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.

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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.

Tom P.
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Comments

Tom has written an excellent synopsis of how to buy a set of vibes. He gives a varied account of models, brands and price ranges. I would like to add something if I may.

In this account we have the Musser Pro (old and new models) and Jenco (one of the worst and cheapest brands) and in between, Yamaha and Adams. I, therefore, can find no reason as to why Deagan has been left out of this advisary article. While they are no longer produced, the Deagan is most certainly a viable option for someone looking to buy a set of vibes. They come in very portable models such as the Traveller (582 and 510) a top of the line model, Aurora (1100)(which was considered for years as the benchmark in vibes) and a portable pro model of the Aurora, the Commander (592) series. These vibes can be found in varying price ranges depending on where you look. Deagans were known for their excellent tuning and sustain. They almost all came with motors and variable motors at that (slow to fast)(later models). While I have a Ross now, Ross has succumbed the vibraphone death and is being produced by Majestic under that name. The Ross can still be found as a used instrument, and a economic one but I personally feel you will later have to buy another vibe.

It might be noted here that most audiences and most musicians don't know anything about vibes; only that you sound good or bad (as attested to by Behn Gillece in a thread on this board). It is mainly the vibists that care about what kind, how much, motor, tuned or not.

You can still find Deagans for sale in the newspapers, eBay and Craigs List.

I applaud Tom on his article for information in helping the buyer find a product.

BruceW

There is also an excellent database of information on vibe choices at www.Malletjazz.com operated by James Walker, an excellent vibist and percussionist.

Hi Bruce,

I fully agree with you about Deagan vibes. I didn't mention them for two reasons. One, I was responding to Didee-bop and didn't want to overwhelm him (her?) -- I figured the response was getting long and there was enough there for him to digest. And two, I know less about the ins and outs of the Deagan models than the others, so it seemed to be a good thing to elide.

Thanks for filling that in.

Tom P.

Glad to help out. I know what you mean, I felt I was getting a little winded also. I mentioned 4 models, 582, 510, Aurora (1100), and 592. But of course, there are even more Deagan models that can be found to buy, so I stopped with those popular models.

BruceW

Great article Tom! Lots of good advice. I wanted to add one more option for purchasing a set of vibes, which requires a bit of good timing.

There is an organization called Drum Corps International (DCI), which is a sort of "major league" of marching music (all brass, drumline, front ensemble of keyboard percussion, and colorguard). The regular season for DCI runs from late May through the second week of August. At the end of the season these groups usually shed their old equipment to re-stock for the upcoming year, so if you're looking to purchase between late August through March (depending on how fast they sell), you could get a good instrument for about 20% cheaper than retail.

I would strongly urge those who attempt this to request pictures of the instruments, as the activity involves about 90 total days of rigorous use, 60 of those being on the road. I was in a group, "the Cadets," and we turned over about 10 Yamaha vibes in three seasons; we were diligent about keeping the instruments in good shape. I will say that those polished gold Yamaha vibes do have their own unique sound, but I believe that Ed Saindon uses that model frequently, and I think it is a beautiful sounding instrument. Be aware that the gold polish does wear off with extensive use (again, get pictures and try to negotiate a price if you feel the need).

There are more than 20 groups that compete in DCI, and I would say that the top 12 regularly update their inventory of keyboards. The top sponsors for the groups are Yamaha, Pearl (Adams), Dynasty (which isn't a bad vibraphone, resembles the old Ross brand), some use the new Majestic brand (literally what used to be Ross percussion), and a select few may use Ludwig / Musser. I'll say that Ludwig and Majestic don't exactly have the market on marching percussion equipment, so the organizations that use that gear are less likely to have the cash to sell their boards very often.

Be aware that the frames used in this activity are "field" frames, which can be a bit bulky depending on the brand. Very "rollable" though.

To check out who might be selling you would need to go to www.dci.org and click on "corps" to find a listing of the participating organizations. I've also listed the websites next to the names below.

These are the groups I would suggest checking out:

-Cadets (Yamaha) (www.yea.org/cadets)
-Blue Devils (Pearl/Adams) (www.bluedevils.org)
-Cavaliers (Yamaha) (www.cavaliers.org)
-Boston Crusaders (Pearl/Adams) (www.crusaders.com)
-Bluecoats (Yamaha) (www.bluecoats.com)
-Phantom Regiment (Dynasty) (www.regiment.org)
-Carolina Crown (Yamaha) (www.carolinacrown.org)
-Blue Knights (Pearl/Adams) (www.bknights.org)
-Blue Stars (Pearl/Adams) (www.bluestars.org)
-Madison Scouts (Yamaha) (http://madisonscouts.org) - they have a 3 octave gold studio vibe for $3300 listed right now!
-Colts (Yamaha) (www.colts.org)

Some of these may not be listing instruments, some may. If you're really interested in getting a deal, email them and figure out what they have and try to work out a deal.

If anyone has questions about this, please feel free to email me. Don't forget to get onto dci.org and check out the activity. It is a musical experience like no other!

Hope this is helpful.

Jason Dye
avedis02@gmail.com

Thanks.

Tom P.

that's pretty thorough research there!!!

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Tony Miceli
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Excellent job!!

You don't mention the tuning - A442 or A440 ? What do you recomand ?

440 in the states 442 in europe.

if you play all over the world and had to pick one then i think 442. it's better to be a little sharp than a little flat.

everyone agree?