RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Musser Prototype Amplified Vibraphones

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Sep 13, 2021



    Donated by Emil Richards
    2002-10-03 and 2002-10-04

    Clair Musser’s interest in amplified vibraphone design dates from the late 1920s, with his work on the Marimba Celeste designed for J.C. Deagan. Musser’s interest in this experimental field throughout his most creative years is confirmed in a letter Don Moors wrote in November 1973, recalling their meeting two months earlier when they discussed “different possible methods of amplifying vibes.” This letter points to the period when Musser was apparently at work on the two prototype amplified vibraphones featured here.

    Designed solely as electronically amplified instruments, Musser’s prototype Amplified Vibraphones incorporate a passive pickup assembly, which comprises two straight bars, one mounted beneath the natural keys and one mounted below the accidental keys. This pickup is a magnet with coiled wires running underneath, similar to the type of pickup that first appeared in 1950 and is still used to amplify electric guitars today.

    Several structural features in the silver-bar instrument (2002-10-03) should be considered design improvements over comparable elements in the smaller gold-bar instrument (2002-10-04). Among the improvements found on the larger instrument is the use of soldering on the electronic pickup bars, a more advantageous layout of the electrical cable, wider bars for ease of playing, and a more sophisticated dampener mechanism. Also, the rails are designed to better align with the inside and outside shape of the bars, unlike those on the gold-bar instrument whose pegs are aligned exactly the same for both the natural and the accidental bars. The full range of bars originally created for these instruments is no longer complete.

    These instruments were restored by Chris Miller, PAS Spring 2003 intern, who also identified and described their design features.

    Silver-bar instrument, showing the contour of the outside rails to match the graduated length of the bars, with a range of three octaves, F3 to F6. All bars are 1 1/2" wide and 0.3cm thick. The longest bar (F#3) is 11 3/4" long, and the shortest bar (E6) is 4-3/8" long. 2002-10-03.

    Gold-bar instrument mounted on an adjustable stand, with dampener pedal. All bars are 3/4” wide and 0.4cm thick. The shortest bar (B6) is 6 1/8" long, and the longest bar (F3) is 13 3/8" long. The range of this 2 1/2-octave instrument is F3 to C6. Perhaps Musser has already considered the marketing potential of this new instrument, which he has labeled his “Ultrasonic Generator.” 2002-10-04.

  • Deagan Musical Rattles

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Aug 06, 2021

    Deagan Rattles

    A set of 18 Deagan Musical Rattles having a chromatic range of C1 to G2, with a C major chord rattle adjacent to the scale. Note that two pitches are missing from the set, and that decorative ribbons are attached to one of the rattles.

    From the Emil Richards Collection.

    Among the novelty items the J. C. Deagan Company manufactured early in the 20th century were pitched Musical Rattles. These rattles consist of a single, pitched metallic bar mounted to a rectangular resonating chamber, all of which is attached to a handle with a ratchet mechanism. When spun, the ratchet mechanism causes a small beater to repeatedly strike the bar. The Musical Rattles were available in chromatic sets that allowed a musician to perform musical tunes as a novelty or Vaudeville act by picking up rattles in succession to sound the required pitch. If needed, several performers could play these instruments, much like a set of handbells, or the entire set could be mounted on a stand, allowing one performer to crank each handle as needed. In addition to the single Musical Rattle, Deagan also provided rattles with set chords, where three pitches were attached to one handle. Spinning the rattle resulted in all three pitches sounding simultaneously.

    Deagan Rattle Single

    A three-pitch rattle, which sounds a C major chord.
  • Marimbula and Lujon

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Jul 12, 2021

    A large sansa, or Afro-Cuban linguaphone, this marimbula consists of eight metal sounding strips mounted over a large rectangular resonating box. The instrument is played by plucking the metal strips, and produces sixteen tones, one for each end of the metal strips. In Jamaica, the rumba box, as the instrument is known there, plays the bass part to accompany guitars, banjos, percussion, and various solo instruments in a calypso band. In Cuba, the marimbula serves a similar function for the bands, playing a style known as son. These bands are known as son conjuntos. This instrument measures 27” in length, 17 1/2” in width, and 8 3/4” in height, and dates from ca. 1930.
    Donated by Emil Richards


    The lujon, or loo-jon, is a pitched, bass metallophone of American design. It has six to twelve rectangular plates of spring steel, each of which is attached by three screws to the edge of a rectangular sounding box. This instrument measures 29" in height, 13 3/4" in width, and 8 3/4" in depth. Each of the six plates measures 3 1/2" x 3 3/4", and is placed over 3 1/2" plastic resonating pipe. When played with timpani or yarn mallets, the instrument sounds like a metal log drum. Having little acoustical carrying power, the lujon is most effectively used with some type of sound enhancement or for studio recording. When used for recording, the instrument may be played with mallets made from rubber balls
    and knitting needles. In addition to its use in television and movie scores, the instrument appears in the music of Luciano Berio (“Circles”).
    Donated by Florence “Flip” Manne

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