Introduction: Build Your Own Marimba and Wrap Your Own Mallets!

Picture of Build Your Own Marimba and Wrap Your Own Mallets!
Let me start by explaining where and from whom I got help. I used this website to get some basic information on how wide and long to cut the marimba bars. In fabrication I got help from one family member who helped rough cut some of the bars. The rest is all my work.

I am a mallet percussionist who loves the marimba. About four years ago I had a problem. Though I loved percussion, I had no way of practicing at home. There were cheap options. I could have bought a bell kit. But I hate the sounds they make. I wanted a very large five octave marimba but didn't have the money to simply purchase one (7000+ dollars). So I decided against all common sense I would build one.

The goal: build a five octave marimba, without spending a fortune. Use whatever supplies are available to keep the cost low. (The keys are made from an oak tree which was struck by lightning several years ago!)

I hope this instructable will inspire others but I want to give a word of warning. This is an extremely ambitious project and will likely takes a year or two for the average individual (like me) to complete.

Some notes about the included audio recording:
The marimba was playing using the same mallet across the entire five octave range. for this reason, the mallet I chose was a little too hard for the lowest note, and a little too soft for the highest note.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

By all means, get creative! Use whatever materials you might have laying around to complete this project and don't be afraid to borrow power tools from your neighbor. Before you rush out to Lowe's think first and make sure you couldn't use something else instead. As you can probably imagine, the total cost of the project will be heavily dependent on the builder's creativity and the availability of supplies. However I can tell you I managed to construct my marimba with less than 200 dollars.

For now let me just state the basic components of a marimba and the materials you will need.

The Bars - this is where everything begins. The bars can be made from nearly any material, but to qualify as a marimba it must be wood. Feel free to experiment with different types of wood before construction. But it is important for the wood to be completely dried out (not green at all). My oak material came from a tree which was struck by lightning.

The Frame - for me, this was the next step after building the bars. The frame can be made from anything. This includes wood or even steel. Use whatever you are comfortable with.

The Resonators - Nothing difficult here. Though anodized aluminum is very pretty PVC pipe works just as well.

Those are the basic parts of a marimba but you will also need some specialty equipment.

Musical Tuner - How much you invest in a tuner will be reflected in your marimba. If you just want something to practice with (like me) then a 30 dollar tuner will do just fine. Otherwise, if you want to tune overtones, use a strobe tuner (300+ dollars).

Belt Sander - You will be using this a lot so get something comfortable.

Drill - You will need to drill holes through the width of the bars for the marimba string. I suggest a drill press but a hand drill will work just fine.

Table Saw - for making all those cuts.

Band Saw - not essential but recommended if you will be cutting bass notes.

Miter Saw - really handy with the frame and resonators

Step 2: Cutting the Bars

Picture of Cutting the Bars

Preparation - What you want? Do you want one octave, or five? Is your instrument going to be pentatonic or chromatic? Once you know what notes you want I suggest you look at this website. I would suggest using the dimensions of an evenly graduated marimba. This will make the frame easier to build.

By the way, a higher pitch marimba will require much less sanding and can be finished relatively quickly.

Once you have your goal and dimensions in mind, use a table saw cut the wood. try to keep the grain running the length of the bar and avoid big knots in the center of the bar. If it looks nice it will likely sound nice. At this stage you're only aiming for a brick like shape. Don't worry if it is a little rough.

Don't worry about tuning the bars yet. That comes next.

Step 3: Tuning the Bars

Picture of Tuning the Bars

Before you begin take a moment to find the nodes of each bar. The nodes are the points which vibrate the least when the center of the bar is struck. The curve of the marimba bar should be between these two nodes. It might be helpful to make a few guidelines with a pencil or sharpie. Finally, if you want to stain or varnish do so now before you begin tuning. If all this terminology is going over your head, look at that website I told you about.

Once you are ready use a belt sander to begin removing mass in small increments. Feel free to smooth out the surfaces and add any artistic effects you may desire. Periodically, check your progress with the chromatic tuner. You can do this by holding the bar approximately at one of the nodes and striking the center. As you remove mass, the bar's frequency will decrease. If you are tuning a bass note I suggest you cut a chunk out of the bottom first. This should be done with a band saw and will make sanding a lot faster.

It is important not to sand too much too fast. If you do, the bar will heat up. The change in temperature will affect the tone produced. So when tuning the notes try to keep the temperature consistently around room temperature.

