Instruments | Vibraphone | Electric & Electronic

The vibraphone (or ‘vibes’ or ‘vibraharp’ as it is sometimes known), is a percussion instrument that uses an electro-mechanical system to create its distinctive sound.


The vibraphone is similar in appearance to a xylophone or marimba, in that it consists of a set of bars arranged over resonating vertical tubes. However, unlike the other, wooden instruments, the vibraphone’s bars are made of a metal such as aluminium. Consequently, the sound can sustain for much longer due to the vibrating properties of the metal. In order for the player to be able to control this sustain, the vibraphone is fitted with a pedal-operated system of dampers. A standard vibraphone has a three-octave range from the F below middle C, and is usually played with soft beaters to produce a mellow tone.


What really gives the vibraphone its characteristic sound, though, is the electromechanical system of rotating discs (or ‘paddles’) mounted in the top of each resonator tube. Fixed to a long rotating axle driven by an electric motor, the motion of these discs continuously opens and closes the resonating tubes, giving rise to a cyclic variation in the amplitude (volume) of each note. The speed of this effect can be altered by changing the rate of rotation of the axle. The vibraphone has become a familiar sound in jazz thanks to the work of artists such as Lionel Hampton and Gary Burton.

Introduction | Electric & Electronic Instruments
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Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


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