Tag: Paul Jefferies

Deagan Aurora Overhaul (part 1) (Job No: 1256)

The player thinks that it must be 20 years since this Aurora vibraphone was last serviced.  It feels like that long since I last posted!  Those who know me personally, will know that it is not just that I have been sitting on my hands – although there were a few moments!  I have been working on new things, which I will write about separately, but bubbling over in the background have also been a few jobs of which this Deagan is one.

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After having specific issues to resolve on the last few instruments, my remit on this Deagan Aurora is back to what I normally get, “can you sort it out please Paul?”  So when this is the case, I look at and repair, restore or modify every component.  I have a systematic approach, for example on the Aurora joining the massive ends with the cross bar is the first part of assembly, so this is where I start the overhaul.

Those massive ends don’t come apart; well they will, but only by damaging the plastic covering.  This Deagan is still looking good, so I am reluctant to do that for little reward.  Therefore it is the cross bar that I turn my attention towards, and in particular the damping system.


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This post continues with 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt2).

Calfskin Bass Drum (Job No: 1267)



The very first thing that needs to happen is to un-rope the drum and see what lies beneath.  The heads have obviously been causing a problem because on has been screwed to the shell.

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The job is now straight forward, but time consuming.  Whilst I am soaking a head until it is really wet and pliable, the drum shell can have the star marks removed – it looks like these were stickers, because it is the glue that has been left behind.

I also treat the bearing edge a process I have detailed in 1233: Vintage Bass Drum (pt 2).

With everything ready I stretched the head onto the shell using my drum press.  Because neither head had a collar I did one side first then the other.

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With the splicing and whipping on the rope redone, I rope the drum whilst it is still in the press to maintain tension.  It also saves a lot of hard work pulling rope as hard as possible and the subsequent suffering with blisters!



Marching Snare Drum (Job No: 768)

FOR SALE  £250

Here is a very nice parallel action marching snare drum in full working condition.

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The shell has only minor scratching in the chrome, but it still looks great.

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The snare wires raise and lower parallel to the head as opposed to just at one side like snare drums that are used on drum kits.

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The top head has an internal damper.  The lugs are high tension fittings appropriate for marching snare drum heads.

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Brand new heads (I couldn’t get over the price of the batter head) means that this drum is ready for action.

If you have any questions, ask and I will see if I can help.

Military Snare Drum Hoop (Job No: 1234)

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I have two drum hoops off a military marching snare drum to be restored.  This is one of those open ended jobs that has been underway for a while.

As can be seen from the picture above, one hoop was bare wood, presumably stripped to be repainted which I have subsequently primed.  The second hoop is broken and obviously needs to be made whole again.

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It is often tricky clamping things together whilst they are being glued – creativity is needed with the clamping arrangements.

This simple repair of glueing the ends back together is essentially a butt joint.  It is sufficiently strong to hold the hoop round again, however it will probably break again as soon as any force is applied.  Because I already have to repaint the other hoop, I decided to insert a new section of wood across the break as reinforcement creating a lap joint which is a lot stronger.

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Then it was just a matter of painting.  In order to get a good colour match, and to achieve gradual decoloration over time I used oil based paints, the same that I would use for painting pictures.  It is a nice medium to work with because I can vary the shade subtly and create a more aged look with ingrained dirt.  The problem is that different pigments have different drying times, so care needs to be taken as to which colour goes on top.  In any case it took over a week for each colour to dry, so the whole painting process was a long one.

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Like any of these jobs, I learnt a lot and would do things differently next time.  I had major issues holding the hoop whilst painting, and initially I used the wrong type of brush.  It is one of those end results that is only okay; I can live with it, but it is not perfect.

However, it doesn’t need to be perfect, because the final stage of the process is antiquing.  The customer does not want a hoop that looks brand new, it needs to look old and “period”.  So once I have a painted hoop, I can start removing that paint, and applying grime effects to replicate the bashes, knocks and handling of a hundred years of use.

