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Homemade Mallets

Once I started making bars for the bass marimba, I was faced with the inadequacy of the mallets I had, which were really meant for a bass xylophone. But appropriate mallets were expensive! So I improvised. We used superballs and various types of rods, using a hand drill and/or a drill press to carve the hole in the balls. Here are some pictures of mallets we have made:

Bass Xylophone Mallets

These were the ones that we had originally for the bass xylophone. I made them because we needed more bass xylophone mallets. These are large superballs with 1/4" plexiglass rods for handles. They worked pretty well for the school's bass xylophone, but they made the bars bounce too much, and the sound was soft on the higher bars. They sounded good on the bass marimba; however, the handles were too long and flimsy - they broke every now and then.

So these were our next attempt - mallets specifically for the bass marimba. These are large superballs with 1/2" hardwood dowel rods for handles, cut 9" long. The shorter dowel rod handles were a hit (no pun intended) with the kids. They sounded pretty good on the bass marimba, except for a slightly "smacky" impact sound. However, the dowel rod required a 1/2 inch hole, and drilling that much out of the ball would quite often split it, or at least start cracks forming. My kids pounded these mallets to bits in about six months.

Bass Marimba Mallets, unwrapped

Bass Marimba Mallets, wrapped

So I got some books and magazine articles and some yarn, and wrapped my first bass marimba mallets. These are superballs with 1/2 inch dowel rods, as above, but they have been wrapped with acrylic yarn to give the balls more support and to soften the sound. These are still under trial in my classroom, but so far the kids like them a lot. They are heavier than the superballs, but not a lot; and they sound much better. Another refinement we tried was to bore out the hole in the rubber ball by hand, using a drill bit meant for carving things out. It took longer, but the ball didn't split nearly as much, nor did the rubber shavings melt during the drilling.
Encouraged by my mallet-wrapping success, I decided to rewrap some other mallets that had come unravelled. These are alto xylophone mallets that had originally come with a crocheted yarn covering. Eventually that wore off, and the rubber interiors were exposed, making the bars bounce too much when playing. So this picture shows my first rewrapping attempt for professionally made mallets. So far, they're holding together, and the bars bounce less.

alto xylophone mallets, rewrapped

alto xylophone mallets from car parts

Here are some other alto mallets that I made as an experiment. The handles are 1/2" dowel rods, 12 inches long; the heads of the mallets are made from rubber bushings (auto parts) that I got from Napa Auto Parts. (part #265-1204) They sound fine, but they make the bars bounce a bit too much. My next step will be to wrap these mallets and see what happens.
This is actually a picture of some wooden glockenspiel mallets that I bought, not made; but it would be very easy to create these using wooden beads from the craft store, dowel rods, and some glue. These mallets were so cheap that I decided I'd rather just buy them; but if you want to save money, you'll get more mallets for the same amount of money if you make them.

wooden glock mallets

Other mallet ideas: if you have rototoms, those fuzzy mallets get frayed pretty fast with all those little fingers picking at them! Kevin Lepper, a well-known percussionist and teacher in the Chicago area, suggests taking old panty hose and covering the tops of the mallets with the netting! Use a rubber band around the top of the stick to hold the netting over the ball.

If you have any ideas or thoughts to contribute, please share them! The feedback section of this site has a place to send in ideas of your own. Make sure you include your name, so I can credit you. Or you can email me at bonnysu@outback.chi.il.us .

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