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'.