Tag: Paul Jefferies

Premier 751 Vibraphone (part 2) (Job No: 1279)

This Premier 751 Vibraphone is one of those instruments that seemed to have everything wrong with it; the frame was out of shape, major elements like the damper system were broken, and the motor was hanging off.  In 1279: Premier 751 vibe (pt 1) I discussed the structural work that I have done, starting from the ground up, and ending with the commencement of a new damper system.

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Most of the work in making a new damper system is in the set up, by which I mean how this intrinsically simple system is fitted to the instrument. This is discussed in greater detail in 1260: Premier 701 vibe (pt 2) and it can be seen that I take great care in ensuring that everything is set parallel so that when the damper is used, it rotates freely around its fulcrum points. In reality, because I do not compromise on the quality of materials, the felt I use is of exceptional quality and soft enough to compress around any localised discrepancies. Therefore ironically I have more leeway in the set up of the damper bar, but I cannot guarantee that the same felt will be used from now on, and if a job is worth doing, do it properly. Of primary importance is how the bar makes contact with the underside of the note bars, this is it’s function after all; it needs to be simultaneous across the entire range (left to right or up and down the vibe) as well as between the naturals and accidentals (front to back). So as well as getting everything mechanically efficient, it is this element that I want to get right. I have only ever seen an adjustable system on an Adams vibraphone, and it struck me as a very good idea, especially considering their history of inaccuracy when mass producing components; needless to say despite their system being adjustable, no one had set it up properly before I finally got hold of it, but that is a question of mass produced instruments being assembled by minimum wage factory workers.

The final part of the damper system is joining it to the pedal. In the photograph above I have dropped plumb lines down so that I can mark where, along the damper bar, I want the connections placed. This is an example as to why, when I built the workshop, I put a raised floor in. Besides the added comfort of standing all day on a wooden floor, as opposed to the great discomfort (and harm) from standing on concrete, installing a floor meant that I could get the whole area perfectly flat using a laser level. With a horizontal surface to work off, I know that every time I drop a plumb line down off an instrument, it will be perpendicular to the floor. In practice this means that the two rods that pull the damper are now both pulling at the same rate in the same direction – this is so difficult to achieve that most manufacturers opted to have one pull rod and a central pedal.

I suppose the big question is why do I bother? There are several perspectives to the answer. A vibraphone player generally has an indirect contact with the instrument, they use mallets or bows to generate the sound. To control the sustain and decay on (and in) the whole they rely on a mechanical system. It is my task to give them the very best tools to do their job, so I want the damper system to be expressive as possible and I want consistency across every note. When I say this is my job, it seems blindingly obvious why I go to great lengths to get things perfect. The counter is also true: if a vibraphone does not have this done by a maker or repairer, then they are not doing their job. Furthermore, it is in my nature to be extremely particular and exacting, which why I became an instrument maker, but despite the lack of financial reward the main rewards are in job satisfaction. Over time, to achieve the same level of job satisfaction and therefore reward, I have to aim higher and higher and only my very best work gives that satisfaction. Consequently I always do my best, still living to the Scout promise after all these years!

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Whilst I was working on this vibe, I use the opportunity to try out my moulding system for replacing the note pegs. There are more details on this kit in 1264: Premier Vibe Note Pegs. There was also a new motor system fitted (1101: Premier vibe motor conversion) and some new alternative spare parts that I have made. In the photograph below the motor speed control can be seen tucked away inside the top transom, and two new note cord hoop mouldings. The Two cord hoop mouldings I have made in bronze as opposed to plastic, so I will be very surprised if they ever break again. They are a little bit more expensive than the originals were, but the originals are obsolete and I have run out, but my replacements are far superior, but it is the unit cost which has prevented me from replacing all of them.

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Xylophone Tuning (Job No: 1294)

On the surface, many aspects of my job seem to be structural or mechanical, which they are, but the solutions are always to improve the musical aspect of the instrument.  Aside from increasing its lifespan, which is almost a byproduct, the main aim is to improve playability, projection, tonality, etc.  Right at the very heart of this is the tuning.  I have been working on and off on a series of articles to explain the various aspects of temprements and tunings, and they will eventually be completed, but what I realised was that I very rarely write blog posts about this aspect of what I do.

