-- Frequently Asked Question
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         Frequently Asked Questions

Gerry's Notes: These questions and answers, for the most part, come directly off of the postings on the
Message Board. I would like this section to be much more comprehensive, and if anyone is interested in
helping out even just a little, please e-mail me for more information. Thank you. (2/4/00)

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I want to study (am studying) the vibraphone. Could you tell me the names of some (technique, exercise, etude, repertoire) books that could help me out?

  2. Where do I get (belts, felt, parts, etc.) for my vibraphone?

  3. How do I wrap my own mallets?


  1. I want to study (am studying) the vibraphone. Could you tell me the names of some (technique, exercise, etude, repertoire) books that could help me out?

    Here is a partial listing of books geared toward the vibraphonist:

    • Modern School for Xylophone, Marimba, Vibraphone; by Morris Goldenberg; Chappell & Co., Inc.; 1950.
    • Rubank Intermediate Method: Marimba-Xylophone-Vibes; by Art Joliff; Rubank, Inc.; 1954.
    • Introduction to Jazz Vibes; by Gary Burton; Creative Music; 1965.
    • Vibraphone Technique: Dampening and Pedaling; by David Friedman; Berklee Press Publications; 1973.
    • Solos for the Vibraphone Player; ed. by Ian Finkel; G. Schirmer, Inc.; 1973.
    • Vibraphone Technique: Four Mallet Chord Voicing; by Ron Delp; Berklee Press Publications; 1975.
    • New Vibe Real Book; by Arthur Lipner; Malletworks Music. This book was highly recommended by college student and Vibenetter Russell Phaneuf.
    • Mallet Control; by George Lawrence Stone. (Two-mallet book.)
    • The Art and Language of Jazz Vibes; by Jon Metzger; EPM Publications.; 1998?

    I know these are not the only books out there, so I invite Vibenetters to e-mail me with information on other books. Also, if anyone has a specific recommendation, comment, or brief summary on any of the above (or other) books, send that along, too, and maybe we'll post a few.

  2. Where do I get (belts, felt, parts, etc.) for my vibraphone?

    • The main (and only?) vibraphone 'spot' in the U.S. is:
      Century Mallet Instrument Service
      1770 W. Berteau Ave.
      Chicago, Illinois 60613
      ph.# (773) 248-7733
    • The guys at Musser told me to go pick up a 1/8" x 5 3/4" O-ring from a local hardware or electrical supply shop for my M55. Just in case you're not from the U.S., those (") marks means inches, and you'll have to convert those values over into S.I. units. But this works great as a belt and is very cheap (cheaper than if you order the replacement belt from Musser, which is the exact same thing) -- Wayne Clemmons
    • You can use rubber seals found in hydraulic repairs shop. It is inexpensive and many sizes are available. -- Robert Pelletier
    • Try your local electrical (NOT electronic) parts store. - Jack Fanning
    • About 10 years ago I had custody of a friend's Deagan that needed new damper felt. I went to the local music store and bought a couple of yards of piano damper material and some glue. It worked fine, and still works, although he doesn't play as much as he did then. -- Jack Fanning
    • As a quick fix for my Jenco vibes, I bought some 1" wide weather stripping felt from a hardware supply mega-store and glued it on top of the pre-existing, compacted felt. -- Gerry Grosz

  3. How do I wrap my own mallets?

    (The following was from an amazing posting by Vince Hyman.)


    I wrap my own mallets. Whether it's worth the time is a question only you can answer after you've done it. The advantage (outside of saving money) is that you can make mallets that get the sound YOU want.

    You will need a set of upholstery needles--the curved ones--which you can find at a fabric store. For wrapping material, you must experiment to get the sound and wear you want. In general, kite string is very long wearing but results in more "contact" sound on impact. Softer yarns and more wrap (and looser wrap) yield less contact sound, more pure note sound, but wear out faster. Go to a yarn store and test yarns by stretching them tightly and rubbing your thumbnail across them. You will quickly see which yarns wear out easily and which are more durable. Also, look for yarns that are very thin rather than the thick bulky ones (although these can also produce wonderful sounds).

