For those who play the marimba, choosing the right type of mallet is an important decision. Marimba mallets are generally categorized by the type of shaft they have as well as the style of head. Shafts can either be flexible or rigid, and the choice depends upon the musician’s playing style. The mallet heads vary by weight and the type of wrapping, both of which affect the sound the mallets produce.
The shaft of a mallet is the rounded stick that a musician holds when playing the marimbas. Primarily, for marimba mallets, the shaft is either made of birch wood or rattan, although less-expensive mallets can have plastic shafts. Rattan shafts are flexible, and musicians who play the marimbas with multiple mallets in each hand usually appreciate ones that have a lot of give to them. The rattan shaft also provides a rebound effect, eliciting unique tones when the marimba is struck.
On the other hand, mallets that have birch wood shafts are much more rigid and have a stiffer feel in the hands of the musician. Many marimba players maintain that the less-flexible shaft leads to better accuracy when playing. Also, because the birch doesn’t have much rebound to it, players feel the strike produces a sharper, richer tone. Plastic shafts also are rigid with only a slight bit of flexibility but are generally not preferred by experienced musicians who claim the plastic negatively affects the quality of the tone. Still, many beginners find the plastic shafts suitable in place of the more expensive birch or rattan styles.
Aside from the shaft, marimba mallets are also characterized by the type of head they have. The head of the mallet is the part that typically makes contact with the instrument. Musicians look to the weight of the mallet as well as the type of material wrapping the head to determine the kind of sound it can produce. Generally, the heavier the mallet, the louder the strike will sound. Similarly, the harder the head, the sharper the contact tone.
For the most part, the core of the head determines the weight. In many instances, cores made of dense rubber are the heaviest, and those made with plastic or wood tend to be on the lighter side. Manufacturers wrap the heads in either a soft yarn or a heavier cord, while some mallets have no wrapping at all. Typically, a yarn wrapping produces the softest head, and cord, depending upon how tightly it’s wrapped, has a much harder feel. Mallets with no wrapping are generally the hardest.
A harder head usually produces a sharper contact sound, that is, the sound made when the mallet strikes the instrument. The softer mallet creates a more muted, rolling tone. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the tone has less volume as that is determined by the weight of the mallet. For instance, marimba mallets with yarn-wrapped heads can still have heavy cores and vice versa.
The types of marimba mallets sold in most music stores vary in size, weight, and material. Similarly, the price also fluctuates depending upon the quality of the mallets. There is no right or wrong choice with regard to marimba mallets, and choosing the correct one is a subjective matter, usually dependent upon the tastes and preferences of the player.