Tag: Premier Percussion

What model is my Premier Vibraphone?

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding which model of Premier vibraphone people have. Therefore I am writing this post to impart the relevant information and to defer my looming insanity caused by writing the same thing over and over again.

The list is arranged in reverse chronological order because, basically there are more of the modern vibes still around, so the idea is that you will get to your vibe sooner. I know that there are some more modern models missing from the list, and I may insert them into this post at a later date. But for now this should be sufficient to answer most questions about the identification of the model of your Premier vibe.

Premier OAV

Basically this is a butch 751 and was produced in the 1990’s.  Most of the components are shared with the 751 except for the obvious.

Premier 751

And here it is, the 751. The image above is from the 1998 catalogue, and the image below from 1972 which I included because I loved the gold plating! The 751 has graduated note bars, whereas the 701 does not. I will say that again to clear up any potential misunderstanding.

The 751 has graduated note bars, whereas the 701 does not.

The term graduated bars refers to the width of the notes.  On the 751 the low F to C are 2″ wide and the rest of the notes are 1.1/2″ wide. Therefore the 751 is six inches longer than the 701, measuring 56 inches as opposed to 50 inches. There are also other differences in the frame because of this extra length, but essentially the two vibes are the same.

Because the 751 has wide bars, the instruments that are more desirable than the 701 and achieve a higher price on the second hand market.  Neither instrument is made anymore.

There have been a number of changes and modifications over the years.  Primarily it is the motor system that has been changed, but there have been other component modifications, as well as the switch from polished to linished note bars.  Linishing is a more abrasive finish creating the longitudinal lines, obviously cheaper to do than polishing, however the polished notes created too much glare from stage lights that blinded the players so the change was beneficial.  The basic design however has not changed since the instrument was launched.

It is the type of motor that is fitted to the instrument that is key to determining the age of either the 751 or the 701, mainly because the spare parts break down had the dates of production listed to help dealers provide the correct sized belt for customers.  The 751 was first produced in 1966 to coincide with the England football team’s lifting of the world cup, the most famous event in the entire history of that sport.

Premier 701

The Premier 701 vibraphone was first seen in the 1963 catalogue.  The era of plastic has arrived in earnest.  Gone are the chromed castings and myriad of machined components in favour of much cheaper to produce plastic parts.  New note pegs, simpler top frame, better pedal and a more basic, but much more reliable motor system.  The 701 was a huge leap forward and is a design that has stood the test of time.  It is still to this day one of the most portable vibraphones ever produced.

If you were to ask me what my feelings were about the 701 and the 751 fifteen or twenty years ago, well I was quite damning (if you can believe that!).  Now my feelings have changed.  I think that most of the problems that I had to fix on these vibes, and there are many, all boil down to usage.  These instruments are made to be packed up and carried in and out of venues; what they simply cannot cope with is being wheeled around assembled.  That said, they survive all sorts of abuse, I think that the proof of the pudding is that I am still restoring this style of vibraphone today and most are well over 40 years old.

The biggest obstacle I face when restoring these vibraphones are the lack of parts.  When Premier ceased production I was invited to relieve them of all their remaining parts.  This was by no means an inconsiderable investment, but secured my supply of parts for several years.  Because there are still so many of these vibraphones in use however, those parts have been used.  As each authentic component becomes unavailable I have been manufacturing or sourcing alternate suppliers.

Premier 750

The 750 was only made from 1963 until 1966 when it was superseded by the 751.  It is essentially a hybrid instrument utilising the frame style of the 700 but with the long pedal system which was developed to its finished design for the new 701.  The main advancement of the 750 was the arrival of the graduated note bars.  These instruments are rare, and although the frames are by no means as user friendly as the later 751, the note bars, like all of these old note bars are simply beautiful.

Premier 700

The 700 vibe was produced from 1951 until it was superseded by the 701 in 1963.  This instrument is the Premier’s original concept for the modern vibraphone.  As has been seen, it was to this instrument that the graduated bars were added to produce the 750 above which turned into the 751 and OAV.  The picture above is taken from the  1959 catalogue and shows developments to the damper pedal necessitating the addition of the lower bar which in turn made the central bar superfluous and was designed out for this instruments successor (the 701).

