How to Make a Kalimba or Thumb Piano

To all who want to make a kalimba,

Don’t let your disappointment with other websites kill your desire to make a kalimba! The concept is about as simple as it gets – attach strips of springy metal to a board in a way that lets them vibrate when then are stroked or plucked.

There are only a few essential pieces – a piece of wood that is roughly the size of a hand, 6 or more pieces of springy metal strips, a strong piece of wood or metal to place over the strips to hold them down, and a rod or dowel to place underneath the strips that will cause their ends to angle up when they are tightened to the board.

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Making a good sounding kalimba can be such a simple thing to do, yet the various instructions and plans found on many different websites make it seem like there is only one way to do it, with the finished project being either a very nice but complicated to make instrument, or a kids project that resembles a kalimba in appearance but doesn’t make a pleasing sound and will break easily.

There are so many good ways to make a kalimba! The information I provide here on is aimed at helping anyone who wants to make a kalimba.  The free plans I offer are a good starting point, and can be a great foundation for future kalimba making projects.

Happy kalimba making,


Simple Yet Sturdy DIY Kalimba “Thumb Piano.”


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This kalimba is the perfect starter project for someone who wants to get started making kalimbas. It uses easy to find materials, the most basic kinds of tools that are easy to find or borrow, and can be finished within a few hours even if you have little or no experience doing this kind of thing.

If you are working on a very strict budget, then you will find that your creativity can make up for your lack of money. Kalimbas inspire the imagination, and the more thought we put into planning our kalimbas, the more rewarding it is to play them and show them around when they are finished.

Even if money isn’t a concern, you may find that it is more rewarding to test your resourcefulness and ingenuity by using these kalimba plans as a basis for your own clever design made using salvaged or re-purposed materials.

You can find the full PDF and instructions by clicking here.

How do you choose the tines for a kalimba?

I recently received the following message from an Etsy user.

“I am building a kalimba and have never touched one nor played one. There are narrow keys/tines and wider ones and there are a couple thicknesses. How do I choose? And thank you for being willing to field questions! :)”

Here is my response, which I realized afterwards I could just paste and post right here onto my nyKalimba blog so everyone can make use of these ideas.

“This is a great question, and it is one that I have long been meaning to write about on my blog. To make a sturdy kalimba, it is important that the tines are well secured to the sound board, otherwise they will buzz and rattle or have a dull sound.

So, to answer your question, the keys should be chosen to compliment the soundboard (and resonator if you are building a box or using a guard). Also, the tensioning system must be considered.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when designing your kalimba:
-Am I using hardwood or softwood? How dense is it, also how thick, long, and wide is the wood?
-How will I be holding the tension rod/bar/tube down? By screwing directly into the soundboard, drilling through it and using nuts, using a grounding bar, another way?
-How many keys do I want and what is the range of notes in terms of deepness or highness of pitch?
-What are my choices of materials for keys?

I hope this is helpful, let me know if you have any more questions. If you give me more info about what you were planning on doing, then I can give you a more precise answer.

I have experimented with countless combinations of woods, key materials, and tensioning systems. I have learned what I like, made more failed attempts than I can remember, and I continue to experiment as I acquire new materials, expand my knowledge, and improve my skills. Let me know if you would like me to recommend a particular design for you to start with or base your own design on.”

I am extending my offer of assistance to any one who visits this site. If you have any questions, I will be glad to help!



Relaxation and Meditation

Relaxation and Meditation Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

This special kalimba is made to be played for relaxing and meditating. This is the only instrument my Grandmother plays, and she plays it everyday! The tuning is unique, it has 8 notes spread across a wide range to play deep, low, medium, and high pitched notes.

Here is a recording of me playing something nice on this wonderful kalimba. The pattern starts very slowly introducing all the notes, then builds up before settling down again. This recording may sound best using headphones or through stereo sound system.

FYI: I didn’t tune the nyKalimba in this recording to exactly A=440, so don’t be thrown off if you have perfect pitch, or use a tuner while listening. The pitches given in the image below are a guide only, I actually like to tune closer to A=444, and starting with a well-tempered tuning I adjust the intervals to suit the unique harmonics that ring out from kalimba tines.

notes on staff large

Certain combinations of these notes combine in a very special way to create “extra” notes. These extra notes are truly sparkling and beautiful. Listening for them is one of the things that makes the experience of playing this nyKalimba so relaxing and meditative. Its sound may be compared to very mellow wind chimes.

Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

Introducing the Ambira Classic Pro

The Ambira Classic Pro is a new kind of kalimba/mbira that offers players some of the best features of modern kalimbas and traditional mbiras all in one instrument.

mbira nyKalimba

“Caleb Kalimba” ©Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

With typical kalimbas you must alternate between left and right thumbs to play a scale. This system is great for its own reasons, one of them being that it is simple to play harmonies because all the notes in a chord are already next to each other. With the Ambira, you can still play harmonies very easily, yet the notes are arranged in scale order, which makes it delightfully intuitive to play. Many people are able to relate more with the nyKalimba than they can with other kinds of kalimbas.

mbira nyKalimba tuning

“Ambira Classic Pro” © Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

Non-musicians will appreciate the intuitive feel of this instrument. Musicians will also appreciate the intuitive note arrangement, and also the wide range of dynamics you can achieve by adjusting the force used to pluck the keys. It is perfect for relaxing and letting the music flow, and also for playing your favorite songs.

You can see from the pictures that the hardware used to secure the keys to the soundboard are concealed inside the tensioning tube, which creates an exceptionally clean and natural appearance.

mbira nyKalimba concealed tensionsing hardware

Ambira Classic Pro using concealed tensioning hardware © Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

The body is shaped and sanded by hand to allow the wood grain to flow smoothly all around the instrument. This makes it extremely comfortable to hold and beautiful to look at. The rhombus shape of the body imparts a classic yet modern quality to the appearance of the instrument. The wood is finished with shellac to bring out the natural beauty of the maple and to help protect the wood.

mbira nyKalimba

Ambira Classic Pro © Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

The Ambira Classic Pro comes standard with buzzers, allowing the spirit of the traditional African mbiras to come through. It is easy to mute the buzzing with your pinky, for effect, or if you wish it is simple to tighten the screw holding the buzzers which will stop them from vibrating until you choose to loosen the screw again.

mbira nyKalimba, rear

Ambira Classic Pro, rear, © Copyright 2013 Caleb Schepart

What Makes NY Kalimba’s Instruments Unique?


  1. I have designed a hardware-concealing tension system. It is probably easier to understand by looking at a picture, but I will describe it here anyway as plainly as possible. I cut the tube to size and drill holes in it. I drill holes straight through the body of the kalimba, and put screws going through the body and into the holes I drilled in the metal tube. I hide nuts inside the tube, the screws meet up with the nuts and can be tightened to make the tube hold the keys securely in place.

    Hardware concealed in tensioning tube

    Hardware concealed in tensioning tube

  2. Most of my kalimbas have bodies that are shaped like a slanted rectangle. This shape is called a rhombus, and my rhomboid shaped kalimbas are a simple yet refreshing variation on the more common rectangular or trapezoidal shaped kalimbas that are typical of most kalimbas.

    example of "nyKalimba" rhomboid shaped body

    example of a rhomboid shaped body

  3. I have developed a couple of unique tuning systems and key arrangements that offer special benefits for kalimba players. The most significant is the one used in my Ambiras, and the other is used in the kalimba for relaxation and meditation.