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Jim's Marimbas - Page 1

When I first studied for my Bachelor of Music at Adelaide University, I became absolutely fascinated with marimbas. I had only a small amount to do with them before, as my musical training through high school had mainly concentrated on timpani, snare drum, drum kit etc. The keyboard percussion instruments never featured prominently and I was not taught how to use four mallets. When I first started learning from James Bailey at Adelaide University, a whole new world seemed to open up before me. I got some help from my father, and purchased a 4 and 1/6 octave marimba from Mr. Bailey, who has been building instruments for quite a number of years now, that are easily equal to any on the retail market. It is this instrument (a very badly edited photo) that can be seen to the left.

By the time I reached my Honours year, I had written quite a lot of music for marimbas, but had become particularly fascinated with the lower notes. I thought about rigging up an extra four notes down the bottom end going down to bottom C, so I could play repertoire written for a five octave instrument. I talked to Jim Bailey (or JB as I call him) about this, and after much discussion, I finally decided on a whole instrument 2 and 1/3 octaves in range from Low E (as on a Double bass, 4 1/2 ledger lines below the bass stave) to G at the top of the bass stave. JB said he would make the bars for me, but did not want a thing to do with the rest of the instrument, so I pulled out some graph paper and got designing. Within four months My new "Boris the Bass Marimba" was finished.

"Boris" is built in such a way that he fits in very snugly square against the bottom end of my 4 and Octave and 1/6 instrument.

As you can see, the resonators form quite a maze of plumbing!
The layout and positioning of the resonators might seem a bit outlandish, but it really did seem to be the ONLY way to make them all fit. Conventional layouts just did not work at all. Part of the problem was that I required the low bars and resonators to be very wide so as to produce a really huge amplitude of sound. This is essential for low marimba bars, unlike any other instrument, because there are no upper partials that can be used by the human ear for psycho-acoustic pitch recognition. This means that the entire volume of the note must come from the fundamental.

The low bars on Boris are 9.8cm wide, 63cm long and the resonators are made from PVC pipe 100mm in diameter.

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