Sometimes my self protectionism manifests itself inadvertantly with a reluctance or resistance to publicise what I am doing and how I go about jobs.  This is irrational, because the reality is that even if I were to tell someone exactly how to do something, they can’t necessarily do it.  I have experienced this many times when I am on the phone to a customer talking them through a job, or even face to face teaching my past assistants – there is an empirical feel that simply cannot be taught it has to be learned through experience.  Tuning is the same, in that there is an empirical understanding of what to do.  There are plenty of misleading internet guides on how to make your own marimba or xylophone, and if you have the time, energy and don’t mind making something shit, then they are great.  However to expect an app on a mobile phone to be capable of tuning percussion instruments accurately would be naive.

So anyway, all the notes are unstrung and arranged chromatically.  I have a bench that houses trays which contain a complete instruments note bars which can be slid out to be worked on, or be put away until the following day.  It keeps everything together so that I don’t mix up the instruments.  The work bench has a top and two shelves so that when I work on a set of notes the octaves can be separated vertically up the bench.  This means that I can tune any of the octaves chromatically, or do all the Cs, all the Ds, etc in a compact space, because I do jump around selecting various notes to do side by side comparisons.

When I start tuning a set of notes I am listening to the notes with my ears as well using electronic tuners. The tuners enable me to tune the bar to exactly the pitch I want. Qualifying what I mean by exact, the tuners I use are accurate to 10th of a cent, and a cent is a 100th of a semitone, so in other words ridiculously accurate. In practice, for wooden note bars, the tuning tolerance can be greater, so I tune to within a cent of the pitch I want.

On the first day I am listening with my ears more in order to identify any issues and inconsistencies. Sometimes there is a suppressed feel to the way an individual bar sounds, and often there are slightly discordant harmonics. Additionally xylophones in particular are prone to edge damage, so all of these factors help determine how I go about removing material from the bar. Since removing material is the only way I have of manipulating the tuning, this first day takes the longest because if I get it wrong, I can’t put the material back onto the bar.


Over the following week I return to the notes each day, making smaller and smaller adjustments until they have stabilised, at which point I seal the underside of the notes with lacquer, restring them and return them to the instrument frame or the customer.

1″ Chimes (Job No: 1301)

I have made a new frame for a set of 1″ chimes, so it made sense to extend the playing range up to the top G at this juncture.  The frame has already been delivered, so now I have the time to make the bells.

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The first thing I need is an example bell, in this case I asked for the F.  Not only does this enable me to take all the measurements that I need in order to make any parts, but it also helps during the tuning process so that the new bells fit within the existing set.

It is now virtually impossible to get brass tube in the size that I want, let alone the correct material.  Brass is an alloy, so there are lots recipes to get the required properties for the desired application.  Over time, brass is being replaced (presumably by plastic) so the commercial requirement for these mixes has largely disappeared.  Combined with the mills being bought out during global monopolization, this has resulted in higher prices and less choice.  Of course, if I buy sufficient quantity (a metric tonne) I can get whatever I want, but I am instrument maker – I make musical instruments for a living therefore I am poor; spending thousands of pounds sterling on lengths of brass tube is just not going to happen.  Additionally I would need four external diameters, and three wall thicknesses, that is twelve tons of brass tube!  If I had that kind of money, I would retire to the Caribbean.

Fortunately I do have some stock, which still equates to well over a thousand pounds just sitting on a shelf!  In amongst those tubes I did indeed have a length of the correct material, which is the major hurdle negotiated.  So the first job is to chop it into lengths longer than the bells I need to make.  There is nothing worse than making a bell only to find that it is too sharp right at the end of the process when the tuning happens.  With the two new tubes cut, I drill the holes for the string to match the existing bell and stamp the tubes.

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Using the existing bell as a reference, I measure the cap dimensions so that I can form the inside of the cap from solid bar. This form is then cut off the bar giving me two crude caps. I use a donor bit of tube offcut as a temporary bell and spot solder the caps in place. This enables me to hold the offcut tube in the lathe to form the external shape. My lathe doesn’t have a large enough bore to pass the tube through its headstock.

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With the caps now made, it is just a matter of removing them from the donor tubes and soldering them in place on the actual tubes. After they have cooled, I hand polish the whole bell, then tune it and send it off to be chrome plated if required.

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Deagan Aurora (part 3) (Job No: 1256)

It can be seen that I tend to employ a systematic approach to overhauling percussion instruments, and vibraphones in particular typify my methods.  Sometimes I deviate from the logical order of doing things, so in 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt 1) I looked at the damper system and in 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt 2) I looked at the whole frame.  This was just because of the way my working week fell – it was Friday late morning when I started looking at this vibraphone, and I didn’t want to immerse myself into a new project only to have to break off immediately, so I removed what I thought would have been a small element.  Anyway in this post I hope to finish the instrument by looking at the final three elements: the resonators, motor and notes.

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In the photograph above, the resonators on the left have yet to be done, whereas the resonators on the right are complete.  What doesn’t come out so well in the photos is just how dirty these resonators were.  Thankfully it was a nice summer day, so I sat outside with a bucket of hot soapy water and literally scrubbed them until they were clean, whilst hosing off the filth periodically to prevent it from baking back on.  And that was just the tubes.

The important thing about vibraphone resonators are the butterfly valves that rotate, opening and closing the tube.  The tube, as the name implies, is simply an acoustic chamber that resonates in sympathy with the second harmonic of the note under which it is hung.  As the butterfly valve is rotated it opens and closes this acoustic chamber so it cycles through being activated and therefore heard, then not.  This is what give the vibraphone its sound and presumably its name; although the name is misleading because I have no idea what the “vibra” stands for, because it is not vibrato.  It should be called an Oscillating Amplitude (Second Harmonic) Metalaphone which would have been way more cool.  Of course I could be showing my ignorance and the “vibra” could be an aspect of the inventors name as in Adolf Sax.

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The butterflies are attached to a fan shaft which runs down the length of the resonator tubes, and this shaft is driven typically by a belt connected to a motor via pulley wheels. There are other designs, but they are just marketing gimmicks that add needless complication into a simple and efficient system and demonstrate (to me) complete ignorance of the principles of mechanical engineering, a misunderstanding of the acoustics, a lack of consideration for the gigging musician, or a combination of all three. This design works, it has always worked; it is simple, rarely goes wrong, and is quick and easy to set up when assembling the instrument. I never understand why manufacturers can be bothered to put effort into developing an alternative system that ultimately is worse than the starting point unless it is simply to give them something to talk about when they are trying to sell the instruments. My “USP” is that it sounds good, oh and it has a life time guarantee.

Because the fan shaft is so long, it needs to be supported, certainly at either end, but also in one or two other places. It is these supporting bushes that introduce noise into the system, and of course that noise is amplified through the resonator tubes. I often have to make up new bushes to replace parts that are damaged or simply missing as was the case on this Deagan vibraphone.

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All of this cleaning, making parts, repairing and polishing fan shafts, aligning, etc all takes time time, and unfortunately there really is no short cut; cutting corners results in a noisy system. So after all of this work, the next stage is the motor. This is where things went wrong for me. The problem is that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Because the motors are generally very old, they are really dirty and essentially operating under a 15 tog duvet of dust which means that everything gets very hot – not good. However, because everything has been getting very hot for a very long time, all the wires are extremely brittle and on the very edge of breaking down – also not good. So if I leave things alone the motor will fail and if I try and clean and service it, the motor could fail. The final element is the wiring; because the motors are invariably very old, health and safety simply was not even taken into consideration. Today things are different, I simply cannot let an electric appliance leave my workshop if I know it to be unsafe – regardless of legislation on a personal level I will not let people expose themselves to life threatening dangers in ignorance. However there is legislation and appliances need to be inspected by a qualified person, and if the wiring is dangerous, then it fails the test and legally cannot be allowed to be used.

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So all I did was to put on a strain relief system. This meant desoldering wires, threading new cables through and reconnecting. After my intention was to blank off the exposed components. This minor bit of work introduced an inconsistent fault, which, whilst trying to identify gradually became less inconsistent until it achieved permanent. Ultimately, a decision has to be made – is it really worth spending time and effort trying to fix a motor that is forty years old? The answer is no.