Between 1951 to 1958 the Premier used a central damper pedal.  This pedal was fixed facing the player and it was probably a response to player feedback, as well as the arrival of swivelling pedal designs seen on vibraphones made in the US that forced Premier to have  rethink.  The result was the long pedal design introduced by 1959, a design that is much more useful to multi percussionists than a single, central pedal.  However at this time, although the engineering of components was very high, the application was a typical Heath Robinson affair of bolting on some new components to the existing damper system.  To say that it worked would be overlooking all the aspects in which it didn’t work and it is no surprise that it didn’t survive for long.  Of course the older generation never had a problem with this fixed central pedal as we shall see, so presumably it was that bloody post war skiffle loving generation who are to blame for, well everything.

Sterling 729

Now your talking.  Exactly what is wrong with having to play with a stooped posture while standing on one leg?  The year is 1939 when men were real, erm, dapper gents.  Oh look he’s holding four beaters too, but I thought that was supposed to be “invented” later?  Anyway, we’re now in the vintage era and the catalogues make great reading:

“The vibraphone is a sure way of increasing your worth.  And this is the lowest price full compass instrument….The easiest of all mallet played instruments to learn.

Full compass?  Well not quite, three octaves from C to C, but never mind, However, “The Sterling has every feature:

Fast action damper.   Alloy resonators – light strong and non rusting.  Metal frame-ends – decorative and protective.  New cord clips – 100 per cent efficient.  All steel stand.  No loose screws or wing nuts.  Et cetera, et cetera.

Premier – a history of dreadful marketing!  What’s more the claims are a bit dubious.  Even though these vibraphones are small instruments, they are bloody heavy.  However you do generally find that they still have all the wing nuts!  It came with an electric motor, mine even works, although I wouldn’t advise that you should plug them in, they are slightly dangerous.  What I would love to see is a clockwork version.

Made from 1932-1939

All Purpose 728

The smaller brother to the Sterling, being lighter and an easier frame to pack away into one case weighs in at 47lb or around 21kg.  Came with a double spring clockwork motor instead of the electric motor.  Two and a half octave playing from G to C.  Introduced in 1937 made to 1939 when something happened to cease all production and effectively wiped the slate clean in terms of vibraphone design in Europe and of course gave the US manufacturers the breathing space to develop the instrument with little competition.

Premier Vibraphone later Concert Vibraphone 730

Made in 1930 in either Ivory and Nickel, Regal or Chromium plating with Pearlex, Glittergold, Sunset Pearl or Storm Pearl on the outside frame.  Three octave playing range (F-F) with graduated bars 2.1/4″ and 1.1/2″ wide – sound familiar?

I have never seen one, but they sound amazing, just read the catalogue…

“The vibraphone is deservedly becoming more and more popular.  It simply compels attention.  Its appealing tone is completely fascinating, and undeniably sweet.  No dance band, no orchestra – whether cinema, concert, theatre or string – will be able to hold its own without a vibraphone now that the public had had a taste of its mellowness and pulsating beauty.

“For haunting melodies and ballads, when bird-like clearness and sweetness and true tonal quality are required, it cannot be surpassed.  It has a tremendous future.

“The drummer equipped with a PREMIER vibraphone – he also has a tremendous future.  A Premier vibraphone provides the ambitious man with the wherewith to make money – to win fame and fortune. It is a gilt-edged investment that will pay dividends throughout your drumming career.

What more is there to say? (Bring on the global depression?)

Joking aside, the list of percussionists who endorsed this instrument during this era is very impressive, even nearly a hundred years later their names are recognisable.

Premier Two Octave Vibraphone 733, 734, 735.

From the 1930 catalogue this vibraphone is a two octave version of the full size concert vibraphone, the lower octave has been left out.  The 733 was in Nickel, the 734 Regal plated and the 735 was chromium

 

Premier Harpaphone 571 

Originally produced in 1930 by 1932 the design had switched from 1.1/2″ x 1/4″ carbonized steel to the same alloy is used for the note bars as the vibraphones 1.1/2 to 1.1/4 by 3/8 thick which is why I have included this instrument here.

