History of the vibes

I am writing a dissertation for my degree about the vibes.
I would greatly appreciate it if anyone has any information of the history of the development of the vibraphone, and also if possible the physics and synthesis behind the sound.
Thank you everyone

Hi, check out:


and particularly check for contributions of Nico van der Plas, Gavin McGraw and Sid Edwards - a lot of the information you are after has been discussed there.

Good luck, Stefan


i just found a buddy who did some paper on the history of the vibes. i'm trying to get him to post it if you need it quick email me and i'll give you his email address. maybe he'd send you a copy.

Tony Miceli
s k y p e: tjazzvibe
i c h a t: tonymiceli

OK... when I first told Tony about this, I realized immediately that I have kept this hidden for years because, frankly, I am embarrassed at the way I wrote it. It was 30+ years ago and I had more than just a little youthful attitude. It sucks in that way. Here's the deal though... if anyone out here can benefit from what I started then I should put it out here and trust those of you who know me to understand that a kid younger than my own children are now wrote this.

I left out so many great players, that I don't even want to start naming them. You all know who they are; I didn't at the time, so the paper suffers in that way. Don't take it as an authority, just as a potential source. If you want to do more research and have trouble finding the articles I quote, send me an email message. Believe it or not, I am just enough of a packrat to have copies of many of them and even some that I didn't use.

I love the vibes. I am addicted to them and any other instrument that makes beautiful sound by tapping, whacking, scratching, or hitting together.

One player I want to address directly who I left out because I know he is here on this forum... Joe Locke. Joe, at the time I wrote this, to me you were the local guy who used to come over from Rochester to play at Alger's pub in Potsdam with my buddies, Larry Ham, Pat O'Leary and Tom Melito. You were a huge inspiration to me then and still are one of my favorite players. I should have included you. I apologize.

And one player I left out who want to mention to Alic a very specific reason. The vibes can, in my opinion, present a huge challenge to a player who wishes to develop a personal sound. Having an immediately recognizable sound gets even harder when nearly all our instruments and mallets are similarly manufactured. There is one player who completely transcends all that and is just plain beautiful, but plays in a way totally dissimilar to all other players I can think of. You will have his "sound" in your ears in a minute and know you are listening to Khan Jamal. Whether or not you may choose to play like Khan, he is a lesson in what I see as a huge hurdle on the instrument. If you are doing a present day study in the history of jazz on the instrument, please don't leave him out as I did. I feel he has a very important piece of the stylistic development of jazz on the instrument all to himself. He is a master, in my opinion.

So, here is the link to a PDF of the paper. It is technically the property of the Crane School of Music, where I was a student at the time. Please use it only for educational purposes. And, once again, please don't trust anything I wrote tooo much just because I wrote it with such certainty. I was a headstrong kid. Trust my sources instead.


If you have any questions, feel free to email me, call me, or if you are in or around Philly, come over and hang out. I will let you see and play my 102 year old Leedy Xylorimba!!




Your paper includes more information than I have previously read about. I didn't know that the pedaling was reversed on the original design. John Piper had mentioned that he would like to see that type of mechanism on vibes. Another thing I didn't know was the preference of narrow bars for two-mallet single line players vs. wider bars for four-mallet comping, where the narrow bars had shorter decay.

Never heard of Peter Appleyard. Found some YouTube videos:

Similarly never heard of Dave Pike:

BTW, I guess we all know that Vibraphone is a misnomer since the fans cause tremolo (change in volume) and not vibrato, change in pitch.


Technically it isn't a tremolo but an ululation. And "ululaphone" is a great word.

Fantastic paper Randy - really interesting - and totally agree with what you said about Khan Jamal.

right it's not a temelo right? the pitch would have to change.

If 'vibes' is the casual term for vibraphone, then the 'ululas' would be what we should be calling the instrument. Logically, this would lead to changing the website name to www.ululaworkshop.com, theUlula.net, and my personal favorite - www.allthingsulula.com.

"Man, that Milt could sure blow on the ululas." Doesn't really have the same ring, does it?


I second that!

Maybe - just maybe - the ululaphone is what you would play on an exotica gig. It could be "the next big thing." I prefer the idea of playing "Quiet Village" and "Hawaiian Wedding Song" on the ululas over the vibes. Lots of motor...

Exotica, yes...LOL

I dig this name, imagine your answer to a nice girl asking what instrument do you play : "a Ululaphone" ! Sounds mysterious, and since quite nobody knows what a vibraphone is, doesn't matter a lot... Funny nickname !!! :O)))

Sure, we all play vibraphone. As I said, ululaphone can be a funny nickname in certain circumstances... :o)

Never heard that term before.
According to the definition, that is a high-pitched trill.

The terms vibrato and tremolo are sometimes used interchangeably, although the strict definitions of each describe them as separate effects: vibrato is a periodic variation in the pitch (frequency) of a musical note, whereas tremolo usually refers to periodic variations in the volume (amplitude) of a musical note.

The main effect of the rotating fan blades causes the volume to change.

I'll continue calling the effect, tremolo. ;-)


"Technically right" is the best kind of right ;)

Im with Tony. Let's not ululate. That word should be confined to restrooms or dark physics laboratories (jk)

i'd LOVE to see the final paper. can you post it here?

This is a presentation about the history of the Vibraphone by Patrick Overturf, Won't help with the above dissertation, there is a nice picture of Tony.