Intro to the 5 Octave Marimba Project

Hi all – Jim McCarthy here – designer and builder of percussion keyboard instruments.

YOU can build your own marimba, vibraphone, xylophone or glockenspiel. My design philosophy is to create instruments that are as good as commercial ones, but which require NO special tools or materials. You can see some of the the other instruments and materials I’ve produced at the home page here at

THIS blog is going to be a step by step following of the building of the latest design – the P4to5 Marimba. Its a professional quality concert marimba which can be built to any range from four to five octaves. I’m going to build the full 5 octave version.

Unlike the other building projects which were built quite quickly, this one I am going to do more gradually because I’m just so busy this entire year and have little in the way of continuous blocks of time to spend on it. So this blog is designed to keep you all up to date on my progress. Of course at the end of the project there will be a fully detailed building guide available with all the info required for you to build your OWN concert marimba.

The designs have been in development for several months and are basically sketched out – so the first major step was to purchase the timber for the bars. The traditional best choice for marimba bars has always been Honduras Rosewood (Dalbergia Stevensonii) but it is really difficult to get hold of here in Australia. As it is no nonget legal to import it into the country it is down to what you can find already here – not much! – and it is REALLY expensive. As it happened the was a specialist timber yard locally who had a reasonable amount of African Padauk in stock – the SECOND best timber choice traditionally – so this was the obvious choice. The stock was 100mm x 45mm and came in 3m lengths I was able to get the yard to put the planks throught the massive bandsaw and get it cut through the thickness. The saw blade was 3mm thick so each stock piece yielded 2 planks 21mm thick – just 2mm over the 19mm (3/4″) which is the required bar thickness. Perfect by the time it is to be cleaned up! I purchased 3 stock pieces which gave me 6 planks – about one more than actually required but it always pays to have extra as there is always some bits which are not useable due to splits etc.

Here’s what it looks like all rough and covered in a few years worth of dust from the stock yard! More comign soon when it is to be cut into bars!

Raw Planks for the marimba bars

Raw Planks for the marimba bars