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Vintage Bass Drum (part 2) (Job No: 1233)

In the first half of the repair of this vintage bass drum (1233: (pt 1)), I wrote about making a new counter hoop, fixing the shell and making replacement tuning lugs.  The lugs are now back from the chrome platers, but more importantly, the drum is now needed by my customer at the end of the month.  In order for me to realise the deadline, and fit in with my delivery schedule, I need to finish the bass drum today so it is ready to be delivered at the end of the week.

After selecting a calfskin big enough and then putting it in to soak, I get everything ready to lap the head onto the existing flesh hood that I repaired.



I like to leave the lapping to dry for a bit, so that the skin becomes tacky and starts to stick to itself before I put it on the drum.  It will take 48hrs for the skin to completely dry around the hoop, but the playing surface will start drying quickly.  So as long as I keep the playing surface wet, I have plenty of time to do the drum and get the head on later in the day.

In 1233: (part 1) I made new barrels for the tension rods to screw into.  What I didn’t have was a tap long enough to put in a 2.1/4″ deep thread into the barrel.  I had to order these specially, so sent the stuff to be plated during the delay.  The video below shows the problem I had.  It is a bit boring (in both meanings of the word), but it shows how the thread feels like it is going on and on and on.



Once the threads are cut and checked, I can assemble the drum shell and start preparing to put on the head.

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I have mentioned putting on heads in other posts, and explained what I do.  This time I remembered to video it!



With both heads evenly set, the drum is now finished, and has plenty of time to dry before Friday.

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Today of course is polling day – time for us to support the essentially anti-democratic and self serving political system that we have here in the UK (and aggressively export).  We will all (well about 10% of us) go out and give a mandate for 650 corrupt, dishonest and dishonorable bloody idiots to avoid the big issues for another 5 years.  Politicians call it voter apathy (because they are a bit thick) but I think that they are wrong; it is not apathy, the general public is more political than ever (the one good thing that ukip have exposed).    In our democratic system we have no constitutional ability to change how the country is run.  The ability to do that is in the hands of the government, and mp’s won’t vote to get rid of themselves, they won’t even take a pay cut!  Rant over.

Premier 701 Vibe damper (part 2) (Job No: 1260)

In 1260 (pt1), I looked at all the work I had to do before I could even start looking at the reason why this Premier 701 vibraphone had come in to be repaired.

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Having fixed all the issues with the frame and therefore I have an instrument that doesn’t continually change shape, I can put the notes on and define a centre line for the damper bar.

There are several different approaches used to control the movement of a damper bar; this system that I am making is my favourite.  It has the fewest number of parts to make, which means that it is quicker and cheaper to fabricate.  This also means that the tolerances (manufacturing discrepancies) don’t add up and become too great.  But above all that, it is the system that seems to go wrong the least number of times.

What I should say, is that I have no intention of replicating the system made by Premier and used on their 701 and 751 vibes.  The Premier design is actually quite neat, but it doesn’t really work very well, has an Achilles heel, and all the spares are now obsolete. 

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Back to the vibraphone.  Now that I know where the damper bar needs to be, I can make the levers around which it will rotate.  All of the manufacturers who use this system, fix the levers to the damper bar with screws.  I have used very thin wall steel instead of aluminium, so I have chosen to weld them on in position and have fewer parts to go wrong and end up with a more resilient design.  This is one major reason for choosing steel over aluminium, the other is that it is stronger.  Yes it is very slightly heavier than the aluminium the manufacturers use, but when that is substituted for aluminium stock that doesn’t bend in use, the thicker walled aluminium actually weighs more than the steel.  This is a common misconception about aluminium.



The connection rods between the damper bar and the pedal are always a bit tricky, both in design, where there is always a compromise, and in application.  The design problems are mainly concerned with ease of use when the vibraphone is being transported.  The issues in application are that they want to fall down towards the pedal exactly where the motor sits.  Therefore the positioning is also a compromise.  The actual method I use are simply tubes that have a telescopic rod that connects to the pedal.  This will be seen in 1260 (pt 3) when all the bits are back from the powder coaters and chrome platers.

