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How I Rebuilt a Jenco Xylophone!

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I came across a ’60’s era Jenco Rosewood Xylophone, in rough shape, but the price was right, so let’s see how I rebuilt it.

The Jenco Xylophone was being sold off from a local high school. The frame and bars were in rough shape! I got a really good deal on it, but one of the “E”s was a higher pitch than the “F”!

The frame was all but destroyed, so I managed to talk the price down quite a bit. Even with the rough shape it was in, the bars were rosewood, and I knew that with a re-tuning the total price would still be less than any comparable new xylophone.

Here are the parts of the frame that I acquired.


Check out the bracket on the left side that held the end to the rest of the frame, after the end piece had broken off. What do you do to a xylophone to break the frame!?!?!?! I’m pretty big on being very careful about instrument maintenance and care, but I see these types of things with disturbing frequency.

The next thing you might notice are the measurements written on the end piece. I’m a firm believer in measure twice, cut once. It’s helped me build a house, and it saves a lot of work, hassle and money!

If you attempt this on your own, make sure you are very careful and measure everything. I had it easy, since I already had a frame (sort of) to work from.

The basic process was to copy the pieces already in existence, and then fit them together.

I did make one significant¬†frame design change. The original frame design had the end pieces screwed into the end grain of the slats. A carpenter can predict what happened. Those screws stripped out of the end grain, and THAT’S what broke the end of the frame.

Putting a screw into the end of a piece of wood is not a strong connection. I wanted to use a “stopped dado joint,” but at the time, I didn’t know what that type of joint was called. This led to many confusing conversations with my father, who is a great carpenter. His advice has helped me save a number of instruments, and I’ve been lucky to have his input in my life. Thanks, Dad!

A few more points about the new frame:

1.) I decided to make the frame out of Red Oak.

2.) Gluing the dados together wasn’t enough. I bought an extra long 1/4″ drill bit, and ran bolts all the way through the connection.

3.) It took quite some digging to discover where I could get something to use as bar posts. I found screw eyes that I used from Larson Hardware Manufacturing (, #204.

Be aware of the correct pilot hole size when you begin drilling your holes, and make sure you use a drill press, a brad point bit, correct safety equipment and procedures, as well as pilot holes in general. If you simply start ramming screws into oak, good luck with all the split boards you end up with.

***Looking back, I could have sourced the bar posts from any of the major instrument manufacturers, and probably had better results.

4.) I used a table saw and circular saw to copy the end pieces and the slats. Extreme caution should be used when using power tools, especially creating woodworking joints (such as dados) that you are unfamiliar with.

They do make dado blades for this purpose, but I didn’t get one of those. I probably should have, as it would have saved quite a bit of time. Even though I was copying straight from the old frame, getting the angles correct for the slats was…a challenge.

All that being said, here’s what I came up with:

As you can see, I’m testing the fit with the bolts, and have managed to copy the measurements from the old frame. Next, I drilled all of the pilot holes for the screw eyes, and installed them.

Pro tip: rub the screw eyes over a bar of regular soap, and they go in faster and easier, use something besides your fingers to twist them in, such as a wrench, etc. Both of those tips saved a lot of pain and effort.

Here’s the setup I used to drill all of the pilot holes perpendicular.

Notice my jig, which saved a lot of time! I held the slat against the jig to get my pilot holes perpendicular. Be sure to check out the old slats in the background, as well as the double duty the jig is doing. Not only did I use it to get the pilot holes correct, I used it as a test subject for the screw eyes.

Here’s where I found out about the soap, as I was complaining to my father about how difficult is was to get them in, even though the pilot hole was the correct size. He just laughed at me, and then solved my problem!

Here’s the frame all together:

Once I got all of the screw eyes in, I used some cotton cord that the tuner sent with the bars, and strung them together. Doug DeMorrow retuned the bars for me, and did a fantastic job, even replacing a bar for me. We had some fascinating conversations about the quality of Rosewood, or lack thereof, that Jenco used!

Once all of the adjustments were finished, I just had to set it up and play, what else, a rag!

Having checked for fit, I removed the bars, applied finish to the frame, and I stripped and painted the legs.

The final touch was re-installing the Jenco brand marks.

That took some careful drill press work, but with a little time and effort, it’s all possible!

After I completed the project, I sold the xylophone to a band program, and added extra bracing to the frame, in order to facilitate middle school students rolling it down hallways.

I actually did this same frame reinforcement for a Musser Xylophone as well. Read about that here.

This project was great, and sometimes I wish I would have held onto the instrument. While there were no resonators, and the tone of the bars wasn’t the best, I did enjoy busting out a ragtime piece at all hours of the day and night!

Leave me a comment, and tell me about your experiences rebuilding instruments!

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