When planning our trip to Europe I wanted to hit all the big cities; Paris, Berlin, Munich, Salzburg. I booked airline tickets, Airbnb’s, train tickets and more and waited. Then a few months before our trip it was time to start planning what we were actually going to do there. While discussing this with my friend Lissa Ray, she said that we needed to go tour the studio 49 factory! I literally jumped at the chance and was so excited from that moment on.
Our entire time through Europe, my husband and I saw all the sights, drank and ate wonderful things, and enjoyed the European life. But when it was time to go to Munich I was beyond thrilled. With anticipation, like waiting for a Christmas morning, I had to wait 1 more day until our tour. The morning of our tour we got on the S-Bahn and the bus and traveled to the studio 49 factory. Once there we were greeted by Herr Becker, the owner of the factory. He graciously was taking time out of his morning to show us around, and boy did he deliver. Throughout the entire tour he gave us such descriptions and information about the instruments that you knew he cared deeply for the work going on at Studio 49.
We started as it should start with giant pieces of trees. The wood they get comes from South America and Africa. They cut the pieces into long thin strips that are then placed in an oven to dry. As Herr Becker explained, you want to make sure you get out all the moisture so that the instruments can last forever and won’t crack or get too far out of tune. In order to do this though, they actually dry and then re-moistruize the wood 3 times over the course of many weeks. After taking to wood out of the oven it is time to start making the bars.
When we were there they were working on bars for the bass xylophone. The men working would cut each long wooden strip to the measurement of a specific bar. Then the wooden rectangle would go through a roller coaster ride and at the end would come out looking more like a bar. The holes were drilled, the first bit of tuning was sanded out and the note name was stamped on the bar.
After the ride the bars then get lacquered by hand. After a coat of lacquer the bars are tuned by hand by some very skilled men. These men play the bars to hear the fundamental and overtones the bar creates. If the bar is not in tune they sand the bar to try and achieve the correct intonation. This is done by hand for each bar for each instrument. Then the bars need another coating of lacquer before being stored and shipped.
The resonator boxes are a thing of precise beauty. When cutting the side of the resonator boxes, the machines used cutes both sides at once. This allows for near perfect joints without any sanding required. Only a thin line of glue and some pegs are used to combined these sides together. They go into a machine that presses them together to create these perfect seals. Then the nails and tubing get added to the resonator boxes.
It was inspiring to see from start to finish what it takes to make these instruments. The time and precision needed so that these can last for generations. Herr Becker laughed when he told us about a flip book he wants to make showing this generational use. “Start with a child playing a xylophone, then a man playing the same xylophone, then an old man same xylophone, then young child again like a grandson same xylophone. Keep going to show how long the instruments last”. He saw it as a silly comic strip idea, but it does prove a point that if you take care of these instruments they are meant to last lifetimes.
We also saw metallophones, glockenspiels, drums, mallets and more on our tour: