even make Pro-Symphonics! They do make Grand Symphonics, but what the difference would be between a set of Grands and Professionals with the optional extra of hand hammered bowls will have to remain a mystery to me since they would both be made with exactly the same components. The answer of course would be the price tag. Anyway I digress; I apologise for getting the name of the drums wrong in the video, but the name is correct everywhere else.


What is in a name anyway?  It doesn’t alter the fact that these drums are in a really nice condition.  Equally, they rarely come up for sale second hand.  Because of the condition of the drums when I collected them and their inherent value, I decided that I had to do some work on them.  This work mainly consisted of giving everything a good clean (oh and isn’t that a massive understatement!) and going over the chassis making sure everything was tight. However I did have to spend a day working on the set up to make sure that they work properly.  Normally after all this I would put new heads on as a matter of course, but these drums are not mine and are in for sale not an overhaul. This is a compromise, and I know that they would sound better with new heads on, but this can be left to the negotiations…

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Above are some photos of the drums for you to have a look at, I tried to get the worst of the bowl imperfections visible. Below are some close up photos of the damage that I referred to in the video. There is nothing more I can really say about these timpani, for those who are looking for a good set of timps, proven over many years to produce a great sound reliably, you will know what you want and you will see that these drums are in great condition. For those who are thinking about other drums, well I would buy these everyday in preference to the gimmicky new crap that is popular at the moment – in ten years I fully expect that I will be doing very expensive repairs to those drums whereas in ten years, these Ludwigs might just need another clean and service. They are in my workshop available to be viewed, I can of course deliver if needed, and I will handle the whole transaction so it will be nice and easy to accomplish. To discuss viewing and prices either email or phone.

26″ bowl dent

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Bowl corrosion

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29″ bowl dent

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32″ timp disc
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29″ timp disc
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broken strap
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Premier 701 Vibraphone Overhaul (Job No: 1351)

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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.

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Premier Fibreglass Timpani Part 2 (Job No: 1357)

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In the first part of this job I looked at the restoration of the base casting and my approach to the repair. With the drums back from the welders I can now clean up the chassis, do the painting and rebuild the drums.

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. By, “everything” I mean every little detail, so in the posts on timpani I 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!)


Premier 701 Vibraphone Repair (Job No: 1354)

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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.

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Premier Fibreglass Timpani (Job No: 1283)

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Premier Percussion have been making their timpani with glass fibre bowls for a long time now. The actual production method has varied both with developments of available materials and with expertise. However one issue constantly raises its head – empty cavities around the bearing edge often leading to osmosis.

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!)

In this video I am looking at a 22.1/2″ timpani which has never been serviced. I guestimate that the drum was bought in the mid 1990’s. During this era, Premier still had its factory in Leicester which produced virtually everything, however factory assembly workers do not particularly give a shit about the quality of the work they produce, and I think that Premier suffered because of this.


As can be seen in the video, not only were there manufacturing issues with the drum but also assembly problems. The manufacture of the bowl istelf, surely is at the very heart of making a kettle drum. Everything else on the drums are just engineered components fitted into the larger castings of the base and the legs. Yet what I find time and again, and this is not by any means limited to Premier, are low standards of quality in production methods that in most instances are outdated anyway. Furthermore I often see massive resistence to change something that is problematical; is it resistence or ability?

On top of these (sometimes badly made) components, we have the additional problem of poor assembly. When I was at university in London studying violin making, my tutor told us that making the body of an instrument is about 20% of the job, the other 80% is the setup. What he was saying is that the skills of an instrument maker is making sure that the instrument sounds good and feels good to play.

However both problems really boil down to a lack of care in the person doing the work. This lack of care in the workers, is overseen by management who call it quality control so they can quantify it, presumably to justify their existence to the directors who can make decisions as to the acceptable levels of failure. Basically what I am saying is that the level of acceptable standards comes from the top down, so it is unfair to blame the low paid workers.

The majority of professional musicians I have spoken with about what instruments they buy and why, cite the drop in standards as the reason why they don’t buy Premier. Additionally most of them, including myself expressed great frustration with the company over this obvious problem. If they can’t get the quality, they may as well buy cheap.

There is an adage, from rags to riches and back again in four generations, and it sums up wht happens to companies like Premier, like Musser, like Adams, etc. The founding craftsman who makes whatever product cares deeply about quality and the business grows. Employees are trained and indoctrinated in this mentality. When the founder retires the business is sold, or passed to the next generation who continue the growth and the business blossoms. By the third generation there are no original employees and the whole mentality of the business has changed as well as the world in which it must operate and the business starts to fail… There are many, many examples of great companies ruined by the people who take them over, a few get resurrected by a rich benefactor with a passion. I haven’t earned and lost a financial empire (yet?), but I would still like a rich benefactor!