The vibraphone resembles the xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel, one of the main differences between it and these instruments being that each bar is paired with a resonator tube that has a motor-driven butterfly valve at its upper end. The valves are mounted on a common shaft, which produces a tremolo or vibrato effect while spinning. The vibraphone also has a sustain pedal similar to that on a piano. With the pedal up, the bars are all damped and produce a shortened sound. With the pedal down, they sound for several seconds.
The vibraphone is commonly used in jazz music, in which it often plays a featured role and was a defining element of the sound of mid-20th-century "Tiki lounge" exotica, as popularized by Arthur Lyman. It is the second most popular solo keyboard percussion instrument in classical music, after the marimba, and is part of the standard college-level percussion performance education. It is a standard instrument in the modern percussion section for orchestras and concert bands.
The first musical instrument called "vibraphone" was marketed by the Leedy Manufacturing Company in the United States in 1921. However, this instrument differed in significant details from the instrument now called the vibraphone. The Leedy vibraphone achieved a degree of popularity after it was used in the novelty recordings of "Aloha 'Oe" and "Gypsy Love Song" by vaudeville performer Louis Frank Chiha ("Signor Frisco").
This popularity led J.C. Deagan, Inc. in 1927 to ask its Chief Tuner, Henry Schluter, to develop a similar instrument. However, Schluter didn't just copy the Leedy design, he introduced several significant improvements: making the bars from aluminium instead of steel for a more "mellow" basic tone; adjustments to the dimensions and tuning of the bars to eliminate the dissonant harmonics in the Leedy design (further mellowing the tone); and the introduction of a foot-controlled damper bar so musicians can play it with more expression. Schluter's design was more popular than the Leedy design, and has become the template for all instruments now called vibraphone.
However, when Deagan began marketing Schluter's instrument in 1928, they called it the vibraharp. The name derived from similar aluminum bars that were mounted vertically and operated from the "harp" stop on a theatre organ. Since Deagan trademarked the name, others were obliged to use the earlier "vibraphone" for their instruments incorporating the newer design.