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Matt Albano

Mrs. Wolcott
March 23, 2015
Usually whenever I have discussions with someone who has never heard of a marimba I
reference it to a xylophone on steroids. The marimba is an idiophone because after being struck
by a mallet it vibrates to produce sound; the only true difference between a modern marimba and
xylophone is that a marimba features lower, bigger and warmer sounding bars while the
xylophone has smaller and brighter sounding bars. The general makeup of any modern marimba
are the wooden keys (bars) that are formatted the same way as a piano (naturals are on the
bottom manual and accidentals on the top manual), the cylindrical metal tube resonators that help
amplify and project the sound , and the adjustable height frame that holds everything in place.
This overall design for the modern North American marimba took centuries to modify
originating from Guatemala where the bars are exclusively rosewood and only one manual
instead of two, the resonator gourds and the frame that only sits a foot above the ground. Some
natives of Guatemala argue that our modern marimba is not actually a marimba because we use
metal frames and resonators, which is technically true but the key characteristics such as the
wooden bars and resonators still allow the North American model to be considered a marimba.
The man and musician responsible for the modern day marimbas can be credited to John C.
Deagan, originally a clarinet player who also excelled in mathematics, astronomy, Egyptology
and acoustic science. It all started when Deagan was experimenting with tuning metal bars which
eventually became to be used in orchestral music as the bell set; soon after tuning metal bars he

tried tuning rosewood bars to create the xylophone and eventually the modern day marimba.
These instruments became a huge commodity in orchestral music because it was a new and
beautiful timbre that no one has heard before so Deagan sought out the opportunity to
manufacture and sell his instruments.
As years have passed percussion companies have crafted their trademark sound for
rosewood marimbas and xylophones which is when people started to notice the rapid depletion
of rosewood. Rosewood or the scientific term Dalbergia stevensonii has been a treasured wood
for centuries because of its ability to create a warm and resonant tone used in keyboard
percussion instruments and for its aesthetic appeal for cabinet furniture. Unfortunately this
precious wood is only found in certain parts of Guatemala, Belize and Southern Mexico and if
the limiting locations weren’t enough rosewood is also known to be illegally logged.
As a percussionist whose primary instrument is marimba I am frazzled by the facts and
data that I have come across in my research. I was relieved to know that some action has been
taken because rosewood is listed under appendix II according to the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES). CITIES categorizes their endangered species into three
categories: appendix I, II, and III. The appendix I category is for species that are about to become
extinct while appendix III is the category that contains species on their way to extinction.
Fortunately for me I am not the only percussionist stressed out about the depletion of rosewood
after finding several articles that give a plethora of helpful hints in choosing the right type of
marimba and being able to properly take care of the instrument. In the effort to taking care of a
rose wood instrument there were articles that suggested alternative woods such as Padouk or the
synthetic Kelon bars but the issue with these alternatives is that they don’t sound as warm and

resonant as the rosewood bars. It is important for percussionists to understand that we are a part
of the problem when we do not take care of our instruments.
Adams. Adams Artist Marimba. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>. The Adams instrumental music company is
well known for their concert and marching percussion. This webpage is dedicated to
advertising their varying models for concert marimba specifically for the beginning
student. The choices given are a rosewood marimba and 3 other different models that use
the alternative toned Padouk wood. Above the choices there is a paragraph that explains
in detail that these specific model marimbas are meant for beginning percussionists that
allow them to “have a choice between prime Honduras Rosewood bars or our extremely
economical African Padouk wood bars. Padouk wood bars offer an excellent alternative
to Rosewood, by producing a beautifully warm, woody sound, at a fraction of the
Rosewood's cost.”
Just within the explanation we can see that popular companies are actively making an
effort to conserve and push towards alternative woods. The company insists that padouk
is a better option because it is more abundant, cheaper and the closest alternative that
compares to the natural sound of a rosewood marimba.
Carmenates, Omar A., "Honduras Rosewood: Its Endangerment and Subsequent Impact on the
Percussion Industry" (2009). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 4194. Omar Carmenates, Assistant percussion professor at
the University of Furman and UCF alumni, wrote his theses for his Doctorate while
attending Florida State University. Dr. Carmenates gives a detailed background of how

