Golfball Xylophone

Place 3ft rails on a pegboard according to instructions on a gift. Roll a golf ball down the ramps. The bin it drops into is labeled with a name.  If it’s your name, open the gift — it’s yours!

Leaning against the wall next to the tree sits a 8 foot long “L” shaped piece of pegboard wrapped hidden in a bed sheet.  Yes, it is next to the tree, not under.  This giant could not fit under the tree regardless of how hard one might try to get it there. The Mad Wrapper makes a big statement this year.  The biggest ever.

Unwrapping the pegboard is easy.  A guest simply pulls off the bed sheet.  The face of the pegboard is white with the exception of black markings along the edges.  The top and sides are labelled with numbers and letters that resemble coordinate markings. Along the bottom, screwed into the pegboard is a series of painted bins each labelled with a different person’s name.

That’s it so far. Part of the mystery is solved but there is more.

Smiles broaden as partygoers realize  that this monstrosity is actually a giant gift sorter from The Mad Wrapper and not actually a gift. Though they don’t know it yet, soon a golf ball will noisily roll down a series of 2″x2″ rails (plunk-plank-plunk-plink-…) and, if setup correctly, will drop into one of the labelled bins to complete the tune (plop-rattle-rattle-rattle).

More Parts under the Tree

Various other gifts sitting under are labelled:

To Everyone From The Mad Wrapper

In these gifts are miscellaneous parts to be attached to the pegboard. These produce:

  • a small bag of pegboard pegs
  • three 2-foot long 1×1 inch wooden rails (aka xylophone keys)
  • a couple of regulation golf balls.

Building the Xylophone

Unfortunately we have lost the video footage and photos
from the Christmas when this originally appeared.  It was
such a memorable event (and 2016 being the actual 20th
anniversary) we decided to build another one!  All of the
pictures and videos on the webpage represent the 2016
reenactment of that great Christmas years ago.

Luckily we kept all the parts from the original Christmas
event: pegs, buckets, rails, level, even a golf ball.  So
rebuilding went pretty quick.


This huge musical decoder is fairly easy to build. You don’t necessarily have to be good with hammer and saw but some experience building stud walls might be helpful.

30 minute video shows how I built it.

The key is to mount an 8 foot long sheet of 1/4 inch pegboard so, sitting on the floor, it can lean at a slight angle against the wall on Christmas morning. The original Christmas decoder used the full uncut 4×8 foot sheet. When rebuilding the project the second time, I found in my basement woodpile a funky “L” shaped sheet left over from a random household project. This one measures 35 inches high by 8 feet long. I decided to use it as-is.  A triple win:

  • No cutting required.
  • It is a rather interesting shape.  Better than square.
  • With about 2/3 the amount of material than the original, it is lighter and therefore easier to lug around.

The studs are spaced 32″ on center. There is no need to built this using the typical 16″ on center found in the average american home.  We are not trying to hold up the roof.

I Framed a half wall the shape of my pegboard the same way a framing carpenter would frame a wall. Here are the lengths of my studs:

  • Bottom: 96″
  • Top: 69″
  • Low-top (on left side): 27″
  • Left side: 15 1/2″
  • Right side (3 of these): 30 1/2″

Nail these all together with 16 penny nails at each joint.
Once the frame is complete, lay the pegboard on top of it and screw it down with 1-1/2 inch sheetrock screws.  A few screws on each stud should do the trick.


Rails are notched

The rails that the golf balls roll along are made from 3′ long 2×2″ balusters. Any type of wood should be fine but consider that this toy doubles as a “musical” instrument.  If you have some time, test the sound qualities of various types of wood.  If possible, listen to golf balls dropping onto a variety of materials, lengths, and thicknesses.  You can even hollow out your rails for a truly great sound.  If selection is good, the balls will play like a xylophone as they drop from one rail to the next. A poor selection results in dull off-tune thuds. It is unlikely that anyone in the audience will care about how tuneless the thuds are but if you can make them sound nice, everyone’s experience will be enhanced.  Those are bonus points.

As a result of my minimal experimentation, I discovered that 2×2″ cedar sounds a bit better than pine. I also culled out some of the worst off-pitch lengths of cedar and threw them back in the wood pile for future projects. I’m sure there are some species of wood that give off better musical tones than cedar, but all the lumber yards around here stock cedar so it was easy to find.

Make sure to file out two small grooves crossways near each end of every rail. These are the spots that rest on top of the supporting pegs.  These grooves are key to providing important left/right positioning information.  With this, the gift receivers will know exactly where to place their crossbars.  Also, make sure the grooves are symmetrical — equidistant from each end.  And make the grooves are placed in the same spot on every rail.

Labeled Coordinates

Draw numbers across the top to mark columns of holes.  Draw letters down

Rows and columns are numbered.

the sides to label the rows. These will become coordinates written on gift cards used by guests to properly place their rails for sorting gifts.

Spirit Level

Center the bubble

Mount a small bubble spirit level onto an angled block at the top of the unit. This is an extremely important step.  If the bubble is not centered the golf ball will not fall where it was intended.  If it falls in the wrong bin, the gift goes to the wrong person.  That would be bad.  Always test your rail placement when the bubble is centered.

Labeled Bins

At the base I mounted a series of plastic bins, each labeled with a person’s name.  The ball will be directed to the appropriate bin depending on rail placement.  The bin where the ball lands reviels the receiver of the gift.

The Gift Tags

The actual gifts under the tree — the personal items intended for each person at the party — are each labeled uniquely with peg coordinates.   Here is what the label says for the gift given to Diane:

To: 38E,68G
From: TMW

When pegs are placed in the holes at those coordinates and rails are laid on top of those pegs, the ball will take a unique musical path and drop into the bin marked “Diane”.

It’s also a Great Toy

This Mad Wrapper sorter might actually be the best toy anyone unwraps all day. Golf balls make music as kids squeal with pleasure all afternoon and into the evening and for days after.  Kids (of all ages) run back and forth to pick balls from the exit and drop them into the start.  There are brief pauses as people reconfigure the maze of ramps and blocks.  Each reconfiguration makes a new plink-plank-plunk musical rhythm — Christmas sounds that will fill the house for days into the future.

Other Possibilities

A smaller, lighter, (more practical) space-saving marble dropper could easily be built.  Simply scale down all measurements of the golf ball xylophone and make a marble dropper. You could make your marble rails from 1″ x 1″ square dowel.

Also consider cutting the top edge of the rails at a slant or route a groove along the top.  This could allow the whole thing to sit perfectly vertical and thus be stored hanging  on the wall fully functional.