The vibraphone (also called a vibraharp or vibes) is a percussion instrument played with mallets. It looks similar to the xylophone and marimba, but the bars of a vibraphone are made out of aluminium instead of wood.
The name vibraphone was used as all the sounds made by the instrument have a vibrato sound to them. This is caused by a motor, that turns metal discs (called pulsators) located under the bars at the opening of the tubes or resonators. Without the motor, a vibraphone could just be call a metalophone due to the use of metal bars.
The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal, similar to the ones found on pianos. A short sound can be obtained with the pedal up and a sound that lasts for several seconds will occur when the pedal is down.
Vibraphones are most often found in jazz music where it can play a feature role. They can also be found in wind ensembles and as a standard component of the percussion section.
The standard vibraphone has a range of 3 octaves from the F below middle C.
The first vibraphone was created and marketed in 1921 by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States. It was quite different to the vibraphone of today. Only mild success was achieved after a few novelty recordings.
In 1927, Henry Schulter was asked by J. C. Deagan, Inc to create an instrument similar to the vibraphone made by the Leedy Manufacturing Company. Schluter did not just copy the design, but also made significant changes including:
Making the bars from aluminium instead of steel to give the vibraphone a more mellow tone,
Adjusting the dimension and tuning of bars to eliminate dissonant harmonics,
Introducing a sustain pedal to allow more expression.
Schluter's design became very popular and what we call the vibraphone today.