Into the vibe

Monday, 03 July 2017 08:25

Travelling to the Narada, the carbonVibe

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When you are developing vibraphones on an innovative way we do, you get questions, remarks and suggestions. There was one suggestion or question I got from almost every vibe player I talked with:

Can you make a carbonfiber frame? They make bicycles from it so why not vibraphones.


I got that question so many times, that in 2010 we decided to give it a try. So again thinking cap on, and start the work. Deadline was the Frankfurt Musikmesse that was coming up in 3 months. We had to start from scratch, as carbonfiber cannot be compared with aluminium or steel, so it was impossible to use existing designs and knowledge. It has its own habits, but also it offers more possibilites. 

Race car
I went to a race car builder to talk me in into the habits and possibilities of the material, and learned very fast that you cannot think the old way. Carbonfiber is strong and lightweight, but only in 1 direction. This works ok with bicycles, but not with a vibraphone.

So I had to come up with a design that was strong in all directions. At the same time I had the plan to make the instrument look different from the existing vibraphones (an ongoing goal). With a list of remarks from the car builder, I started drawing and experimenting.

My goals were to make an instrument with:

  • 3.2 octaves
  • a motor system
  • pickups
  • lightweight
  • stable
  • modern looks

Using styrofoam I made a pretty nice looking keybed, and applied a hard coating on it, so the carbonfiber specialist could produce a mold out of it. This seems easier than it looks. The shape of the mold was vital, as it had to allow for easy producing of the keybeds. We started first with casting plain epoxy keybeds to see if the mold would work: NOPE. Apparently it takes lots of tries before you find the perfect shape of the mold. But finally, after lots of changes, we made the perfect mold, and we could produce the first carbonfiber vibraphone.

And guess what: same as always, it doesn't matter if you have a development period of 1 month or 10 years. A new instrument with a fixed introduction date is finished 10 minutes before the introduction. So same with the carbonVibe: it was finished hardly a day before the music fair started. And oh boy, did this instrument sound great. There are a few videos on youtube where you hear it played next to the vibraphone of another brand. At first we thought this sound was due to the material, however later I found out, it was the design of the keybed that did the trick.

Also another new feature was introduced in this carbonVibe, and is since in all our instruments, were the tilted bars. This is so incredibly comfortable! 

Follow up
Now what happened with this unique instrument.
Well, as with many new developments, there was no follow up on the project. Producing this instrument was extreme difficult due to the habits of the material. To make the carbonfiber withstand the brute force applied to a vibraphone, lots of production time consuming reinforcements had to be added. It was not commercially interesting to take this model in production. However, making this instrument, taught me a lot about vibraphones. For sure it brought me much more knowledge then what I have learned that far from building regular vibraphones. 

The experience and knowledge I gained when building the carbonVibe,  turned out to be the perfect base for the latest model: the Narada.

Stay tuned!

Read 1747 times Last modified on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 11:57
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