Tag: Paul Jefferies

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

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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

Musser M55 Buying Guide

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Musser vibes are the industry standard. I have used the M55 model number because to me they all look the same. Yes sometimes I see gold paint instead of silver, sometimes there are more bits of useless metal getting in the way, but they all work the same. So if it looks like an M55, I call it an M55.

The M55 is a great vibraphone, but like most percussion instruments the design and build quality is sometimes a little dubious. Whilst I have this instrument in my workshop, and before I start doing any work on it, I thought that I would do another buying guide and supplement the first one I did on the Premier 751.


Cymbal Cradle Prototype (Job No: 1333)

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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.

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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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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…


Premier 751 Buying Guide

Premier Percussion’s 751 or 701 vibraphones are great instruments despite being often disparaged. It is true that I think there are some elements of the design that are flawed, but I am an instrument maker and I always strive for perfection – believe me that can be a curse (ask my future wife about it if you ever meet her!) However on the whole, as I have already stated, I think they are great and have a lot of positives.

First and foremost, the note bars sound good. Yes the tuning could be better, but you show me a vibe that is tuned properly off the shelf. Tuning can be improved whereas tonality and sustain cannot, and the 751 has both aspects in abundance. This is unsurprising to me since the note bars are more similar to the Deagan’s vibraphones than the Musser’s which are the vibes in vogue today.

To this day they are probably one of the most portable set of vibes, although they are made to be carried not wheeled about, and it is the wheeling around that I think causes a lot of the problems that I have to fix.

Considering the lightweight and portable design of the frame, they last well. I am frequently seeing instruments that are over 50 years old and still working! I would probably die of shock if any of the shite made today by other manufacturers comes in to be serviced when I am in my nineties. That would be Karma I suppose.

The 751 vibraphone has not been made now for a good number of years which means that the only way of acquiring one is to buy it second-hand. I often receive emails asking for advice on what problems to look out for when buying , so I have made this buying guide to give some pointers.


If you are looking at buying a 751 or 701 vibraphone, take a pad and make some notes, count up the missing parts and take some photographs. Then when you want to know roughly how much the repair bill will be, you will have the correct information. All of the parts are obsolete; some I have made direct replacements and some I have re-designed, but all take time to make and fit, and it is the time that ultimately costs you the money. When I compare the average repair bill against other instruments, it is the 751/701 vibe that has the widest range in value, and this is a direct consequence of obsolete parts.

Lefima Tambourine repair (Job No: 1273)

This is one of those little jobs that I sometimes struggle to fit into to my schedule. If you persevere through the (too) long video, you will get an understanding of why I am always behind with my work!

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I have two tambourines that the musician wants to be able to use. These are old, and have a really nice retro sound. As can be seen from the photo above, a lot of the jingles are damaged and a good number are missing. The player also wants “calf” heads put on. After discussion, he is getting one goat and one calf skin.


The first thing to make is a pattern so that I can repair the jingles I have, and then make the replacements.

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With the jingles complete, the new heads go on. Below you can see the second tambourine in the re-heading jig. I use a lot of jigs; they are a good way to maintain consistency on repetitive jobs, they invariably raise the quality of the finished item, and they make my life easier in the long run. Tool and jig making is one of the corner stones of how I work. “A bad workman blames his tools” because a good workman doesn’t have bad tools.

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The finished tambourines, both looking a bit special (even if I say so myself). But actually I have put a lot of effort in to get to this point, and seeing them looking and sounding this good is rewarding – job satisfaction.

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Adams Timpani Repair (Job No: 1325)

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It is unusual considering the age of these drums that certain components are made with more consideration for frugality than quality.  I remember when I last saw these drums that I had a number of difficulties with the fork pressing (Premier’s name for the part), which is the lever that lifts the sleeve which disengages the clutch from the underside.  Well seven years have gone by since then, and the drums have been giving good service, but recently these components have started to fail and cause problems, so I have the drums again to come up with a solution.


What is evident from the video is that the choice of how Adams made these components is dubious.  As I mentioned in the video, the British Isles leads the world in engineering, always has and if the government get their head out of their arses it always will.  So of course Premier made the parts the proper way which is why 50 years later the design has not changed.  Adams are copyists but seemingly things have always been done on the cheap.  Short term gain.  The lack of engineering knowledge to come up with a good design is one thing, but the worst element of these components is that they are badly made.  This causes lots of problems when I come to copy them, because unlike them, I make things square/perpendicular/paralell/etc as appropriate.  Therefore the job immediately becomes a lot more challenging.

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Premier 750 Vibraphone (Job No: 1227)

There has been a little discussion on another blog post regarding the note pegs on this vibraphone, so I thought that it was about time that I wrote up the work I did to the last Premier 700 series vibraphone that came through my workshop.

