Tips to Ensure a Long-Lasting Instrument



Over the years, I have received numerous wooden xylophones with their bars battered so much that it was possible to get a splinter if you weren't careful when touching them.  Many times, xylophones suffer from the endless glissando scenario - the rapid dragging of a hard mallets across the bars over and over.  Every time the corner edge of the bar is hit with the mallet, a little piece of the grain fiber is weakened.  Depending on the degree of force and number of successive glissandos the fiber starts to separate from the grain.  Bars can become quite unsightly.


Organic wooden bar percussion instruments have mechanical and acoustic limitations that must be respected in order for long-term serviceability to be possible.


Why Bars Flatten in Pitch and Crack:


Use of Wrong Mallets - Metal, plastic, or wood mallets used on wooden marimba or xylophone bars are too hard for the bar's material.  They can exert pin-point stresses that are too aggressive for the bar's structure.  Hard mallets are reserved for metal bar percussion.  Hard rubber mallets may be used on wooden xylophone surfaces providing the playing touch is reserved.  Soft to Medium-level yarn-wound mallets are best for marimbas.


Excessive Playing Force - Players should never give into the temptation of beating the instrument simply to sound louder.  If the instrument is too soft within the ensemble, it should be amplified using a spread of microphones across the length of the instrument, and mixed for balance.


Careless Handling of the Instrument - The configuration of the marimba and xylophone causes their bars to extend beyond the confines and protection of the instrument's frame.  This exposure makes the instrument prone to damage from accidental bumping of the bars into door jambs or other fixed objects.  Bars can potentially break or become misaligned due to bending of the support pegs on the bar support rails.  Keep the bars clear of doorways and all objects when moving or transporting these instruments.


Exposure to Hostile Elements - Even protected wooden bars are influenced by the environment, especially with prolonged exposure which can severely degrade the quality of the instrument.  Avoid direct sunlight, moisture, and wide swings in temperature.

Play the instrument respectfully and with the correct mallets that relate to the specific instrument.

Resort to amplification when played with other louder or amplified instruments.

Keep the instrument protected with a soft covering when not in use.

Store the instrument in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.  

Strike the bars with objects other than the intended end of the mallet.

Pound the bars with excessive force.

Lay foreign objects directly on the bars.

Drop anything into the resonators.

Ram the instrument into doorways or objects when moving it around.

Expose the marimba to direct sunlight, humidity, rain, or extremes in temperature.