Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job No: 1251)

Of all the vibraphones on the market, this is the one to buy, especially if you want an instrument that you might be able to sell again in the future and get a decent price.

The Musser M55 is the bench mark vibe, when I look at other instruments from different manufacturers, I can see that they have essentially copied this design.

There are however problems with this vibe, mainly down to using poor materials in the frame, but you show me a major manufacturer who doesn’t make frames for percussion instruments as cheaply as possible.

If distributors don’t send me catalogues I am never going to see “new” instruments until they have broken, so consequently I’m not very up to date on Musser’s entire range of vibraphones, but I can’t see any reason to not buy this vibe with no added extras that cost extra money but don’t do anything or work.

Anyway, I last saw this vibraphone when I had a workshop in London, probably around 2003.  This is the players gigging vibe as opposed to the practice instrument at home, and it gets used a lot, but now it needs some attention.

The biggest problem is that the pedal moves all over the place, and as soon as I take a look, I can see why.

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Basically the screw that holds the pedal onto the bottom bar acts like a rasp on the very thin aluminium.  The main issue I have with the way this instrument is built is the thinness of the aluminium.  Structurally it is not up to the job, and this level of wear is a further reason why it is no good.

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What I did was make a new bit to replace the old bit – I have no idea what to call the extra bit of square tube that Musser put on the underside of the main cross bar, the piece that makes the pedal sit at the correct height.  (A classic case of bodging it when you make a mistake on the drawing board, which never gets changed.  I reckon that even Musser believe the excuse for it’s existence – but let’s face it, it’s a cock up!)

So yes, I made a new “bit” and enlarged the holes through where the pedal attaches.  Then I made a nylon insert through which the pedal fixing bolt passes.

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This was made so that it is held in place by the ally plate on top and the “bit” underneath.  Because the nylon is now proud of both surfaces of the cross bar, the pedal rotates silently and smoothly – no metal to metal contact.  The bolt is now supported over its length, so the pedal cannot twist backwards.

I was unwell at the time, so didn’t take enough pictures, because my brain was like custard.  I did find other problems but I will undoubtedly cover them in the future on other vibes.

2 comments on “Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job No: 1251)

  1. Julian Bown

    Hi Orchestral percussion,
    I have a 1970’s Musser M55 that needs some attention.
    I would also like to raise the height of it as it feels too low for me.
    Can you help me with this.
    Regards Julian Bown

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Julian (and the world at large),
      In this public reply I am addressing the issue of height adjustment in detail on these instruments and my conclusions.

      There are two options open to you with regards to the playing height of your M55.  The first is to do what Musser did and raise the instrument at ground level.  The second is to invest in doing the job properly and implementing it where the trolley meets the note bed.

      The problem with doing the ground level approach is that the Musser frame design, in its original form, struggles to withstand the normal operation of the damper system.  Changing the pedal fulcrum location in relation to the bottom bar makes for a much more complicated structural problem. Unfortunately having a telescopic height adjustment system retro fitted where the legs meet the note bed, is also unsuitable because of the forming process used to create the leg frame. The result is that the angle at which the legs meet the hinge is rarely 90° in all directions.  This is typical of many instruments with note bed level height adjustment systems and often comes down to the generous manufacturing tolerances used the mass production of these instruments compounded by poor material selection. 
       
      This lack in confidence of manufacturing and material quality hinders the choices of suitable repair.  For example, a cheap solution is to drill a hole and bolt a supporting bar here and there to strengthen the frame.  However, the tubes that the instrument trolley is made from cannot withstand compression from bolts without additional support and the welding between the existing tubes are of suspect quality and known to fail as is, without increasing the amount of loading.

      You don’t get anything for nothing. These instruments are deliberately made lightweight and are intended to be folded down and carried for transportation, they are not built to be wheeled around fully assembled which is how most professionals transport them. The fact that they don’t withstand folding down and assembly very well over the years is another issue. The problem I have with aluminium in this example is more to do with real world application of the Musser design rather than the material itself. However there are also many issues caused by the movement within the frame that are directly attributable to the material selected. Over the years I have found myself having to do ever more work to overcome these inherent weaknesses. All of this work adds an ever increasing amount of weight, takes more time and therefore costs more money. Therefore, now I just make a complete new trolley suitable to customers requirements and give them the original frame back.

      Reply

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