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Wondering about your preferences for mallets... specifically mallets that aren't your 'primary set.'

Hi There-

So I'm doing a lot more recording lately, and I'm realizing that the pragmatism of being able to get a decent range of sounds with one set of 'main mallets' that I know will be heard through the rhythm section (I've been playing Arthur Lipner med. softs for over 10 years now) is not so appropriate for the studio; there are definitely times when I want different textures, and right now I'm just using whatever odd mallets are laying around that came with certain instruments, that I found in rehearsal studios, etc. No good. SO, I wanted to ask what your preferences are for the following types of mallet roles; please feel free to tell me as much as you want, or just respond with the below copied, like a form. (I appreciate the sentiment that you have ONe set of mallets that can do all of these, but I've got an all-rounder I'm pretty happy with, looking for specifics, thanks.) I appreciate any info you can give me.

WHAT TYPE OF MALLET (make, model, whatever) DO YOU LIKE FOR...

full-sound 'wide bar'/Milt Jackson playing?

quiet four-mallet playing?

REALLY quiet, ghostly, almost-no-contact-sound playing? (Some kind of light marimba mallets?)

rolling low on the marimba playing?

softer rubber mallets?

harder mallets that get an almost glockenspiel sound on the vibes?

slappy, leather, more-contact-sound-than-fundamental playing?

I appreciate your help; actively looking for solutions in all these situations, hoping not to spend >$300 only to buy a bunch that aren't quite right.




John Keene Mon, 04/16/2012 - 11:12

I haven't played a studio gig on vibes in a long time, but when I did I used two sets for the most part. Needless to say, the individual player's technique is a factor here, so this is what suits my hands and touch.

I used Terry Gibbs jazz mallets if I needed a line that cut through, and preferred my re-wrapped pair from when they were sold as Deagan mallets. Today I'd probably opt for the Vic Firth yellow cord Terry Gibbs soft model that still have a lot of bite. The other pair of favorites are the Balter model Email Richards soft mallets BUT stripped and rewrapped with baby yarn @ 150-200 wraps per mallet. The stock model were too mushy, but stripping the yarn and replacing with a thinner yard seemed to do the trick for me. Those are for two-mallet playing. Recently I'm become enamoured with Innovative Percussion mallets for 4-mallet playing, but have never used them on a session.

Steve Shapiro Tue, 04/17/2012 - 02:29

Hey James,

Arthur gave me a set of his Balter mallets, and I must say that they are pretty darn good. But they definitely do not have the retro groovy sound for fatter tone. For all that stuff, including the Milt direction, I really like Albrights. Susan Bridwell (who took over from her grandfather, I think) makes these mallets. I have not talked to her in a while, but she made me a custom set for 4-mallet playing that is between her Milt model and her medium-hard model. This set is tremendous for ballads!
You can try to contact her at albmallets (@)


jamesshipp Tue, 04/17/2012 - 10:50

In reply to by Steve Shapiro

Thanks Steve- I really like Arthur's mallets for my 'normal' sound, not least because the rattan thickness is much nicer; I really don't understand how anyone can play with the thinner-than-a-pencil sticks on most mallets. I guess what I'm really interested in here are almost 'effect' mallets. I need some albrights for sure for when I want lots of fundamental. Also wanting something very fuzzy and whispy that just glows, but you'd never use for line-playing or comping for a solo. Also wanting rubber mallets and leather ones for the more-attack-than-tone sound, but there are SO many hardnesses, and I don't want to get ones that are so hard that it sounds like I'm playing a set of tuned anvils. (Although I do have mallets that make the vibes sound that way, and upon rare occasions they're the perfect thing!)

I guess what I'm saying is that right now, I'm almost looking for mallets that have the same effect as putting a guitar through extreme analog pedals, like tube screamers and super chorus-y, super delay-y sounds... I'm looking for special effects much more than all-rounders.

