Though it may appear simple at first glance, making a Kalimba is no easy task. It takes a very skilled craftsman to perfect this process, as well as the right materials, sizes and angles to create the ideal sound. Here is how a kalimba is made.
It all begins with what is known as the soundbox, which is created using kiaat wood (an African hardwood). This is made into a square-like shape and can also be created with other materials such as bamboo, spruce, sandalwood, coconut and mahogany.
Once the correct shape has been made, the soundbox is fixed with metal keys or tongues (known as lamellas) at the top. These keys can be made from cane or steel, as well as home alternatives if you want to switch things up a little. These alternatives include old spoon handles, bicycle spokes or even spring wire cut down into the correct shape.
These keys are mounted across two bars at one end and attached to the soundbox using a wooden dowel to hold them in place. The dowel is key for tuning each key. One of the sound holes is used as a bridge, whilst the other holds the tongues in place.
The dowel is arguably the most important aspect of any kalimba as it determines the pitch of the tongues. The shorter the tongue, the higher the pitch and the longer the tongue the lower the pitch. If this process sounds a little too complex, there’s no need to panic. There are many homemade kalimba kits available online that will provide you with pre-cut parts for you to put together.
This is the ideal option for someone looking to get started, as you can put your kalimba together without having to carve out the parts yourself. With step-by-step instructions, you’ll be able to build, paint, tune and play your new kalimba in no time at all!