Breaking Bank

Getting ready for college we all thought, or are thinking about, what equipment we need. As high school students, and even in college, we may not have the funds to get the so called "latest and greatest," so what will get the job done without making us spend more than we have? People have suggested that I talk about keyboard mallets for this. I'm just going to look for certain qualities, not brand names, that the mallets should have to sound good, and search Steve Weiss for them. I'm looking to save money, but also looking to not purchase something I haven't seen used before, so I know they will work, and something I'm willing to invest in, because it is an investment, no matter how much or how little you spend. Anything that I list is just a suggestion based on the qualities that I'm looking for, and if you find things that meet the same qualifications, it should be fine as well. I'll also round a bit to try and account for tax/shipping. Let's see what we find.

Starting with glockenspiel, we need to take into consideration that there are different types of glocks out there, and a mallet that sounds good on one kind might sound really bad on another. This means that we need a back up just in case we come across it. This also means that we will have more glock mallets in this list than xylophone ones. I personally think that rattan or fiberglass handles are best for this instrument, because their natural bounce helps avoid harsh attacks and worse frame/box sound. Rattan handles are a little more expensive, but they will give you a more fundamental sound because of the weight. Fiberglass, however, works for any glock you come across and is very agile. Brass is very warm but cuts and projects a lot; aluminum is brighter, does project, but is a little softer than brass. For rattan handles, Vic Firth's Orchestral Series Brass or Aluminum, at $22.75 each, and for fiberglass handles, Dragonfly Percussion's 7/8 Aluminum mallet, at $19.95 each, will work for most of the loud excerpts you come across. I recommend purchasing two of each.  

For softer excerpts, we have to really consider the contact sound. If there's too much, there will be a lot of front and attack to the note, obstructing the tone. It's more of a problem on larger bars, so finding a mallet that works for those especially is important. My favorite soft mallet is the Innovative Orchestral Series OS6 at $24.95. I've used this mallet for almost all of the light/articulate soft excerpts on both large bar and regular size glocks. For even less contact sound, with a warmer tone (specifically for Sleeping Beauty) a Lexan material mallet is my go to. The Salyer Performance Collection 1" Lexan, on rattan, is a good option, also at $24.95. Lastly, a brighter option to contrast the Lexan material is a Clear ball, and Dragonfly's 1" Clear Bell mallet, at $19.95, is something that I've used. Finally, my other favorite general mallet for glock is the Musser 215 phenolic on rattan, and unfortunately, while writing this blog, I could not find it on Steve Weiss and possibly has been discontinued. If you can find it, get 2 pairs if you can (last I checked, it was $24.50). Still, the show must go on, and the next mallet I would and have used, with a similar sound, Dragonfly Percussion's 1" Black, at $20. (Glock total about $140)

Xylophone is a lot easier to figure out. Here, I think rattan is the go to handle for any xylophone instrument. It's agile and minimizes frame noise because of its natural bounce. First up on the list is every percussionist's go-to mallet, the Malletech "Browns," the OR39R at $28.95. You can use this for most if not all your loud excerpts if that's all you had, an I do know a couple who did use just this mallet for them and won, so it's a legit choice. For soft playing, we need a warmer sound, softer attack and a good weight to get the fundamental sound. Encore's 92R unwound series, at $24.95, is a solid option for softer excerpts and ragtime pieces. For the loudest excerpts, we definitely need a weighty stick to get lot's of tone and to mellow out the bright attack (I personally wouldn't use plastic on the xylophone, and phenolic is a safer option for the instrument). Salyers Performance Collection Phenolic, at $25.95, fits those qualifications. For the light and bright, a smaller mallet head and good weight is needed, and another go to for a majority of percussionists is the Innovative Orchestral Series OS3, at $28.25 (I literally just bought it. I was like, "Why don't I have this yet?"). (Xylo total about $120)

Marimba is another instrument that can differ based on the way it's made. In most cases, we won't need too soft of a mallet for excerpts or for Bach pieces, so a hard/medium hard or medium mallet should be perfect (again I would buy 2 pairs). Marimba One's Round Sound Medium and Hard, both at $34.95, have been a great option across all the marimbas that I've come across and are very versatile for any piece you come across. Articulate without being crass, and very warm even on the highest registers. (Marimba total about $75-$150) Vibraphone is last on our list and is probably the easiest one to do. Though vibes may look different, the majority of them will give similar sounds from the bars. So mallets that work on one probably will work on any vibe, and here we have two other go-to's for percussionists: Balter Blues and Balter Greens, both at $32.95. (Vibe total about $70-$140) Grand total $550.

Had I known what I know now about what works on instruments, what's appropriate for pieces, and what is probably the best choice for certain if not general things, I would've saved a lot of money. I probably have over a thousand pairs of mallets and I definitely don't use them all, so some of those purchases could be seen as a waste, but in the best case scenario, I now have another sound and feel option for situations I come across. As you go along in your career, you will probably try tons of mallets, either from friends or instructors, and from a base set that you know will work, you can branch out and see what you like better, or don't like. The options are out there, which is good, but there are a lot of them and that can confuse us or make us feel like we need to keep buying more (I've definitely felt that way and have done that). Still, if you go with this general list, or mallets that have the same qualities, you will be fine for the long haul if you want to save up for bigger instruments in the meantime. Hope this helps and happy practicing!