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The final stage of the overhaul is to clean the notes. Finger grease, beer, sweat, spittle, smoke, etc multiplied by years equals a nasty film of crud that inhibits the notes from vibrating. Unless I have be asked to tune or refinish the notes, it just a case of cleaning it all off which requires more time and elbow grease. The results however are rewarding; not only do they look a lot better, they sound so much better and respond when played. When the whole instrument is assembled and clean notes go on it is like the icing on the cake, although it is the notes that are at the very heart of the instrument. But this is not unusual, it is the same with all instruments: for instance the strings on a violin, guitar or piano make the vibrations, but it is how the rest of the instrument utilises those vibrations that is important.


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Deagan Arora (part 2) (Job No: 1256)

I’m only human; I have one pair of hands, only so much time and a limited amount of patience. After a really busy summer, I am still behind with just about everything including writing these blog posts. So I utilise waking up early to try and catch up, spending two hours writing a post only to have all the content deleted when the upload fails. It makes me want to scream I am that annoyed and consequently it takes me two days to calm down enough to try again, so here goes…

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When the phone doesn’t ring much, in addition to the work that does come in, I have the time to return to jobs that get delayed, start long overdue projects and catch up over a longer time scale. The result is always the same in that I bite off more than I can chew and end up being swamped with tasks and crisis management has to be employed. So invariably jobs take longer from start to finish, but several end all at the same time. This Deagan Aurora is an example of one of those instruments that I keep returning to over several weeks rather than working on this vibe alone from start to finish. In 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt1) I concentrated on the damper system (mainly because I had to do exactly the same job on another instrument, so I did the two back to back. In this post I will look at the frame of the vibraphone.

In the photo above, the two massive ends of the Aurora can be seen. These are held together by the central bar on which the pedal is mounted. It is quite a clever design, but in practice not that use friendly. The bar slides into a telescopic socket mounted on either board.

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This socket goes nearly the full depth of the end board and means that the two ends are kept perpendicular to the cross bar through the 360 degrees of the tube; gravity keeps the wheels horizontal on the floor and these two ends are massively heavy. Therefore with just the two ends and the cross bar attached I can verify that the ends are perpendicular, parallel and level to each other. This provides me with a second datum line (the floor (being absolutely level) is my first datum) at the top of the vibraphone.

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Now I have my datum line, I have exposed a major problem – none of the note rails are level. In the photo above, the gold on the top of the end board and the silver of the aluminium straight edge should be parallel, but it can clearly be seen that the black line gets wider towards the left of the picture, which means that the outside accidental note rail is lower than the natural outside rail. At the low end of the instrument it was the other way around and obviously they were not level down their lengths. Further investigation revealed that one of the inner note rails was above the line, depicted by the straight edge, and the other below. This is a major issue especially on instruments with a damping mechanism like vibraphones; if the notes are not flat, then there is a reliance on the felt on the damper bar to accommodate these discrepancies. This only works if the correct felt is used, which it isn’t, and silly fads like using gel will definitely not work, certainly not to that standards that my customers have come to expect. Therefore I put mechanisms into the ends and centre joints of all the note rails so that I can make the necessary adjustments and set the instrument up properly. Another obvious and simple modification that I make that I have never seen on any other percussion instrument which resolves the recurring problem that these instruments are used in the real world and not just to look pretty in showrooms and catalogues. On this Deagan Aurora, the cause is because it was made badly, but in this day and age of mass production the same problem occurs through wear on substandard materials.

The story continues in 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt 3)

Premier 751 Vibraphone (part 1) (Job No: 1279)

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Here is a Premier 751 Vibraphone in a bit of a state, sent in to me to be made usable.  Whenever I get an instrument like any of the Premier 7 series vibes, I always ask how the instrument used.  This is because I have invariably seen the same model instrument many times before and have a good knowledge how they break.  For example, the resonators on the 751 (or 701) vibraphone are fixed in two points at the low end, but at the high end there is no mechanical fixing, they simply rest on a transom.  Using gravity is fine on most instruments for holding resonators in place because of their mass, but to then expect gravity to be a structural component of an instrument’s design and resist the much larger forces of motion and mechanics is simply ridiculous.  And yet I see it used all the time, by every manufacturer and even overlooked in most renovations, which is how I have come to the conclusion that either nobody knows what they are doing, or that they are making things to fail to generate future income.

