This Premier 751 Vibraphone is one of those instruments that seemed to have everything wrong with it; the frame was out of shape, major elements like the damper system were broken, and the motor was hanging off. In 1279: Premier 751 vibe (pt 1) I discussed the structural work that I have done, starting from the ground up, and ending with the commencement of a new damper system.
Most of the work in making a new damper system is in the set up, by which I mean how this intrinsically simple system is fitted to the instrument. This is discussed in greater detail in 1260: Premier 701 vibe (pt 2) and it can be seen that I take great care in ensuring that everything is set parallel so that when the damper is used, it rotates freely around its fulcrum points. In reality, because I do not compromise on the quality of materials, the felt I use is of exceptional quality and soft enough to compress around any localised discrepancies. Therefore ironically I have more leeway in the set up of the damper bar, but I cannot guarantee that the same felt will be used from now on, and if a job is worth doing, do it properly. Of primary importance is how the bar makes contact with the underside of the note bars, this is it’s function after all; it needs to be simultaneous across the entire range (left to right or up and down the vibe) as well as between the naturals and accidentals (front to back). So as well as getting everything mechanically efficient, it is this element that I want to get right. I have only ever seen an adjustable system on an Adams vibraphone, and it struck me as a very good idea, especially considering their history of inaccuracy when mass producing components; needless to say despite their system being adjustable, no one had set it up properly before I finally got hold of it, but that is a question of mass produced instruments being assembled by minimum wage factory workers.
The final part of the damper system is joining it to the pedal. In the photograph above I have dropped plumb lines down so that I can mark where, along the damper bar, I want the connections placed. This is an example as to why, when I built the workshop, I put a raised floor in. Besides the added comfort of standing all day on a wooden floor, as opposed to the great discomfort (and harm) from standing on concrete, installing a floor meant that I could get the whole area perfectly flat using a laser level. With a horizontal surface to work off, I know that every time I drop a plumb line down off an instrument, it will be perpendicular to the floor. In practice this means that the two rods that pull the damper are now both pulling at the same rate in the same direction – this is so difficult to achieve that most manufacturers opted to have one pull rod and a central pedal.
I suppose the big question is why do I bother? There are several perspectives to the answer. A vibraphone player generally has an indirect contact with the instrument, they use mallets or bows to generate the sound. To control the sustain and decay on (and in) the whole they rely on a mechanical system. It is my task to give them the very best tools to do their job, so I want the damper system to be expressive as possible and I want consistency across every note. When I say this is my job, it seems blindingly obvious why I go to great lengths to get things perfect. The counter is also true: if a vibraphone does not have this done by a maker or repairer, then they are not doing their job. Furthermore, it is in my nature to be extremely particular and exacting, which why I became an instrument maker, but despite the lack of financial reward the main rewards are in job satisfaction. Over time, to achieve the same level of job satisfaction and therefore reward, I have to aim higher and higher and only my very best work gives that satisfaction. Consequently I always do my best, still living to the Scout promise after all these years!
Whilst I was working on this vibe, I use the opportunity to try out my moulding system for replacing the note pegs. There are more details on this kit in 1264: Premier Vibe Note Pegs. There was also a new motor system fitted (1101: Premier vibe motor conversion) and some new alternative spare parts that I have made. In the photograph below the motor speed control can be seen tucked away inside the top transom, and two new note cord hoop mouldings. The Two cord hoop mouldings I have made in bronze as opposed to plastic, so I will be very surprised if they ever break again. They are a little bit more expensive than the originals were, but the originals are obsolete and I have run out, but my replacements are far superior, but it is the unit cost which has prevented me from replacing all of them.