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


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!

3 comments on “Musser M55 Vibe Repair part 2 (Job no: 1321)

  1. Alexander Spemann

    Dear Mr Jefferies, thank You for all these great informations about buying and optimizing a Musser M55. I’m searching for one and found a real old instrument in Amsterdam. So I drove round about 1000 kilometers to test it. The frame is moving like an old ship but the sound is great. I hope I can create a technical improvement for this old Musser if I buy it. In the moment I waite for the information if the motor works or not. And I hope for more video or advices to optimize an old wonderful sounding instrument. Kindly regards, A. Spemann

    • pauljefferies

      Thank you for your comments Alexander, but my intention is not to give you a do it yourself instructional course. Whilst I know that there will always be some that use my information to do things themselves, you will notice that the common message throughout my website is to send your instruments to me so that they are done properly by someone who has the skills and experience. Too many times the first part of my job is to undo so called “repairs and improvements” because they are damaging the instrument.


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