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Which Timber for Marimba Bars #1 - (Discussions with Kristi Grotheer)

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-----Original Message-----
    Sent: 13/04/04 3:15:39 AM
    Subject: wood for marimba keys
I am beginning work on my first attempt at building a marimba. I found what I was told by the lumber store owner to be rosewood and purchased it for the keys. The keys (for a 4 1/3 oct.)are cut to size but now I am concerned because I have learned that the wood is not actually rosewood but mordillo or bolivian rosewood. The botanical name is machaerium schleroxylon. How will the acoustical qualities of this wood compare with real rosewood? I feel a bit stupid that I trusted the store owner to know this is not the "rosewood" that we needed when we told him we were building a marimba. This is a store for woodworkers and the guy has dealt with exotic woods for years so I suspect he knew better. We've spent the money and a lot of time already but might go back to him before putting the time into tuning the bars if this wood is not going to result in a decent product.

Thanks for sharing your know-how with the public. What info my husband and I have found on the subject is limited and often too technical. Your articles are well written and very helpful. Have you written any books on the subject of marimba building?

I hope you have an answer for me. This is a fun project and I'm so anxious to play my marimba!

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Hi Kristi.....

I'm not going to be very helpful I'm afraid as I'm not at all an expert on timbers. A guy here in Adelaide called Jim Bailey has made a whole bunch of marimbas - real commercial quality - and some of his more recent ones used other types of rosewood. They sounded really great - pretty much indistinguishable from the Honduras rosewood. (Dalbergia stevensonii). Perhaps the differences if any were more to do with hardness and weight, which can also be important. I'm not sure about this particular timber that you have, but my advice would be to tune up a bar or two to see how they sound. Maybe pick a high note and a low note. Having cut the timber to size already, you will already have an idea about hardness and weight, and probably basic sound as well. Higher notes will depend more on the timber type for sound, and lower notes will depend more on the timber's basic qualities such as hardness and flexibility.

I have heard of Mordillo a few times before in relation to marimbas, so it bodes well. I suspect it will be the goods, but try it I guess to find out.

I haven't written any books on the subject, preferring to publish freely online, and have only really heard of one guy who has. He emailed me recently - so I'll ask him if its ok to pass his details on. Really its pretty simple stuff though once you get the basic ideas - its more about the practice than the theory.

Update! - Since this email Jim has written several Books about Marimba Building.
Hope this is at all helpful...
Jim McCarthy

Jim Reccomends for comprehensive blueprints and building guides to make your own marimbas.

answers by Jim MCCarthy - 02/03/2005

For more help on instrument building you can email Jim.

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