Premier Viscount 1″ Chimes For Sale

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Bought in 1989 by my customer, these bells have been very well looked after. I was sent a copy of the Premier brochure that contains these studio chimes and have included this below, however the text on the front cover reads as follows:

As every percussionist knows, Premier never do anything by halves. Designs that have been proved by generations of experience. Nothing but the best materials. How much more then, could you expect from Premier’s range of tuned percussion instruments? The cream of Premier’s production. They are quite simply, the best money can buy. Made by perfectionists, for perfectionists. That’s why Premier is first in percussion.

What more is there to be said? These were designed when Premier were at the top, the bells are excellent as is the frame. The tonality is really good, the tuning is good and I have fully serviced the frame only making minor improvements to the damper mechanism.

Along with the rawhide mallet, the instrument has cases. Everything except the uprights goes into the black bag, whilst the uprights have a dust cover that has been purloined from something else.

Cosmetic damage is minimal. The chrome is still in excellent condition, none of the bells are showing signs of fatigue and there is very little damage to the frame. In summary, an excellent set of studio chimes.

This instrument is stored at my workshop which means that viewings can be easily arranged. For viewings or to make an offer send me an

Premier Deluxe Timpani For Sale (Job# 1540)

FOR SALE £3500

Here is a pair of very old timpani that a customer wants to sell due to retirement. They have had two owners from new and these drums are rare. There are a few scratches in the bowls but no big dents, and there are a couple of T handles that need to be replaced, but I may well have some of these buried in a box of vintage spares. There is also a tie bar missing to one of the legs, but to be honest this is much easier to make than to find an original replacement. Neither of these issues poses a massive problem for me because the costs of correcting them would be a fraction of the instrument value.

As can be seen they have calf skin heads on for which the drums were designed to be used. In reality it will probably be problematical finding easily available plastic heads – any size can be made, but you will have to wait for at least three months and expect to pay at least three times the price of standard heads. But who wants plastic over calfskin anyway now?

As with all of the second hand instruments I sell, I handle all the negotiations because my customers are selling through me for precisely that reason. The drums are currently at the owners house in southern England, but I will collect the drums for viewing when there is a serious buyer.

By 1927 Premier Drums had introduced the De luxe Model Tympani. These were still “classical timpani” so had retractable legs on the basic pot, but these were the drums that saw the development of the bowl shape and the fittings. For instance by 1928 the drop handle was introduced on these drums and self aligning lugs.

Also in by 1298 Premier had developed the pedal mechanism. It is the obvious choice to put their best bowls onto their newest flagship product and called them the inspirational name, “Pedal Tympani”. It is interesting reading the catalogue description where it mentions the Premier guarantee; I have no idea what that was, but the fact that these drums are still working and sounding great nearly a hundred years later is a testament that British engineering was and will always be the best in the world.

Premier 1928 catalogue

The last time these drums were seen in the Premier catalogue was in 1951. They were almost a footnote on the same page as dampers, badges and drum keys! I think that this is more a reflection of post war austerity than anything else, but it was the end of the run because in 1966 West Ham United won the football world cup (I mean England) and Premier launched the Series One Timpani – out with tymps and in with timps!

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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Replacement Note Bar for a Premier Glockenspiel (Job No: 1352)

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I have to make a replacement glockenspiel note bar to fill the gap in an instrument where a note has been lost. What happens is that the pin that holds the note in place and on the instrument has pulled out and the note bar has disappeared into the ether.


Almost uniquely, Premier Percussion spent a tiny percentage of the potential profit margin on the glockenspiels that they produced on nails with a twisted shank that hold the note bars in place. This incredible phenomenon meant that the nails were less likely to pull out. It is a shame that they used the cheapest wood available for the frame, otherwise their idea would probably have worked.

