Kalimba – Buying Guide, Opinions and Analysis
Although they are little known, kalimbas are instruments with a sweet sound, considered traditional in different parts of Africa. They are also called Mbiras and are made in different ways, so you can choose one that suits your musical style. A kalimba like the Muslady Gecko 17 keys brings a complete set of accessories so that beginners and professionals can experience the instrument in a comprehensive way. Another model like the Moozica MZCA – K17MBL offers other qualities such as a curved design that gives it ergonomics and a resistant case that will protect the kalimba from shocks, water and dust.
Mbira, thumb piano or kalimba; It doesn’t matter what you want to call the instrument, as the things you should keep in mind before buying it are the same. In any case, taking the time to analyze each option before making the decision will give you the opportunity to obtain the instrument that is really most suitable for you.
Like any instrument, the most important thing is the sound it can provide, because if the product does not produce good music, then it cannot be considered an instrument worth purchasing. For that reason, when making a guide to buying the best kalimba, sound quality should be the most important aspect.
In the market you can find different models and although they look similar, this does not mean that they all sound the same. In fact, slight changes such as the length of the keys, the material and the amount will make the sounds different.
The longer the blades, the higher the pitches will be, and depending on the manufacturer this can cause the pitch and musical notes to vary. Most of the time, the notes are tuned to the C or C major standard; however, there are other models that are tuned in B or B, and G or G.
Another thing to keep in mind, regarding the keys, is how many come with the instrument. This is because, while some kalimbas suitable for professionals have at least 17 keys, other models manufactured for beginners have 15 keys or less, even reaching 6. This limits their use and, for that reason, they are considered entry models.
Lastly, never leave out key materials. The main element is metal, however, this is divided into different variations such as stainless steel, unplated mineral and silver, and spring steel. The former is usually correct for basic models, while the latter is best suited for instruments designed for experienced musicians.
In a kalimbas comparison, the structure should play a very important role in your purchase decision. Like the keys, the material used by the body of the kalimba also influences the musical quality; however, this design affects not only that aspect, but also the comfort of use and the practicality of the instrument.
Although some models use plastic, the main element most used and considered common is wood; however, like the metal of the keys, this one also has variations. The most used and recommended is mahogany, although there are others who prefer kalimbas with higher resonance and for this it is necessary to buy a model made of curly maple or Koa wood.
By choosing the desired material, you can look at other design features such as how ergonomic the structure is. In this case, those models that include a curvature on the sides stand out, as this simple detail facilitates the adaptation of your hands to the instrument. If you are more comfortable playing, then it will be easier to do it correctly.
As another standout feature, don’t downplay the importance of good spacing between the keys, as if the keys are a little apart, it may be easier for an adult to play the kalimba. Finally, remember that some models come with a soundboard, while others are smooth. The former tend to have a louder volume, while the latter instruments provide more uniformity. Deciding between one and the other depends entirely on your tastes.
If you focus only on looking for a good and inexpensive kalimba, you could pass up higher-priced offers, but with more accessories to complement the use of the instrument.
There is nothing wrong with considering how much a kalimba costs, however, it is preferable to consider every little element and make a decision based on quantity and quality, before cost. For example, you may find some instruments that are priced a bit higher, but come with a tuning hammer and carrying case.
These accessories automatically give additional value to the product, as they are parts that you will eventually have to purchase if you don’t do it with the initial purchase. At some point you will have to tune the kalimba or take it somewhere, and it is best to be prepared.
In addition to this, if you are a beginner, then it is worth analyzing the options carefully, as you could find some attractive offers, such as instruments that come with music books, stickers to identify the notes and even thumb protectors to get used to your fingers. These small but necessary details will make your experience more comfortable and your learning happens naturally and easily.
Frequently asked questions
Q1: How to use a kalimba?
Using the kalimba is as simple as pressing each sheet with your fingers to produce the sound. With some practice time, you will be able to master the art of the instrument, as its operation is one of the easiest.
Q2: How to change the key to a kalimba?
If for some reason it is damaged, then you just need to buy another sheet of metal to replace it. Loosen the screw, take out the old sheet and replace it, and retighten.
If you want it to have a different musical note, then you should adjust its position and try a tuner until you get the sound you want.
Q3: What is the wired kalimba for?
The kalimba, like most instruments, works without needing to be connected anywhere. However, if you want to get a resonant sound that can be heard even when you are far away, you need the help of an amplifier.
Due to this and the progressive fame that kalimbas are obtaining, some manufacturers have decided to add a space in the lower area of the instrument to connect a cable and be able to adapt the kalimba to an amplifier suitable for it.
Q4: How to tune a kalimba?
Unlike some instruments that require nothing more than your skill to do the tuning, kalimbas need a small hammer designed for them; that way, you can tune the instrument.
This tends to scare some, because it seems that it is difficult; however, tuning a kalimba is really easy and can take less than 15 minutes. To start with, you must have a kalimba hammer and a tuner; this last element can simply be a mobile application that suits the instrument.
The metal sheets of the kalimbas can lose their adjustment over time and, for that reason, you have to tap them to the original place in order to achieve the correct tone. Longer blades indicate low tones and shorter blades high tones.
Play a sheet and check the tuner that it is on the correct note. If it isn’t, proceed to hit one end to move the key. Try again until you find the ideal pitch and repeat with each key. With this method it is also possible to change the notes of each key completely; That way, you can experiment with other tones and melodies.
When finished, if you feel that any key produces a hum that interferes with the harmony of the melodies, you can also reduce this effect; For this you have three options: sand the key carefully, add a special paper on it and, if the kalimba is a screw model, you can also adjust or loosen them depending on the case.
Q5: How to make a kalimba?
The kalimba is a small instrument and fortunately not very difficult to make at home.
If you want to get started in the world of the kalimba, you only need to get a few inexpensive materials and you can easily get a homemade version of the instrument for fun.
To start, you will need a wooden box with a minimum thickness of 5 mm, a drill bit to make a hole, a drill, a saw, bamboo sticks, glue and some screws.
As a first step, separate the box and work with the lid only; after the whole process you can put the pieces together.
Using the drill bit, proceed to poke a hole in the bottom. This will serve to give the instrument resonance and the ability to sound correctly.
Use a walnut wood bar to mark 9 spaces, with the same distances from each other. When you’re sure it’s the correct measurement, drill the holes.
Using a thin saw, cut the bar in two, going through the 9 holes exactly in half. Each strip should be thinner and with 9 lines where the toothpicks will enter.
At each end of the bars, drill two holes of a larger size to fit the screws.
Make an identical strip using MDF and place it on the inside. Use glue and nuts to position it. On the other side of the box, you will place the original bars, one on top of the other, and use screws to fasten them.
As the next step, you must glue the lid to the box and wait for it to dry.
Loosen the screws to allow the toothpicks to pass through and adjust them to the length necessary for the correct pitch. Having them in the right position, screw again to tighten them.
Finally, just try your new kalimba and enjoy.
Q6: Is it essential to use a hammer to play a kalimba?
No, you just need to have strength in your fingers.
Q7: Where does the kalimba come from?
The kalimba, or mbira, is an instrument that originated in Zimbabwe. However, today, it is a popular element in different cultures of the African continent.