My First Vibroplex

The latest addition to my arsenal of CW-sending implements is a Vibroplex VibroKeyer. It’s used, but it works like a champ. Mine is somewhat different from the current production model. Instead of a shiny chrome base, mine is painted beige. Also, the nameplate is mounted so that it faces the right side of the base instead of being mounted in the middle.

The guy who sold me the VibroKeyer did not know how old it was, but by going to the Dating Your Vibroplex page, it appears that the VibroKeyer was first made in 1960, and my unit–s/n 260,385–was made in 1969. It’s still in pretty good shape for a 35 year old paddle. Aside from some scratches on the base, it looks almost brand new. The deluxe version has a jewelled movement and the action of the paddle is still quite smooth.

The VibroKeyer is not a bug, as you might think, but instead a single-lever paddle to be used with a keyer. That’s one of the reasons it wasn’t made until 1960. This is when electronic keyers were starting to become more popular.

The single-lever paddle differs from the iambic paddle in that only one contact can be closed at any one time. That’s kind of a negative if you’re used to operating in iambic mode, but since I’ve only been able to master the iambic mode when sending Q and Y, it’s not that big a deal.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my purchase. I paid $60 for a paddle that currently costs about $150 new, and it works really well. You can’t beat that.


  1. martin stapleton says:

    just read your article called “my first vibroplex”. Wish I understood more of it. Like I don’t know what a vibrokeyer is or what iambic is. I’d like to get a ‘bug’, one that is automatic with the ‘dits’, but manual with the ‘dahs’. Does that make sense ? I’ve been out of touch for 30 years. Even 30 years ago I didn’t know much. I want to become proficient at sending code and I used to love to listen to and copy people that would send code using the ‘bug’ described above. thanks, martin

  2. Dan KB6NU says:

    Hi, Martin–

    Thanks for your comment. Perhaps I take too much for granted when I write some of these posts. Let me step back and explain a bit.

    The most basic kind of key is the “straight key.” With a straight key, the operator presses the key, manually making the dits and dahs. This is all telegraphers used for a long time.

    Unless you’re really good, it’s difficult to send faster than about 20 wpm with a straight key. One of the devices invented to help operators go faster is the semi-automatic key, or “bug.” Vibroplex is the most popular manufacturer of these devices. As you note, a bug makes dits automatically, but the operator must make dahs manually. To make the dits, the operator presses the key’s lever in one direction and to make dahs presses the key in the opposite direction. The key is, in effect, a single-pole, double throw (SPDT) switch.

    More recently, amateur radio operators have started using electronic keyers. Unlike the bug, which uses mechanical means to create the dits and dahs. The key used with an electronic keyer is called a paddle. A paddle has two switches, one for the dits and one for the dahs. Compared to a bug’s SPDT, we could say that the paddle is a set of two single-pole, single throw (SPST) switches.

    The biggest difference between bug operation and keyer/paddle operation is that both switches of the paddle can be “on” simultaneously. When this occurs, the keyer is supposed to send alternating dits and dahs. This type of operation is called “iambic.”

    Now, where does the VibroKeyer come in? Well, back when the electronic keyer was invented, there were many hams using bugs. They found it difficult to get used to the way paddles work, so Vibroplex created the VibroKeyer. It was made to connect to an electronic keyer, but the arm motion required of the operator was more akin to the motion they would use if they were using a bug.

    Keys like the VibroKeyer are sometimes called “single lever paddles,” while those with two separate sets of contacts are called “iambic” or “dual lever” paddles.

    Hope that helps!

    73, Dan


  3. Hi Dan,

    Great blog you have here. I’ll be adding the URL to my favorites. I just got my new Vibrokeyer delivered yesterday. Haven’t made a contact yet, since I’m still brushing up on the code. I passed my 5WPM test back in ’66 when I was first licensed, but was inactive for a lot of years and forgot most of it. Since I’ve gotten re-licensed (and got my Extra) and (ironically) code is no longer required, I now want to become proficient in it. Guess it’s the old attitude of ‘since I’m not being forced to do it’… Plus, it just seems that with an Extra class license, I should know the code.

    I never liked a straight key and don’t care much for the iambics I’ve tried. I love the feel of a bug, but am a bit afraid of the ‘swing thing’ and developing some bad habits. So, I decided to go with the Vibrokeyer to satisfy my love for the Vibroplex feel and let the auto-keyer in my FT-897D handle the task of providing reasonably clean copy for those I communicate with. I’ll be on the air with it soon. Hope to work you some time in the near future.

    BTW, I really enjoyed your comments on ‘lime green’ T-shirts. Our club, the Tarleton Area ARC, covers four bike rides a year and at least two of the sponsoring organizations hand out lime green shirts every time. I won’t wear ‘em either.

    Keep up the great work.


  4. Hi,

    I recently bought a used Vibrokeyer and had it shipped over to the UK from California. It is a mid 80s model, but I have a question. There seems to be some vertical play in the knob – not much, just under a millimetre. This seems to come from the top pivot where the “dah” bar fits over the central spindle (if that makes sense).

    Is that normal? It does make “pinging “noises a bit when you use it, but I haven’t got another one to compare it with.

    Steve G0KYA

  5. Dave N4KZ says:


    I liked your entry on the Vibrokeyer. I have used iambic keyer off and on for the better part of 40 years and never fully mastered it. Sure, I can C and Q by squeezing the paddles. Ditto for R and Y. But that’s it. L and F sent iambically have been futile. So, recently I began reading online about guys using single-lever paddles and non-squeeze keying. They talk about being in more control of the paddle and making fewer mistakes sending. I was hooked but hesitant to shell out big bucks on a single-lever paddle until I could try one out. I found some online info about homebrewing a single-lever paddle. A trip to Lowe’s yielded the necessary parts for less than $10. Less than a hour later, I had a keyer made of a block of wood, some L brackets and screws and a cheap hacksaw blade. I began tweaking the darn thing and after a while I had a nice feeling and good sounding paddle. I was shocked how easy it was. It looks like heck but works and feels like a million bucks. And the sending? Wonderful. I am more in control and make fewer mistakes in sending. I got my ham ticket 40 years ago and have operated CW all those years. But I should have made the switch to non-iambic keying years ago. For me, it’s more natural and easier. Now, the big question. Should I continue using my homemade key or buy a nice, fancy commercially made one? Time will tell, I think.

    73, Dave, N4KZ

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