Blog Electric Vibraphone

Three easy-pickups for E&E / my first DIY guide

I’ve got my first order!

Someone asked about three pickups, two for drums and one for violin. So I was forced to finish something, for once.
This is the most simple piezo pickup solution, it has it’s limits but works pretty good, and it makes an easy and rather un-expensive microphone.

This is how it goes:

Ingredients I used for one easy-pickup:
– A cable, here with a RCA connector
– a piezoelectric transducer
– Dupont connectors, male and female
– heat shrink tubes
– hot glue

Tools:
– a soldering iron (and sponge, holder, tin!)
– a saw (to cut the female duponts)
– double-sided tape
– a good cutter
– a lighter: to shrink the tubes
– a saw

Cut one connector away
Free the wires
Saw the female duponts
Solder the cable to the female duponts (+ hot glue and heat shrink tube)
Solder the discs to the male duponts (+ hot glue and heat shrink tube)
Plug piezo into cable
Test
Fix the dupont connection with some heat shrink tube around it.

Notes:

RCA connector: other connectors also work, RCA cables are abundant you can probably get one from a drawer, and you will just need a simple adaptor to 6.35 jack and you can plug it into any mixer (as you can see on the first picture for the drums solid pick-ups pair)
For the multi-purpose/violin pickup I chose a cable with already a male jack.
Piezoelectric transducer: I have different sizes, now I chose for the biggest and solid 35mm one for the drums, and a 20mm thiner one for the multi-purpose/violin pickup.
Dupont connectors, male and female. I find it handy to be able to easily replace a piezo from its cable. We can do so by removing (cut out) the outer heat shrink tube, unplug, and replace the piezo disc, put new heat shrink. I forgot to take a picture at this stage of the making. Next time!
Hot glue: to fix, solidify around the soldering spots. with some heat shrink around it, it creates a really solid connection. I also always use it to fix the wires onto the piezo discs.

Thanks for reading, still a little in construction here, I appreciate comments, welcome questions and even encouragement!

So I’ve started electrifying my vibraphone..

Why?

I ‘ve long been jealous of guitarists and their pedals, keys users, and wanted to be able to play with a rich, delicate or fat \m/ sound. I love the acoustic sound of the vibraphone, almost as much as the marimba or gamelan. But still, I want to electrify it, 21st century is here, and for all the colour and possibilities it can generate.

Yes, press play there:

I remember a masterclass where Emmanuel Séjourné stated something about the melodic-mallet-percussion instruments still being no further evolved as when piano hammers would keep pressing against the strings until you release the key. A few years later I guess making the electric step could be a good extra step in my practice of the instrument.

What about microphones to record and process the vibraphone sound?

Acoustic overhead microphones work great in many cases but one limit they have is that they will always also “hear” any other sound close around the instrument, like a guitar amp, or a drumset. You can use a low-cut filter but that’s about all. This means that anything that goes into your mics will also be present in your vibraphone signal, reason why it becomes unpractical to process it through effects.

How?

20mm transducers with 3.5 mini jack ready to stick on my Marcon vibraphone

This is where the piezo transducers/pickups come into place. It’s a ceramic disk that produces a voltage when it changes shape, receives weight, or heat. Each side goes into cables (the red and the black), that then connect to all other 36 keys’ pickups. This raw electric current becomes an audio signal to be passed through any hardware of software.

At least, that’s my level 0

Level 0: transducers connecting directly into the mixer. I might have broken my sound interface by doing that.

I reached it mid-September and accelerated the making and researching after that. Level A followed, using a pre-amp and getting all 37 keys to work together.

I am currently working on level B, with 12 instead of 20mm piezo transducers, 2.5 mini-jacks instead of 3.5 mm or Dupont connectors.

In the meantime, I have plugged into Ableton and Max with some friends,and researched some low latency possibilities using only my (remote control) mixer.

From the beginning, I started looking up more information and found out about three existing pickup systems for percussion mallets: K&K Sound, Malletech and VanderPlas.

I intend to document more of the process in the following articles. 

In the meantime, you are listening to “Piezo8” a compilation of recent musical moments, improvising with live effects using only the Behringer XR12 mixer and my electrified Musser M55 vibraphone.