keyboard percussion instruments have developed overtime, “The selection of rosewood
as the prime wood for wooden-bar percussion instruments is widely credited to the
renowned instrument manufacturer John Calhoun Deagan (in 1888).” (Carmenates). He
mentions that rosewood is used for percussion keyboard instruments, string instruments
and modern furniture because of its high durability and natural physical appeal. He goes
into further detail on other characteristics of rosewood explaining why it is such a
commodity and how it used to be illegally logged until CITIES established a grant
protecting rosewood. In his conclusion he gives his advice and tips on how to conserve
any rosewood instruments and ways we can make a difference to keep rosewood
Chenoweth, Vida. The Marimbas of Guatemala. Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1964.
This article by Vida Chenoweth, was the first professional solo classical marimbist, gives
insight on the origins of the North American Marimba compared to its predecessor
Marimba de Guatemala. On her visit to Guatemala she talked to many musicians about
the modifications that Americans have made to the modern day marimba. For example in
America the keys are properly tuned and have metal resonators while the Guatemalan
marimba has the approximate pitches and gourds as resonators. The Guatemalans argued
that the American’s version of a marimba was technically a xylophone because it uses
metal resonators instead of a natural object as a resonator such as a gourd or wooden box
which is culturally true to the Guatemalan standards. The original marimbas are usually a
foot above the ground and only have a select few pitches compared to the North
American marimbas that are about 3 feet tall and feature a chromatic scale. This article is

significant to the conversation because it explains how marimbas have featured rosewood
over centuries.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. “Inclusion
of Honduras Rosewood in Appendix II.” Available from;
Internet; accessed 10 Oct 2009. This is the document made by Germany on behalf of the
European Community Member States proposing that Dalbergia stevensonii (Rosewood)
be listed on the second Appendix. The document explains that most of rosewood being
used for other products is being wasted while percussion keyboard instruments use up to
80% of the wood cut down. There is a map that gives a visual concept of how limited
rosewood is in the world since it is a wild growing plant rather than a cropped plant.
When the rosewood trees are being illegally logged they are done so that it causes
deforestation which is harmful to the surrounding environment. This document brings
attention to the disappearing rosewood and gives supporting information such as maps
and data that give a reader an idea of how limited of a supply rosewood is in the world
and how protecting rosewood and the distribution of rosewood will save the species and
even help protect the environment around it.
DANIHELOVÁ, A., et al. "Modified Wood Of Black Locust -- Alternative To Honduran
Rosewood In The Production Of Xylophones." Acta Physica Polonica, A 127.1 (2015):
106-109. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. Dr. Anna Danihelová, Associate
professor at Department of Fire Protection for the Natural Sciences of Comenius
University in Bratislava, takes a more scientific approach by explaining in her
introduction that rosewood is the most desirable wood to use for idiophones such as the

xylophone and marimba but is listed in CITES Appendix II so finding a replacement that
meets similar requirements is crucial to continue the existence of Honduran rosewood.
The requirements that must be met for idiophones are: “the material has to be
homogeneous without any growth defects or ruptures (homogeneity is ensured also by a
regular distribution of the growth rings), the bars have to be radially sawn and the wood
grains have to be parallel to the longitudinal axis of the bar, material should be hard and
exible (hard but brittle material, e.g. ebony, is not suitable).” (DANIHELOVÁ). Black
Locust is an European wood that when thermally modified were tested through fast
Fourier transform (FFT) analysis and found to fit most of the requirements to replace
rosewood on marimbas and xylophones.
Eyler, David P. “Early Development of the Xylophone in Western Music.” Percussive Notes 41,
no. 6 (2003): 42-44. This article written by David P. Eyler, percussion director at
Concordia College, gives a brief overview and history of the rosewood xylophone and
how it has been utilized in western music. The xylophone was influenced by the African
marimba, amadinda. The amadinda was the first keyboard percussion instrument to be
made out of rosewood; its characteristics include one diatonic manual, resonators, and
rosewood bars. The name Xylphone was derived from the Greek words “Xylo” meaning
wood and “Phone” meaning sound. In the nineteenth century xylophones were
commercialized as a solo instrument and later moved into the orchestral scene in the late
19th early 20th century. By the mid-20th century xylophones were being featured in rag
time music because of its playful timbre and sound. In modern music we will hear the
xylophone in orchestra scores and percussion ensembles as more of a timber instrument