If you make a mistake and sand too much (making the note flat) don't worry it can be fixed. I found the simplest way was to trim the ends of the bar, making the length shorter. 1/8 of an inch goes a long way.

As previously discussed keep in mind temperature will have a great impact on each bars frequency. Just try to keep an "optimum operating temperature" in mind. Mine sounds great at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is twenty cents sharp at 50 degrees.

Step 4: Tuning the Overtones

Picture of Tuning the Overtones

An Instructables community member (thank you luvtheteddie) had a few questions on how to tune the overtones. My advice seemed to help so I'm adding that information here.

OK... To tune the overtones you will need one of two things,

A. Strobe Tuner
B. Audio Spectrum Analyzer

I suggest the Strobe Tuner especially if you are a musician. Personally I consider Peterson Strobe Tuners to be the best and they also make a Strobe Tuner app for the Iphone/Itouch. I only included the Spectrum Analyzer to give you an alternative.

Yes you can tune the fundamental frequencies and the overtones of all bars just by shaping the undercut of the bar.
Before we get into how to shape the curve, let's review the proper ratios between the overtones. For Marimba and Vibraphone builders it is 1:4:9.88. For Xylophone builders it is 1:3:6.

Now, to tune the overtones you should follow the template in the pictures below.
To tune the Fundamental frequency (1), sand in the center.
To tune the second overtone (4), sand just outside the center
To tune the third (9.88), sand close to the ends of the arc.

Now here is where it gets tricky...Changing one overtone, will change the frequencies of the other two!
For this reason, you have to first get the ratios between frequencies correct, and then sand evenly across the curve until you arrive at the fundamental (hopefully with the ratios intact.)

If you mess up and tune something too low, you cannot (to my knowledge) fix the problem without reducing the length of the bar.

Additionally, you will notice the overtones become increasingly more difficult to tune as you begin to work with higher and higher notes. This is because the sample size/duration/sustain of the higher notes become shorter and shorter. This also makes the overtones more difficult to hear. So do you want to tune the overtones of the upper register? I don't know. You'll just have to play it by ear. (I'm sorry... couldn't resist a bad pun)

I highly recommend you read this research article:
Nonuniform Beams with Harmonically Related Overtones for use in Percussion Instruments
by Felipe Orduna-Bustamante
published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
December 1991

Step 5: Building the Frame

Picture of Building the Frame

So...Several splinters later and your all finished tuning the notes you want on your instrument. Now you need to build a frame to hold the keys.

This is a time to get creative. There are only a few rules to a marimba frame so as long as you abide by those rules; you don't need to worry about how the frame might affect the quality of sound produced by the instrument. And those rules are...

1. The bars must be supported by "marimba string".
2. The string must be supported by braces in between the marimba keys. (Next step.)
3. The frame will also hold your resonators. (if you choose to build them).

Bear those three rules and facts of a marimba frame in mind as you craft it and you should be fine. I suggest you lay out your tuned keys on a large flat surface to get the dimensions for your frame.
You should also consider how high you want the playing surface to be off the ground.

Note in the pictures the frame follows the path of the bars and the string that will later run through the instrument.

Step 6: Adding String Supports

Picture of Adding String Supports

The marimba string supports are essential because they provide a level playing surface. You will need a lot of these, but fortunately they can be easy to make if you can find the materials.

I suggest aluminum rods. Use a band saw to cut the rods to an appropriate length. They should be long enough to accommodate your thickest bar. You will need to split one end of each support to so the string can lay in it. I suggest mounting each rod in a vice grip and using a hack saw to split the aluminum. Then use a screw driver and a good old fashioned hammer to open up the supports into a nice "Y" shape.

If you are recycling some old aluminum like I did, you may need to put a coat of paint on them so they all look uniform.

Finally to mount the supports into the frame you will need to drill holes into the frame at the appropriate intervals for the supports. Your drill bit should be a little small than your supports. Once done, return to the screwdriver and hammer to coerce the supports into their new home.

Notice in second picture below you can see a nylon string running though the braces. This should give you an idea of how it all fits.

Step 7: Stringing the Bars

Picture of Stringing the Bars

Don't give up yet! You're almost ready to play a tune! You've got a frame and keys, now you need marimba string. You could use some professionally made marimba string, or you could do what I did and use climbing rope. Yep! It works great! But whatever string you decide to use, make sure you drill holes in the bars large enough to accommodate your choice.

