Tuning of vibraphone-bars: from 442hz to 440hz

Hi, everybody!

One question: Is it possible to tune the bars on a vibraphone from 442hz to 440hz?

All the best,

Karl Ivar Refseth

Yes, I did it to mine and it was the greatest thing I've ever done!

- www.mikepinto.net

What exactly did you do? Tune it lower? Or just retune it?

I received this email response from Bill Youhass of Falls Creek Marimba:

- yes, the bars can easily be tuned to A-440
- They will sound great, only better in tune, especially the harmonics, which almost nobody tunes right.
- you may or may not have to retune the resonators. If so, you can do it yourself..not difficult,. just takes a little time..

Here's a link to the "tuning" page from the website: http://www.marimbas.com/tuning.php

Tony Fontana

Going down can be done without noticing. Going up is a bit more difficult, and mostly can't be done unnoticable.

You don't need to change the tuning of the resonators on your vibe, they probably are already on A440.

Can be that your vibe is not tuned to A442, but to A443. For some weird reason, every Musser I've seen in europe is tuned an accurate 1 Hz higher, both with A440 as with A442.

Since you're in Germany, think carefully before you consider changing. There's not an easy way back, an A442 vibe could mix in an A440 environment, while an A440 vibe won't mix in an A442 environment.
Probably just setting your bars to the exact A442 would be fine.

Nico
vanderPlas Baileo Percussion Instruments
www.vanderplasbaileo.com
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So happy this subject came up here. It's an older discussion, but hopefully someone will see this.

I bought a Musser M55G in the US in 2008 and it is also is pitch 443. Why do they do this? I ordered it 442 (I did some research and came to the conclusion that's the standard these days), but I have a 443. And I really don't like it. Didn't notice until beginning of this year (I had hardly been playing, and only on my own).

First of all I'm very sensitive to pitch and don't like being higher or lower than pianos or whatnot playing with me. Lots of singers sing a snitch higher, many solo flutists too (in front of orchestras) and it helps them cut through apparently, but I can't stand it.

But the real problem is, I've found, playing with other instruments that struggle with the high tuning. I've been playing with a full-pro flutist and she likes to use a flute that is made for something around 440 for chamber music settings with a very nice warm sound (not your typical modern flute). She can adjust the pitch upward (Embouchure) most of the time when playing with me, but higher-octave passages that are supposed to be played soft - just doesn't work. She can't hold the pitch. Not good. All I know is, she normally has no problem playing with other instruments (piano, guitar, harp, etc) but with me she struggles. And I don't think it's her technique that's lacking.

Anyhow. I've not spent much time or money on things like tuning, fixing, maintenance. But I need to get into this obviously.

So the question is:
Did I understand correctly, that it's advisable under any circumstance to retune your bars on a newly purchased Musser vibraphone because the tuning will be better than from the factory? I.e. there would be 2 reasons to retune:
1. get it down to standard 442 pitch and
2. get more exact tuning.

I'd be happy for someone to clarify. I'm not sure if I can cough up the cash right now to get this done, but I'd like to know if it's a good idea to get this done when I can.

thanks,
John

Just a few weeks ago I went to Canandaigua, NY to visit Bill Youhas. During a meeting with Bill, I decided to have my bars tuned to A 440. I did a google search to make sure that lowering the bars wouldn't mess up my instrument and found that the adjustment of the resonator caps is only fractions of an inch. In theory, if you lower the bars to A 440 you would need to adjust the resonator caps, but in practice it might make that much of a difference. What I can tell you is that Bill made my instrument sound better than it did the day I brought it home. I love the intonation of the instrument. I think that the instrument is louder than it was before. I am very, 100%, without a doubt, positively happy with having my bars adjusted to the A 440 tuning. More importantly though, Bill Youhas is a true master.

Tom P.

This is an interesting topic and one that definitely matters to professional level vibraphone players. I have struggled with this for decades. In the USA 440 is the norm, in Europe and Japan and South America it is 442, although I run into instances of 440 even in Europe sometimes. Then there is 443, which sometimes is the norm in certain places (Berlin concert halls). For a reason I can only guess, Musser started tuning their instruments to 442 about 20 years ago. I suppose it was because the rest of the world was requesting 442, and even in the USA, orchestras tend to use 442. That leaves the lowly club date musician and jazz band musician with an instrument that is out of tune with the pianos in clubs and other venues they are likely to play.

