Tag: Vibraphone

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.

Fitting My Replacement Motor System for Premier Vibes

These are the fitting instructions for the replacement motor systems that I produce for Premier 701 or 751 vibraphones.

As you can see from the video I have designed the system so it is easy to fit to your instrument. There is a reason behind every feature of the product which is the result of over a decade of development. Each time I have fitted new motors to Premier vibraphones, modifications have been made to the carriage and the assembly. The result is that I have done pretty much all the work for you, so all you need to do is drill a few holes and use a screwdriver. The picture below shows the tools that I used.

Of course the downside of all these hours spent problem solving is that I expect to be paid for all my work. All of my development costs like this, whatever the instrument, are spread across at least ten customers in order to keep the costs for the individual. I do this because I am not greedy, I have personal ethics, and I like to be fair. So if you are not happy with that and choose to steal my ideas to save yourself a few quid, then may you burn in hell!

The photo above shows the kit. Everything you need, plus a extras, are in the kit. Even the correct sized drill bits (to avoid any mistakes) and a small allen key are included.  Three different sized belts so that you can determine the best fit and a long kettle lead.

I fit an IEC C14 socket to the motor and a C15 plug on the lead for versitility – you can use the lead with most electrical music equipment which has a low current draw.  Obviously I fit the correct fuse, but the size of the cable will only handle 10 amperes.  I make the cable detachable so that you don’t wind the cable around the end of the instrument.  This is possibly the most common thing I see with vibraphones and it is bad practice especially if you then go on to pack the instrument down.  When combined with the poor earth continuity readings that I find on most mass produced instruments the result is a potential death trap.  The problem you face is that most instruments have the cables permanently attached, so as per usual I find myself going in the opposite direction to convention because of what I think are more important reasons than preventing you from losing the cable.

Fitting Photograhs:

Do a better job than this photo! Keep the ribbon cable flat if possible.  Do the cable tie closer to the motor first, then the outer one.  The control panel can be orientated so that the cable fits neatly and you only have a little strip showing along the outer edge of the note rail.  Either cable tie this section, use gaffa tape or just leave it – this depends on how rough you are when packing the instrument down.

If you don’t need to take off the transom bar, it will be very difficult to drill the holes for the cable ties. For this reason I have included two tie blocks in the kit. They are very sticky, but I would advise removing the resonator pad and giving the metal a good clean and then de-grease with mentholated spirits first, this way they will definitely stick around for the long term! The cable ties thread through both opposing sides of the pad and it would probably be easier to thread them before sticking them down.

The carriage for the Premier 751 is longer because of the hole to allow access for the damper bar adjustment screw. This screw I replace and is included in the pack. Therefore the 751 motor carriage takes longer to make which is why it costs more.  For ordering the motor system, send an and include your name and address so that I can send you an invoice.

How to change damper bar felt

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!)

In this video I am demonstrating how I go about changing the damper felt on a vibraphone.  The instrument is a Premier 751, but it could equally be any set of vibes.  In fact the same approach can be applied to all percussion instruments where the damping mechanisms allow.  However a word of warning, if you are considering changing the damper felt on a pedal glockenspiel or a set of crotales, etc a great deal more thought is required concerning the setting up of the instrument after the felt has been changed and is therefore work that is probably best left to an experienced professional.


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)

IMG_20160411_154751

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.

PhotoGrid_1462865351471

Premier 701 Vibraphone Repair (Job No: 1354)

IMG_20160429_110658

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.

IMG_20160429_132801

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

IMG_20160202_174435

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.

IMG_20160202_124714

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.

IMG_20160202_173844

Musser M55 Vibe Repair part 2 (Job no: 1321)

IMG_20160126_142707

The work finally begins! In Part 1 I looked into the problems of the M55 vibraphone in detail. Now I am actually ready to do some work!

It is my opinion that in order to minimise the unwanted noises produced when playing vibraphones, the most import factor in the design of the instrument is its structural rigidity. From this all else follows.