These holes should be drilled through the nodes of each bar. (Again, you can find the nodes by figuring out where the bar vibrates least when you strike it in the center.) Also, you should drill the holes on each bar an equal distance from the playing surface. If you don't you won't get a level surface.

Once you're done, that's it! Play a tune! Be happy with yourself! But it you want to go the extra mile, carry forth to the next step.

Step 8: Resonators

Picture of Resonators

This is actually the easiest and maybe quickest part of the build. Resonators will make your instrument a lot louder and give the bars a much more "full" and "warm" sound. All that is required is a little understanding of physics.

The material for the resonators can be almost anything. Just look for something that will hold water without leaking. That is essentially what you're doing. For me, PVC pipe works great. You will need the tubing and plastic test caps.

Now for some physics! Don't worry this is really simple.
L = 340/ (4f)
Length (in meters) is equal to the speed of sound divided by the quantity of four times the frequency of the note.

Frequency is measured in Hertz. You should use your mad Google-ing skills and look up the frequencies of your notes if you don't already know them.

I suggest you cut your resonators a little longer than you need. Trim off a little at a time, and hold it under the correct bar as you play it. When it sounds good and full, you're done with that resonator. Relax. This doesn't take that long and you won't make an extremely costly mistake.

Exactly how you mount your resonators under your bars us up to you. You just need to get them there. Don't be afraid to drill screws into your resonators to hold them (if you choose to do things that way). The resonators will still resonate. If you are making resonators for bass notes, you can curve and bend your resonators to fit under the instrument. Of course the beauty of PVC is you can buy PVC joints that are already bent.

Step 9: You're Finally Done!!!

Picture of You're Finally Done!!!

If you have actually done this, congratulations! If you were a thrifty and smart engineer/musician, then you have successfully created a pretty decent practice instrument for significantly less than you could have bought one.

So go get started and play something "epic" to celebrate your success.

Ah but wait! Perhaps you have no mallets to work with. If this is the case continue forth!

Step 10: Malllet Wrapping Parts and Materials

Picture of Malllet Wrapping Parts and Materials

In terms of parts, you will need a mallet stick and core.
The stick should be made of wood. The material for the core is up to you.


3/8 inch dowel rod (3/8 is just my personal preference. Use whatever is most comfortable.)
Round Core (In the pictures following, I use a "bouncy ball" I bought in the Grocery Store for 25 cents.)
Needle (a relatively big one)

Some notes on the Core
You have a lot of options here. The material for the core will have the largest impact on the tone produced. A hard core like a wooden crafts ball will work well for the upper ranges of a marimba, but will sound horrible on the lower ranges. For a relatively soft core, I've found "bouncy balls" or rubber balls are the best bet.

Step 11: Assembling the Stick and Core

Picture of Assembling the Stick and Core

You should drill a hole in the core to allow for the stick. Be careful not to drill all the way through the core. To make things a little easier, I suggest you seat the core in some vice grips.

Once you have a hole, use some wood glue or epoxy to connect the core to the stick.

Step 12: Cut the Stick and Sand the Edges

Picture of Cut the Stick and Sand the Edges

Wait! Why didn't we cut the stick first and then glue it in place?
Nothing wrong with that. It is just my personal preference to do it this way.
Otherwise I'm never really sure long to cut the stick to make it even with the other mallets.

Once the mallet is cut to length, take it to a sander and remove those uncomfortable 90 degree angles.

Step 13: Wrapping the Mallet

Picture of Wrapping the Mallet

The mallet is sanded to be comfortable; the glue/epoxy has dried; now you're ready to start wrapping.

Start by tying a knot just below the core. Then, begin wrapping over the top, and then under.

Over, Under, Over, Under....

Be sure to count the number of wraps around the mallet. If you want a set of mallets to sound the same, the number of wraps must be equal. Each time the yarn crosses the top of the mallet, that's one wrap. If you're still confused about this, watch the YouTube video.

The mallets I'm wrapping here will have 100 wraps each.

Step 14: Crowning and Finishing the Mallet

Picture of Crowning and Finishing the Mallet

OK. To end the seemingly never ending process of wrapping, you need to cut about an arm's length of yarn between the mallet head and the yarn you are wrapping with. (Let me specify this is still a single strand of yarn beginning with the knot you tied and ending at the point you just cut.)

Tie the free end of the yarn to your needle.