Premier 701 Vibraphone (part 1) (Job No: 1260)

This whole job is a bit embarrassing, not for me, but for all the other people who have been associated with this instrument before it ended up in my workshop.  Most of all it is embarrassing for the man who bought as a birthday present to his son, discovered a problem with lack of damping, and ten months later the son is nearly another year older!

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I do have the notes and resonators, but as can be seen the damper bar is missing – taken to be repaired.  So the job is to sort out the lack of damping.

The damper bar on these Premier vibes is rubbish and now all the parts are obsolete.  Why anyone would go to the trouble of remaking parts to get a badly designed assembly to work is a mystery to me.  The main problem with the design is the leaf springs which work harden over time and snap like the top of a tin can when you wiggle it to get it off.  I could make new springs in an hour, but why make something that is destined to break?  Furthermore, because I don’t have the original damper bar I don’t know what condition the ball joints are in, or if the bar is straight which are the other major issues.

Immediately when the instrument was delivered I noticed a problem.

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The bottom bar which carries the pedal, and around which the pedal rotates, has been welded to the frame.  How could I resolve any damping problems if I were to ignore the point of operation?  First big question therefore is why the damper bar was removed for repair when the whole instrument should have been taken.

I know why the damper bar was welded into place.  As can be seen from the photo, several attempts have been made to sort the problem.  It’s unbelievably bad and so obvious only someone stupid would have failed to realise that the pedal acts against springs which therefore will try and rotate the tube.  So the two screws in the ends didn’t work because they have created a nice axle.

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The first thing to do is to make a new bar, because the only way to that one off is with an angle grinder.  Because the damper bar and springs slide onto the tube and are riveted in place the ends need to be both the same diameter of the tube and removable.

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I put flats on the under side of these caps which sit on a little square bar welded to the leg frames to stop the rotation.

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Whilst I was welding, I put mounting plates on for the casters – in the picture above it can be seen what the previous person did.

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The damping system will not work if the legs aren’t attached to the top frame or the frame to the note rails.

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The whole thing needed to be removed straightened and refitted, so that the top and bottom are now both solid, all I then had to do was join the two halves, except the holes don’t even line up.

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I think that the owner said that he bought the instrument from a school – I certainly hope that this is not the work of the metal work teacher, but I suspect it is.  As a digression, I applied to do teacher training in the early 2000’s, become a craft and design teacher; I was told that I was under qualified.  You don’t need a bloody degree to make something square!

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That was hot, hard work!  Fire and brawn to pull the thing straight.  The frame that has been built (which actually needs to be binned) is massively heavy 6mm steel!  I would make a shelter out of this stuff and still guarantee it for life.

Finally I can assemble the instrument and begin to look at the actual damper bar which will be in 1260 (pt 2).

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Premier Series 1 timps (part 2) (Job No: 1228)

It is a long time since I wrote part 1.  This is what happens when I don’t get paid; all incentive to do the subsequent jobs fade away.  Then of course when I do finally get paid, the work has to be rescheduled.  In the mean time I have a hundred and one other jobs to do and the weeks roll by.  The other side of not getting paid of course is that I can’t buy food, or pay my bills, but that whole concept fails to register with many of my customers!

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Anyway, I digress (as usual).  So in part one I got to the point where the bases could be welded.  As you can see below, I have totally reformed and trnasformed the under side of the casting.

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Another classic bodge job is just bolting a caster on when the big tilt stem has been lost.  The caster was held on with a 10mm bolt, the hole in the casting for the tilt stem is 19mm.  I find it staggering that anyone would think that that was going to work.

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There is little that I can do with the resulting damage.  Fortunately, the casting is thick and the thread is coarse, so after re-tapping the holes, replacement tilt stems works well.  Easy job really if you have the equipment and the parts.  If you don’t have either, they shouldn’t be doing the job!

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Premier Percussion (Job No: 1259)

When I talk to musicians about Premier Percussion, there is always an emotional response.  Emotional!  Emotions aren’t displayed unless we care about something.  Even the negative responses caused by frustration reveal that there is an underlying attachment beneath.

