How a Marimba is Made
Choosing the material for, and cutting, the tone plates

A type of lumber called rosewood has long been used to make tone plates. This is a heavy tree harvested in Central and South America. Trees aged between 200 and 400 years are felled.
In addition to rosewood, a slightly reddish wood called African padauk is sometimes used. This wood is strong and projects sound well, making it well-suited as a material for tone plates.

Rosewood used in marimbas

Rosewood used in marimbas

Because the rosewood used to make tone plates is a natural material, its quality is not always uniform. The first thing that is important to do is to check the condition of the materials and choose the one that is best suited to making tone plates. With the marimba, it is better if the sound lingers for a while. Even at the raw-material stage, it is best if there is a long-lasting bonging sound when the material is struck, and that is the kind of material that should be chosen.

Once chosen, the material for the tone plates is cut to a predetermined size. The length of each tone plate is fixed. However, experience helps when it comes to deciding which part of the piece of material from which to take the tone plate. The sound is also better if the piece is cut out the long way, with the wood fibers running down straight along the bar. To the extent possible, the part located in the best position from the perspective of a craftsman is cut out: vertical grain, left-right symmetry for whatever grain there is, remove any knots in the wood, and so forth.

Material for tone plates being cut with the grain of the wood taken into account

Material for tone plates being cut with the grain of the wood taken into account

Once the material has been cut to the predetermined size, drill holes for passing through the instrument's cords in places that will not interfere with the vibrations of the fundamental tone. Because the wood is hard, the hole is drilled with a gimlet from either side. Everything up to this point has been a woodworking process.

Drilling holes in two places for running the cords through

Drilling holes in two places for running the cords through