Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crafting Your Marimba

And here I proudly present a new video from Seattle videographer Izzy Corey documenting the building and delivery (by me!) of a 2 octave soprano "Lowrider" marimba. This is about 20 minutes long and will be of interest to young malleteers, teachers, parents - anyone who is curious about how these instruments are created.

Crafting Your Marimba from Tom Bourne on Vimeo.

Because the world needs MORE marimba builders, the follow-up to this video will be a longer version intended for folks planning to build their own marimba. No doubt that crafty craftsman you know can view this shorter version and get a good start, and the forthcoming longer version will be the "director's cut", narrated by me and covering all the details of marimba building start to finish. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Baffling Baffles

I believe I've built over 200 of my Aussie model over the years, and as a box resonator instrument covering three and a half octaves, it took alot of experimenting with the box dimensions to get a fairly consistent presence of sound across the entire range. Finally I stumbled upon the sizings that seem to produce a good strong sound for every note. But there are many variables at play in musical instruments and I introduced a new one with a recent batch of 3 Aussies, incorporating 1/4" plywood for the sides instead of the customary 3/8". Makes for a lighter instrument to tote around a classroom, and with that thinner ply vibrating as it does, these new Aussies might just be a tad louder than the thicker-walled variety. The middle range is especially strong.

Building all three boxes with the same dimensions and materials and bar wood, you might expect them to all sound the same. Hah! Aussie #3, it turns out, has a decidedly weaker sounding Low C, something I dont like to have in an instrument where the key of C is king. So I switched out the low c bar from one model to the next. Same result, Aussie #3 is definitely weaker on that important root tone.

So I did what any dissatisfied Aussie builder can do, which is to measure out the inside dimensions at around the low G note and fashion a baffle that can be inserted to produce an entirely different vibrational profile. Low and behold, the Aussie #3 Low C comes through loud and clear now, and sounds on par with her sister instruments. Hmmm.... baffling.......

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Idea for Orff-Style Bass Bars

A couple things have always bothered me re: the traditional Orff bass bars that are commonly available. The bars are really narrow compared to the box they sit on, and each tone you buy sets at a different height. So a collection of these bass bars seems like several different random single note instruments, with the notes so far apart, both sideways and up/down-wise. Poor young malleteers!

So here are my Bourne Marimbas Bass Bars with double-wide American ash bars perched on boxes that share the same height - set them up in a row and you have .... ONE INSTRUMENT! Music teacher Bart Roderick of Yakima, WA has a full set of these now, he seems to like them.

My first generation of these bass bars left me unconvinced - I couldn't seem to dial in a consistent resonance on the boxes. But I do believe I've solved those problems, so these are available if you yearn for bass bars that are created equal, united side by side to form a more perfect bass marimba!

The Box Baritone

I haven't made one of these in several years, but they always impress me. It's got a good solid sound and rolls and stores upright like my Lowriders and Aussies. So it takes up much less space during its downtime (uptime?) than the regular Baritone, and stands lower to the ground as well. A good low end sound for the really young kids to belly up to. It's the Baritoniest!

The bars are made of ash, which I have switched to on all my baritones.

note: All good things have wheels.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Here's something for late summer enjoyment while you sit in your lawnchair with a beverage. Avalon, written by Al Jolsen, Buddy DeSilva and Vincent Rose, played by me on my Yamaha Silent guitar, with the help of garageband.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Walt Hampton Music

It was a great week at Walt Hampton's Hot Marimba division of Will Schmid's World Music Drumming sessions in Seattle, with talented teachers from around the country (and world!) learning how to introduce marimbas into their classrooms. Several of the 28 teachers in the class already have marimba groups of their own, and there was a good mix of experience and some great performing at the culminating event on Friday.

Walt unveiled selections from his newly self-published collection "Son of Hot Marimba". Here's one example:

As you can see, grown-ups have as much fun banging on marimbas as youngsters. The group also learned this chestnut - great motion in this performance:

Here's another new Walt Hampton tune: "UFO".

