If you play an instrument, you will know that it will need regular servicing. A bit like a car, really. And you will also know that finding someone you trust to do the work is really important. I used to run a big music department that stretched over four campuses, and the number of pianos that needed regular servicing was epic. Finding skilled and trustworthy tuners was an ongoing challenge in our provincial town.
Marimba sets are no exception. Of course, the harder they work, and the worse they are treated, the more attention they will need (that works for most instruments), but marimbas are not bomb proof, and also need maintenance over time.
Let’s start with some common problems that are easy to avoid.
Broken marimba notes: Although this can be due to a flaw in the wood, it is much more likely that the note cracks because either someone hit it too hard, or it has been leant on, or sat on. You know a note is cracked if it sounds dead. At AMI we find that the end notes of AMI baritone marimbas are common casualties. If this happens, you can repair a crack in a note with superglue. This may work well, may be a temporary fix, or may not work. But have a go and see if you can avoid having to replace the note. If you do need to replace a note, you can order one from AMI and replace it yourself. Simply cut the cable tie that holds the damaged note to the supporting string, slip the damaged note out of its place, and replace it with a new note. Secure it with a cable tie following the system used on all of the other notes.
Loose or broken strings: Over time, the strings that keep the notes nice and tidily attached to the keyboard frame can become loose and if they are rubbed against something sharp, they will eventually wear through. You can certainly have a go at restringing them yourself. Look for the same gauge nylon string and follow the stringing pattern that you see on the instrument. The string must be firm to hold the note in place, but not so tight that the vibration is dampened. If it is too tight, you will be limiting the resonance and the good sound.
Tuning problems: There are a number of possibilities that have nothing to do with whether the notes themselves are out of tune. Check that the resonator boxes are the right way around. If the high end of the instrument has the long, deep, resonators below them, none of the notes will be in tune. In schools it is common for students to make this mistake. Second, if the marimbas have buzzer holes along the front of the resonators, and if these are not covered, the tuning will not be right. If you like the buzz, cut some circles out of thin plastic (the thinner the better, get them from shopping bags) and secure them over the buzzer holes with rubber washers or elastic bands if that is all you have. AMI can send the correct washers to you. If you don’t care for the buzz, you can stop up the holes with polystyrene or anything that will fit the hole with a neat seal. Polystyrene packaging is probably the easiest thing to find.
Of course, your marimbas could need tuning. Depending on where you live and how old they are, their tuning is affected by climate. Over time, the wood settles, and the drier your climate, the more the tuning shifts. Wood lives. That what makes it so perfect for musical instruments. But your instruments will need tuning from time to time. As the instruments get older, they will need less tuning as the wood becomes more and more stable. There is certainly a correlation between instruments that receive rough treatment and the amount of tuning they need to get them back in tune. We are always amazed when we find some sets that are 25 years old, still looking fantastic, and needing the smallest of tweaks to get right. Be prepared: when we come to tune your instruments there will be sawdust! One more word on tuning – please be aware that there are people who offer to tune your instruments that don’t understand the AMI tuning conventions. We’re always sad when we see AMI instruments that have been tuned in a very rudimentary way. Sometimes the result is disastrous because the notes have been physically altered so drastically that we can no longer tune the overtones. Overtone that are in tune are one of the features that set AMI marimbas apart.
Bent frames: A hard knock can bend legs, or indeed, break them. You can try to bend them back, but sometimes the part will need to be replaced on our visit. If your instruments had castors fitted, and these have broken, they can also be replaced. Castors make life so much easier, but a word of warning – don’t push them over very bumpy ground – they won’t like it. Just think about it, all that vibration is just going to rattle things out of place.
Broken resonators: Any part of the marimba can get damaged, and resonators are no exception. AMI resonators are either made of sturdy ply, or they are made of PVC pipes clad in the same ply. But accidents happen, and sometimes a break happens and the only thing to do is to replace what is broken. If your favourite handyman can’t help, send us a photograph so we know what’s damaged and we can make a plan to do the repair.
AMI does tuning trips to all of the provinces during the course of the year. Make sure you are on our list for the next visit to your area. If there is more to be done than just tuning, do let us know, and send us photos of damage so that we can be prepared to get your instruments back into excellent condition. If you can’t wait for our next trip, do consider sending your instruments to our factory by courier. You only need send the frames with keyboards attached, don’t worry about the resonators (unless that’s what is damaged). We can do the work at the factory and return them to you as good as new.