rather than a soloist instrument. This article allows us to understand the prominent role of
a rosewood keyboard such as the xylophone in past and modern music.
Hansell, William, and Greg Pugh. "Natural vs. Synthetic An Evaluation of Xylophone Bars." Ed.
Leigh H. Stevens. Percussive Notes 20.1 (1981): 60-63. Print. This Percussive Notes
article includes an experiment conducted and recorded by William Hansell and Greg
Pugh, both music teachers at Pike University. The experiment was to compare the sounds
of a synthetic Kelon xylophone and a rosewood xylophone by striking a bar and using a
microphone to collect the number of overtones in each individual bar. Hansell and Pugh
mention that Kelon bars have a clearer due to their synthetic makeup as compared to an
inconsistent sound from the rosewood bars. From the data collected in the experiment
Hansell and Pugh concluded that the Kelon xylophone has a purer sound because the
overtones recorded were way more consistent than the rosewood xylophone bars. This
information can be used to back up the concept of percussionists primarily performing on
Kelon bars.
Jusitson, Brian. "Choosing Keyboard Mallets for Percussion Ensemble Repertoire." Innovative
Percussion (2012): n. pag. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. Brian Justison, the Assistant Professor of
Music and Coordinator of Percussion Studies at Millikin University, shares with us the
importance of using the right tools for the job. When percussionists perform on marimbas
we generally use a yarn mallet or soft rubber mallet because it doesn’t damage the
instrument and more importantly they can achieve the appropriate multitude of timbres
we want for any percussion ensemble, duet or solo. The most important concept I drew
from this article was using a mallet that was softer than the surface being hit by the
mallet, if I were to hit a hammer on glass the glass would shatter so it is important to

understand that the same principals apply for other keyboard instruments or else we are
slowly cracking the bar.
Moyer, James. "The Rosewood Forest: chasing an answer." School Band and Orchestra 2013:
36. General OneFile. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. James Moyer, director of band and percussion
studies at Texas A&M International University, mentions that rosewood has the ability to
produce a full and lush musical tone when cut and tuned is simply unmatched. Moyer
explains that rosewood is highly endangered for numerous reasons such as illegal logging
and the fact that it only grows in certain parts of Guatemala. He mentions that there no
replacement woods that come close to the sound that rosewood makes however there are
cheaper synthetic acoustalon bars that are durable but create a noticeable artificial sound
don’t react the same way as a natural wooden bar when struck by a mallet. Rosewood
instruments don’t last forever especially when used in outdoor activities such as marching
band/ drum corps. He then dedicates a section of the article focusing on methods and
strategies to conserve the rosewood instruments:
* Initiate a plan to slow down and eventually stop the use of rosewood
instruments for marching band.
* Become a good steward of the instrument by making sure students use nothing
but yarn mallets on rosewood marimbas and nothing harder than the wood for
rosewood xylophones. If it dents the bar, don't use it!
* Move away from the often-exaggerated practice of high arm movement and
harder mallets for "front ensemble" playing. It's bad technique and damages the

* Make a real attempt, with your band parents and administration, to gradually
replace the rosewood instruments with synthetic bar keyboards for marching
* Place a sheet or instrument cover on all keyboards after use and when moving.
It provides some protection from dust which can get into the wood and deaden the
* Never touch rosewood directly with your hands. The oils from your skin also
contribute to deaden the sound of the bar.
* Once a year, clean the bars with lemon oil or a mild wood cleaning product.
You will be surprised how dirty these bars get over time.
* Never allow students to place instruments, cases, or books on these keyboards.
The same is true of timpani. Price timpani heads lately?
* Make your students aware of the diminishing returns of not caring for these
instruments. Share this article with them so they understand the importance of
preserving Dalbergia stevensonii, and in turn, the value of caring for their own
* My rule has always been, ‘if it’s not your instrument, it’s not in your hands’.
(Moyer) Moyer offers these helpful ideas and tips for percussionist so they can
properly care and conserve their own rosewood instruments.
"Percussion Source Blog." Web log post. Purchasing A Marimba? Percussion Source, 20 Sept.
2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>. Percussion Source is another well respected percussion manufacturing
company that sells percussion equipment and provides blog posts about popular topics in

the music/ percussion community including this source. The blog gives multiple tips and
guidelines to help choose what type of marimba would be best for varying percussionist.
The blog mentions that younger students should consider buying smaller instruments
such as 4.3 octave marimba while more advanced percussionists should consider a 5
octave marimba to accompany the challenging repertoire that has been written for that
The next step to crafting your marimba would be choosing the material of wood. The
prime wood is of course rosewood because of its durability, warm and resonate tone but
the alternatives mentioned in the blog have more pros than cons. Padouk is a common
rosewood substitute and is just as durable but has a brighter and less resonate tone.
Karinwood is another alternative that has a higher density than Padouk but is more
commonly found on xylophones. There are downsides to owning wood instruments and
that is the slow wear and tear of being played on and being performed in temperatures too
extreme to keep in tune that is why the Kelon option is the most economically friendly
plan since it can last for decades and maintain the same pitch when it was first
manufactured, however it does not have the same cherished characteristic sound that a
natural wood bar marimba has. This blog post brings a new way to conserve endangered
wood by giving tips on how to pick and choose the parts for a percussionist wanting to
buy a marimba similar to going to a restaurant where we can be specific what we want to
order and what we do not want to order.
Samuels, Ron. "Rosewood in Central America." N.p., 4 Nov. 2013.
Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