Stay tuned for ordering info as Maestro Hampton's book becomes available.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bourne Marimbas Feeds the Hungry Teachers of the World (Music Drumming Workshop)

We had a great cookout tonight for 50 attendees of the World Music Drumming workshop at beautiful Carceek Park in Shoreline, Washington. Bourne Marimbas provided the burgers and brats, and received favorable reviews on Tom's Mom's Baked Beans, such that a sharing of the secret recipe, upon her permission, is in order.

Tom's Mom's Baked Beans
  • In large skillet or heavy pan, over medium heat, Cook 6 slices of thick sliced bacon until crisp Drain on paper towel and cut into about 1" pieces. 
  • Leave about 3 TB grease in skillet. Chop about half a large sweet onion, and cook in same skilet in drippings until tender, stirring often. Then: 
  • Add 3 TB brown sugar (I use light brown), stir and cook until this mixture carmelizes slightly. 
  • Add about 2 TB ketchup and 1 TB yellow mustard and the bacon pieces. I like to keep some of the bacon to put on the top about 10 minutes before I take it from oven. 
  • Add 2 large (16 oz.) cans pork and beans (I use Van Kamps) and heat well. 
  •  Transfer to baking dish or pan and bake 1 hour in 350 degree oven or longer if it's too runny. 
  • Let stand a bit before serving. 
Rose Bourne

Tom wielding tongs

Charlene Sutton wielding a marshmellow

Thursday, June 14, 2012

from the Department of Bass Prettification...

Val Barton Ellett posted this shot at Facebook. Another breakthrough in Bass Decor!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Big Picture

Here's a graphic I made many many years ago, still helpful in understanding the ranges of the instruments I offer:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Love Letter to Plywood

I use a good bit of plywood in my marimbas. Here's why:

Love Letter to Plywood. By Tom Sachs

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Phil Onishi's Wired Musicians

A few years ago I built a set of instruments for music teacher Phil Onishi of Edmonds Washington. He surprised me with this gift: a wired malleteer playing a marimba styled after my Lowrider. When he's not teaching kids, Phil creates all sorts of jiggling, wirey musicians and is featured at:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Solsbury Hill

A couple years ago I did a marimba arrangement for Peter Gabriel's classic Solsbury Hill. Very effective for any malleteer who can count to seven. Here is a shockwave file of the arangement, which will scroll and play as you watch notes fly by:

...and here is the pdf. file:

Walt Hampton made some improvements on this arangement, notably a stop-time effect in the drums as everyone wails in unison on the notes lyricized: "BOOM BOOM BOOM". Now there's a good example of onomatopoeiaic arranging if ever there was one!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

DIY Bari Modification

I've always been torn as to whether to install any kind of foamy or rubberized tone bar support on the baritone marimba. I've found that the usual foam support eventually gets mashed down from the weight of the bars. And the indestructible black rubber heater hose I install on my basses for bar support seems to be too unyielding for the bari bars. Option #3 is to just suspend the bars with the cord only, but I have had more than one customer complain about undue cord wearage as all the weight of the bars rests on the cord.

If your baritone has a cord-only suspension system, then here is a DIY (do-it-yerself) option that seems not to affect the sound while providing additional support for the bars. This is an easy and inexpensive fix, and worth a try if your cord gets worn down too fast.

Take a close gander at the serpentine foam strip snaking it's way around the posts and under the cord. It's 3/8" Poly Foam Calk Saver from the good folks at Frost King, hopefully available anywhere cold enough to need calk insulation. I'm not sure if tropical environs carry this stuff, but you might find something similar in a big hardware store. No glueing or other attachment seems to be necessary here, just wind it around the posts underneath the cord and it stays put, serving as a buffer for the bars, and hopefully reducing the weight and wear and tear on the cord. 