I have two sets of bars, a 440 for the USA and 442 for most of the rest of the world. When touring with a panist, like my duo gigs with Chick Corea, I take both sets of bars with me. And Nico is correct, the tuning of the resonators isn't an issue. Both sets of bars sound equally fine with the same resonators. The resonators tuning isn't all that precise.

I don't know where the 443 tuning comes into the picture. I have one set of bars I got from Musser that are in fact marked with a sharpie pen as "443." Why, who knows?

My general advice is this, based on hundreds of concert performances in USA, Europe and elsewhere. If you live in the USA, definitely order 440 bars, in the rest of the world order 442 if you are buying a new instrument.

If you never play with a piano, it won't really matter (although I hadn't thought about the flute player mentioned below). But, better to be in line with all the other instruments on whatever continent you reside.

The history of tuning is a sad one. Sixty or seventy years ago there was an attempt to get the world to agree on a standard tuning, but ultimately negotiations broke down and the USA went with 440 while Europe went with 442. And that opened the door to individual choices. Some orchestras choose 443, and supposedly the Berlin Philharmonic uses 444! Orchestra players seem to always play on the sharp side -- if you are slightly higher than the other instruments, you like you own sound better. So, strings and woodwinds keep creeping higher as a concert progresses. Even fifty years ago I remember percussionists getting their xylophones tuned to 442 and 443 because when they had a unison passage with strings, they needed to be sharp in order not to sound out of tune with the strings.

Wouldn't it be great if all instruments were tuned at the factory like the vibraphone and we wouldn't have to worry about those pesky string players, etc.

-- Gary

wasn't 440 once 336?? and it's up to 433. wow!! that's cents? so it's jumped almost 10 cents?

What I find most frustrating is that the manufacturers all treat 440 tuning as a special order, even in the USA! I also own 2 sets of bars, 440 and 442. But it is only because I realized what a problem the 442 bars could be, so made the special order when I purchased a 2nd instrument. It took many weeks longer to get 440, because with Yamaha they had to come from Japan. I used to keep the 440 bars for studio work, and gig with the 442 when there was no piano in the group. But even that has become a problem, as I am sometimes playing melodica, which is another factory-tuned instrument (and one that doesn't blend very well when 2 cents off). So it is not just pianos. Good to know that re-tuning is a viable option. I'd love to be done with 442 forever - even in Europe, my melodica will still be out of tune! Can't we have world harmony?!! It's always the string players, man... You know the joke: what do string players use for birth control? Their personalities.

Maths say that from 336 to 444 it's a 2,4% increase and from 440 to 444, 0,9% ...;o)

Tony, You're correct. In the 1920s, for instance, 338 was the common tuning in the USA. My father purchased an ancient vibraphone like instrument for me when I was in High School. It had been made in the 20s or early 30s. The keyboards could be rotated and flipped up with the bars vertical so be played by cello bows. The tuning was 338, essentially exactly a half step lower than 440, it turned out. So when I played it, which I tried briefly, I had to transpose up a half step in order to be in tune with my sister who played piano. Ultimately, we donated the instrument to a music instrument museum. I'm not sure when 440 became the standard, but certainly by later in the 30s, because by then vibraphones were being manufactured by Deagan and I'm pretty certain the classic instruments from that era played by Hampton, were tuned to 440.

38 years ago I worked one year in a music shop, and among others intruments we were dealing with piano sales - buying old ones, selling them, same with new ones. What the chief seller taught me was the old ones with woodden frames were tuned 335/6 when modern pianos with iron frames were tuned 440 or higher (the strings tension difference being about one ton). And a horn mnufacturer (trumpets, trombones, saxes)friend of mine told me that higher the tuning, easyer the manufacture. Then it seems that tuning evolved with available technology, or at least stiffer piano frames (harp) was an issue.
If someone knowing more precisely about musical manufacture could check what I was told and say if it's right or no ???

