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amplifying a marimba without resonators - Discussions with Jon

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-----Original Message-----
From: Jon
Sent: 27 October 2009
Subject: amplifying a marimba without resonators
Hi Jim,

Thanks a million for all the info on your site - it's been a great help to me while building my own 5-octave padauk concert marimba (which is due for completion sometime next decade at the rate I'm going.... :)

Have you had any experience with pickup systems on a marimba? Before finalising the design of my marimba frame I'm considering making allowances for some kind of pickup/amplification system, so that just the bars and frame can be carried to gigs on my bike, leaving the resonators at home. It would probably be used on stage near loud bass amps / drums etc, so whatever pickup system I use needs to be able to get a decent level from the marimba bars without picking up too much extraneous noise.

I know that omittimg the resonators is very problematic, but would like to know if it's possible to still get a semi-decent sound using only bars + pickups. Perhaps the sound could be EQed and processed somehow to amplify and give more sustain to the fundamental? Could you recommend any manufacturers who may make pickups that are suitable? Or do you know of any performers who have had any success with something like this?



Hi Jon - wow! A Five octave on a bike?? Even without resonators that would be a sight to see!

Firstly - you may be interested in my own recently finished 5 octave marimba for some ideas.

Secondly - yes I have used marimbas with pickups before and people like Frank Zappa used them quite successfully in loud stage settings. Most commonly it is simply a matter of a $2 piezo transducer being glued to the bottom of each bar at one end. Each is then wired to a common rail which goes along the timber support struts. Usually for a five octave marimba you would divide it into sections so that all the notes were not eq'd the same. There is also the matter of getting the impedances correct etc, but I'm not an expert in electronics so you would need to do some google work on appropriate circuits etc. You find that the top octaves can be amplified fairly flat with just a hint of low shelf boost in the octave of the fundamentals - the bottom couple of octaves really need strong fundamental support, as this is where the resonator really comes into play normally - the lower the pitch, the more fundamental support is needed from the amplification. Years ago you could get piezos from Dick Smith or Jaycar - I'm not sure now, but it might be worth a try.

Jim McCarthy

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answers by Jim MCCarthy - 28/02/2008

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