Now to crown the top and bottom of the mallet. I prefer starting with the top.
You need to push the needle in (at an angle) at the top of the mallet, and pull it out.
Do this over and over, going in a circle around the mallet head. This process makes sure your hard work won't come unraveled soon.

Once you finish with the top, the same needs to be done at the bottom.

After you're finished, I suggest crowning once more at the top, but this time you will tie a knot there. (As in the pictures.) Don't worry too much about the knot. I've wrapped several sets of mallets and only once have I had this knot come undone.

Step 15: Some Examples

Picture of Some Examples

These are all mallets I have wrapped myself. I prefer wrapping my mallets as opposed to buying professional mallets because I have control over color, weight, core material, overall length, and so on and so forth.

And if you are curious about the white/black mallets, I used yarn which transitions between the two colors. In other words, those white/black mallets are wrapped with one continuous stand, not two.


smcgah (author)2017-06-01


i am building a project for band and i need to know what wood to use. also how much it ciould be because it needs to be cheap. also what materials did u use and where did u get them. plz email me at thx- shai m

PaulF4 (author)2015-02-02

Regarding volume; I did some experiments today and a larger resonator seems to improve loudness and maybe smooth bass-ness... I'm just getting into a first project with no experience with xylophones other than some googling and testing. It's a small one octave instrument from high C 523hz to soprano C 1046hz. The 1046 key is pathetic without a resonator, noticeably improved with a half inch diameter tube, barely noticeable improvement with a one inch tube and I'd say a lot louder with a 2 inch tube.

Now, laying them out, I've staggered the sharps in between so there is a double spacing and there is room for larger diameter resonators. I've noticed some designs place the resonators off center to the center of the keys when there isn't room, so presumably this is OK. You have to strike the key in the center but the resonator doesn't need to be centered, apparently.

Perhaps there could be conflict if the adjacent key is resonating into the wrong tube as it overlaps the key's territory but I think I've got this solved by staggering the sharps so their nodal point (peg) coincides with the center of the adjacent key. This won't be true for directly adjacent naturals. Possibly those conditions could be fixed by blocking the opening parallel to the adjacent key. That would be like the small hole in a guitar using the larger resonator of the guitar body? I suspect it won't matter too much. Looking at school alto xylophones in a single shared resonator box, they taper the bottom of the box a bit but it's all open to all the keys and not very precise.

I think it'll be worth trying to cram in the largest resonators I can manage. Even if there is some cross traffic, I've made the effort to provide the largest resonator ideally tuned to each key and the cross traffic won't be worse than the single box resonator models.

In the attached image, you can see the three test blocks with different diameter test resonators at left. I've only finished tuning and testing the high and low C at each end and both improve with a larger resonator.

Also, off topic, note how the naturals and sharps are staggered/overlapped so that the nodal points mark the center points of the adjacent sharp/natural. Kind of a clever layout inspired by the 4-row European arrangements. This won't allow dragging the mallet in a long trill across the naturals but should make for easier reach between sharps and naturals. Actually it might work since dragging across the nodal points of the sharps shouldn't produce anything. This arrangement was really motivated by fitting the longest keys possible on the vaguely piano-shaped board, which was what got me going on this project. The keys are also splayed out a bit radially (not parallel). Fun project!

the "wow shammy" (author)2014-03-17

can you mathematically find the nodes?

Unfortunately, no. You can get relatively close, though! Because the density and grain of each key is different, you need to adjust the arch and your nodes to both where your frame is, and where the key's individual node is. One method is the salt test, and that worked quite nicely for us.

eraticus (author)2013-09-17

Just wondering why the resonator length is 1/4 the wavelength of the note? Does 1/2 or 1:1 work too? I am not a marimba player BTW, just in case the reason is obvious.

wombat99 (author)eraticus2014-11-24

Short answer: Either 1/4 or 3/4 would work. 1/2 or 1/1 will not work.

Long answer: Visualize one cycle of a sine wave. At the 1/4 and 3/4 point, the sine wave is at maximum amplitude. At 0, 1/2 and at 1 the sine wave is at the zero crossing (no amplitude).

So, to get the resonators to resonate at their loudest, you need to either cut them to 1/4 or 3/4 wavelength.

