The following is one of those great stories that I can't believe actually happened to me. I was playing a gig in a tiny church a few towns away. It was an odd gig for me in that I spent most of it playing vibraphone. After the first service, a lady from the audience came up to speak with me. She pointed to the vibraphone and said she had one in her house. I started to tell her I was impressed when she cut me off to ask if I would like to have it. I said sure and she went off to retrieve it before the second service.
Now, I know this lady didn't have a vibraphone in her house. I assumed what she thought was a vibraphone was a bell kit from a beginners percussion set. People try to give me those all the time. It turns out we were both wrong. I was packing up my equipment after the second service when I saw her walking down the aisle holding something very different. I knew immediately when she handed me the case what she actually owned. It was a steel bar Leedy glockenspiel from (best guess) the 1920s. I opened the case to discover that she had every bar, the music stand, and a pair of mallets. I was super excited with the possibilities but I wanted her to understand that what she was trying to give me was a very expensive and sought after piece of equipment. I offered her a fair price for them and she told me that if I could get them out of her house, then that was payment enough. What else could I do but take them home.
I don't use a glockenspiel every day, but I use one often enough that it was reasonable to try to restore the instrument. The first step was getting the bars tuned and re-plated. There are several companies that specialize in percussion keyboard restoration and I decided to send my bars to Fall Creek. They were incredibly knowledgeable about this instrument and seemed to be as excited about getting them back in to playing shape as I was.
The boys over at Fall Creek did a fantastic job of re-plating and tuning the bars. At their suggestion, they also made four extra bars which extended the range of the instrument by two notes at the top and bottom. I'm not positive, but I believe the tuning, re-plate, extra bars, and shipping was somewhere close to $500. It took roughly a month for them to return the bars. It was a lot of money for me but the work was impeccable and let's be honest, when you're working with vintage equipment, everything is expensive. Again, I can't stress enough how amazing the guys at Fall Creek treated me and my project. Please consider them if you are in the market for any kind of keyboard restoration or if you need a killer new glockenspiel. I've used their instruments many times and they are fantastic.
I had a real dilemma after the bars returned. I needed a case. The original case was in pretty good shape but I now had four new bars that wouldn't fit in the case and frankly, it had a super weird smell that no amount of work was able to remove. My first thought was to have Fall Creek make me one of their beautiful custom cases for this set of bars. Sadly, I could never come up with enough money to make that dream a reality. So, I decided to make my own. My first thought was to replicate the original case. The Leedy case has a fantastic design for the working musician in that the accidentals sit on top of the naturals when the case is closed making the case very small and manageable. Anyone who has had to lift a glockenspiel case more than once knows that they aren't often particularly portable. I decided that although I liked the portability of the Leedy design, I would be better served by making a more modern case. After serious consideration of various designs, I decided to make my version of the standard Musser case. I chose this design because it is easier to transport versus other designs and I believe it will fit better in some of the tight orchestra pits where I work.
When I say I was going to build a case, what I really mean is that I was going to sucker my father into building a case for me. He is a master craftsman and has a patience for detail that eludes me. My dad is really something. He has no idea what a glockenspiel is or how it works but after some pictures and discussion, he started working on the case.
We decided to make the case out of oak because it is durable and looks great. We started by cutting all of the pieces for the top and bottom of the case. After which we applied glue and clamped to put the box together.
The top and bottom came together with relative ease and looks fantastic. At this point, I had to return to work, 700 miles away, and left my dad to to all of the heavy lifting by himself.
The difficult part of this build began with the construction and placement of the rails. Dad used the existing rails from the Leedy case to determine the exact layout and curve of the new rails. Once the rails were complete, we used Musser glockenspiel pins and string to place the bars. The only type of felt I could find to place on top of the rails was Musser vibraphone felt which we cut in half and then trimmed to fit. According to my dad, drilling the pins was the most difficult part of the entire build.
It took several months for my dad to finish the build. The end product is nothing short of amazing.
(The criss-cross string in the picture to the left makes the rails look funny but I assure everything is perfectly placed.)
He also added brass end caps to help with durability and to add to the fancy look. One thing that I thought was pretty ingenious was the placement of the clips which hold the top and the bottom together. My dad decided to mount the clips upside down so that when the lid was removed, most of the hardware was attached to the lid. This means that there is less hardware to catch on my shirt while playing and it makes one less thing to be in the way when I am setting up the instrument. I never mentioned any of these things as an issue, but dad is just in tune with details that I would never consider.
I couldn't be happier with how this project turned out. In the end, I spent roughly $75 on the wood to make the case and about $150 in internal parts. I'm sure the whole thing could be done cheaper but I love how it turned out. The glockenspiel sounds amazing, looks amazing, and the case built by my dad makes it all the more special to me. In fact, my dad dropped a little surprise on me. As a gift to me for completing my doctorate, he had a brass plaque engraved with my name and the date I finished school. It was a total surprise and incredibly sweet of him, especially after he spent so much time building the case. It's beautiful.