If this stuff gets mashed down after a year or so but works well otherwise, well, maybe you can consider it a cheap and normal bit of upkeep, like getting new brake pads on the car. Those bars exert A LOT of cumulative downward force on any kind of support during weeks and months of enthusiastic malleteering. The bar supports bear the brunt!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A customer asks:

"Should I buy the optional F# and Bb bars that are offered with your marimbas?"

My impression over the years is that lots of folks buy the extra bars to have them if needed or because their budget will cover that additional cast - and then never use them. The bars can take up space in a school closet for a loooong time! F#/Bb bars are handy in the Orff curriculum for the occasional songs in the keys of F or G, but the vast majority of music played on these instruments is in C or related modes with the standard bars. You can always order F# and Bb bars in the future if they are needed, so unless you foresee the specific need for those, it's OK to save the $$ and go with the standard set. If you teach the Orff curriculum, definitely get them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What All Teachers Should Learn from Jazz-band Teachers

What All Teachers Should Learn from Jazz-band Teachers

Here is a GREAT article. Good jazz programs, as well as other performance based arts programs, are preparations for a meaningful adult life, where one must show up on time, be professional, be prepared, work with others cooperatively and creatively, be judged and most importantly be inspired by something really fun. Other than sports, what other school environments provide such preparation for a satisfying adulthood? This is why I like selling instruments to grade school marimba bands, which under the direction of a good teacher provide this very brand of good learnin'.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Customer feedback is nice to receive:


I wanted to thank you for the instruments and working them into your
build schedule. First of all, they are beautiful! and they have a
great tone.

Secondly, the money that I received as a donation was from a woman who
is a parent at this school. She was diagnosed a year ago with stage 4
breast cancer that had matasticized.  It has since spread to her
bones, and they have just found the first signs of it in her blood.
She is 45 years old. She wanted to donate the money to the music
program to "do what ever I wanted with," because she was greatly
impacted by something she witnessed in my music program about four
years ago. Four years ago, I borrowed a complete set of your marimbas
from Carinn Ormson, a good friend of mine here in Vancouver. The
entire school took a month off of our "regular" curriculum and learned
all about the marimbas. We then performed by grade level for the
parents. She was blown away that students could make such beautiful
music. Buying these instruments with her donation seemed fitting
somehow. And, they arrived just in time. She has been given about a
month to live, and is being honored this Saturday night at the Relay
for Life dinner here in Washougal. We got many pictures with the kids,
and of their faces when they saw the instruments! (priceless!)

I want to thank you for the build, but also for creating a very
special gift for a great woman to give to these students. I should
also thank you for the gift that you allowed my students to give which
was that of great music.

Thank you again, Tom.
Bryn Scamahorn
Music Cape Horn-Skye Elementary

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to work

Back to work and on schedule now, I was out the past two weeks doing this:

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Nice logo for the New International School of Thailand Marimba Ensemble

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

This just in from our nation's capitol

Here's some footage from long-time teacher/customer Premila Mistry of E.L.Haynes Public Charter School in WA D.C. Watch out, the first piece may revive memories of your formative teen years!

The second piece really shows how big marimbas and traditional Orff instruments can be combined - a great jangly sound. Very impressive ensemble playing by this group, I think!

E.L Haynes Public Charter School directed by Premila Mistry

Friday, April 6, 2012

Just in from Terrace Heights Elementary

Teacher Doug Carey of Yakima, WA sent in this video of his student choir backing two local stars, Dance Illuminate. I love kid choirs in pop songs, reminds me a bit of Ray Steven's "Everything is Beautiful".

yes, hook lamps make GREAT microphones

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Island Dancing

Here's my guitar version of David Ruggiero's "Island Dancing", from his marimba collection "High Sticking"

Audio : Island Dancing by David Ruggiero

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Drink, Sing and Sail

Here's some good beer drinkin' music from Brent Holl. Well done.

