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!



3 thoughts on “How do you choose the tines for a kalimba?

  1. eve

    Love your designs.
    I would like to make a kalimba with a lower octave…..bass if possible for my husband. I will use a gourd with a wooden hand carved top. Is it possible to get the lower tones of a bass guitar? I will purchase custom tines from you…either way.

    1. nykalimba Post author

      Sorry for delayed reply, I realize it has been several months. Have you found alternative source for tines? If not, I would be glad to provide, however I am sorry to say that it is probably not realistic to expect such bass tones from a gourd-style kalimba. There are suitcase sized kalimbas (called rhumba boxes or marimbulas) which can produce low pitches. I have been meaning to experiment with ways to get these bass tones from a hand held kalimba, but that project is on the back burner for now.
      Again, sorry for the delay, and please let me know if there is anything I can do for you….Caleb


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