Tag: repair

Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job no: 1468)

“Made for the UK market”

What a familiar sight the above image represents! This vibe must be nearly three years old and just look at the build quality. In the UK we have a different voltage power supply to the centre of the universe, and our instruments are still tuned to A=440Hz. So when instruments are sold to the UK we get a wall wart adaptor for the voltage and the note bars are stamped 440 as opposed to 442. For me it is not really good enough, these instruments cost the same as a small car (which is ridiculous on so many levels but is the state of the world we live in), so how about putting a damn transformer and UK plug on the instrument for export and even tuning the bars to the correct pitch instead of just selecting the zero stamp.


Premier 701 Vibraphone Overhaul (Job No: 1351)

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This is the second of the three Premier 701 vibraphones that I am simultaneously working on and is therefore episode two in the, “aging Premier vibes” mini series. If this blog determined what I do in my workshop, the first episode would be the last in the series as it is the youngest of the three vibes. However that is not how it happens, so this vibraphone is actually the oldest of the three.

The most obvious aesthetic difference of this vibe compared to the other two is that at this time Premier were still polishing the resonators. The motor unit has changed, gone is the two cone gearbox design with the push/pull rod that to change the speed (the gearbox that was forever breaking) replaced by a three stage pulley.

As intimated, losing the gearbox was probably done for reliability but we do start to see the introduction of cost savings and the loss of the gearbox would almost certainly have saved Premier a bob or two.

The external note rails were still being polished, but the inner two are now being painted. However the rest of the components are from the original patterns: black balls in the damper bar, white end pegs, and chunky fanshaft bushes.

When I overhaul vibraphones, my approach is to fix everything that I find wrong, striving to make the instrument better than it has ever been. This process takes time, sometimes even months of work as I deal with a long list of minutia. In an attempt to avoid repetition (although that is inevitable), I try to pick the pertinent aspects of the repair rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)


This Vibraphone is generally tired, after all it is getting old. As I well know, once you pass thirty your body starts to acquire various aches and pains, now passed forty I am well aware that my body just doesn’t work as well as it did. This vibe is older than me, so it is no wonder that it is falling apart.

As you know I started working on all the resonators which is mainly a job of cleaning up and replacing loose rivets, but there can be issues as seen in (Job No: 1354). On that instrument the whole row of tubes were out of alignment, whereas on this instrument the damage to one of the tubes was just cosmetic.

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Premier Fibreglass Timpani Part 2 (Job No: 1357)

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

When I overhaul a set of timpani, there is a lot of work involved over a period of days or even weeks. My approach is to fix everything properly; I am after all a professional and that is what I am being paid to do. By, “everything” I mean every little detail, so in the posts on timpani I pick out examples of problems I encounter, rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)


Premier 701 Vibraphone Repair (Job No: 1354)

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Premier updated the 700 series vibraphone to the 701 series in 1963. There is no further differentiation in terms of model and serial numbers to go on to help determine the age of an instrument. Old spare parts manuals do provide a guide and put a time period around the type of motor used. However the problem is that Premier went through a development period where several different systems were employed, more than listed in the parts manuals.

I have three vibes in for repair, so I have taken the opportunity to look at the development of Premier’s vibraphone as well as discussing the repairs. Therefore this is the first of mini series, “Aging Premier Vibes”.

When I overhaul vibraphones, my approach is to fix everything that I find wrong, striving to make the instrument better than it has ever been. This process takes time, sometimes even months of work as I deal with a long list of minutia. In an attempt to avoid repetition (although that is inevitable), I try to pick the pertinent aspects of the repair rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)


The biggest problem that I have to fix on this vibraphone is the bent note rail. Premier 700 series vibraphones are meant to be packed away and carried from place to place. They are very good at being portable, in fact they are probably the most portable whilst still being easy to assemble. What they are not good at is being wheeled around whilst set up because they simply aren’t strong enough. The most common way that the note rails bend is downwards, caused by thoughtless dick heads who use the instrument as a convenient trolley to carry heavy objects like amplifiers. I have even seen them used as a bench for kids! In this instance there has been an impact from the side which has caused the bend.

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Premier Fibreglass Timpani (Job No: 1283)

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

When I overhaul a set of timpani, there is a lot of work involved over a period of days or even weeks. My approach is to fix everything properly; I am after all a professional and that is what I am being paid to do. So I am fixing problems associated with the usual wear and tear, as well as “the dogs dinner” that the previous person made of the job. The posts on timpani pick out examples of problems I encounter, rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.


Musser M55 Vibraphone (Part 3) (Job No: 1321)

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This will be the last installment for this Musser M55 vibraphone overhaul. In part one I had a general look at the vibe and worked on the note bed. In part two I did the main structural build. In this part I am essentially doing everything else, and I mean everything!