america>. This short article was written posted on Marimba One’s webpage by Ron
Samuels, a professor at Humboldt University and one of the founders/ president of
Marimba One. Marimba One is a marimba company that makes one of the finest
rosewood marimbas in the world and in this article Ron Samuels explains that the sound
that we have all come to know and love will be extinct in the near future if the
controversy of rosewood isn’t brought up. “Marimba One's founder, Ron Samuels,
personally witnessed rosewood being illegally poached from the hills of Central America
and hauled out at night on pick-up trucks, tractor-trailers and dump trucks.” (Samuels).
Ron explains that we have taken the first step in conserving rosewood after CITES
granted a protection over the Honduras rosewood.
Samuels, Ron. "7 Tips." Marimba One, 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
<>. This article was posted by Ron Samuels, a
professor at Humboldt University and one of the founders/ president of Marimba One, on
his company website to advertise the ways to properly maintain a keyboard instrument.
1. When you are not playing, keep your marimba out of direct sunlight and cover. This
will protect it from dust and scratches.
2. Ideal humidity for playing and storing your marimba is around 50%. In very dry
environments, a humidifier should be used; and in very moist environments, use a
dehumidifier. Even when the marimba is being stored, it is best to maintain a controlled
3. The marimba’s acoustics are designed to be optimized between 68 and 72 degrees.
Extremes of temperature should be avoided.
4. Use only a damp cotton cloth or a micro-fiber towel to wipe down your marimba.

5. Be CAREFUL when you move your marimba. It’s a large instrument, so think about
tight corners, door frames and other obstacles. If you have a height-adjustable frame,
raise the resonators before moving to keep from hitting door jams.
6. Do not put anything on your keyboard (obviously). The bars are precious rosewood
and will scratch if you don’t take care. (Samuels) Most of these tips seem like common
sense however being around many high school and other college percussion studios there
are so many instances where these rules are lightly enforced or ignored. If percussionists
can properly maintain their keyboards it could add another ten years to the instrument’s
life thus conserving rosewood.
SoundWood. “Sustainable Forest Management and FSC Principles and Criteria.” Lecture
presented at SoundWood Sustainable Tone-wood Sourcing Conference, San Francisco,
California, May 16-17, 2002. Available at http://www.globaltrees.
org/downloads/San_Fran_sourcing_conf_may2002. pdf; Internet; accessed 28 Sept 2009.
This document by the SoundWood company, a wood furnishing company that uses
alternative and safe woods, focus on endangered wood including rosewood and tie it into
the music scene. Some of the noteworthy analysis made in the document “The music
industry has been slow to integrate more high quality certified and rediscovered woods in
products due to inadequate information on the process of certification, inconsistency of
sources as well as lack of requests for products made from certified woods.” “Unlike
other forest product dependent industries, such as flooring, the music industry has very
specific requirements making the consistency of sourcing and production a top priority
for integration in order to change to more responsible wood use mechanisms.”

This document suggests that the music industry is not taking the decline of rosewood as
serious as we should be which is true. Not only are we not making our best efforts but
there are a lot of musicians who don’t even know that rosewood is an endangered species.
Trommer, Hal. “John Calhoun Deagan.” Percussive Notes 34, no. 2 (1996): 84-85. This
percussive Notes article was written by Hal Trommer, a well-respected percussionist who
worked with John C. Deagan, who traces back to how the marimbas and xylophones
made their way into 20th century music. John C. Deagan was the man who is held
responsible for making a correctly tuned marimba. In the article Trommer explains that
Deagan was a clarinet player who also excelled in mathematics, astronomy, Egyptology
and acoustic science. Deagan also “became an ardent student of German physicist
Hermann Helmholtz’s doctrine on acoustics published in 1862, entitled On The
Sensations Of Tone As A Physiological Basis For The Theory Of Music.” Once
immigrating to the United States he started experimenting with instruments such as ‘J.C.
Deagan Musical Bells’ which became a featured instrument in the orchestral scene. From
this creation he became interested in the popularizing instrument, the xylophone. He
knew he had the ability to refine the tuning of the xylophone bars because of his
instrumental experiments and good ear. After Deagan created his first official model
xylophone he started to market his instruments and became the top keyboard
manufacturer of the world and remained for many years. It is important to mention John
C. Deagan for his contributions to the tuning and the design of modern day marimbas,
now a days the top keyboard manufacturers, Yamaha, Adams, Malletech, Marimba one
etc… have expanded and slightly improved the marimbas that we have today.

United Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. “Timber
Tree Species in International Trade: Strategies for Sustainable Use – Mesoamerica 2005
Workshop Report Annex 3: Presentations and Reports.” Available from workshops/reports/ MA2005/Annex%203.pdf.
Internet; accessed 26 August 2009. This PowerPoint by Percival Cho and Lizandro
Quiroz, both study the role of natural and anthropogenic disturbances such as hurricanes
and logging on forest structure and composition and the maintenance of forest diversity
in Belize's diverse and unique tropical forests, talk about the regulations for importing
and exporting woods including rosewood to other foreign countries.

Rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii)
- Felling Control = live, wild trees shall not be felled unless under trees
shall not be felled unless under a long a long-term sustainable forest term
sustainable forest license.
- Local trade only in finished Local trade only in finished products;
dimensional lumber rare products; dimensional lumber rare.
- Trade Control = only finished products and squared finished products
and squared stumps can be exported. (Cho) Cho and Quiroz explain that
the rules and regulations for legally harvesting rosewood.

United Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. “Timber
Tree Species in International Trade: Strategies for Sustainable Use – Mesoamerica 2005
Workshop Report Annex 2: Species Information.” Available from workshops/reports/MA2005/ Annex%202.pdf. Internet; accessed
26 August 2009. This document by Percival Cho and Lizandro Quiroz, both study the

role of natural and anthropogenic disturbances such as hurricanes and logging on forest
structure and composition and the maintenance of forest diversity in Belize's diverse and
unique tropical forests, analyze endangered wood including rosewood by listing its
locations, general environment, and uses in the world (marimbas, furniture etc…) This is
a great reference source that can help describe rosewood .
Wheeler, Mike. “J.C. Deagan Percussion Instruments.” Percussive Notes 31, no. 2 (1992): 60-64.
This article by Mike Wheeler, a percussionists and director of the Northwestern High
School Marching Band, explains the details and mechanics that went behind making the
Deagan keyboard instruments which also shows people the development of the keyboards
that Deagan’s company made. In 1888 when Deagan was creating his first marimbas he
had inconsistent hertz that he would base each keyboard off of, for example A=335
A=354 A=361, until the American Federation of Music established that the standard
tuning should be A=440. Deagan used the “double row” system where the accidental
keys are on the top row and the natural keys are on the bottom row, like a piano.
Towards the end of the article there was a chart that listed the entire Deagan keyboard
models that were manufactured from 1920-1977 and from this chart we see that the
number of octaves from the beginning of the timeline to the end of the timeline becomes
bigger and more prominent in the business. This tells us that as the keyboard instruments
began to universalize the more rosewood bars were being made for bigger instruments
with more bars. Along with illegal logging and furniture use for rosewood the percussion
community is just as responsible for the heavy disappearance of this cherished wood.
Wood, Shannon. “A Look Back, Deagan History Part 1.” Malletshop Quarterly, January (2004):
5-18. This is an excerpt from the first of the three part series “A Look Back, Deagan

History” by Shannon Wood, the principal timpanists of the St. Louis Symphony
Orchestra. From the beginning of the excerpt Wood gives Deagan credibility of being the
entrepreneur who changed and shaped the world of music and percussion. This three part
series is simply a biography of Deagan’s personal life but more importantly his business
in the world of percussion. There are pictures of Deagans models that help show how
they have been modified to shape and model the requirements for concert hall
This particular source stuck out to me as well because of what the advertisements of the
different featured percussionists such as Leigh Howard Stevens, Mike Balter, Nancy
Zeltsman etc… The percussion world is the only instrument field that is new and
continuously growing; percussion is the only popular instrument in the world where you
can be taught by someone who has significantly contributed to the percussion scene or
has been a protégé of someone such as John C. Deagan. This is telling because our
supplies as percussionists are both limited yet expanding however it is our decision
whether or not we want to find alternative woods or make the effort to conserve and
respect rosewood to keep that unique sound.