Premier made the 750 series vibraphone from 1947 – 61, then updated the frame calling it the 701 from 1961 – 79. So I was 5 when the latest version of the Premier vibe was made, which is why I am slightly confused as to exactly what model this vibe is. Confusion is my normal state especially when it comes to Premier’s instruments, this looks like a 700 series, but with a new (at the time) pedal system. The 700 had a damper system with a central pull rod and a small toe pedal, which the became a long pedal attached to the same mechanism. The 750 has the re-designed pedal used on later vibes and a new motor. However I can’t remember how the top frame worked on the last 700 (with centre pull) I worked on, I think it was like this instrument.

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Although these weren’t the first vibraphone that Premier made, they are very old now.  This is not a bad thing, especially with vibraphones.  This is because of the aluminium that the notes are made from simply isn’t available now.  The two aspects of the material that have changed are, the recipe/purity of the alloy that is used and the treatment process it is subjected to.  Material science has moved on since the days when these instruments were made, and newer materials with more desirable properties to wider industry have been developed resulting in a lot of aluminium alloys and treatment process becoming obsolete.  Like most scenarios, what is good for the major consumers of materials is bad for musical applications.

So the note bars are great, but what is not so great about these 700 and 750 series vibes is just about everything else.  To make matters more difficult to discuss, like a lot of manufacturers during this period, instruments were being continually developed.  So there are several different versions of the 700 series which eventually became the 750 and then 701/751 which in turn went through several versions.  This evolution of instruments at Premier slowed down in the 1980s and eventually stopped in the early 1990s, obviously due to the key personnel leaving or retiring, and resulted in Premier’s orchestral range becoming dated which is a great shame, but that is progress, ultimately only the companies that specialise in selling high quantities of low quality instruments survive.  When will we ever learn?

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Anyway I digress as per usual.

The problems with these vibraphones is in the nature of how they are assembled and disassembled.  I still don’t really know the best way to go about it.  The central two note rails and the damper bar comprise one unit which is attached either end of both rails to the leg frames with four wing screws.  The same method is used to attach the outer two note rails, whereas the damper pedal is located on two plastic pegs and secured with “J” bolts as per the later vibes.  The challenge is to assemble the instrument out of all the components by yourself, if you succeed give yourself a pat on the back, you are better practised than I.  It is only after all the rails are in that everything can be tightened and the frame becomes more rigid, before that point the instrument is liable to collapse at any given moment.  If you try and cheat by tightening the screws too early you physically can’t get the other rails into the gap.  After the square is secure it is simple to fix the resonators with their diagonal braces, which ironically make the 700 series vibe more stable than the 751 series.  It is at this point that you will realise that you forgot to put the vibe belts around the inner two note rails, and you have to walk away, make a cup of tea and regroup.

Obviously there is nothing that I can do to repair the inherent design flaws and the subsequent frustrations incurred, my job is to make the instrument playable.  In order to play the instruments the notes need to be suspended off the frame, and this is another case of those perishing rubber note pegs. As can be seen from the photograph above, the rubber note pegs on this vibe are organised in pairs. The reasons for the rubber perishing is discussed in 1264: Premier Vibe Note Pegs, the approach to the repair on this vibe is also essentially the same, and indeed I did the two instruments concurrently. The main difference being that I made only one mould for each rail I needed to work on because these vibes come in to be repaired so infrequently. Typically, I now have more enquiries so I should have made more and not just thought of myself!

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(Photographic evidence that the instrument can indeed stand upright with only three note rails attached!)

The rest of the instrument, in terms of the overhaul, is very similar to all the other Premier vibraphones I seem to have been working on this year. The damper bar is the same as later models, as is the damper pedal with the exception that the 751 series vibraphones have two connecting rods which is preferable to the one that was on this 700 vibe. Had I had all the spare parts available, I would have modified this vibe to include that second connecting rod, but I didn’t, so I didn’t. The omission is not disastrous, just not ideal. When there is only one connecting rod, there is an inbalance in the damping system whereby the end without the connecting rod has a certain level of ambiguity in the damping. The ramifications are that I had to set the instrument up less precisely than I normal like to do. In normal circumstances I set the vibraphones up so that I can make the transition between fully damped/pedal up to fully open/pedal down within the flexure of my toes. On this instrument the ankle has to be used also.

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Of course a vibraphone made in the 1950/60’s will have no consideration to electrical safety. As can be seen, the flex has been condemned by someone who quite rightly cut it off, it is the old cloth wound flex after all. I updated the wiring to use an IEC15 plug and socket after determining that the motor did indeed still work even after all these years, and it passed the PAT test.

With the notes cleaned and re-strung, the resonators and butterflies serviced and cleaned, the end result is a nice, tidy, fully working instrument which sounded great.

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