Acoustic Instruments #1: Der Glockenspiel ist glockenspieling

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Blog entry by johnstoneb posted 05-14-2016 02:50 AM 856 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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My grandson starts kindergarten this fall and the school he will be going to has a student Marimba band. My daughter asked if I could build a Marimba after looking around and finding pictures of one. I told her I would give it a try. I like the sound and it looks pretty simple to build.
I ordered plans for one from They also had a plan on how to make the mallets (commercial mallets start at $50 and rapidly climb into outer space. It was discounted to half price and included a free glockenspiel plan. I got the plans and found they had to be translated from australian english to US english. After reading everything a couple of times, I thought it might be a good idea to build the glockenspiel first. It was much smaller, simpler and looked easier to tune.
The first step was to build a frame and drill it for the the key seperators and retainers. These were #4 screws and 1/4” vinyl tubing. This is where the trouble began. I got in a hurry and drilled the screw holes with a hand drill and was a little sloppy with my spacing.

I got everything screwed in cut the keys to length from 1/8×3/4” aluminum bar and tried to tune. Didn’t work some of the screw were too close to the bars and wouldn’t let them vibrate properly. Time to quit for the day and have a beer.
I had enough cherry prepped that I could build another frame, that I did and used the drill press and stops to space the holes this time.

It will tune now. To tune the keys you grind or sand material foo the bottom center of the bar until you get to the prober note. I only had to burn my fingers once or twice to come up with a stop block and backer board for the keys. Aluminum gets hot in a hurry.

Tuning was an education in itself. I can’t tell one note from another. I had an electronic tuner and it was easy to use. I found that the bars did not always tune in a linear manner but would be all over the place before it finally would come in on the note. I did a couple of bars then quit and went to an Ada County Woodworkers meeting that evening and had a long question and answer session with one of the guitar makers. I found I was doing everything right. I spent yesterday and today tuning and finally finished and polished the keys. It actually sounds in tune to my lead ear and the tuner says they are in tune.

This is a paint roller that chucked into my lathe and used with the tripoli and rouge to polish the keys works fairly well and only gets a little compound on your shirt and pants next I’ll put on an apron.

They polished out nicely get the in the sunlight and the flash is blinding.

I guess I will have to start accumulating the materials for the marimba. I think I will use a cherry frame on that. On one of the commercial marimba sites a cherry frame is a $450 upgrade. There might be $50 of cherry in the entire frame. I will use paduak for the keys that will make for an orange shop.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

6 comments so far

View htl's profile


2015 posts in 579 days

#1 posted 05-14-2016 03:11 AM

Now that is out standing and just plain purdy.
Get some one to record us a tune. lol

-- There's a hundred ways to do anything, alot depends on the tools at hand.

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1720 posts in 1389 days

#2 posted 05-14-2016 10:20 AM

Very very nice work John. And as a music teacher myself, thanks for supporting music in schools. You have made your grandson a very happy kid

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View crowie's profile


1404 posts in 1370 days

#3 posted 05-14-2016 10:57 AM

Nice that’s a beautiful sounding piece of woodwork Bruce…
I hope you can do a video of the finish project being played, please…

-- Lifes good, Enjoy each new day...... Cheers from "On Top DownUnder" Crowie

View htl's profile


2015 posts in 579 days

#4 posted 05-14-2016 01:36 PM

It would be fun to hear your grand son and his class getting down with some tunes. lol

-- There's a hundred ways to do anything, alot depends on the tools at hand.

View JoeinGa's profile


7366 posts in 1426 days

#5 posted 05-14-2016 01:53 PM

You are going to do the Marimba as a blog, right? So we can follow along on the build?

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View johnstoneb's profile


2104 posts in 1592 days

#6 posted 05-14-2016 03:29 PM

Yes I will blog it probably be this fall. after the whitewater and fishing slows down.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

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