Hey everybody, I just got back from a multi week tour with a new vibraphone setup and want to share and evangelize the results:)
Here's the situation, Over the years I have tried various ways to perform with vibes where I incorporate effects. This has usually been for electronica or funk/Hip hop groups. It has always been a hassle for a variety of reasons.
- carefully rolling and un-rolling the keys takes time
- plugging in the 37 piezo's takes time
- Stuff gets broken, (often at 2 AM after the gig, or 4 minutes before the gig starts)
- If the monitor system at the venue is not well adjusted I only hear the acoustic sound while the audience may be hearing only FX's (which I boost too much because I can't hear the FX's properly)
-Hauling around a M-55 with 4 cases and pedals, amps etc.. sucks! You need a large car and if you intend to fly you can estimate $300-$400 each way.
-you can rent a vibraphone at each venue, but then you need to bring your own keys and K&K (or I guess Omega) rails, but again, baggage and rental fees. And if the frame doesn't fit the keys, your kinda screwed.
I knew I had a tour coming up in the next few months and really wanted to use FX's on the vibes. The reason is because it is a duo of guitar/voice and vibes playing for audiences that usually listen to folk/roots/americana etc... . I find these audiences quite sophisticated, they are there to listen, they know there music, and they like variety, as they used to listening to violin, piano, guitar, dobro, banjo etc... . Now, personally I can barely stand to listen to vibraphone on every song for a couple hours, unless it's someone who plays a lot better than me, so I thought I better see how much variety I can give; find new ways to play the vibes, and new sounds that will honor and elevate the music I was playing.
The challenge would be how to practically make this happen as I had 6 flights booked on the tour, and we we wanted to rent a regular sized car (instead of a van) for the other dates to keep the expenses down.
So I found an old Deagan 510, got it tuned, took off the motor, put the resonators in storage, had Dieter make the pickups and started experimenting.
I needed the setup to do a few things..
1 - sound like a decent acoustic vibraphone with tremolo.
2 - be able to play rich oscillating pads like on a B3
3 - occasionally make some really weird sounds
#1 I got very lucky, the Deagan 510 sounds fantastic (I use a tremello pedal and a little reverb for the acoustic sound), I was very hesitant about using the thin keys ( I think there is a stigma about non-graduated keys, I know I personally always snubbed small instruments as inferior) But maybe it's because it's old (1959) and they used quality metal at that period, or just that I prefer the deagan sound (I had an Aurora for 15 years), which I find a little dryer, and more articulate, but I'm very happy with the direct sound thru the pickups (more so than my m-55). The biggest challenge of the small keys is in the left hand, picking out those bass notes, but on the plus side, if you are doing right hand octaves (like Tony taught me, Thanks Tony!) the distance never changes.
#2 after experimenting I came up with the combination of 2 pedals; EHX Pog2, which is a 5 way octave splitter and the EHX Lester G which is a leslie speaker emulator with built in compression and distortion. These 2 pedals in combo can recreate a pretty decent organ patch and with the vibes sound mixed in you get something both original yet familiar.
#3 I use an EHX Memory Man, and reverb pedal for freaky delays and modulations
The vibes pack in 1 soft case (which is the soft case for my M-55) It weighs 65 pounds (30 KG) so although it is an overweight bag, I pay $100 and am allowed to fly. Over 70 pounds and you simply can't bring it on the plane.(It also fits in the back seat of most cabs, in Europe as well) The pedals and mallets all go in a pedalboard case which is a carry-on.
By the way, I do have a malletkat as well, and yes, the simplicity of sound control is very good are doing innovative thing (shout-out to Tyler Blanton), but I just don't like the way it feels when I'm playing with delicate acoustic instruments.
Well that was a lot of bla-bla bla... Here are a couple low quality videos..... i think I got the setup down to 4 minutes.
setting up and a few funny sounds: https://youtu.be/OwH92nenE-w
introducing the pedals : https://youtu.be/NfO35fXQzS4
So, I hope you found this interesting and maybe inspire you to think of ways to help get the vibraphone heard by more people. During this last tour, inevitably every night after the show someone would come up to me and say "I have never seen a vibraphone" or "how come no one plays vibes any more". I think the reason is one of access, it's hard to carry the instrument around, it's expensive, bandleaders don't think to use it in their groups, and synth's do a fairly decent recreation of the sound (at least when plying simple single lines) It's up to us to spread the sound, show the versatility of the instrument, and amaze audiences with this completely pain in the ass instrument.