Tylerblanton Tue, 04/17/2012 - 15:09

In reply to by jamesshipp

I guess you weren't on the site about a week ago. I just ebayed 10 sets of varied kinds of mallets. You could've come over and tried them all out.

drslg Mon, 04/16/2012 - 19:36

the David Friedman light vibraphone mallets are great for playing quiet 4 mallet. They are soft but still manage to produce a full tone. Heck, they even sound good on marimba! These sticks are a great length and i highly recommend them!


tonymiceli Mon, 04/16/2012 - 22:30

my favorite mallets are of course the ones I developed with mike Balter. I made soft and hard mallets. I made them to not be too heavy and I made the hard mallets to cut through the band. Mike puts enough yarn on them so if you hit them soft the sound will be fairly soft. The soft mallets are a little heavier and are for quieter gigs. I know guys like Behn Gillece use the for the loud gigs also. Behn has a lot of power so he can cut through with them.

Between the two sets I hope I've covered a lot of ground.

I use the hard ones in the studio and I think you'd be surprised how well they work. I think it might be a good idea to use harder mallets in the studio so that you get a good attack sound. I think it gives you a good sound to mix. Of course all this is all IMHO. It seems to me that you can't add attack but you can remove attack in the mix. But there are a few guys here who know more about studio sound etc. but this is just my two cents.

I also like Friedman's mallets a lot. I've played Joe's mallets and like them.

I've played all of the Balter mallets and think Mike does a great job making a variety of mallets.

My student nathaniel vito has a really good set of mallets I'd like to own. I don't know who makes them..

Tylerblanton Thu, 04/19/2012 - 09:34

In reply to by tonymiceli

Other problem here that I'm sure I'm not the first to encounter is that every set of mallets is a little different. Tony, I was playing on 3 different sets of your mallets yesterday, which I love, but one is lighter and much harder, the newest set I got is much softer and a bit heavier, and the first set I have is somewhere in between. Everytime I have found a set of mallets I really love I've usually played them until bust and the next set of the same mallet isn't quite the same.

brumc Wed, 04/18/2012 - 23:09

I'm hitting this topic a little late but I wanted to share my experience.

Until recently I had a semi-groovy job teaching at a very strong local school with good resources. I taught concert percussion and helped with the Jazz program but didn't have to do marching band. (Did it for years, still write some for the money but for the most part, over it!) But, here's my point.

On what Vibe?

I have a wonderful Musser M75 of the shiny bar vintage that sounds freaking awesome! I call "her" Goldie. I got her when my former teacher, the Amazing Doug Walter, now at Colorado, got his YAMAHA deal and sold her to me. Only my wife, family and a couple friends have been in my life longer than she has.

The school I taught at has a YAMAHA 4 octave gold bar and a couple years back purchased an awesome LoveVibe (serial #3) from Malletech.

Enough blah, blah, blah, here, finally, is my point; The mallets that sound good on one do NOT necessarily sound good on the other.

Mallets that work on the YAMAHA generally sound pretty klanky on Goldie and the LoveVibe doesn't really like them either. Some that sound great on my Musser don't make any sound on the YAMAHA. Ed Smith's mallets from Malletech, designed for the him to use on the LoveVibe, sound great on the LoveVibe, not to bad on the Musser and pretty good on the YAMAHA. Tony's sound good on the YAMAHA and the LoveVibe but I have to be careful to keep Goldie from complaining when I use them on her. I've played more recent evolutions of the Musser and they're not as temperamental about them as Goldie.

Back to the point, different Vibes have different vibes. I'm using Dick Sisto's mallets, which are no longer available from what was ProMark, and my old Musser sounds great with those. Dick's working on a new thing and they should be available again in the near future.

All aluminum may be created equal but that doesn't mean it all reacts the same way to the same thing. The sound you're after has a lot to do with what vibe your playing, not just what you're playing it with.

jamesshipp Thu, 04/19/2012 - 10:10

In reply to by brumc

I really only deal with Mussers at this point, unless I'm on the road at a college where they have a Yamaha.