I’m lucky enough to own a great Musser M55 vibraphone which I bought second hand several years ago and I’ve always wondered about making or buying a set of cases for it. Since I moved back to Canberra from studying in Piteå I’ve ended up taking the vibraphone to more and more gigs (I’ve used it more in the past year than in the 5 years that I had it before moving overseas!) and the need for cases became critical!
Musser apparently make a set of fibre cases which look pretty awful and are very difficult to buy in Australia. Fortunately, Beiner Bags have recently put a variety of cases on the market including a set of nylon cases for the M55.
I decided to get a set of these cases after Tony Miceli posted some comments about them on Vibes Workshop and a photo of his M55 in cases strapped to one hand trolley! I emailed Beiner to try to purchase a set directly, but didn’t have much luck. Luckily my friends at Optimum Percussion were importing a few sets and so I was able to get some through them (even then it took several months for the cases to show up!).
Anyway, one of my main worries when ordering these expensive cases was that I hadn’t seen any in depth information about them and had to take Tony (and a few other’s) word that they worked well. So since I’ve just used my cases for the first few times, I thought I’d write the world’s first in depth vibraphone case review.
There are four cases in the set, a big case for the vibraphone frame, another big case for the two resonators, a long bag for the crossbar and pedal, and a round bag for the bars which includes a zipped inner bag to roll the bars up in.
All of the cases have a ballistic nylon outer (rough, tough, black fabric) and a ripstop nylon inner surface (shiny, light fabric with little squares, like on a puffy down jacket) and YKK zips. Most parts of the bags have integrated padding which feels like a dense, flexible foam.
There are several photos of these cases around the internet (including in Tony Miceli’s post) that show a shiny, flat outer material. I think these are an older version and that the ballistic nylon is probably a big improvement for durability! As Grant Beiner has mentioned on Vibes Workshop, these cases are made in the USA.
The frame is the heaviest and most awkward part of the M55. I find it really difficult to carry the frame any distance and to get it in and out of cars just because its hard to get a good grip on it without having the posts or wheels sticking into you.
This case has foam padding in each side, a handle sewn into one of the long edges and two steel D rings attached to opposite large sides. The case fits the frame snugly, in fact it’s a bit tricky to get the foam padding around all four corners of the heavy frame. Once the zip is done up, the snugness pays off because the firm case is very easy to carry.
This case includes a shoulder strap but I can’t imagine anybody (who cares about their back) hoisting it over their shoulder! I find it easiest to grab the two D rings and pick it up two handed.
I’m a little bit worried about the durability of the ripstop fabric inside this case. The frame has sharp(ish) corners where the legs fold under the frame and these seem to be the natural first contact point with the inner fabric when putting the frame in the case. I worry that wiggling the frame about to get it into the case might cause these sharp points to push through the inner material, so I’ll definitely be a bit careful getting the frame into this case.
The resonator case is big and rectangular to fit the annoying shape of the M55’s decorative accidental resonator. Both the resonators fit into the same case with a big divider in between. The divider is made of the padding foam covered in ripstop nylon. The outer design is very similar to the frame case with a handle on one long edge and D rings on each side.
The first time I used the case I put the resonators with their top towards the handle edge (top) edge of the case, but when I opened it I found the naturals resonator had slipped down in the case. To prevent this movement I now put the resonators in “upside down”, i.e. with their top edge at the bottom of the case.
This case also includes a shoulder strap that I won’t use. Again, the D rings are really useful for getting a good grip on the case to maneuver it into a car, etc. I’m really pleased to have this case as it’s so annoying to move resonators around. No matter how many blankets I use they always seem to slip off when putting the resonators in a car resulting in scratches and dints. No more!
The bar case comes with two parts: the cylindrical outer case and a soft inner case to separate and roll up the two sets of bars. The outer case is constructed similarly to the frame and resonator cases with foam padding on all sides. It has one handle on the side of the cylinder. The roll-up part is a rectangular envelope with an internal separator. All parts of the roll-up are made of ripstop nylon with some lightweight and flexible padding. The roll-up case completely zips up so that the bars are completely encapsulated.
Like most mallet players I already had a reasonable system for transporting my bars using a small rolling suitcase and some thin blankets, but this case is a big step in convenience. The roll-up inner is very easy to organise and quite compact since the two sets of bars are rolled together. One extra detail I’ve added to my bar case are some little strips of denim to wrap around the springs at the low end of the bars to stop them scratching anything.
When the bars are rolled up they fit easily in the outer case. Again, I’m a bit worried carrying this case with just one handle. I would feel safer grabbing it on two sides. Probably I’m being paranoid and the handle will never break, but even then, it’s a bit easier and safer to grab a heavy case with in two places.
Crossbar and Pedal Case
This often overlooked part of the vibes finally gets a dedicated case - even though its the simplest case in the set. This case is a long rectangular envelope with a zip along one edge, there are simple nylon handles sewn into each side. This case isn’t padded, but it is lined - a nice touch.
Because this case isn’t padded it can be folded up when not in use and kept inside one of the other cases - yay space saving!
It’s amazing to have a fitted set of cases for my vibes and this set is obviously made with a lot of love for the instrument and attention to detail. The materials are all good quality with a lot of thought put into the way that the zips, separators and handles work. I probably would have preferred to cut the shoulder strap option, and add more handles, but handles are complicated (i.e. expensive) to sew and the D rings on the large cases are pretty helpful for picking them up safely.
These cases have already made my life a lot easier - it’s so much faster to get the instrument into a car when it’s properly protected - and I’m looking forward to using them a lot and keeping my vibraphone safe!