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.
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?
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!
(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.
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.