How do I buy a Set of Vibes?
This is a comment that was posted by tpvibes. I thought it was so well done that I'd make a FAQ out of it. If anyone has anything to add, please do in the comment section. You could add links, preferences and why. This way we'll have a good post for anyone interested in getting their first set.
Steve Weiss Percussion is a good place to start looking -- see http://www.steveweissmusic.com/category/vibraphone/a. The Musser M55 (also called the Musser Pro) that Tony mentions is pretty much the standard pro model; it's about $4K ($3970 at Steve Weiss right now, not including shipping). Lone Star Percussion is another good place to look. Once you narrow down to a few models, Google the model numbers and you'll be surprised at the number of sources.
You can find used M55s (and other models) on Craigslist and other places for $3K plus-or-minus a few hundred. Older vibes that were well-taken-care-of tend to be fine instruments.
Yamaha and Adams make comparable models to Musser for comparable prices. The quality of Yamaha's professional series vibes seem to be comparable to Musser. Their glossy finish vibes have a brighter sound that I personally don't find perfect. Their matte finish vibes sound better to me. Many people feel the opposite. For Adams, several people have complained about the quality of tuning straight from the factory and had their instruments re-tuned at a cost of a couple of hundred dollars. Once that's taken care of they seem to love their instruments.
Cheaper alternatives include the Musser M46 "One-Nighter", which is about $1K cheaper than the M55. The older versions had non-graduated bars and were a noticeable step down from the M55, but about 10 years ago they were redesigned with graduated bars and presumably the sound is better. Yamaha and Adams have similar models.
Cheapest of all are used Jencos (Jenco went out of business about 40 years ago). Those can be found for several hundred dollars. They don't sound anywhere near as good as an M55 or comparable Yamaha. If you buy one of these you'll buy another instrument when you get good, but that might not be a bad strategy.
Some things to look for/know about:
- Graduated and non-graduated bars -- Higher end vibes tend to have graduated bars (the lower bars are wider than the upper bars, graduating through a few steps in between). This gives better volume balance over the instrument. Non-graduated vibes aren't necessarily bad, and graduated vibes aren't necessarily good, but there does tend to be a sound quality difference in favor of graduated vibes.
- Motor or no motor -- The base One-Nighter vibe comes without a motor. Add a motor and it's only a few hundred dollars cheaper than an M55. When a model comes in motored and motor-less models, the difference is usually several hundred dollars. There's a major almost-religious war between vibists who love the sound with the motor and vibists who hate it. You aren't going to know your opinion for a while. Personally, I've never even plugged the motor on my M55 in. But I still got a motor :-).
- Bar color -- Doesn't matter, sound-wise. Gold bars cost a couple of hundred more. If you prefer that look (I do), go for it, but gold and silver color sound the same.
- Bar finish -- Yamaha offers matte and glossy finish for the bars. The finish does make a difference in the sound. To me, glossy sounds bright and glassy, matte sounds darker and warmer. Which you prefer is completely a matter of personal style.
- Range -- Be sure to get at least a 3-octave instrument, starting from the F below middle C. Don't buy a 2.5-octave instrument.