Tag: vibe

Premier 751 Vibraphone (Job No: 1327)

There are a lot of vibraphones coming through my workshop at the moment, including the Premier 751. In fact, when I pause to think about it, I seem to have been working continuously on various aspects of the Premier vibraphones for nearly a year now. Whether I have been developing moulds for reproducing the rubber parts, making jigs for the metal components, or working on whole new assemblies, there always seems to be something going on with these vibes.

What I find is that work comes in waves; for months all I seem to have worked on are vibes, before that I just seemed to be doing timpani, then I had three sets of tubular bells in a row… So this is what has happened, and the result is that my stock of parts is being used up. I keep stating that these parts are obsolete because the instrument isn’t produced any more, so now I have been forced to come up with alternative solutions which all take a lot of time over prolonged periods.

Instead of focusing on particular details, with this post I decided to give more of an overview of the work I do. What you will see in the video is that jobs are never as straight forward as you would think, and soon I find myself surrounded by bits…


Premier 751 Buying Guide

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

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

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

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

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


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

Premier 750 Vibraphone (Job No: 1227)

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

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

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

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

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Anyway I digress as per usual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.


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).

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.