Think about what a vibraphone is and how they are played and work. It is a 3 octave percussion instrument with aluminium note bars laid out flat so that a foot operated damper system can control the sustain of the note bars. Additionally they have a system of opening and closing the resonator tubes which creates the “vibrato” effect. Complicated even to define. For an instrument maker (not a manufacturer – they are not instrument makers in the same way that, for instance, I am) there a several potential problems:

Percussion instruments by definition are struck with mallets, so the frame continually absorbs impacts.

The aluminium bars are heavy and consequently have a lot of inertia. Furthermore musical instruments by definition vibrate, so the frame has to cope structurally over a large frequency range and fixings and fittings are always going to be shaken loose.

The foot operated damping system has linkages and moving parts under tension.

The “vibrato” effect most commonly uses electric motors and rotating butterflies set in the top of amplification tubes.

And I could carry on. When listed like this, it is no wonder really that vibraphones cause a lot of problems. Manufacturers simply don’t understand this, they never see what happens to their instruments over time, and I am convinced that they don’t have the correct skill sets to draw on. If they did, a dullard like me wouldn’t be able to rip their designs apart.

I suppose it all comes down to money. On the one side global vibraphone market isn’t big, we are not talking small car production. So the potential revenue is limited and the competition is large. And on the other side, managing directors want to live in big houses and drive expensive cars, shareholders need their dividends, and workforces want pay rises. So the companies have to continuously grow and increase their profits, something has to give and invariably the wrong decisions are made; the key staff are dispensed with, the products never change, the cost of materials is reduced, the marketing and promotion budget is increased. These high-profile endorsements and collaborations must be expensive!


Musser M55 Vibraphone repair part 1 (Job no: 1321)

M55

Please don’t misinterpret me – I think that Musser vibraphones are probably the best buy on the market. The sound is good, the frames are simple and (erm) sort of reliable. The problem is Ludwig/Musser, they are just not very good at making stuff. Yeah, yeah they have, or rather shout about having a reputation for making great instruments, but it doesn’t mean that they are well made. The sorry fact is that most of the drums I see by Ludwig are garbage and sound shit and year after year get more cheap and nasty but with a premium price tag. The same is true of the Musser vibe, they used to be amazing, now they are just the best of a bad lot.

Being realistic, there is a state of over-supply in the global vibraphone market. Everyone thinks that they can make percussion instruments and everyone makes a vibe. People or companies appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quick. Even VanderPlas Baileo has gone bankrupt; I don’t know the reasons but I sympathise with Nico who has been making vibes since the new millennium [see amended comments below]. But let me clear, vibraphones are probably the most difficult of the tuned percussion instruments to make.

This Musser vibraphone was bought second-hand, so the historical usage is unknown, but for the last few years the vibe has predominantly been set up and used in a recording studio. The general condition indicates to me that it has gone from a lounge to a studio, it does not show the signs of being dismantled and assembled all the time and banged in and out the back of vehicles. Neither has it been wheeled around the corridors of music conservatoires. Essentially it has an easy life, but like all vibraphones it has lots of creaks and squeaks which is why the player has been brought it in to me.


The plot thickens in part two

Additional Comment
VanderPlas Baileo may well have ceased to exist but instruments designed by Nico VanderPlas are thankfully back in production available from Tal Vibraphones

Musser M55 Buying Guide

M55

Musser vibes are the industry standard. I have used the M55 model number because to me they all look the same. Yes sometimes I see gold paint instead of silver, sometimes there are more bits of useless metal getting in the way, but they all work the same. So if it looks like an M55, I call it an M55.

The M55 is a great vibraphone, but like most percussion instruments the design and build quality is sometimes a little dubious. Whilst I have this instrument in my workshop, and before I start doing any work on it, I thought that I would do another buying guide and supplement the first one I did on the Premier 751.