Feb 4 2019

Veering off into left field – to build a marimbula


This is a long way from xylophones and propane-tank drums, but I’ve really enjoyed building cajóns and – for the first time – a marimbula.

Quick demo and walkaround

The marimbula is a Caribbean instrument, descended from the African kalimba, and generally functions as a bass. As you’ll see in the video at the bottom of the post, I first experimented with a 6-key marimbula built onto the back of one of my cajons, just to figure out the basics of construction.

This one is a 16-key marimbula – which I’ve decided has about three too many bottom-end keys and perhaps one too many high-end keys, as the sound quality falls off quite a bit at the ends of its scale. Next, I might try building one like a piano keyboard (with two layers of keys in white and black) centered in the middle of this scale.

The tuning has been kinda challenging – I finally settled on D – but I’m tuning it slowly by ear because the digital tuning apps can’t handle all the overtones it puts out. Anyway, it’s a helluva lot of fun to play – particularly on a nice, resonant wood floor – because it’s easy to play, and the notes send vibrations through your butt and up your spine. I take great satisfaction in building instruments that create physical joy along with pleasant music.

Jan 16 2019

Building cajóns – all of a sudden


The old-timey title for this post could have been:

The Wisdom and Benefits of Contemplating a Temporary Shift from the Traditional Norm for This Institution in Materials, Methods, Design and Construction of Multi-Purpose Acoustic Percussion Instruments:

Or, a “Box to Bang On”

Because this post is about a kick in the head. A total world-shifting creative non-sequitur from all this demanding, burly, unforgiving metal I’ve been working with for so many years.

All of a sudden I’m building cajóns. Out of wood. Where did *that* come from.

Lemme back up a bit.

I’ve been goofing around with the idea of combining disc gongs with a sound box like the one I built a million years ago for my very first xylophone.
I wanted to explore: disc arrays, resonance, materials, instrument playability.Here’s a sketch: —->

And then it occurred to me that the cajón (a sit-upon box drum with  roots in Peru and on loading docks everywhere) is such a perfect blend of structural integrity and resonance – like musical furniture – that if I could build one strong enough, it could do double duty as both metallophone and drum.

Gee, that sounds like a lot of work.

Maybe just start with building a good cajon to see if it’s easy enough. So, after digesting half a dozen how-to’s on YouTube and stealing some of the most interesting design ideas into my plan, I started my first.

Here’s a ragged build log: