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I'm thinking about getting pickups again.  To my knowledge the K&K pickups are the only ones commerically available at this time.  In my area of northern Jacksonville there aren't a lot of places to play gigs but there are some jam sessions.

My question is if anyone has plugged straight into a house PA system - and lived to tell about it!  :-)

I always had an amp with me when I had either pickups or mics so I never actually tried it.  Any input (pun intended) would be appreciated.

Thanks, Jerry


Randy_Sutin Wed, 06/05/2024 - 12:12

K&K pickups are piezoelectric mics, I believe (If I'm wrong about that, please somebody just tell me to be quiet...). Given that, the output can certainly be run to a PA system, but you will likely find there are impedance mismatches and gain staging issues. You will likely be able to get over those issues (albeit with slightly degraded sound), but if you want to not have that problem, you should get a decent DI box.

Radial makes several good ones that are affordable. I have those and I like them.

However, I do have a favorite that I LOVE!!!... Rupert Neve Designs RNDI-S Stereo Active Transformer Direct Box. I've never used it with K&K pickups, but I do have a different instrument that uses piezo pickups and the difference between that DI and every other one I've ever tried is night and day. Well worth the extra money.

Jerry Weir Mon, 06/10/2024 - 15:16

Randy, I'll check into the DI. My gut feeling is that the direct-to-PA sound will be coarse and lack of EQ may make it rather intolerable to listen to - if the venue doesn't allow me or someone to make adjustments.

Here in Jacksonville there is one weekly jam session that is on the second floor of a commercial building and there is no elevator. I hate to sound old but I don't think I can carry my vibe (in the cases) and still be able to play it once I do. So, I'm just thinking out loud about if I leave the resonators at home and just plug in the rails and go with it. I may just have to try it once and find out.


Randy_Sutin Mon, 06/10/2024 - 16:01

In reply to by Jerry Weir

The quality of that connection, if you provide them with a decent signal (which is why I recommend the DI box rather than just running long unbalanced cables to an input on the PA) is entirely dependent upon the quality of the entire PA system. If it has great preamps, you'll get past that stage; If it has decent processing, such as EQ, Compression, phase shift (to simulate the vibrato Mike Manieri style) you'll get past that. If the sound is bad at that point (headphones directly into the board), then the place to start is with gain staging. Is the trim on the input of the preamps set to a good level that allows the peaks to go through without distortion? Is it so low that you have to run the fader on the channel all the way up? Is the main fader set so high or low that it limits what you can do in individual channels?

In my experience, the one element that is the hardest to conquer with sound from the vibes (my experience is mostly with microphones, but the concept is the same with the pickups) will be the speakers... only high to extremely high quality speakers will comfortably handle what a set of vibes throws at them. If the location has crappy Mackie speakers or the low end EV or Yamaha, don't expect things to sound great. The higher end EV stuff, QSC, or even Alto will probably give you an acceptable result.

Happy trails. We all want a good electric axe to play on if we can find one and make it sound musical.

wyndorps Wed, 06/12/2024 - 11:47

Hi Jerry,
everything Randy writes is correct, but you should just test it with simple means first. I have been using my self-made pickups for years, all connected in parallel to only one logarithmic 100M Ohm potentiometer on the frame and through a TC.electronic chorus/flanger directly with the 6.3 mm jack plug into the local PA or a suitcase amplifier.
Since I sometimes use my pickups mixed with leftover K&K pickups, I can say that there is no difference in sound.

If you don't have the confidence to solder cables to the pickups, you can also use prefabricated pickups with cables.…

If you don't like the sound result then you can always spend more money on technology. You'll have to decide for yourself whether that makes sense for sessions.

Jerry Weir Thu, 06/13/2024 - 13:21

Wyndorps you gave me an idea - Aside from my original question. A couple of decades ago I made my own pickups but then found the piezo's difficult to find and got tired of soldering. HOWEVER, I think I may still have my old Ayotte rails buried somewhere in my equipment box. I can start from scratch and use the Ayotte rails and purchase the pickups you are recommending at the DigiKey website. Not sure if the pots will work with the piezo's you are recommending but if I can find those rails I will find out! At least it's a major piece of the hardware already complete.

