RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • Tuned Woodblocks

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 06, 2021

    Tuned Woodblocks

    Donated by Carroll Bratman 1993-01-48 
    As a percussionist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini for 11 years, a member of the Sousa and Pryor Bands, and a staff musician for major radio, television and recording companies, William Dorn was called upon to perform many types of sound effects. As with many percussionists, when an instrument didn’t exist, Dorn would build one to suit his needs, or manufacture them for others at their request. 
    This unique set of tuned and mounted woodblocks is just such an instrument, although it is not known for whom Dorn manufactured it. Having a chromatic range of 1 1/2 octaves, C5–F6, the lowest C is 8 1/4" long x 2" wide, and the upper blocks are 6" long by 2" wide. Each maple bar is convex on the top, with the height of the block being about 7/8" at the center. The bars are tuned underneath by sawing two transverse cuts near the middle of each bar and removing the wood between those cuts to a depth of about 1/4”. 
    Each block is mounted in its own resonance chamber by four cords: two that suspend the block on each end, and two that attach to brads inserted in the bottom of the block to hold it within the chamber. The resonance chambers, most of which have “W. DORN” stamped into them, are made of oak and pine, and are screwed to the table through padded strips. The table is 29" high and consists of a 37 1/4" wide by 20" deep by 3/4" thick piece of plywood. Two metal handles are attached to the top of the table to aid with moving the instrument. 
  • Buzz-a-Phone

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 18, 2021
    Buzz A Phone

    Left: Buzz-a-Phone rotated to vertical position for storage.
    Right: 1 1/2 octave Buzz-a-Phone in playing position.
    Donated by Carroll Bratman (1993-01-85)
    The Buzz-a-Phone was built by the legendary New York xylophonist, percussionist, and recording artist William “Billy” Dorn. The provenance of this unique instrument is confirmed by Bob Ayers, who remembers seeing Dorn working on it in his studio/shop in
    New Jersey. Following Dorn’s death in 1971, Michael Rosen recalls that Carroll Bratman bought the entire collection of exotic instruments from Dorn’s widow. Phil Kraus remembers using the instrument for several radio advertisement jingles and on the RCA album Percussion – Playful and Plenty, where it is called a “Buzzimba.”
    Dorn’s Buzz-a-Phone is comprised of twenty wooden “keys,” each designed as an elongated box, open on one end and closed on the other. Opposite sides of each key extend from the box-like construction on the open end, with the top extension serving as the “striking” or “vibrating” bar and the bottom as a mounting surface. The closed box functions as a resonating chamber. Mounted in the closed end of each key is a circular membrane that buzzes as the key is struck, creating a sound similar to the “tela” found in Guatemalan “buzzing”
    The instrument is constructed in a chromatic keyboard configuration and mounted on a wheeled frame, with a 1 1/2-octave range from F to C. Each key measures 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches in width and depth; the shortest is 8 1/2 inches long, and the longest key is 25 inches. The frame is 45 inches wide and 32 inches deep and stands 48 inches in height. For storage, the keyboard rotates to a vertical position.
  • 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.

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