, or vibes
, is a mallet percussion
instrument (also called keyboard
percussion) and a close relative
of the marimba
, and glockenspiel
. It consists of a set of thin flat metal bars arranged similarly to a piano
keyboard and pitched from the F below middle C
to 2.5 or 3 octaves
higher, with vertical resonator tubes
underneath. At the top of the tubes are circular disks
mounted on a long rod that is rotated by electrical motor. In between and overlapping what would be the white
sets of keys on a piano is a felt damper
, which is depressed
by a foot pedal
to allow sustained
Vibraphones are played by striking the bars with vibraphone mallets--yarn wrapped around one inch diameter rubber, plastic or wood balls, all mounted on the end of thin birch or rattan sticks.
The force of the mallet striking a bar causes it to vibrate, while the padding provided by the yarn serves out damp out unpleasant overtones. The sound produced by this metal bar flexing hundreds of times a second is amplified by the resonance in the tube below it.
The characteristic vibrato of the vibes is due to the rotating disks opening and closing over the resonator tubes, changing the amount of resonance, and thus, loudness of the sound.
Vibes have a purer and more distinct tone than their wooden mallet percussion cousins, yet are arguably as mellow as the marimba. Their sound also takes considerably longer to decay (thanks to the metal bars' mass and flexibility), making it easy to built up large chords that would be difficult or impossible on other mallet instruments. These characteristics make it popular in jazz music, which is its most common use, and the home of its most talented players. (e.g. Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Red Norvo and Gary Burton.
The vibraphone was invented between 1916 and 1924 by Herman Winterhoff of the Leedy Manufacturing Company, and this first edition was sold between 1924 and 1929 as the Vibraphone, a trade name. This version had steel or wooden bars and no damping mechanism. The damping pedal was a later improvement, invented in 1927 by William Gladstone. A year later, the J. C. Deagan company brought out the Vibraharp, which came with a pedal and had aluminum bars, and essentially all the features of today's vibraphone. Two well known major modern-day vibraphone manufacturers are Deagan and Musser.
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mblase tells me: I don't think the vibes were associated with jazz at all until Lionel Hampton joined Benny Goodman -- but what do I know, I've only seen the movie. :-)