Great ideas folks

IndianaGlen Tue, 06/18/2024 - 17:07

I got (and installed) a K&K a couple years ago for playing with some local big bands and it works great. I made an electronic only set that has no resonators. (There are pics and sound examples somewhere on here on VW) I run the output from the K&K box into a fishman amp that I basically use as a monitor. The house picks up the xlr on the back of the amp post mix. I promise the sound person I won’t turn up the amp during the gig (but usually I do in small increments, yeah my pants are on fire). I love that I don’t have to worry about the drummer’s pounding getting into my mix. Does it sound as good as a mic’d acoustic, nope, but playing with a big band it still sounds like a vibe and in a loud situation everybody is happy, and I can be heard. I have a tremolo stomp box that I use for ballads. If the sound person is um, less sophsticated, I have them close mic my amp.

I considered doing a setup by scratch per Windorps directions but at the time I didn’t have the cycles to build everything. Maybe in my retirement…

Perhaps you know this already, It is possible to measure the pots with a VOM to see if they are the correct value and taper, that will work with the digikey pickups. I’d sure like to hear how this turns out for you. As a clarification, I’m assuming that Prof Windorps term “Logarithmic” pot is the same as an “audio taper” pot. I’ll defer to Paul, he knows more about building from scratch than I.


Jerry Weir Wed, 06/26/2024 - 09:51

Thank you all - this is some excellent information. I'm going to get started today on a plan today and I'll reply when I have something worthwhile to add.


mogreen Wed, 06/26/2024 - 17:35

In reply to by Jerry Weir

Hi Jerry.
I've been using my Deagan 594 Commander II with built in pickups since I got it new in the mid 80's. I've tried almost everything regarding signal paths and hooking this beauty up to external PA's as well as recording consoles and Audio Interfaces. I don't think the principles at play here differs much from the K&K picked up vibraphones around.

The first and foremost concern is getting a good EQ - preferably a 3 or 4 band PARAMETRIC EQ that lets you narrow in on problematic frequencies. I'm using a vintage TC Electronic Parametric EQ pedal when on the road and in the studio I have its 19" rack mount bigger sister. Keep in mind that the pickups are fastened to the nodal points of the bars in order to minimise compromising the sound and shorten the sustain but this also means that the frequencies picked up are a bit biased towards a less fundamentally focused timbre, so you most likely have to compensate by attenuating the harsher hi mids (around 2.5 kHz) and possibly boost the low mids around the range of the fundamentals (200 Hz - 1.2 kHz). You may also have to attenuate the actual impact sound with a lo cut from 100 Hz or so in order to avoid a boomy plosive sound every time you hit the bars. Lastly the pickups tend to produce a very superficial sounding crystal-like high frequency sound that you may want to cut back a little.

The EQ will get you a rounded and nice and mellow sound according to your needs and taste, but the pickup'ed sound can be very sterile and motionless which is why I almost always use some kind of modulation effect unit - mostly a subtle chorus from a chorus pedal but a tremolo pedal and even a phaser pedal can also work. They make the sound more alive. For live use I have used Boss Chorus Ensemble pedals like the mighty CE-1 or the CE-3 as well as Eventide's Mod Factor stomp pedal. In the studio I'm using the legendary TC Electronic 1210 Dual Stereo Chorus Spatial Expander rack unit that makes anything from almost unnoticeable chorus movement to wild flanging. It's an awesome effect unit.

A delay pedal can also soften things up a bit and add some dimension to the sound making it less direct and tiring for the ear. For that I use either the TC Electronic Nova Delay pedal or the Eventide Time Factor. If you use the hi-cut to dial off the high frequency in the delay signal and set a Dry/Wet mix of ca. 87/13 you will most of all get some added glue in your sound that will make your lines flow much smoother. Think Pat Metheny here ;)
You can also experiment with using fuzz, distortion and ringmodulator pedals if you want to take it really out there.