So to get back to this vibraphone, what has resulted is that when viewed from above, the frame has become rhomboid and when viewed from the front it has become trapezoid.  If this frame distortion is ignored, the instrument will eventually just die, but with a simple sub frame the problems can be rectified.  The frames I make have a life time guarantee, that’s my lifetime, not the life time of a product (which is up to the moment it breaks), so essentially they are extremely strong, strong enough to be used to pull a frame back into alignment as opposed to just retaining it in a distorted shape.  Alignment of an instrument is very important for longevity, especially when there are moving components like on a vibraphone.

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Everyone has a method of working, I start at both ends; from the ground up and the top down.  What I am doing is working from the known points and verifying that those datum lines are correct.  By the ground up I mean the contact with the floor, and the top down is the players interaction.  In order to get fit a subframe to Premier vibes it is necessary to remove the two lower transoms, this makes it easier to also fit new casters.

Another constantly recurring problem with most percussion instruments is the material used to make the frame out of.  Aluminium is used because it is “light weight”, but it only saves weight if the component is designed properly to overcome its low strength, mostly manufacturers just use more of it to add strength which is expensive and heavier than steel.  Premier have deviated from the norm and actually used an extrusion; all the little grooves massively increasing the components bending resistance.  Where the casters are bolted on, Premier have even used the plastic end cap as an internal support to the tube to resist the tube crushing and wear on bolt holes.  In fact on most of the Premier vibraphones I see, it is the steel note rails and not the aluminium that is visibly bent.

However, the problem I encounter when modifying an aluminium frame is holding the fixings in place.  To simply drill a hole and put a steel bolt through is never going to last; the aluminium extrusion will compress introducing a gap, therefore movement, and therefore wear on the holes thus rendering the whole exercise a complete waste of time, effort and the customers money.  This means that I have to make a whole range of subsidiary components to support the bolts which will affix the proposed frame modification, which takes careful thought, time and always some compromises to keep the ultimate cost down.

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The final subframe looks very simple, but it is doing many jobs:  It holds the four casters parallel to the ground, fixes the width of the instrument, pushes the back two casters outwards to remove the frame twist, pulls the frame back square so that the note bed is horizontal, and holds it there during use of the damper pedal, and finally it increases the structural strength of the whole vibraphone so that it can withstand being wheeled around the buildings where it lives and is played.  Like all my solutions, I use the minimum number of wing nuts to reduce the players time when setting up or packing down; three nuts and the legs can be folded away.  The only downside is that one has another component to carry, but only because I retained the original pedal bar to save money.

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With the frame problems now rectified I turn my attention to the next area, and look at the damper bar.  It is immediately apparent that there is a problem – one of the leaf springs has broken.  They always break, the constant bending work hardens the steel making it increasingly brittle until it snaps.  The thread in the plastic ball is stripped, and the ball is cracked.  The felt is more like carpet than felt, and the bar itself is bent.  Each of these problems can be repaired, but then you would still be left with an ineffectual damper system which has components that are prone to failure, and that is not what my customers want back as a completely refurbished instrument.  Additionally my aim is always to return instruments that will give years if not decades of use.

Having made a new damper system recently on another vibraphone (1260: 701 vibe damper (pt 2)), it was a good opportunity to repeat the process.  I am constantly reviewing how I do things and looking for improvements, or developing methods to make the process quicker and cheaper without compromising quality.  This was no exception, I tweaked a few aspects of the design and the construction but essentially it is the same as before.  By increasing the width of the bar I have increased the surface area of the note in contact with the felt which results in much better damping.  On an operational level, because the bar is hinged, and because I have designed it, there is minimal horizontal travel as the bar travels through its arc.  The original design, because of the leaf springs, shifts left to right as the bar is pulled down and up; this lateral movement not only drags the notes around, but from a musical perspective it creates woolliness in the damping.

