Xylophones have appeared in many cultures from as far back as 2000BC. The xylophone is a percussion instrument that consists of lengths of wood or other materials in varying lengths mounted on a long rectangular frame. The various pieces of wood each give a unique tonal sound when struck. Building your own xylophone at home is easy with the right planning. This design is for a xylophone that covers two and one half octaves.
Lay out the pieces of hardwood. Use the saw to cut the hardwood boards into a series of variable length pieces. Begin with the first piece measuring four inches and progressing to 42 inches for the final piece. Each piece should be larger than the previous piece by two inches.
Cut the two eight foot boards to form two boards 73 inches long. Cut a 40 inch piece from the four foot board.
Attach the end of each 73 inch boards to each end of the 40 inch board with nails. Pull the other end of the 73 inch boards towards each other until they meet. Nail them together. This is the triangular frame to which the sound boards will attach.
Arrange the sound boards on the frame with the 4 inch board at the smallest end of the triangle and the 43 inch board at the large end. The boards should overlap the frame by 1 inch on either side and be spaced 1 inch apart.
Outline the position of the 4 inch board on both sides of the frame. Measure 1 inch from the edge of the outline of the 4 inch board towards the larger end and place a mark indicating the placement of a drill hole.
Remove all the sound boards and place a mark every three inches down both sides of the frame until you reach the point where the 42 inch board is located.
Drill a 5/8 hole at each mark. These are the mounting holes for the sound boards.
Mark and drill both ends of each sound board at the centre of the board and one inch from the end. Each sound board should now have a hole in each end.
Place the sound boards back on the frame in position. Place a dense foam washer on both the top and the bottom of each sound board. This allows the sound boards to vibrate when you strike the board.
Take a 1/4-28 Bolt and pass it through the washer, the sound board, the bottom washer and through the frame. Place a split washer on the bolt and then secure with a nut. Repeat this process for both sides of all the remaining sound boards.
Place the frame on a support on each end. Hit each sound board (key) with a mallet and listen to the tone.
Select dense hardwood such as oak, walnut or rosewood to achieve the richest tones from the xylophone. Tune the xylophone by making small adjustments to the sound board. To raise the pitch slightly you can thin the ends of the sound board. To lower the pitch of the tone, make a gouge in the middle of the board. For minor changes you can use a piece of sandpaper. Softer mallets work well for lower tones, while harder mallets work best for the higher tones.
Tips and warnings
- Select dense hardwood such as oak, walnut or rosewood to achieve the richest tones from the xylophone.
- Tune the xylophone by making small adjustments to the sound board. To raise the pitch slightly you can thin the ends of the sound board. To lower the pitch of the tone, make a gouge in the middle of the board. For minor changes you can use a piece of sandpaper.
- Softer mallets work well for lower tones, while harder mallets work best for the higher tones.