Susan Pascal

Musser Pro vibes

The vibraphone; click images below for larger views.
Thanks to Musser-Ludwig for these photos.

Vibraphone, vibraharp, and vibes: these are all names for the same instrument. It's played with yarn-wound mallets, and evolved from other "mallet instruments" which include the...

MarimbaMarimba, an instrument of wooden bars with tubular "resonators" underneath that hold air spaces to amplify the sound. It has a large playing range; a marimba can be five octaves long. You'll see these in Latin America, where the instruments are so big that three people play at the same time: a player creating bass lines, a chording player in the middle, and a melodic soloist at the high end. The marimba is related to the...

XylophoneXylophone, which also has wooden bars, but features a high-pitched range and is typically used for fast, sprightly musical passages.

During the 1920's vaudeville era, the xylophone was a fixture in the show percussionist's instrument arsenal. Vaudeville shows called for plenty of sound effects, and the J.C. Deagan company capitalized on this by inventing new musical novelties. Among other creations, they developed the...

Steel Marimba, which was, as you might guess, a marimba with steel bars instead of wood bars. (This instrument had a short life.) They then went a few steps further, developing the...

VibraharpVibraharp, which has metal bars, a damper pedal (functioning like a piano damper pedal), and a system of butterfly valves (one at the top of each resonator tube) that creats a vibrato effect.

The vibraharp was used by NBC, for chime notes to mark radio intermission signals. Lionel Hampton played the xylophone, and in 1930 he was recording with Louis Armstrong in an NBC studio where there was a vibraharp. They tried Lionel on the new vibraharp for their recording of the song, Memories of You, the first time jazz was recorded on the instrument.

Vibraphone is the trade name for an equivalent instrument produced by the Musser company, a J.C. Deagan competitor.

Vibes, an abbreviation for vibraphone or vibraharp, is now in common use.

More Info
  • Blades, James. Percussion Instruments and Their History. Faber & Faber Ltd., London, 1984.
  • Hampton, Lionel, and Haskins, James. Hamp: An Autobiography. Warner Books, Inc., 1989.
  • Percussive Notes Research Edition, Volume 24, Numbers 3/6, March/September 1986.
  • Tabourot. Historic Percussion: A Survey. Tactus Press, Austin, Texas, 1994.

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