Maybe it is national pride; maybe the French feel the same way about Bergerault, the Dutch about Adams, the Americans about Musser.  I don’t know (I would like to find out).  But for me it is a desire to see the resurgence of a great musical instrument manufacturer.

Last week I was asked by Premier to listen to their tubular bells.  Of course while I was there, we discussed the timpani which are also made at that site.

As an instrument maker, I understand the difficulties that Premier keep coming up against, and the solutions are often a compromise.  This is the very reason for my visit – does the compromised solution still maintain the quality of the musical instrument?  And that is what Premier Percussion is known for – high quality musical instruments that sound great.

When you go to the supermarket to do your shopping, for years you will have bought the same things every time – the staples.  All of a sudden, they change.  The packaging looks the same, but an ingredient has changed and they taste different.  This is what happens all the time when you buy materials to make instruments.  For every other application the changes are not even noticed, but for musical instruments the difference in sound is massive.

Instrument manufacturers don’t make brass tube, copper sheet, or aluminium ingots.  These are made on a mind boggling scale by a few companies that constantly buy each other out until a monopoly is created and all the materials essentially come from one place.  That factory changes a machine, or the EU change legislation about the use of an ingredient, or the copper ore is mined in a different country, then the very nature of the material has changed.

Furthermore, discovering what has changed and how the problems can be resolved is a massive task in itself with the solutions being hideously expensive.  There is only one supplier now and they hold all the cards.

I fully appreciate that musicians get frustrated when they cannot buy instruments, or there are delays in delivering the goods.  Ultimately, it is out of order, unacceptable, especially if money has already changed hands.  But sometimes problems are unforseen, however I think that a corner has been turned at Premier.

Premier as a company has changed.  They had to change, because the company as it was kept failing.  So now there has been a shift in the way things are done and new people have become involved.  With new people comes new ideas and things start to change.

To say that I was impressed would be an understatement.  It was actually quite nice for me to have a totally geeky conversation with someone else, but besides the results being good and therefore the bells sounding good, it was the positivity and excitement that left its mark.

Now the problems have been all but overcome, let the instruments flow and lets change this ridiculous attitude that balanced action on timpani is a good thing, but that is another story…

Small Bass Drum (Job No: 1257)

It is funny how that what I am repairing goes in cycles; this winter I was doing timps after timps, now it is all vibes and drums. Here is yet another little drum that needs a new head.

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As usual I forgot to take a before shot, but all I have done is put the new skin in the drink and taken the old heads off the drum. This is the old style fittings where both heads pull against each other, so the tension bolts are as long as the drum is deep, and the lugs are little eyes that they pass through.

Now I have the pieces, I cut the split head off its flesh hoop so that I can reuse the hoop, onto which I lapped the new skin. I do this first so that the lapping has a bit of time to dry out.

Next all the metal work, which is nickel plated, gets cleaned up, and the threads degreased. You know how oil can soak into your hands and make them stink, stained, dry and sore? Well the same happens to drum heads, because it is the same stuff (more or less) that we are covered in. DO NOT USE PETROCHEMICAL PRODUCTS ON DRUMS WITH NATURAL HEADS. If you come across a drum smothered in grease – it has been worked on by a moron!

With all the metal work finished, I now turn my attention to the drum shell. The critical part is the bearing edge, so this gets cleaned and lightly sanded, finishing with an almost polished surface. What I am wanting is a nice surface over which the skin will slide; what I don’t want are fibres of wood standing up like little spikes.

So now I have got the bearing edge how I like it, I now seal it to stop water going in and lifting the wood fibres. Candle wax, being made from paraffin which is an extract of oil is exactly what I don’t want to use to seal the bearing edge. Beeswax would be OK, but I use tallow which is a boiled sheep. I rub this into the wood using friction to generate heat enough to melt the tallow so that it can run into all the microscopic gaps in the wood fibres. I go over the drum a second time but also go down the sides a little so that the inside of the flesh hoop doesn’t stick to the drum shell as it dries. Finally I use tallow to lubricate the threads on the tension rods, and where there is metal to metal contact.

With everything clean and slippery, now the easy part – I put the drum head on, and the job is finished.

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