Soft mallets Suck

I just wanted to make you look. Soft mallets don't suck. Well not all the time.

I saw a great student of mine play recently. He's a great up and coming vibe player I think. I was listening to him comp and could hear nothing. I know he could hear the instrument, I get that. If HE couldn't hear the instrument and he was comping (with soft mallets) then that's not cool. But I'm sure he could.

If he would have been using harder mallets I would have heard his attacks and then I would have probably been able to distinguish his sound and follow his music! But it was hard. Sometimes I heard a wash, I heard a bit of the vibes. Although without the attack he sounded like a guitar player doing that thing they do with the volume pedal to get rid of the attack. BTW I love attacks! (Actually that's why I like the sound of the Xylophone!)

I think all players should play and practice with hard and soft mallets. They should know the sound of both types and be able to make music and practice with either. I totally get practicing with soft mallets, but I think you should practice with harder mallets. Mallets with a bite to them. I think that's important.

I remember using soft mallets for ever. When ever I used hard mallets I couldn't do much of anything. I didn't understand the sound. I couldn't get ideas. Now I practice and play with both, my soft and hard mallets. On gigs most times I use the harder mallets and just play soft when I need to.

To me the moral of the story is: Can the people who paid money to come and hear you, hear you. If they can't then you wasted your time and theirs (Especially if they came to hear YOU). I'm not even sure if you should get paid at that point. I realize sometimes it's the bands fault. They're just too loud. I recently did a gig like that. So I'm just making a point here. It's our goal to make sure we are heard to the best of our ability.

It's our goal to make people love this instrument and it's sound. To make them go home and talk about the instrument and want to hear more. If we can't do that as players then we're failing. And that's not hard to do in most situations. Play the best you can and do everything in your power to make sure the audience can hear you.

What do you think? Just sayin.....

Access: Anonymous


Is this more an amplification issue rather than a mallet issue? I would choose a mallet for its characteristic, not its volume, then figure out how to amplify it. What was the venue? What was the amplification system?


well amplifying is a problem from the get go. one choice is pick ups. that's a good choice, however it changes the actually sound of the instrument .

remember the sax player can put the opening of his horn right up to the mic, so he is the loudest thing going in the mic by many times over just by his distance from it. if we mic ourselves we HAVE to keep the mic at least 2 feet from the instrument so the sticks won't hit it! that's our problem.

in the setting i describe this was acoustic and it was during a bass solo. i think there's a lot to this. but a hard mallet will have an attack that will cut through. in some ways i think mallets are like hair cuts, they're a little awkward at first but after a few days you get used to them. i think it any player had to play with a 'harder' mallet that they would get used to the sound and learn how to lay soft etc. i think it's just that if you're a gigging vibe player it would be a good idea to learn to play with soft and hard mallets.

also remember that the sound YOU hear is NOT the sound someone in the audience hears.

i personally really think that it's a good idea to play with soft and hard mallets and make them work. i don't mean hard like a brick, but mallets with a very clear and possibly sharp attack.

i think the problem is a different one. if you are playing vibes acoustic you (the player) hear the bars relative loud. but just 2-3 meters away it´s not that loud but very quite. this is a problem i came aware of in most acoustic situations. so often i thought wow i´m damn loud than i hear the recording and i´m much too quiet. so it hasn´t just to do with the mallets. the vibraphon realtive sounds loud if you are close to it but in distance it´s much more softer than you least that´s what i think


I like soft mallets. But, they are MUCH harder to play. They are WAY, WAY harder for other musicians to play with these days where real pianos are few and far between and everything is amplified.

So, I am with you. We have to learn to play both. We need to be heard to be expressive. We also need to be aware that hard mallets can sound like soft mallets and vice versa to the audience, depending upon how you play them, how your instrument is amplified and what other instruments are playing (or sound like audiences yelling) that are masking parts or all of your sound.

Something I have learned over the last decade is to sort of play with compression... not electrical, but at the chops. I have found that if I set a narrower range of dynamics, the subtle aspects of my phrasing tend to mean more. And, both live and on recording, if I never peak out the channel, it stays hot at the board; conversely if I never play really soft then my sound never disappears. But, I still retain the expressive range because the subtle moves are more noticeable.

I only have one exception to that rule and it is when I am doing sound healing work. In that context (which is NEVER amplified) I tend to use the full dynamic range of the instrument.

The instrument has an ungodly dynamic range, more than almost any other I know. With my hardest mallets, I can play acoustically over the top of a Hammond B3 and a drummer and be heard. With my softest mallets played lightly, I can play sounds that will disappear if the building's air conditioning comes on. You can't play that loud with a flute or any stringed instrument; you can't play that soft with any woodwind except maybe a flute. Vibes can be BOTH louder and softer than any piano on the planet.

As I find myself drawn to move backwards in time to a Deagan instrument, this is an issue for me. I am fully aware that, if I start playing on one of those, I will be giving up projection and the top end of my dynamics. One of the things I have always loved about the Musser is that it doesn't sound wimpy. The Deagan will only work on gigs with sensitive side men. There was a reason why Milt Jackson had a sound that was so big and it was only partly the sound he produced from the instrument. A bigger part, to my ears, was the musical thinning that the folks who he played with did to their sound that made his sound larger by comparison. Think John Lewis, Hank Jones, Connie Kay, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Percy Heath, Ray Brown, Mickey Roker... all those guys, when they worked with him kept their sounds pristine and clear.

Many nights, I sat right next to his vibes while he played, so close that I could only hear the sound off the instrument because I was behind the main speakers. It was a Deagan instrument and soft mallets, so it was never loud at all, but the guys who worked with him kept the balance where it needed to be. He was always heard and he made every note count.


Having just done a recording, I'm now painfully aware of the wide dynamic range of the vibraphone. I've been trying to be careful about the top end of that for quite some time now, with varying results. Playing live, it's sometimes difficult to draw the rest of the band back down when I get loud for a bit and we can end up in a arms race of getting louder.

Tom P.

My thoughts from a few years ago.

I'm glad you brought this back considering that the posts date back to 2012. We're entering a different time, but in some ways the more things change the more they stay the same.

My opinion is based on being a keyboard player rather than vibes, but I think the basic principle applies. I think the most important thing is "tone" and changing to harder mallets affects everything about tone. It is no longer your tone but instead a tone being dictated by the surroundings and the other players. So I thought about this for a while today and decided to go to YouTube and watch Herbie play with the Headhunters from 1974..

Herbie Hancock changed his instrument to adapt to louder volume and developed a unique tone on the Rhodes electric piano. It seems so obvious now 50 years later that he developed his own unique sound on the Rhodes, but I'd speculate that the era's options of beating grand piano harder or mic'ing it up hotter wasn't going to cut it for him tone-wise. So if I applied the same principle to today's world, I'd probably develop the tone or sound on acoustic vibes I want and play solely in that context. If I were freelancing or being a sideman, I'd definitely use a MalletKat or VibeKat (Less expensive) and develop a new and unique tone on that instrument. I think that Mario has shown that the Kat can be used as an instrument unto itself rather than simply a problem-solver for volume. The technology is here, and I don't think one is compromising their sound on the vibes by developing a new sound on the Kat (or Xylosynth).

So, my feeling is to be true to your own sound, and solve the solve the volume issue with technology than with harder mallets.