Hope this helps! :-)

FYI, back in the 1990's my wife and I built a bass marimba, and she created a web site that has some good information on it about our experience building the marimba:

wombat99 (author)2014-11-24

Nice Instructable and video. :-)

By the way, I see a number of questions (comments) about what kind of wood to use, etc. When we built our bass marimba back in the late 1990's, we used padauk. There are different kinds of "hardwood" -- basically "hard" hardwood and "soft" hardwood. Woods like oak, maple, etc are "hard" hardwood. Wood like rosewood, bubinga, paduak, etc are "soft" hardwoods, and these are what are typically used to make bars as they resonate much better than "hard" hardwoods.

Without trying to blow my own horn or take anything away from your Instructable (again, it's great), and the spirit of sharing information, I want to mention that my wife created a website that details our experience in building the bass marimba:

camillacarter11 (author)2014-02-17

So, if I'm okay with a little more expense on the wood for the bars, where would i even begin to look for some good rosewood to purchase? would i purchase it in 4/4, 8/4, or what? how many board feet. it may be a dumb question, but i don't even know how to start acquiring wood.

cjs1298 (author)2014-02-08

Do you have any measurements on the frame of the 5oct marimba? Also, do you prefer wool or acrylic for mallet wrapping? I'm a freshman in high school, so I have little money for mallet wrapping.

camillacarter11 (author)cjs12982014-02-17

wool wrapping is ideal because it is more resistant to wearing out. i have a lot of 100% acrylic yarn mallets that wear out within a year, which is just not worth it.

luvtheteddie (author)2009-06-22

how can i tune the overtones to make it more professional sounding? also, can i sand the arches to tune the keys? i want each key to be a certain length so it looks pretty. im very picky about the look cuz im going to be using some padouk floorboards that are 3 inch wide by 1/2 inch thick (cut in half, of course) and theyre not cheap, so i wanna make sure everything works perfectly

OK... To tune the overtones you will need one of two things,

A. Strobe Tuner
B. Audio Spectrum Analyzer

I suggest the Strobe Tuner especially if you are a musician. Personally I consider Peterson Strobe Tuners to be the best and they also make a Strobe Tuner app for the Iphone/Itouch. I only included the Spectrum Analyzer to give you an alternative.

Yes you can tune the fundamental frequencies and the overtones of all bars just by shaping the undercut of the bar.
Before we get into how to shape the curve, let's review the proper ratios between the overtones. For Marimba and Vibraphone builders it is 1:4:9.88. For Xylophone builders it is 1:3:6.

Now, to tune the overtones you should follow the template in the pictures below.
To tune the Fundamental frequency (1), sand in the center.
To tune the second overtone (4), sand just outside the center
To tune the third (9.88), sand close to the ends of the arc.

Now here is where it gets tricky...Changing one overtone, will change the frequencies of the other two!
For this reason, you have to first get the ratios between frequencies correct, and then sand evenly across the curve until you arrive at the fundamental (hopefully with the ratios intact.)

If you mess up and tune something too low, you can not (to my knowledge) fix the problem without reducing the length of the bar.

Additionally, you will notice the overtones become increasingly more difficult to tune as you begin to work with higher and higher notes. This is because the sample size/duration/sustain of the higher notes become shorter and shorter. This also makes the overtones more difficult to hear. So do you want to tune the overtones of the upper register? I don't know. You'll just have to play it buy ear. (I'm sorry... couldn't resist a bad pun)

I highly recommend you read this research article:
Nonuniform Beams with Harmonically Related Overtones for use in Percussion Instruments
by Felipe Orduna-Bustamante
published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
December 1991

Finally... Good luck on your build. If I forgot to answer something just let me know. Be sure to tell me how it works out!


(Seriously I'm competing against some spectacular projects and I need all the support I can get.)

Hi! First of all I want to thank you for this good instructable. I decided to build a marimba. I cut all the 5 octaves from white oak, maple and cherrywood. I started tuning the bars. I started with C5. I have one problem. can't find the nodes, because the salt doesn't make a line. It bounces off the bar after a while. So I decided to use 2/9 of the bar length as the nodes. But there is one more problem I can't hear any overtones. What's wrong?
Thank you,
Lukas Cerveny (15 yrs, from the Czech rep.)

you got my vote. one more question... how bog should i make my arches?

In general, the arch extends the full length between the nodes of the bar. (But this rule does not apply to the higher bars). So instead, I would suggest sanding the arches wider as you tune the third overtone. When you sand the "3" sections as in the pictures above, sand the arch wider as well as deeper. As a side note for anyone interested... You can tune the fundamental and second overtones just by sanding out a rectangular shape rather than an arch. The only reason for the arch, is to get the third overtone.

handers (author)2011-09-14

how did you calculate the legnth of the bars for oak ?

