Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Leedy Vibraphone 1930's...

Bought on Ebay for more than cheap on my birthday, not really knowing anything about it except that it had vibraphone parts... Doing research on the net, I quickly realised I had one of the earliest example of the vibraphone! (Before this, I would never have guessed the vibraphone was  "only" invented in the 1920's) ... Its condition was rough. Rusty resonators, oxidized bars, inexistant legs and frame, etc... But I was so happy to see it had all of its bars/notes!!! Now the goal was to refurbish it enough to make it usable for recording.
The original (in good condition) looked something like this:

The brass bits, decoration on the corner of the frame(s) and shape and number of the side panels made me realize I had a 1930's Leedy vibraphone (or more like half of it!)...

This is how I got it (with some of my handy work started, i.e. added central wooden shaft):

Here you can see the two frames that hold the bars (after cleaning years of neglect - when I got it, it actually smelled more like a farmyard tool!). And on the left, the beginning of trying to construct a new frame/support for it (all I had were two wooden end of the old frame). Note behind the plank of wood (I knew that sturdy 6 ply plywood found in the streets of Primrose hill would come in handy someday...), the rusted resonators and on the right the "de-rusted" ones.
(The bars are removed and put away for ease of work).

Here, after creating a support for the bar's frames, experimenting with designing a muting pedal, using a hi-hat pedal. Why not? Who's going to stop me?

Here, you see the design advancing. After deciding on a height (making sure it was a bit too high on purpose in order to keep some room for error, allowing me to cut leg length later if needed...), I made side panels and legs, bolting this all together. Then made the dampening mechanism. A bit of a hard one to design. But got there using metal parts from an inexpensive shelving system (doubled on itself so that it wouldn't bend under pressure), long bolts and loaded springs. I can't believe how hard it was to find springs. Those are for model cars!
To the left, close-up of the dampening bar with loaded springs.
When you push the pedal down, it lets the bars resonate freely.
When the pedal is not pushed down, the dampener is pushed up against the bars, stopping their vibration(s), i.e. muting their sound.

Next, I built support for the resonators and fixed them up to the main frame.
This pic shows the vibes with bars fixed up with new string.

Several layers of green felt on top of the dampening shaft.
Et voila!
It sounds great and works well.
Now all I have to do is find a motor, rubber belts, long thin, light but strong metal shafts, valves for each resonator to create the tremolo effect. At the moment, we just re-amp the recording through a nice tremolo (HH amp or Jen Kps pedal) and mix it in with the original signal; but mostly spending time learning how to play the damn thing by listening non-stop to some Sven Libaek!


1 comment:

Denise Robyn Wright said...

Hello.... I have just identified my new Ebay purchase as a Leedy Vibraphone! It's in bad shape, but not too bad for an old instrument that has not been cared for. I look forward to my husband taking a look at it, to see what he can do with it. This morning, the day after it arrived, I used it to assist with a first music lesson which I gave to a 6 year old, delightful girl - grand-daughter of a friend. (Denise Robyn)