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.

6 comments on “What model is my Premier Vibraphone?

  1. Erdeven Vincent

    hello
    I have got an old premier 700 vibraphone
    The motor is turning but there is no more belts.
    It seems to be 17 cm diameter belts( i’m not sure)
    Do you know where i can get some or if i can use others from the market?
    But mainly ,i don’t see hpw to replace them.
    I would like to send you some photos
    Could you give your email,please
    Thank you
    Vinx

    Reply
  2. Kevin Burke

    I’m a 40 yr english ex pat drummer in norcal. Iv’e just inherited what looks like a Premier 700 vibes but with a 750 front end resonator. i.e. its flat at the top instead of all round. is that possible?…The motor works, the belts don’t have long left I think, but it looks like the O ring for a Big Blue water filter might work. My question is what are the bars made of ?….I was told there was some silver involved, but silver polish has no effect on these banged up bars……My big band miester who handed me this instrument installed some big wheels to get the thing around for gigs, but didn’t mention how many hours it took to assemble the thing single handed. Only us brits could design something so difficult, especially if your not familiar with it. As you noted, it does sound nice…..It seems there’s a variel speed motor out there, how does that relate to the triple speed that we have already.
    The skiffle sessions, produced by Van Morrison….we all have our cross to bear…thanks for your info Paul.

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Kevin,
      Thank you for your comment. It is difficult for me to picture which particular instrument you have, but during this period Premier were working on all aspects of many instruments so improvements and modifications were always being introduced. I do grant you that some of these old instruments are impossible to assemble by oneself without potentially damaging the instrument which does seem a bit of a design oversight.

      The note bars are made of an aluminium alloy. The specifics of which are always a carefully protected secret despite in most cases (and certainly this one) the particular alloys being no longer available. I now clean the bars in a chemical bath because it is less invasive than my old method which required cutting compounds and a lot of elbow grease to get through the oxidation. Not to say that there isn’t a good amount of physical work involved in my new cleaning process. However any work that is done to the bars to improve the surface finish runs the risk of detuning the bars, more problematic because this is obviously in a downward direction, therefore when undertaking work of this kind, I am doing it prior to re-tuning the bars.

      I certainly produce a variable speed motor system and have another version in the pipeline. In terms of operation, speed is the easiest of the problems to solve, the other issues are much more complex and one of the reasons why my developments are taking a while. I cannot comment on whether there is anyone else also now selling alternative motors and how they operate. My current system goes from very, very slowly to way too fast, so a much broader range than the three stage pulley system. They are expensive, well actually they are not, they are still cheaper than the cost of replacing the motor from Premier in the mid 1990’s which is when I last enquired about these sort of spares, but I grant that they are still a costly item to replace. This is certainly one area that I want to look into, but the fact remains that there is a day to modify the motor control system, package it, make pulleys, etc and at least a day to fit it to the instrument – that second day I have reduced to 5 minutes with the 751/701 kit but one does have to pay me for the privilege (or just steal my intellectual property and get it for free!)

      Regards
      Paul

      Reply

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