Brian, the Master Tuner at marimba one™, says that what you need to bring bars to a correct pitch is “a good ear and good hands.” For this master tuner, the strobe tuners are the necessary quantifier, but the ear is the qualifier. He ought to know since he has tuned well over 100,000 bars in the last decade.
The Seattle native started as a woodworker and landscaper and went to luthier school in Phoenix so that he could discover how to build guitars. But he found his true calling when he arrived in Arcata (“I knew I was home,” he says) and was trained to tune at marimba one™ by founder-owner Ron Samuels.
Marimba tuners are a rare and precious breed. “There’s not a lot written about tuning a marimba keyboard, so I essentially learned by ear to mix and match the bars to create a uniform sound across the keyboard,” Brian says.
After more than a decade of tuning marimba keyboards, Brian’s expertise has no equal. He and his support staff do everything from determining which pieces of rosewood in their raw form will be selected to become concert quality marimba bars, to drilling and shaping the bars, and to the tuning of the bars. Each bar is individually hand tuned. At marimba one™, tuners match the resonance and harmonic character and overall timbre of each bar to its neighboring bars, drawing from an inventory of over 100 sets of keyboards. The result is that every keyboard sounds and feels as if it’s from a single piece of wood.
“I love the challenge of it,” says Brian. “Every piece of wood is unique, and so it is sometimes frustrating but always interesting.”