This seemingly happens a lot with vibraphones. I have said in the past that I think that they are probably the hardest instrument to get working correctly. Oh, it is easy to get them working OK, like most percussion instruments the common conception is that they are simple and therefore easy to repair. Indeed I seem to get comments and requests from people who intend to do precisely that, using my site as an instructional manual. This is totally contrary to the to the consistent message I deliver in the posts and the reason why I write them and make the videos. Obviously this is always going to happen, and there is nothing I can do about it, but it does annoy me somewhat, after all this is my livelihood.

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With the frame complete I started looking at the damping mechanism. The little screw above, is one of the main connections on the instrument. The damper system is a fundamental aspect of a vibraphone. Besides the mallets, this is a massive part of player expression, so why am I seemingly on my own when it comes to spending care and time making them work smoothly and silently? I had to re-engineer every single moving component in the damper system.


My best friend thinks that I can be disparaging about the way percussion instruments are made, I guess that he is correct, but what irks me the most is that I am working on supposedly top quality professional instruments sent to me by top professional musicians and orchestras, etc. These instruments are premium products at premium prices, but what I see continuously is a lack of knowledge and skill at the design stage, and penny-pinching in production. Probably the root cause of my outbursts is a frustration with myself for not ever having the time to make a selection of instruments that I can show people – I simply do not have a stock, they are made on commission and then they are gone. The instrument that I haven’t made yet is a vibraphone, and I think that this should be high on my new agenda.

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Premier Xylophone Modification (Job No: 1291)


This is déjà vu. Actually I have done it deliberately; sometimes it is nice to work on two identical instruments side by side. However, the job that I have to do is completely different to the other Premier xylophone that I am working on (Job no: 1281). For a start this instrument is almost in one piece!

Unlike the xylophone in Job no: 1281, this instrument lives in cases and is frequently taken out for performances, so portability are versatility are important features that I have to retain in my design solution.

There is often a compromise between weight and strength especially when there is a budget. Unfortunately I do not have the resources or facilities of a Formula One team or Nasa, and I think that most customers would not really want to pay for composite or titanium frames. Aluminium is the option that most manufactures are taking (ignoramacies!). In my view this is the wrong direction; it is like using chocolate to make a tea-pot! Better design is the answer, and accept the fact that percussion instruments are heavy, after all, they are massive. If you want to buy a lightweight aluminium frame that can be carried, then carry it! Don’t put casters on it so that it can be wheeled around. Furthermore, when the aluminium breaks, it is harder to repair. I send aluminium out to be welded; I already spend around £500 a year on renting the bottles of gas I regularly use without needing another one specifically to weld aluminium occasionally.

So I use steel. Steel is strong, steel is cheap, it is easy to work, easy to finish, easy to repair. Steel has a lot of benefits over aluminium, the one downside is that it is heavier. But let’s get our facts right, if I were to hold two bits of tube, one steel, one aluminium, of equal length and equal strength I think that difference between the two would be negligible. Anyway, that’s something for me to find out.

Despite all that, Premier use steel, so that is what I have used to modify this frame. I have also beefed up the design so that the frame is a lot stronger. At the end of the day, it has been given to me because it is broken – the original design failed. Inevitably this means it has put on weight, but I have spent a lot of thought on how to limit it.

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Premier Xylophone Rebuild (Job No:1281)

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It is not uncommon for me to receive an instrument in a pile of bits. This Xylophone made by Premier Percussion typifies the condition of instruments when they arrive.

Whether I am doing a repair, or completely starting again these bits are really important. In this instance, a repair is possible, but the manner in which the frame has collapsed, combined with what the customer requires from the restored instrument gives me an insight as to how I am to do the repair in order for it to survive over the long-term.


One of the many things that I have learnt over the years is never to make assumptions – it is one of my golden rules. Invariably if something I do doesn’t work, when I analyse the reasons why, it is because I have assumed, for example, that the manufacturer will have drilled the holes in the right place. So when I make new frames for instruments, I really do need the instrument.

I used to make up new bottom bars to be fitted to Musser M55 vibraphones, they were made on a jig for consistency and individually checked. They were all good, but the next time I had an M55 in to the workshop requiring one to be fitted, it didn’t work. It was miles out (exaggeration), so I had to make one from scratch anyway. Lesson learned; don’t assume that just because something is mass-produced that it will be the same shape as the next one coming out of the factory.

Premier Percussion generally have higher standards than most using smaller tolerances, but even this xylophone (when assembled) is different to the next job I have to do, which is the same model of xylo. However the two customers have totally different requirements; this customer wants the simplest of frames so that there is nothing to go wrong, so this is what they will get.

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