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How Do I Make a Marimba?

Woodworking skills are needed to make a marimba.
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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2014
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A marimba is an instrument that originated in Africa, and is generally a type of xylophone. You can build one if you have the musical and woodworking skills, and there are various kinds that can have different numbers of octaves. First, you typically need to choose the type of wood for the instrument’s bars, which are the parts that are played on. Cutting tools and drills are often used in to make a marimba, while a cord or string connects the notes. Other things that are usually needed are wood or metal tubes for the resonators, along with materials to build a frame for the instrument.

The bars are often made of rosewood, but wood from Africa and Southeast Asia, called padauk, can be used as well. Some plastic or fiberglass materials may also be used for making this part of the instrument. Each bar must be cut, and this is usually the first step when you make a marimba. Depending on the type, the bars can form a chromatic musical scale that may span several octaves, or a pentatonic, diatonic, or modal scale. Simple instruments sometimes span just a few notes.

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A drill is typically used to make a hole at the ends of each bar. Each is tuned by cutting away at the bottom edge to form a curve. The note and tuning of each sequential bar is slightly different from the one next to it, so this can be a challenge if you are not skilled in music and woodworking. There are websites that list the appropriate length, width, and thickness of each bar when you make a marimba of specific types.

Once each bar is cut, then a cord or thick string is used to link up all the notes. Pass the cord through the upper holes and then the lower ones; this process is typically done twice. Aluminum or brass tubes are usually needed to build a resonator when you make a marimba. You can then build the frame, which generally has the hooks or posts which the cord winds around, and then the resonators, with bars on top, can be added. The bars are usually attached to the frame with the cord, which you can tie into a knot at one end of the instrument.

Some marimbas can be either box- or pipe-resonated. The scale can vary depending on the type of instrument; when you make a marimba, it can include the number of octaves you want it to have. One type uses plastic pipe for resonation, while another may allow storage of beaters and other percussion elements inside of it.

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