Frequently Asked Questions about Making Marimbas, Xylophones and Vibraphones…
Do I need special wood or metal for the bars?
The great thing about these projects is that they will work for you, no matter what wood you have available - or in the case of the vibraphone and glockenspiel they will work really well with standard metal stock which is inexpensive and easy to get hold of in most parts of the world.
Concert quality marimbas are usually made from Honduras Rosewood or African padauk, and obviously the better wood you have access to the better instrument you’ll be able to make. However you can make these instruments from just about any hardwood (eg, Durian or Meranti).
How much will the materials Cost?
This depends on which instruments you are building, and also on where you live. All of these instruments though are designed to use nothing but inexpensive materials which are commonly available in your average hardware store.
but here is a rough guide to materials cost for the various instruments.
Simple Glockenspiel - $20
P1 Xylophone - $33
P2 Mini-Marimba - $250
P3 Marimba - $400
P524 Marimba - $1700 (for full five octave version using African Padauk bars)
PV Vibraphone - $600
And if you wish to make a better quality instrument you can of course invest in a better quality wood, such as Rosewood. This will cost you a few hundred dollars, but will still be way less than purchasing a real concert instrument.
Does the plans include both Metric and Imperial Measurements?
YES! All the plans include both imperial (feet and inches) and metric (millimetres) measurements.
Do I need to be good at woodworking to achieve this?
Absolutely not! I’m not a carpenter - I’m a musician. Most of the skills required are fairly basic woodwork – measuring, cutting and sanding.
Even if you’ve hardly ever picked up a hammer or a saw in your life I’m confident that you’ll be able to achieve a workable instrument using these plans. Of course I've picked up a few clues over my time designing and building instruments, but I've put all the important construction tips in the package for you.
Do I need lots of expensive tools?
Absolutely not! All of the tools you will need are common houshold tools.
- An electric drill with a sanding attachment
- A screwdriver
- A wood saw
- A small hammer
- Sandpaper and sanding discs
- Rivet Gun
Plus a few other bits and pieces commonly found around the garage!
Do I need any special tuning equipment?
Obviously the better your tuning, the better yoiur instrument will sound. It IS possible to tune a marimba purely by ear, but at least a basic electronic tuner is highly recommended. Any chromatic tuner will do the job, and you can get a really basic electronic tuner from any music store for around $50, or simply borrow one from a friend to get the job done! These tuners are incredibly common – nearly all professional musicians or music teachers either own one or have a friend who owns one.
BUT... if you don’t have access to one, don’t worry – as I’ve included a full set of sine waves (clear and clean tones) that you can use to tune the notes by ear. If you have a musical ear it is really easy to do it this way.
If you want to make life even easier, and get a fully professional tuning result, Peterson make tuning software you can buy online for less than $100 USD - which is PERFECT. All these various options are thoroughly discussd in the building guide.
Is my homemade instrument going to sound as good as commercially available instruments?
The short answer: It certainly can do!
Of course if you are saving extra money by using a cheaper timber for the bars then you can't expect them to sound like one of the traditional timbers used for marimbas. And of course the final sound will also depend on the care and precision with which you make and tune your bars. BUT... particularly with the P524 or PV guide which are designed for fully professional instrumets - ALL the information you need to make your marimba or vibraphone sound exactly like a commercial one, is supplied in your building guides.
Does it matter what the resonators are made out of?
This is definitely one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding for most people.
The fact is that it makes very little difference!
Comercial instrument manufacturers will often TALK about the sounds of different resonator materials - they want to make their instruments seem more special - BUT have you EVER seen anybody publish an actual audio comparison?
and think about it......The resonator's job is to amplify the sound – and it does this by containing a column of air which is the correct size to resonate when sound waves from the bar enter it.
So... does the column of air really care what is containing it? or does it even know? Remember it’s the column of air that is vibrating.. not the container, so what it's made from really makes very little difference!
and I've heard people argue that certain materials are a little harder and reflect sound better than others - well this is true... but here's the thing...
Extra hard metals etc only make a difference at quite high frequencies - the frequencies way above the range of the vibraphone. Only the upper harmonics of the vibraphone are in this frequency range - and guess what... these upper harmonics are actually tuned to NOT resonate in the tubes!!!
The plans included for this instrument use PVC pipe for the resonators because:
- They are lightweight
- They are inexpensive
- They are easy to work with
- They don’t require heavy duty hardware to hold them in place
And you can get PVC pipe at just about any hardware store, as it is usually used for drainpipes around just about any home! Of course - if you really want to use different materials for your resonators, there's absolutely nothing stopping you. The building guide still tells you how to get the result you are after.
Do I have to wait for anything to be shipped to me?
Absolutely not! You have instant access to the e-books and videos via download, so that you can get started immediately. The plans print out in Adobe Acrobat Reader (which nearly every computer already has installed).