"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Saturday, July 29, 2017

1920s Leedy Glockenspiel Restoration

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.

Not surprisingly, my dad thought of things I forgot to mention. For example, after looking at a few pictures on the internet, dad realized that the case needed foam under the lid so that the bars wouldn't move around during travel. 

(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.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New Cymbal Acquisitions

22" Sabian HH Vangaurd

The Vangaurd is a new series in Sabian's HH line. If you haven't tried them, you are missing out. This 22" cymbal (the Vangaurd series does not use names like ride or crash) is incredible. In many ways, it has become my favorite ride. Oops! I mean cymbal. It has a great wash with plenty of stick definition, but it's the shoulder crashes that will bring you to your knees. I love that it's thin enough to be bendable but not so thin that it's uncontrollable. This is a fantastic cymbal! (2153 grams)

18" Sabian HH Vangaurd

This 18" Vangaurd is very cool. It has the same characteristics as it's big brother above but in smaller form. As a crash cymbal, this thing is amazing. It has a beautiful crash which dies quickly making it perfect for most situations that need a crash. I have been a little disappointed with it's capabilities as a ride though. It is simply too thin to hold up to much stick work, even at low volumes. It might work well if you ride it on the edge like a crash/ride, but I rarely play music where such playing is appropriate. (1125 grams)

10" HH Splash

I don't use splashes often, but I was working on a piece that needed a smaller splash sound than what I owned so, I picked this one up. It sounds like a splash. Nothing fancy or surprising. I do love the new HH hammering. (262 grams)

22" Sabian Artisan Elite Ride

Call me crazy if you want, but I believe Sabian is releasing cymbals from the Artisan series too early. Hear me out. I think it's a supply and demand thing. I have several Artisan cymbals which were sent to me from the factory. All of them have arrived sounding "meh." However, if I let them sit for six months or so, they completely change and sound amazing. You're rolling your eyes aren't you. I thought I was crazy too, but it happened so many times that I asked around. All of my friends who own Artisan cymbals reported the same thing. The cymbals sounded fine, good enough to purchase, but after a few months, they went from being a tolerable cymbal to a masterpiece. I'm not talking about subtle changes either. I realize cymbals change after they've been played awhile and they refine as they build a patina. I'm telling you after about six months, I have a completely new cymbal. Feel free to call me crazy in the comments.

Anyway, this cymbal looks amazing and sounds ok. I'm hoping for some transformation over the next few months and I'll report back to you with a full review. Until then, this cymbal is in quarantine. (2315 grams)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

New Sabian Hi Hats

14" Sabian AA Apollo Hats

I understand the nomenclature Sabian has been using with the "Big and Ugly" series, but I wish they would have come up with a better name. There's nothing ugly about these hats. I didn't know what to expect when I first saw these hats but I have been very pleased with their sound. They are semi-bright, but do not sound like rock hats, although they could be used as such. This particular pair has a great Papa Jo sound which I can't wait to try out on my next big band gig. They look amazing and sound even better. (872/1123 grams)

14" Sabian Vanguard Hats

These hats are so dry that I was a little afraid of them when I first heard them. They have a great chick and a very controlled stick sound. They do not splash well so they're not for loud gigs. In quieter situations, these hats have been outstanding. I love using them with a piano trio. The most amazing thing about this pair of hats is the incredible hammering. The bells have hammer marks (see picture below) which can only be described as dents. I'm talking deep hammering here, which of course is the secret to their dry crisp sound. If you're interested, play a few pairs before you buy. I bet there's some variance between pairs and the sound they make may not suit every player. (865/966 grams)

14" Sabian HHX Manhattan Jazz Hats

These are my favorite "all-around" hats right now. They have a beautiful chick, splash, and stick sound. They are bright enough for pop music but dark enough for most jazz gigs. They really sound great behind the tenor saxophone. I recommend checking these out if you're in the need of some quality hats. (919/961 grams)

Orchestral Cymbals

I realize it has been a while since I have written a post about gear. I have several in the pipelines. Please stay tuned. During the last year or so, I have added a ton of cymbals to my collection. This post is going to cover some of the plates that I use for orchestral work.

16" HH Viennese 

This is a beautiful pair of cymbals! They have a shimmery crash sound which is neither too dark or too bright. While a pair of 16" hand cymbals may seem too small for many people, I find that they are actually quite versatile. These cymbals are great for pit work, musicals, small operas, use with brass bands, and other types of chamber percussion work. (1380/1413 grams)

18" Artisan Medium Light

Out of the bag, these cymbals look gorgeous. The raw bell against the dark bronze color of the cymbals is really striking. They sound unlike any pair of crash cymbals I have played before. They have a dark, complex sound which is pleasant but unique. The closest comparison I can make, is that this pair of cymbals sounds like cymbals you might hear in symphonic recordings from the 1930s and 1940s. I have used these cymbals in various situations over the last year and they always sounded fantastic. They are becoming my favorite "all-around," cymbals. (1921/2007 grams)

18" Sabian Artisan Traditional Suspended                                                                             This cymbal is really surprising. Much like the pair above, the cymbal is complex and sounds from a different era. The cymbal appears too heavy to work as a suspended cymbal, but it responds perfectly. I have used it in several situations and the cymbal has a great crash. It can be explosive or subtle when struck with mallets. It's an expensive cymbal so there may be better options depending on your budget but, man does this plate sound good! It's worth every penny. (1390 grams)

18" Sabian AA Molto Suspended

This is the perfect "all-around" suspended cymbal. It sounds great with mallets, sticks, and even brushes. It is very easy to control when rolling and explodes with a beautiful shimmer. One interesting characteristic of this cymbal is that it has a tiny lip at the edge. You can't see it but you can feel it. It is uniform around the edge and is kind of like a Chinese cymbal but in no way that pronounced. I have to believe that this particular characteristic has something to do with the overall sound. If you can only afford one suspended cymbal, I would suggest this for your consideration. (1392 grams)

20" Zildjian A COS Medium Heavy

This pair of cymbals is a little older. I use them when I need a bigger crash sound. They sound especially good in wind band settings. (2287/2275 grams)

20" K Constantinople Suspended 

This cymbal is one I use in special situations. It is very big and washy. I have to be careful or it will get away from me. Especially when rolling on it with mallets. It works really well when I have to use sticks and mallets for the same piece. (1825 grams)

Saturday, May 6, 2017