Tuned Woodblocks

Tuned Woodblocks


1 1/2 octave chromatic set of tuned woodblocks, mounted on a wooden table, with four metal legs

(1993-01-48) Donated by Carroll Bratman

As a percussionist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini for 11 years, a member of the Sousa and Pryor Bands, and a staff musician for major radio, television and recording companies, William Dorn was called upon to perform many types of sound effects. As with many percussionists, when an instrument didn’t exist, Dorn would build one to suit his needs, or manufacture them for others at their request.

This unique set of tuned and mounted woodblocks is just such an instrument, although it is not known for whom Dorn manufactured it. Having a chromatic range of 1 1/2 octaves, C5–F6, the lowest C is 8 1/4″ long x 2″ wide, and the upper blocks are 6″ long by 2″ wide.

Each maple bar is convex on the top, with the height of the block being about 7/8″ at the center. The bars are tuned underneath by sawing two transverse cuts near the middle of each bar and removing the wood between those cuts to a depth of about 1/4″.

Each block is mounted in its own resonance chamber by four cords: two that suspend the block on each end, and two that attach to brads inserted in the bottom of the block to hold it within the chamber. The resonance chambers, most of which have “W. DORN” stamped into them, are made of oak and pine, and are screwed to the table through padded strips. The table is 29″ high and consists of a 37 1/4″ wide by 20″ deep by 3/4″ thick piece of plywood. Two metal handles are attached to the top of the table to aid with moving the instrument.