Tongue Drums #3: Building Individual Tongue Drum Keys

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Blog entry by GnarlyErik posted 06-08-2021 07:34 PM 287 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Mallets - more than you need to know! Part 3 of Tongue Drums series no next part

A few months ago I took the top off of a tongue drum
in order to try to fine tune the tongues. In the process I accidentally split the top at the anchor ends of a couple keys. I re-glued it and it didn’t seem to make any difference. That got me wondering about building a tongue drum with individual keys, which could be tuned before assembly into the top. Tuning is really a tough proposition because it’s hard to determine the Hertz level of the key you are tuning since the sympathetic vibration of the adjacent keys can seriously interfere with the reading.

So, why not simply make individual keys, tune them individually, then assemble them into a finished soundboard? My theory is, so long as you are consistent with your key construction, and the way it is anchored at the fixed end, you should be able to tune it pretty close and avoid all the frustration of tuning it as part of a set.

Another advantage I see is a more consistent key width (via table saw), and incidentally, keys which are much easier to sand – a hassle with a one-piece sound board. A third major advantage I can see is with individual keys the width of you stock is not critical as long as it’s wide enough for each single key. Furthermore, you can select for the best available grain in your individual keys, and not be constrained by the edge grain of wide stock being inconsistent with the overall construct.

I haven’t done this yet but I am going to give it a try on my next build. I’ve made a rough sketch which should be self-explanatory. Briefly, The keys are made on a table saw. If your key is to have an end offset (as in the sketch), obviously the offset side must be done with a bandsaw or reciprocating jigsaw. If there is no offset end, then roughing out the keys can done entirely on the table saw.

When a key is finished, sanded, etc., it is tightly clamped to an end piece exactly how it would be it a finished soundboard, it is tuned and set aside until all the keys are made and then glued together with the other keys in the proper configuration. Fixed spacers are glued to the anchor ends during construction, with temporary spacers at the free ends. (“A” & “A2” respectively in my rough sketch).

If anyone tries this before I get to it, please let me know how it works out for you!:

-- "Never let your dogma be run over by your karma!"

1 comment so far

View robscastle's profile


7950 posts in 3324 days

#1 posted 06-08-2021 08:56 PM

It makes sense to me, but I guess as you say a build test will prove the concept.

Just out of interest is the tip profile (end offset) just cosmetic or doe it serve a harmonic purpose?

-- Regards Rob

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