RocketScientist (author)handers2011-09-14

I used lengths similar to the La Favre marimba I linked to in step two. You can experiment with lengths and graduations but it's much easier to reuse the lengths found there. Those lengths worked fine for all the frequencies I needed from the oak.

wcross1 (author)RocketScientist2013-10-13

Did you use the measurements for the La Favre marimba or for the graduated marimba? what is the difference?

Bianca1306 (author)2013-03-19

Would Red Oak, Oak, Poplar, or Maple work best for this?

cpatgardner (author)2012-12-08

I noticed your comment that you cannot raise the pitch back up (to your knowledge) if you go to low without shortening the length of the bar. I've made a few (not as nice as your) but when I go to low, I raise the pitch by removing material close to the ends giving the same effect as a shorter bar. I use a 5/8" or 3/4" forstner bit and drill these holes on the underside of the playing surface where they wont be seen. I drill them equal distance from end on both ends of bar. I drill to equal depth on both holes until I reach desired pitch. I try avoid this because you have remove quite a bit (drill deep) to raise pitch just a little. Just thought I'd share that trick I figured out.

kpalvin96 (author)2012-06-07

When you say push the needle through the top, do you mean through the core? Or just through the yarn?

Just the yarn.

1bad_drummer (author)2012-04-27

i was wondering if you ever got around to building a vibraphone? that would be cool. i am really interested in how you would build the dampener system. as an engineer i am sure that you could come up with something that is more practical (or at least more simple) and doesn't add so much pressure to the frame (the pushing and pulling unevenly).

A vibraphone has actually been turned into an honors thesis project believe it or not. (I'm an engineer too) I've spent the last few years focusing on the keys but I have had a few thoughts on the damper.

I've never liked that most Adams vibes had only 1 spring in the center of the damper. I'd prefer 2 because I think you'd get a more even force distribution. And as you've probably noticed, Adams vibes have their damper pivoting on arms. That works but those arms are ugly and I'd rather use some linear bearings underneath the frame.

i am definitely looking forward to what you find in terms of the bars!! but as far as frames go i am really interested in as portable a frame as possible, lightweight and simple. i was thinking something along the lines of how i could streamline the design as much as possible for a gigging instrument as opposed to a concert instrument. replacing the resonators with a pickup, using cables like a remote hi-hat uses to construct a dampener system that didn't need a crossbar to support it....

but still i would love to see what you come up with and i hope that you publish it!

TruthHunter (author)2012-01-02

Great Project...Very ambitious. I liked your string supports.

I was wondering how Oak would work for a marimba, so I was very glad that you posted a sound file. It is obvious that oak isn't as good as Rosewood or Paduk. Still it makes a nice practice instrument.

BTW, have you considered going back and upgrading the bars? You could get enough Paduk from for about $300 to do it.
I see a lot of discussion as to the best woods to use. Cherry and Walnut might be a little better than Oak. Most USA hardwoods don't have much resonance. The only 2 that I've seen that rate with the Tropical woods are Black Locust and Osage Orange. If you can get these locally, they could do the trick, but to buy from suppliers, they are as expensive as tropical woods.

discontinuuity (author)2010-08-29

I thought at first you were making a thumb piano (which some call a marimba). Would it be right to call yours a type of xylophone or is it different?

A larger kalimba could also be called an 'mbira, which sounds quite similar to marimba. Or at least, that is what I have read somewhere, so take it with a few grains of salt.

The "thumb piano" you refer to can be known as a Kalimba. But yes, this is similar to a xylophone. See below for more info.

dabad (author)2011-04-30

Well you drill the hole, are you supposed to drill to the center? Or just enough to place the dowel in?

RocketScientist (author)dabad2011-05-01

Drilling to the center would be best but that's more difficult in some materials than others. In the end you're just trying to get a good 'hold' between the head and dowel. It's very embarrassing to have the head suddenly fly across the room in the middle of practice, trust me.

nodnodwinkwink (author)2010-08-30

Am i blind or is there no video of the finished piece in action?

