Frequently Asked Questions
Here is a partial listing of books geared toward the vibraphonist:
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.
(The following was from an amazing posting by Vince Hyman.)
MALLET WRAPPING 101
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.