click and listen

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plucking Instead of Bonking

Along with video auteur Izzy Corey I've been busy this last week filming a combination "how to" video and entertaining peek inside the shop for students. The plan is to provide the production with a background of popular marimba music - played for the in-shop sequences on guitars by me! Here is one snippet, hot off Garageband: Walt Hampton's classic "Nyoka" played on my Tacoma "Papoose" mini-guitar for 7 tracks, plus a track of my Taylor acoustic for the bass, plus harmonica atmospherics at the end. Sounds very Americana-ish:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ash Bari

Here's a newly complete Baritone with Ash bars. That's American grown, you know, the stuff they make baseball bats and Fender guitars out of. Sounds really good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More Painted Tubes

Maybe the best yet? From the collection of Val Barton Ellett:

Malleteers in Thailand

Last summer I shipped a batch of marimbas to the New International School of 
Thailand in Bangkok - here's the results, directed by David Cameron:
(the second tune is my fave - p.s. notice also how fast the stage is cleared post-performance!)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

More Tube Decorating

I wonder how this would work on a set of white tubes...

instructions here:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sowah Mensah Workshop - Bothell, March 17

Washington State clock hours available:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't Settle for Boring White Tubes!

I'd posted earlier about Heather Stoker's great Bass tubes:

Now here comes more painted tubes, from the collection of Val Barton Ellet:

The marimba was built by the Ellet clan. A veritable rainbow of colors.

Here is a set of Bourne Marimba tubes with tons of color, creatively 
dripped by one of Val Barton Ellet's 5th graders. WAY better than plain vanilla!

Chromatic Bass

Was cleaning up the office and came across these shots from several years back - a Chromatic Bass Marimba I built for a school in Federal Way, WA. These are a blast to play, makes you want to join a band. A real handful to set up and transport, with lots of odd parts to fit together!

Note the angled bass tubes, otherwise this unit would be 6 feet tall.

..... not sure the angle cut on the tubes for the sharps and flats was necessary, but it looks cool.

... kind of has an Art Nouveau look about it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Last Day in Antigua

Five Marimbas built and delivered in ten days and now one day off. First things first:

Rendevous Beach is reachable by boat or on foot (a mile walk). 
I had it all to myself all morning. Hard to leave a place when it is all your own.

Then, off to Island Academy to see the completed instruments in situ.

Teacher Gilly with her son Jack and friend Alex - natural musicians.

Some 5th graders with new Lowriders. Gilly says the new instruments are 
already having beneficial classroom effect.

Next, a late afternoon visit to Half Moon Beach, site of the only glitch in my visit. 
An unexpected wave stole my prescription shades! Fortunately this shot was taken 
BEFORE the event, thus it is in focus. The rest of the afternoon was an impressionistic painting. 

Two beaches in one day!

Afterward I bought pizza for all at Famous Mauro's. 
Best pizza this side of Village Pizza in Roslyn, Washington.

And finally, a parting message (click to expand):

this spotted on the road to Rendevous Beach.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Day at the Races

Started out with a hike along the bluff....

Yachts of various sizes and types congregate for the big race: The RORC 600, a 600 mile race that ranks as one of the world's most prestigious.

A buoy forms the starting line with the judges tent near our bluff. At 11AM the judges fire the cannon and off they go.

Four different classes leave at 10 minute intervals, from catamarans to the really big boys:

Click this shot for fuller size to see the furious onboard activity. The winners will be first to return to English Harbor in around 40 hours.

Monday, February 20, 2012


The 5th graders arrive
 Last Thursday was payday. That is to say the 5th graders from Island Academy paid a visit to the shop to see their newly completed Baritone.

First contact
The first instinct is to touch and tap the new instrument. Makes for a very interesting sound.

Everyone takes a turn
Following my demo and question answering, everyone gets a chance to try it out.

Post demo
 Apparently I and the instrument passed muster.

Afterwards, we posed with shop owner and parent Andrew.

One marimba down, four more to go.....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

You are correct Professor Corey!

Two thin panels glued together. Wrap in plastic, duct tape completely and pump out the air. (Subject's head cropped to protect privacy)

Two blue stars for you ...

if you can guess what these boat wrights at Woodstock Boats in Antigua are doing.