By: Spatula Tzar

Spatula & Sickle

I started playing mallet instruments back in primary school, and fell in love with the marimba. I wanted one of my own, but they are expensive, costing thousands of dollars. I didn't exactly want to spend such a large sum on an instrument, so I built one myself.

My marimba

Glorious, isn't it? Two meters long, one meter wide, one meter tall, three and a half octaves. Excuse the pipes hanging off the upper octave; they're for my next instrument.

Another image

The bars are made of padouk, an Indonesian hardwood. Padouk is chosen for its musical properties, producing rich resonant tones. It is a second choice to the rosewoods, but scarcity and price prevented their use.

Closeup of the bars

To tune the notes, the underside of the bars are carved out. Care must be taken so as not to remove too much wood, but overtuning can be corrected by carving near the ends of the bar.

The resonators

Sound is produced by the bars, but the marimba owes its distinctive sound to the resonators. Only the column of air is important, so the resonators can be made out of any material. I chose steel conduit for its price. The hardware store was practically giving it away.

The ends were sealed by inserting PVC endcaps, and the air columns were tuned to the proper volume. Galvanized steel isn't the prettiest metal to look at, so I painted the pipes silver.

Side view

The frame is made of solid oak from an old table, with cedar trimmings. I'm rather tall, so the height can be adjusted by the silver bolts on the sides. Casters greatly increase mobility.

Mallet instruments can accommodate two people, often playing with four mallets each, hence my collection. I've even started building my own mallets.

Top angle

Many non-percussionists are daunted by the layout of the bars, but it's really the same as a piano's. Thus most music translates well, albeit with some loss in chords. The unique look and tone of the marimba is more than enough to compensate for any shortcomings.


"Wow, that's amazing Ms. Tzar, but how does it sound?" Well, why don't you listen for yourself? The recording doesn't do justice in capturing the bass resonance, but at least it gives you an idea of what it sounds like.

~~Spatula Tzar

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