A special thanks goes to the following colleagues for guiding and inspiring me over the years to seek better understanding and achievement in bass marimba design.

John Bergamo, Cal-Arts World Percussion Instructor, trying out Chris's Contra-Bass Marimba.

John Bergamo (1940 – 2013)

Founder of the Percussion Program at Cal-Arts


(1975) Follow Your Drives and Imagination -  John thought my ideas on instrument design had merit.  He encouraged me to keep designing and building experimental percussion instruments.  At the time Cal-Arts had offered three music program categories: Performance, Composition and Arranging, and General Music.   John sponsored me and petitioned the Cal-Arts Music Dept. to open a fourth category of music exploration for musical instrument technical studies

Del Roper showing Chris Banta the importance of harmonic tuning in marimba bars.
(L to R) Claire Musser, Del Roper, Del's son Richard, and Chris Banta

Daleth (Del) Roper (1905 - 2004)

Master marimba designer, builder, performer, and Carillonneur.


(1979) Sharing Tech Info and Tid Bits - Del understood the mechanics and engineering of marimba bar design and tuning.  The first thing he told me was to acquire a mechanical-rotating disc strobe tuner.  You have to see the pitch in order to know how sharp or flat you are during the tuning process.

The other critical part is in knowing how much material to remove in the precise location that aligns with the harmonic structure of the bar's pitch.  Tuning the fundamental (or primary) pitch alone won't do it.  The (upper) harmonics are equally as important.

Ivor Darreg - Xenharmonic/Microtonal music specialist
Ivor Darreg - Upright piano on fire as a "Down with 12 Tone" protest
Ivor Darreg on the cover of Interval magazine

Ivor Darreg (1917 – 1994)

An American composer and leading proponent of microtonal or "xenharmonic" music. He also created a series of experimental musical instruments.

(1979) Endless Building of Instruments - In the little amount of time I knew Ivor, I learned that he had incredible knowledge in how musical instruments and systems worked, and he became my primary learning source.  As I peppered him with the musical what and why questions, he delivered on every one of them to my amazement. 

All around his house and yard were metal tube xylophones each sounding a particular scale. These all demonstrated his level of understanding.  His ability to make instrument after instrument impressed me, because each project provided me with a new learning opportunity and generally with amusing and captivating results.  This was my first exposure to microtonal (greater than 12 notes per octave).  The sound was quite amazing and very different from our chromatic system.

I also learned that Ivor had a lot of supporters and detractors.  In part, this was due to his dislike of the 12-tone equal tempered (Western) scale, and his constant "down with 12-tone" ranting both verbally and in writing.  He basically felt all of the scale's intervals were not harmonically pure.  His belief was by further slicing up the spaces within our 12-tone system into 19-tone, 24-tone, 31-tone, etc. he could create intervals (two notes played simultaneously) that sounded more in tune.

Ivor also wrote an amazing amount of work on microtonal scales and was regularly featured in Interval magazine,

Emil Richards performing on one of Chris's bass Marimbas.
Emil Richards shown of the cover of a "percussive notes" journal with Chris's bass marimba.
Chris Banta - Bass Flapamba

Emil Richards (1932 –  2019)

Regarded as Mr. World of Percussion due to his worldy travels to acquire many types of ethnic, cultural, and traditional instruments.  Probably the premiere percussionist having wide-ranging performance expertise in worldly percussion instruments.  Worked extensively in Hollywood in the motion picture and recording industries.


(1980) Encourage Refinement - Having met Emil through NAMM, he wanted one of my bass marimbas, but with additional range and to be able to split into two parts (naturals and accidentals) for ease of portability for the cartage companies.  The two-octave "extended bass marimba" was designed to provide additional range.  (<--Instrument is shown on the cover of a 1980's issue of "percussion arts")

In 2009 Emil insisted I build him a Bass Flapamba - an unusual instrument in which the bars were suspended over resonators from a single point - like a diving board.  This certainly took me out of my comfort zone of marimba construction in which the bars are normally suspended from two points where the nodes of the fundamental or 1st harmonic are located.  Emil had a tenor flapamba that was originally built by M. Brent Sewell.  This provided some insights into the design, but didn't provide much help into the bass region where the functioning flapamba bars proved to be very stubborn in their willingness to function as desired.  The solution was ultimately revealed in how the lower pitched bars needed to be anchored into the body of the instrument in such a way that their energy wasn't absorbed or diminished by the support structure.  (Go to wikipedia marimba and scroll down to the flapamba header for more information.) 

Composer, David Ahlstrom (standing) performing on a Chris Banta bass marimba (ala Orff).
Chris's various bar percussion instruments being used at Lick-Wilberding High School, San Francisco.

David Ahlstrom (1927 - 1992)

Mr. Ahlstrom composed The Bishop's Horse, which features Chris's Extended Bass Marimba (which was the sister instrument to the one Emil Richards had).


(1980) Staying Excited - David was like a cheerleader for my instrument projects and acted like a kid at Christmas time around them whenever he came down from San Francisco to Pasadena for a visit.  He inspired me to experiment and take my instrument designs to the "next level."  Besides composing for them he was also a supporter and provider of many of my percussion instruments to the music program at San Francisco's Lick-Wilberding High School.

John Schneider, of Partch LA, tries his hand on the just completed Marimba Eroica.
Partch LA performing at REDCAT in Los Angeles, in June 2013.
Boo-FrontView-percussion instrument has 64 tuned tubes using the 43-tone per octave scale.
Boo-Rear View-percussion instrument has 64 tuned tubes using the 43-tone per octave scale.

John Schneider

Director of Partch LA - His group performs compositions written by Harry Partch; an iconoclast who designed and performed his own self-made instruments built around the 43-tones (per octave) equal tempered scale.


(2012-13) Continue to Learn by Doing - Your skills and confidence really gets put to the test when someone comes along and asks you to build a Marimba Eroica.  The demands and desires of the Harry Partch songbook must have been pressing  John Schneider to obtain just that instrument.  Although, I had acquired many years of knowledge in designing bass marimbas, the effort this project required had put my abilities on display to deliver.  The real challenge was the verification and proof that the Eroica's lowest note, of the four pitches, (F-22Hz!) was actually functioning.  Clearly this frequency is below our human ability to hear it as an actual tone.  But, hanging tools rattling on the walls, every time that low bar was struck, was a very convincing proof and reassuring sign that the pitch was in fact working.

In 2017, Chris was called into service again to help in the design and construction of a "boo" project.  In this context "boo" refers to Harry's original "bamboo" instrument that consisted of several tuned bamboo  tubes.  Each had a vibrating tongue that was struck with sticks to cause resonance.  In following Harry's musical system, this new instrument also required 43-tones to the octave.  The range of this instrument is one-and-a-half octaves which makes a total of 64 tubes.  Natural bamboo was not used.  Instead, the tubes are a structural linen-based phenolic composite, which is literally indestructible.

© 2018 by Chris Banta


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