The original Premier damper system, is an ugly, inelligent and inefficient design solution that I would never have been happy with, but that is essentially my gripe with most instruments and all of the brand manufactures; they put into production badly designed products which are then made cheaply and badly, and endorsed by high profile musicians.  Even worse, a high profile musician “designs” and markets a new instrument.  Whilst musicians know when they are playing on a nice instrument, they generally have very little idea as to what makes the instrument good besides the obvious.  I have spent decades learning about materials, mechanical engineering, acoustics, etc, and I have more questions than ever.  It’s like the drummer that wants to be a front man – the musician that wants to make instruments.  Why don’t they start with something easier to understand and simpler to make like a violin or a guitar for their private enjoyment?

This repair continues in 1279: Premier 751 (pt 2)

Premier Vibe Note Pegs (Job No: 1264)

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This little item has been causing issues for a long time now!  It is the rubber note peg cap off a Premier 751 vibraphone, but it has been used on several generations of Premier’s vibraphones.  Of course Premier stopped producing the 751 and the 701 vibes a long time ago now; it was probably around 2008 when Premier asked me to come and relieve them of all their obsolete spare parts which had been hanging around in their factory for years.

The root cause of the problem with these note peg caps is difficult to avoid; rubber degrades in light and air.  Ultra violet light, but mainly Ozone that are main the culprits, so the only way for you to prolong the life of them on your vibraphone is to remove these two factors.  So from now on practice in the pitch black within a vacuum; I hear that NASA have space suits going cheap now they are being undercut by China.

Back in 2008 I also obtained access to Premier’s tooling for injection moulding these parts.  I dutifully went off and requested quotes from rubber moulding companies to have some made up.  The received quotations were ridiculously high, with the quantities ridiculously large that I just could never see a time when I could afford the £47,000+VAT to have 20,000 made.  Obviously they did not want to make them using the old moulds, and new moulds would also be too expensive, so a non commercially produced method for making the parts had to be developed.

My solution was to use a two part synthetic “rubber” that can be mixed and injected by hand into a mould.  This brought the required investment down to around £1000, which is still a lot of money in my world!  Along with the financial investment into tools and materials, I have also had to invest a lot of time in learning how to use them.

This whole project has, in reality, been a massive spanner in the works – whole days would be lost producing a pattern or some “bit” I needed, only to discover the next day that it wouldn’t work.  This continuous distraction has been the reason for my absence!  Below is a highly condensed video of how I went about it.


Having finally made a sufficient number moulds for me to replace all the pegs on a vibraphone, I had eventually got to the position when I could completely use up the two pots of gunk I will use when making up the kits and thus discover whether my idea is actually cost effective.  Because the original note pegs cost £3.75 each, but are sold (by me) singly due to their scarcity, I certainly want my replacements to be cheaper than this, but what I really want is to get a whole instrument done for less than £200, which is a unit cost of £2.25.  The material costs for one pair of pots are currently £19, so I had to form more than 6 to beat the cost of the original spares, and more than 8 to achieve my target.  In reality I got 20 note pegs reproduced out of one pair of pots which is fantastic, so the main costs associated with the job, will be the moulds.

Replacement Kit for Premier 750 series Note Peg Caps.

Initial Kit at currently £60 contains: 2 moulds, 1 x 50ml part A (black), 1 x 50ml part B (white), 10 mixing pots, 10 x 5ml syringes, 20 tea spoons, 20 nitrile gloves, 5 cocktail sticks, 2 Kebab skewer.

Refill kit at currently £20 contains the same minus the two moulds.

Below is an instructional video on how to use the kit from preparation to completion.


Technical Support (Job No: 1275)

It is quite rare for me to work out on site, in fact I normally refuse.  Too much of what I do requires large machines like pillar drills and lathes.  The variety of materials I need, the number of tools and jigs I use, or simply the quantity of spare parts makes working out on site a physical impracticality.  However the main reason for my reluctance is the compromise in quality; the purpose of my development of specialist tools and jigs is to continually raise the standard of my work – if these aren’t accessible then I am forced to roll back the clock, sometimes well over a decade, to how I used to work.  Put simply, I don’t see why I should be forced to do work that I know is wrong.