    To wrap the mallet, start with a loose end of yarn and make a slip knot about 30 inches from the end of it. Slip this over the mallet handle, right up to the mallet, and pull it snug. You will need to keep the 30 inches of yarn dangling down while you wrap the mallet. To wrap, pull the yarn tightly and simply wrap it over the top of the mallet but NOT directly over the top--just slightly off center. (Imagine that the mallet shaft extends through the top of the mallet and you are wrapping around it.) You do this becuase you are going to leave a small opening at the top of your mallet-- look at the mallets you've got now and you'll see what I mean. There's usually sort of a hole at the top. Anyway, you continue wrapping around the mallet, always a bit off-center, trying to keep the same amount of tension on the yarn. Count each wrap, because you will need to wrap the other mallets the same number of times to get the same sound from them. For kite string, I used to use about 170 wraps. The wrapping itself doesn't take long--maybe 3-5 minutes per mallet AFTER you get the hang of it. (Your first few will be frustrating and slow, believe me.)

    After you've built up enough yarn (more on this later), it's time to tie off the mallet and sew it down. Stop your wrapping by ending at the joint of the mallet shaft and ball. Tie it around the shaft very snugly twice. Cut it off, leaving about 20"-30". Now, this is where the curved upholtery needle comes in. You are going to have to sew a circle around both the small "mouth" you left at the top of the mallet and in a concentric circle about 1/4" down from the top mallet. If you don't, the whole thing will come unraveled when you play! Thread the yarn through the curved needle. Sew the little "mouth" at the top by pushing the needle through the hole and out through the wrappings. The first one actually brings one last wrap up the mallet, so snug it very tight. Repeat this, sewing around the entire "mouth." This helps anchor the wrappings at the very top of the mallet. Next, keeping the same length of yarn--which is now down to about 15"--you need to sew the concentric circle about 1/4" from the top. Look at how your store bought mallets are made and emulate that. You stich under about 3 or 4 strands of yarn, pull up, make a loop, pull it snug, and continue around the mallet until you complete the circle. (This keeps the yarn from shifting back and forth on the mallet ball while you play). To finish off, thread the yarn back through the top "mouth" a few times and tie it off. Snip the yarn.

    You're not done yet!! Remember the loose 20" at the bottom of the mallet from when you started? You now repeat the previous few steps at the bottom of the mallet, stitching first around the yarn where it raps around the shaft of the mallet, similar to the way you did for the top "mouth." After that's done, you stitch a concentric circle about 1/4" up from the bottom, just as you did at the top of the mallet. After completing that, stitch the remaining thread through the bottom of the mallet and tie it off.

    Repeat for the remaining 3 mallets.

    These things affect mallet tone:
    1. Hardness of the ball at the core of the mallet. The softer core produces more fundamental, less overtone. Harder core gives more overtones, masking the fundamental pitch. You can experiment with differnt cores, ranging from large wooden macrame beads to soft rubber test tube stoppers. The roundness of the core also affects tone. In general, the more material that touches the bar, the more dampening of sound. A certain amount is good, because it prevents too many harsh overtones and produces more fundamental pitch. But too much gives you a dead sound.
    2. The number of wraps--more wraps soften the hardness, but too many give you a thuddy sound. This happens because the mallet wrapping is so soft it's squashing against the bar, staying in contact long enough to deaden the sound.
    3. The wrapping material. The more fuzz, the richer the tone, because the fuzz dampens the overtones, just like a loose wrap.

    I spent many years experimenting with different wraps, core materials, and so forth. I also used to wear out my wrappings alot, becuase I played in a lot of noisy situations. I've since shifted my playing style and rarely play on jobs where I need to bang. Mallet wear has decreased noticeably!

    I hope these instructions are clear. Study the way the mallets you now have are made, and you can pretty much figure this out on your own. That's how I did it. Only you can decide whether it's worth your time. For me, the years of experimentation was part of my development as a vibist.

    Addendum -- More info from postings about mallet-making.

    • My experience with wrapping tells me that if you have a commercial model that you really like, you'll never be happy trying to match it at home. It's too hard to match cores, yarn, wraps, and wrapping tension. I use the Balter cord wound models and Balter has a great re-wrapping service that costs $15 per pair (around 50% off) -- most other companies have similar programs. -- Brett Reed
    • Where to find supplies? I bought alot of rattan shafts a long time ago from a place located in Hoboken, New Jersey -- it may have been called the rattan & wicker supply. I got the address and phone by going to a local place that sold supplies for chair caning and wicker repair, and made friends with them. They gave me the name of the place. For birch mallets, just go to any hardware store.
      For cores, try a surplus store--most cities have places that buy all kinds of unneeded industrial stuff. A friend bought a bunch of cores from Deagan years back, and then gave them to me, so I can't be of more help there. However, maybe you could get Mike Balter or one of the other makers to part with some, or contact Lone Star Percussion in Texas, and they might be able to get some for you. -- Vince Hyman

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