Mallets

Ahh Mallets. The stick and mallet industry has become super saturated in the last 5 years. Each company has hundreds of artists that they sponsor, and many of these artists have their own “signature” stick/mallet.

It should be said that all these signature models only vary slightly from one another because there aren’t too many variables that can go into mallet production and still produce a good sounding mallet. So I’ll give the variables below followed by common mallet manufacturers.

Anatomy of a mallet

Picture 5

Shaft material, diameter, length

Often these are the first discriminating factors when choosing a mallet because they’re typically grip dependent. Below are the typical generalities.

Birch – This is usually the material for choice for players who use the Steven’s Grip. Due to the mechanics of the grip, having an inflexible shaft puts less stress on the 2 little fingers which hold on of the mallets all on their own. Because of these small muscle groups, birch mallets tend of have small diameters as well to facilitate the pinky finger wrapping all the way around the shaft.

Rattan – Usually the choice of Burton grip and Traditional Grip players. Since the mallets are locked together in a cross patten, this material gives more flexibility to these grips. Due to the way that the interval changes work with these two grips, the shaft diameter is often wider than their birch counterparts. The shaft length is often slightly longer than birch as well since cross grips tend to choke up higher on the mallet than Steven’s grip.

Two mallet playing – For two mallet playing it’s generally a toss up. Players tend to think rattan is for vibraphone and birch is for marimba but it’s really just a personal preference. Most measurably, rattan offers some bounce to the stroke which some like and some don’t. Also rattan tends to warp unless kept in an extremely secure mallet box or bag.

Mallet Head anatomy

Mallet core The Core – The core of the mallet can be made of anything from wood, to rubber, to crazy spaceage materials of unknown origin. The hardness and weight of the core is the biggest factor in the overall sound quality of the mallet and which range it will sound best in. Some companies like marimba one are experimenting with injecting a weight in the middle of the core so they can use softer materials that are capable of putting out more sound.

Yarn – There are a variety of yarn and yarn-like material that can be used to wrap the core. The type of yarn is a big factor in how long the wrap will last. How tight/loose the yarn is wrapped around the mallet will be the biggest factor in the “cushyness” of the mallet attack. Some mallet companies will wrap by hand (like the Leigh Stevens mallets at mostlymarimba.com) and some use a machine to wrap them (like my beloved Gordon Stout GS13′s). There’s nothing stopping you from wrapping your own mallets with practice, just check out our Do it yourself section.

Mallet Head Sound Quality

A five octave marimba has the unfortunate characteristic of really being 61 tiny instruments in one. To produce the same sound quality on every note, you need 61 different types of mallets. There isn’t a single mallet I know of that will achieve a uniform sound in all 5 octaves. Many marimba mallets are dubbed “general purpose” mallets which means that they are a medium marimba mallet that will sound great in the middle 3 octaves, but brittle in the lowest octave and poofy in the highest octave.

To combat this problem there are a few solutions.

Graduated mallets – Most mallets belong to a “series” meaning they make 3-5 different mallets with graduated hardnesses for useĀ  on different parts of the marimba. A common technique to to hold a bass mallet, two medium mallets, and a hard mallet to get a nice good balance on the keyboard. This is especially useful on chorals and any peice that doesn’t move to the extremes of the instrument.

Multi-timbral mallets – These mallets will have a relativly hard core, but the yarn will be wrapped in a loose fasion. This allows for soothing soft sounds at low dynamics and harder sounds at higher dynamics. This is great in some circumstances however, your sound quality will be interlocked with your dynamic level which can be limiting.

Mallet Manufacturers

Since I’ve only played a small percentage of mallets out there, I really can’t comment here. so I’ll leave you with a list of common manufacturers. The best thing for you to do it go to PASIC and try a bunch yourself!

Picture 7 Innovative percussion Mostly Marimba

Musser Marimba one ENcore

Promark silverfox

Yamaha