A cent is defined as one hundredth of a semitone (one octave = 1200 cents).If I calibrate my tuner to A=436 and play a bar, then recalibrate to A=443 and play the same bar I get 2 readings almost 30 cents apart. This tells me that Hertz dosen't equal cents, or have I got it all wrong?
I have just made a set of bars (F3 to F6) tuned to A=440 which is the standard here in Australia. On the advice of my pianist (a piano tuner by trade) I tuned the second octave up 2 cents and the top octave up 4 cents as most pianos are tuned like this, getting sharper at the trebble end and slightly flatter at the bass end because to the human ear it will then sound in tune from top to bottom.
Hopefully my vibraphone will sound in tune with most Australian pianos etc.
Any thoughts or comments would be most welcome.

suzi01

Hi Suzi,

That's correct -- a cent is 1/100th of the half step, and, since the scale is logarithmic instead of linear, the number of hertz in a cent increases as you go higher.

As far as I know, you're also correct to use "stretch tuning", making the upper notes sharper than mathematically necessary. As to how much sharper, that I don't know. When I visited Gilberto Serna at Century Mallets a few years ago, he showed me two different stretch tuning tables he uses, one that Musser uses and one that was used by Deagan. With him leading, it was actually pretty easy to hear the differences.

Tom P.

To introduce a standard (442) that is so close and yet so far away I consider to be a sabotage.
In England London Symphony Orchestra still uses 440 as standard.
And in Sweden we in Bohuslän Big Band really try to stick with 440.
But when we get to concert halls we have to adjust to 442 and that is a drag.
Being a woodwind player I have to adjust saxes, clarinets, flutes (and the entire orchestra might not adjust to 442?)
So this double standard is terrible for all of us.
In fact, there is only one standard that is really a standard and internationally agreed upon.
Quote from Wikipedia:
"In 1936 the American Standards Association recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz. This standard was taken up by the International Organization for Standardization in 1955 (reaffirmed by them in 1975) as ISO 16"

Besides.....440 sounds more beautiful than 442 no matter what the string section thinks!

Hi there,

you can not simply say 440 sounds better than 442 in general!
(Would you say Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics sound bad ? )
This always depends on the individual instrument !
(In the german wikipedia the article says, that many musicians felt about this fixing as an arbitrary decision. So it is not so clear as one might wish, like always ...)
In France and Germany for example the most woodwind instruments like oboes and clarinets are build to the pitch of 442, and players are much in trouble when they try to play lower , e.g. in churches when playing with organs. The whole relationships between the tone holes are confused then.
(This is like micketenor's experience, but vice versa.)
Take an oboe: The whole system is so sensible that fractions of millimeters (really !) of an unexactly drilled tone whole or an unexactly working flap (don't know if this is the correct term ?)bring some tones out of tune or just doesn't let this tone come out.
Another point: All woodwinds and brass instruments slowly change pitch while playing due to the warming by breath. In orchestras you have no other choice than to live with that.
But: strings , winds, and brass are flexible with tune, piano, harp , and percussion not. That is our real big special pity !
Leave our problem beside and you will see that staying in tune and intonation is not a matter of 440 or 442 but of relativity. There are so much recordings out there, where even the most professional players are not always in correct tune. And they still play great music !
In older jazz recordings there are so much badly tuned pianos, nevertheless they became classical. Tune is always relative, of course, unfortunately not for us vibe players ...

Another thing:

Pianos (not in earlier times) and vibes are in equal tempered tuning,
but when e.g. brass players ( at least in symphony orchestras) play chords together, they don't play equal tempered ! They search for the perfect sound of the chord , the perfect blending of all instruments into one sound, and that is nearer to the pure or just tuning than to equal tempered. And they shift it from chord to chord. Interesting, isn't it ?
Maybe this is probably not the central problem in jazz bands...

To the point of 336 Hz:
I think this must be an error.
I play timpani in an baroque ensemble with original instruments respectively copies.
We mostly play in 415 Hz (classical repertoire often in 430 ) and this is a half step lower than 440. ( the exact value for g# is 415,3 Hz to an a=440)
336 Hz lies between e=329,63 and f=349,23.

I remember one thing:
The other day I had to play my vibes in a quite cold church.
It sounded very unsatisfying , I felt embarrased !
Somewhere I read an article about the connection between bar tune, resonator tune, and room temperature. I think it was written by Nico Vanderplas here at VW. Very interesting !
Then I learned how helpful tunable resonators might be.

Ok., my contribution here is unfortunately still not a help for solving the vibe player's problems with different pitches, I am sorry !