Once you've set up your pedals you should try recording the signal and listen back to it on your speakers. It can. be very hard to hear what your vibes sounds like at the same time as you're playing them because of the acoustic sound from the bars.

I hope I've inspired you a little to investigate further. You may listen to my sound on this single released a few days ago here:
It's the pickup sound only running through an Avalon U5 preamp, the TC Electronic 1210 Spatial Expander and some plugin compressors, eq's, delays and reverb.

Best Vibes, Mo'. 🐫❤️🤠🇩🇰

Vince H Sun, 06/30/2024 - 13:16

In reply to by mogreen

Hi Morten,
That is a very fine tone quality on the recording you posted. Am I to understand that there's no microphone involved in this recording? Could you have achieved the same tone quality without resonators? Do you ever gig without resonators on your instrument to reduce the work of moving the vibraphone? Do you limit the number of pedals and electronics to reduce your carry weight?
Vince H

IndianaGlen Sun, 06/30/2024 - 14:44

In reply to by Vince H

I totally agree with Vince, great sound/tone and great playing. Thank you for providing the details. BTW, I use the Eventide Timefactor for the Tremolo on my setup. I also have a Eventide Pitchfactor that I messed with some but per Vince’s question/comment, I wanted to reduce the number of boxes to set up and carry. I’m sure I could get some improvement; as I’m aging though I don’t trust my ears and maybe there’s a major improvement from the pitchfactor that I’m missing. I do add some chorus on the amp and turn down the lows so I don’t get a low thud.

Here’s a link to my VW post regarding the vibe I built. I did the recording using my phone, so quality is lacking. I’m happy with the setup and just last week I had to do a practice in a basement. In that case I removed the bars from the frame. I usually leave the bars on and use the handle on the handtruck to heft and roll them in and out of my Subaru Outback…

OK so here’s the question: Are the pickups glued (Epoxy) inside a small hole in the bars, or are they glued to the outside (similar to the K&K)? I’m pretty sure Deagan put pickups in drilled holes and glued them in place at the factory, but I don’t know for sure. No specific reason I’m asking -- just curious is all.

Vince H Sun, 06/30/2024 - 18:54

In reply to by IndianaGlen

Hi Glen,
Short version re pedals: try Zoom MS50-G Multistomp. It has worked ok for me, but I don't know if it produces the quality Mo gets.

Long version re pedals: I had a house gig for 5 years and used K&K pickups. I was then using multiple cheap pedals and they sounded OK to me. After leaving that gig and returning to moving my vibes around a lot, I went to a Zoom MS50-G multistomp, which has a ton of "pedals" in one small footprint pedal, and you can layer up to 5. I have also switched from using K&K to a very old Jess Oliver pickup that I restored (magnetic pickup rails). I think the sound of the magnetic pickup is better than K&K (less "peaky") but this thing is old and fussy. That's a bit of a digression, though: The Zoom does a nice job, but I don't have the proof that Mo has--his sound is absolutely wonderful. But it might be worth buying and trying one of these. I've been satisfied, although I've been considering going back to acoustic with mics, as lately most of my gigs (the few that there are) are conducive to quiet acoustic playing or have a house sound engineer to mic well w/out feedback (which was always a bit problem with mics). Still, the idea of not carrying those danged resonators...that is very appealing. I can't stand the schlep anymore and the gig has to pretty appealing before I get out of my basement.

Jerry Weir Thu, 06/27/2024 - 12:31

Mo, thanks for that very detailed run down on equipment. This will be really helpful for everyone on the vibes workshop. It is so helpful to have this kind of explanation when a vibraphone player doesn't know anything about the electronics used by more electronically based instruments like guitars, basses, and keyboards. The vibe sound on the link you sent is beautiful.