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Thursday, 01 February 2018 06:01

Old time vibraphones and their value

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Deagan 45 Deagan 45


The history of the vibraphone is small. The first instrument that could be seen as a vibraphone was a Leedy and saw birth around 1926. The Deagan 592 however can be seen as the godfather of the modern vibraphone, with most of the current vibraphones being pretty much a copy of this model.

Every now and then we havepeople asking how much is this or that vibraphone really worth?


There are lots of stories told about these old instruments, like :"in the old days they used a different recepy  for the bar metal, and therefor they sounded much nicer compared to the modern instruments", or "the people who at the time tuned these instruments were more skilled and added something special to the tuning".

Well: its my belief that these stories are fairy tales. The alloy used with these older instruments is still the same as what is used on the modern instruments, with still exactly the same recepy and probably even less consistency. Also, the tuners in the old days were not more skilled in tuning (hence the limited 3 octave range F3-F6, just because they were not yet able to tune more harmonics in the low register). Also, the character of the bar doesn't change during the years, as that would mean the aluminum would harden or soften during these years, and that would imply the bars would dramatically go out of tune.

Then why do people like the older Deagans so much? 
Simple: width of the bars. The Deagan bars are more narrow than the "standard" width bars of the most sold vibraphone model. This means there is less fundamental and thus these bars cut through better. Also chance is big that on these older instruments the resonators are tuned better (just because they have had multiple owners who tried to make their instrument sound better), yet I have seen too many older deagans, mussers and premiers that sounded like *+#$$@ to be able to say that the older instruments in general sounded better, it's just not true. I am convinced it all is emotion.

The big question is: what is the value of these (Deagan) vibraphones? 
It depends how you look at them. If you go for the emotional value, then the 592 should be left out, as these are still pretty widely available and are not really of a unique design. In this case you would better look into the 45 or the Diana types. Maximum value of these however is not more than 3000 euros if it was in absolute perfect condition. And lets be honest: all you will find are not. The majority of the 145's you can find are in bad shape. Restoring these models can easily cost you at least 2500-3000 euros of work if it is done by a professional, so calculating backwards the purchase amount should be 200-400 euro. So as an investment I guess buying a 45 or a Diana isn't really the best option. Considering buying any of these models and restore it yourself and prevent bringing money to a professional, isn't a solid option, as just lacquering an instrument and clean up the bars doesn't add value if it isn't done absolutely perfect.

The other way to look at a value of such an ancient instrument is through realistic usage: are these instruments still good enough to use on stage? In that case the 45 isn't worth more than 400 euros, even restored to absolute perfect condition they will never reach the quality of the modern vibraphone. The construction of these instrument just is ancient and cannot meet the standard of a modern instrument, frames and dampening systems are terrible and musically unusable. Musically you will not get what you want from this old mechanics. You might get a relatively nice sound, but due to the limitations of the old tuners, bars of almost any modern vibraphone will sound musically better. Extra to the lesser sound, you get the squeeks and instability for free. Even when restored to absolute perfect original condition, they cannot meet the quality of most modern instruments.

The 592 would be a better choice when you would want to use it musically. It has a slightly better frame and keybed. Bars are still of the same quality as the 145. As a realistic value this model however should not be more than barely 1500 euros. Any euro above this is added emotion.

Every now and then a really nice older instrument pops up, and can be worth a nice amount. But even in these rare occasions we're talking about 3500-4000 euro at max, and in that case we are as well talking about a historic value. And the instrument really must be special. Chance of getting one like that? 1 out of 10000. In my career as a vibraphone builder, having seen quite a lot of vibraphones, yet I have only one single time in my life encountered a unique vibraphone that did had historic value, an est. 1926 Boosey&Hawkes licensed by Leedy. Absolutelỳ`unplayable, but extreme rare and still complete. The owner had bought it for a few euros and put it up in his attic thinking it was a toy instrument.

Stay tuned. 

Read 2612 times Last modified on Friday, 02 February 2018 08:52
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