ABOUT THE 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...
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...
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...
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.
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
Tabourot. Historic Percussion: A Survey. Tactus Press,
Austin, Texas, 1994.