You're not blind! There is no video! I've tried to make a few videos and audio recordings in the past but unfortunately my video equipment is cheap! Every time I've tried the notes always come across as brittle and clunky, almost like a xylophone. In person the instrument sounds very "warm" and seems to hum like a marimba should. Thanks for the question, hopefully I'll be able to upload a video one day when I have better video equipment.

maybe Darmani can instruct you in the proper modifacation of video equipment to use for a musical instrument .... oh as long as it is hand made, non electronic and made out of Venus bogon moth tree which as it turns out is the third largest tree in the 5th smalles section in the portion known as kruzijenkle on Venus .... I should know cause I've been there!!!

Xzen21 (author)2010-12-27

When wrapping mallets, should I use more wraps for a softer mallet or less wraps?

I am using a rubber bouncy ball core and acrylic yarn like you would typically find in a craft store.

RocketScientist (author)Xzen212010-12-27

The more times you wrap it the softer the sound will be. Depending on the yarn and core you use, 150 to 200 wraps will give you a "medium" mallet.

Xzen21 (author)RocketScientist2010-12-27

Well, I guess I basically need a set of mallets to use for the lowest 2 octaves, any suggestions for that?

Thanks for the quick reply on my first question by the way.

RocketScientist (author)Xzen212010-12-27

No problem! For the lowest octaves you'll probably want a soft mallet. I would suggest maybe 175+ wraps. In that range of the instrument softer mallets will give you a very warm tone, sort of like humming. When you reach about 150 wraps, you can wrap some yarn around the stick and strike a few bars with it. If you like the way it sounds, go ahead and start the crowning step. If it's too soft it will sound harsh and "clunky" so just play with as you're wrapping it until it sounds like you want!

Xzen21 (author)RocketScientist2010-12-27

Thanks, will give it a try.

I had been getting a loud "clunking" sound while tuning the bars (had been using a hammer from the inside of an old piano) and the actual notes were not very audible, I am hoping that using an actual mallet designed for marimba bars will correct this issue.

JcBeaver (author)2010-09-30

what exactly is the difference between diatonic and chromatic?? just wondering

Dhha (author)JcBeaver2010-10-18


Diatonic is when the note belongs to a scale, let's say C major scale. F# (sharp) doesn't belongs to C major scale, it isn't diatonic.

Chromatic is when notes moves half-step by half-step, from C to C# to D to D# to E and so on (Also B to Bb to A to Ab, etc). You have upward chromatism (sharps) and downward with flats.

I hope this helped :-)

JcBeaver (author)Dhha2010-10-22

thanks, helped a lot :)

percussiondad (author)2010-09-11

My 12 year old son and I are planning on building a marimba. We purchased instructions from another site. Found some useful tips in your instructions. In looking for Rosewood, I found Bolivian Rosewood available locally. Is it safe to assume this is the same or similar to Honduran Rosewood? Also, how does a person gauge moisture content? I am an amateur at this, but I believe changes in moisture content would alter the sound produced by the wood over time. I guess one could just re-tune the bars.

Thanks for your contribution. And for you "purists" out there, you can be sure we will be shaping our wood using sharpened stones, or shells, or whatever. Please!

Hi! First, thanks for taking a look at my instructable!

I won't claim to be an expert on Bolivian Rosewood but I would assume it's probably similar to Honduran Rosewood. I would encourage you to try it since you can get it locally!

As far as moisture content goes, your right! Let's say you use green wood (with a lot of moisture) to make a marimba bar. Over time the wood will dry. Since this changes the mass of the wood, your marimba will definitely go out of tune within a couple of months. You could re-tune it but it's certainly easier to do it right the first time!

Instead I would ask your local supplier if the rosewood is green or dry. If it's green, you may need to look for an instructable on drying wood.

Finally, before you get started, I would recommend buying just enough Bolivian Rosewood to make octave notes across the instrument. (Example, five octave marimbas typically include C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, C7) If you make those six notes you have a good idea of what the whole marimba is going to sound like.

If any of this is unclear I'll be happy to rephrase it.
Thanks again for taking a look at my instructable.

RocketScientist (author)2010-09-03

Thought I might add some information here. Your beef with my instrument seems to be that it won't sound "as a marimba". So lets discuss what a marimba should sound like. All marimbas have harmonic ratios of 1 : 4 : 9.88 (or 10) as discussed in step 4. A while back I had the pleasure of performing a spectral analysis on some of my marimba bars. The harmonic ratios of my marimba, came in at about 1 : 3.8 : 9. In my personal slightly biased opinion, that's pretty darn good considering I only had a 30$ tuner and a sander to work with. All that said, I wouldn't dream of playing the instrument next to an Adams or MarimbaOne instrument. Because the overtones are slightly off, it just wouldn't sound right. But it wasn't designed for that purpose either. It was designed as a home practice instrument. As for my mallets, you seem to think there is a better way to get the job done. I will concede that point to you. I'm still experimenting with different core materials and I'd like the mallets to feel a little heavier in the hand. So by all means, I challenge you to publish an instructable on mallet making. Are you planning to do so soon?