However, when one of my trade customers, has a big hire job but cannot provide on site technical support because I do all the repairs and maintenance on their orchestral percussion, I become the obvious choice.

The key is preparation – all of their gear went out on site in good condition, and I had no major problems with any of it.  So my massive supply of spare parts and tools that I drove down in the van were only used to sort out the extra instruments that my customer had to hire in!  I remember this situation from my days at Impact Percussion.  Impact sometimes needed to hire instruments from another hire company to fulfill an orchestra’s requirements.  I would have to repair those instruments before Impact could send them out!

Anyway, I learnt a lot about what goes on behind the scenes at big music festivals, walked a long way back and forth to various venues, and drank a lot of iced tea! Oh, and I repaired a few percussion instruments and a lot of music stands.

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Adams Universal Timpani (Job No: 1263)

When I overhaul a set of timps, 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. However not everyone is as conscientious, and in the end, you get what you pay for. So when I work on timpani, I am fixing problems associated with wear and tear, and 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 writing, and you reading the same thing every time I do a set of timpani (which is why I have coloured this bit blue).

When these Adams copper universal timpani were brought in to be overhauled, the customer was complaining, amongst other minor issues, about the drums buzzing.  As soon as I heard the drums I knew what the problem was:

Adams universal timpani are built using the same method as Ludwig timps; the bearing edge is formed from a steel extrusion which is then fitted into the bowl.  In this case the bowl is made of copper, but the same process is used with their fibreglass timpani.  Fibreglass bowls are stuck to the metal ring with the same polyurethane resin (probably) used to make the bowl, however both Ludwig and consequently Adams have not used an adhesive but a mechanical fixing (pop rivets) to make the joint between a copper bowl and a steel hoop.  The big problem is that copper bowls are spun into shape, and there is always a discrepancy between the size of the bowl and the steel bearing edge hoop.  Spinning metal is a bit of a black art, so regardless of mechanical automation the size of the bowl will (and do) always vary.  Rolling hoops is also one of those things that is difficult to do exactly.  Therefore, this gap is almost bound to happen, so paper tape is used to fill the gap prior to riveting the bowl in position.

The principle of this method is a nice solution, but the application of the technique employed, by which I mean the use of packing tape, is not something that I would do.  Being brutally honest, I cannot give conclusive, evidence based, acoustic arguments as to why is it a bad idea, but my gut feeling (and experience?) makes me think it is.  There is a further problem of electrolytic corrosion – the copper of the bowl and the zinc plating on top of a steel hoop, are all joined with an aluminium rivet.  Now this isn’t a major problem, but why would you even introduce it into the equation?



The really bad creak on the 26″ timpani turned out to be in one of the tuning nut boxes.  This was difficult to find, and awkward to solve.  It is one of those problems that I will have to look out for when I do this type of timp in the future.

Premier Tubular bells (Job No: 1277)

Moving parts by their very nature will always cause problems, especially so if they are not regularly serviced or designed and made badly.  This is the case with these Premier tubular bells.  In defence of the customer, there isn’t actually anything they could have done in particular to have prevented the noise produced from the damping system.



As seen clearly the noise problem in this tubular bell damping system arose mainly from the choice of materials; the wooden dowel. In defence of Premier they have economic constraints; everyone wants to spend as little as possible on musical instruments, so for Premier, and indeed any manufacturer, they have to shave off costs at every opportunity.  Wooden dowels are cheaper than ptfe rod, so wooden dowels are used; spending time to minutely check every component takes time which in turn increases production costs.  There is a solution however; the customer has to pay more – simple.  Whether initially they pay more to have a proper instrument made, or they pay more to have a cheaper instrument re-engineered, either way the only answer I see is the musician paying more money.  Ultimately you get what you pay for.

It could be worse however, and I have seen worse systems, at least I could work with what I had to silence the problems.  Other than the damping system, there were creaks that originated from the frame in general, these were removed by re-assembling the frame with a care and the usual attention to details.