Maybe it is extravagant, but personally I just use screws, but then the frames that I make are made of hardwood, typically oak now for aesthetics, but I used to also use hornbeam and ash. Because the oak is a lot harder than the softwoods that are almost universally used in the frames produced by the big manufacturers, even if the holes were pre-drilled using nails would probably split the narrow note rails. If the holes were slightly bigger to prevent splitting, the smooth shank on the nail would be able to go in easier, but it would also pull out easier. Screws on the other hand have the fluting that cuts into the wood, the pilot hole is the size of the shank to prevent splitting and it is strong in the direction it is loaded. Finally I can adjust the height of the screw incredibly accurately on a note by note basis, where as a nail would have to be pressed in to achieve uniform height. All in all, I think it is worth spending the extra 20 pence on screws!

Premier Timpani Buying Guide

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Premier Percussion are (often and somewhat unfairly) much maligned due to problems behind the scenes and some dubious decisions on product development. However Premier timpani are good kettle drums. When I look at the state of some kettle drums that come in to be repaired, I can honestly say that if they were made by any other manufacturer, they simply wouldn’t be working.

It is a testament to the original design that although the drums have been developed over the years, despite the obvious and cosmetic changes, the mechanisms have largely remained unchanged. There has been development on the mechanism, which has on the whole made them even more reliable.

There is one main Achiles heel which I explain in how to release a jammed pedal on Premier timps, other than that they are very robust.

Musical appreciation is subjective, Premier drums have a “sound” which you either like or you don’t, but my thought process is who are most likely to buy drums like these, especially with glass fibre bowls? My answer is the education market, schools, colleges, music centres, etc. Now the glass fibre bowls are no way near as good as the copper bowls, but they are a lot lighter. So if you need a set of timpani for children to move around, crashing into walls and doors, do yourself a favour just buy Premier now so that you won’t have to go through the process again in a few years when you have to replace your shiny dutch crap!


Premier Xylophone Repair (part 2) (Job no: 1281)

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With the new, simplified trolley built in part one and away being painted, I turned my attentions to repairing the note bed of this Premier Xylophone. Obviously it is a good excuse to get out my longest clamps!


What I didn’t say in the video is that the pegs were originally glued in with a clear silicon. I have seen this technique used before, and really don’t understand why. If you have used it to seal around window panes, bath panels, or the kitchen sink, you will understand that the real reasons are that it is really cheap, comes in a well designed tube so that it can get into awkward corners and stays wet in that tube for a long time. This is useful in a factory, it means that the lid can be left off overnight without the glue spoiling.

However what I don’t understand, and maybe I need to mull it over more, is why silicon sealant would be used to secure a structural joint. Surely the very same attributes that make it perfect for bathrooms – water-resistant, flexible, gap filling and slow cure, make it the worst choice for musical instrument manufacture, furthermore it will absorb vibrations and deaden resonance. Did I mention that it is gap filling and you can leave the lid off overnight?

The problem for me of course is that I have to remove all the silicon goo because nothing else will stick to it.

I do use synthetic glues, they are great in the right place, easy to use, easy to clean off the excess, good shelf life, etc. But more and more I choose to use animal glue, after all it has all the same attributes whilst using it and it is exceptionally strong. It is not water-resistant, but that means it is easy to un-glue something, so for me the only down side is that it takes longer to use. Even then it only takes longer if you forget to warm it up before you need it and have to wait; what a disaster you have to make a cup of tea.

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Premier Xylophone Completion (part 2) (Job No: 1291)

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There is not very much left to do on this Premier xylophone since the vast majority of the work was modifying the metal trolley which was shown in part one. As with most instruments, finishing (by which I mean applying a finish, paint, varnish, polish, etc) happens towards the end of the process. I suppose it is like decorating a room in your house, there is a lot of preparatory work then the final coat goes on and everything comes together.

However unlike decorating, applying a finish to an instrument is not finishing an instrument. The final process is what is setting it up. On a xylophone this is straight forward, simply a matter tweaking note pegs, whereas on a timpani the set up is most of the job, the repair often being a minor element.

Along with tweaking note pegs there is invariably some fragging to be done, some cleaning, and checking the bits I haven’t looked at, in this case the resonators. Making sure the instrument works properly and is ready to be returned to the customer.