Darmani (author)RocketScientist2010-09-03

Hi, ok first of all, i think there is a missunderstanding first of all on the first comment i posted i said "again i dont want to offend you the instructable is good", i dont go around bothering people just because i feel like it... i think this is a good instructable, and the project is good too, but well if you love that instrument as much as i do you could understand i wouldnt go as far to call it a marimba, i have been to CHIAPAS were the marimba was invented, and they use just 1 kind of wood for the making of the instrument, and the artisans dont use any power tool to make the marimba, and there are not many that make the original marimbas so its considered an art, it is a really beautyful sound, sorry if i offended you maybe you felt that i was insulting your skills, well i am not, also i did some research on "Adams" and "MarimbaOne" i dont consider those to be that good, anything factory made is nothing like something made to be considered art, i will go take some pictures at a marimba so i can upload them, also about the mallets, the best sounding ones i think are made from the CAUCHO tree i dont know anything about making those mallets, but i will go to an artisan and ask how they are made and i will post an instructable to help you. maybe by december i will have the instructable, because im kinda bussy with the university.

RocketScientist (author)Darmani2010-09-07
A few corrections:
  1. Marimba One does indeed build all their marimbas by hand.
  2. Marimba One uses Honduras Rosewood. This is not to imply using Caucho wood incorrect. I built my marimba with white oak, an extremely uncommon wood to use in marimbas. African builders used padouk wood (point number 3.)
  3. This entire conversation has gone far too long without someone saying the marimba is a multicultural instrument! You claim the marimba was invented in Chiapas. But this is only half true. The instrument was originally invented in Africa where it was called a balafon.
  4. This may prompt you to ask why I don't call my instrument a balafon. This is because my instrument is chromatic and not diatonic.
All this said, I still encourage you to publish an instructable on mallet making. You have access to a completely different part of the world than I do. I'm curious and I respect the methods of traditional Mexican marimba builders.
Mr. Potato Head (author)2010-09-05

1 - I'm not following the logic of your assumption that I've never been to Mexico somehow making me a liar. 2 - I'm also not sure how your knowing that Chiapas is a Mexican state somehow makes you an expert on anything other than Mexican states, which isn't at all what we're discussing here. 3 - I never said you didn't build things, I said you didn't build cool things like this marimba. Yes, it really is a marimba! 4 - Sounds like most of your "building" is actually just modifying stuff that someone else built. Don't you do anything that's original or creative? 5 - If you don't make instruments and you aren't interested in them why are you trying to pretend that you're some kind of marimba expert? Why bother? Go post about something you are interested in, like Mexican states. 6 - It's hard to believe that you really don't have anything to prove, when you're obviously trying really hard to impress me. Just in case it's not clear from what I've written so far, you're not succeeding. 7 - You obviously never noticed this, but when you're typing your reply all of the words underlined in red are misspelled and should be corrected before you actually post the comment. It makes you look a lot smarter when all of the words are spelled correctly.

Darmani (author)Mr. Potato Head2010-09-06

I did reply to this, but its going nowhere, so i deleted the reply, the only thing i do want to say is dont be so full of yourself, im not trying to impress you, have a nice day.

africa-rich (author)2010-08-02

Greetz from Africa ...

I've got 2 questions I've been searching the web about - but can't find any answers.

Any comments or help would be appreciated.
Thanks Rich

Q1: Arrangement of Notes / Bars

Why are the notes/bars on a Marimba (or Xylophone) arranged from:
High-to-Low from Left-to-Right ?

This arrangement is opposite to a Piano, but is the same as a drum kit.

I'm guessing it has to do with placing the lower notes under the right hand (usually the stronger hand) ?

But, is it the higher or lower notes that need the hardest strike to sound ?

Q2: Curved Keyboard

I've never seen a curved keyboard arrangement - i.e. one which is shaped in an arc, placing all of the bars at a more consistent and natural distance from each arm / elbow.

Has this been tried ?

Would there be any special problems with this set-up ?

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