For a couple of years now I’ve built a variety of traditional roots musical instruments, mostly cigar box guitars. In the past few weeks my attention has turned to a traditional African instrument called the kalimba, or thumb piano.

I’ve made several versions using anything I can find that will produce a vibration. Basically a kalimba is a box of some sort, a bridge to hold the keys or tines, and the tines, which product vibrations when plucked with the thumbs or fingers. I’ve used made pieces, found pieces, and adapted pieces to build these simple music makers.

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The builds with metal tines are tuned to a chromatic scale and specific melodies and rhythms can be plucked from them. The wooden tines each produce a different sound but are simply adjusted that each stick is a different length. They are played more as a percussion instrument. Some even call them thumb drums.

For an idea of what an accomplished player can do check out this video of famous American banjo player, Bela Fleck, doing a field recording with a kalimba player in Africa.

My various creations are available for sale and will be on display at Spark Creative Artspace in Greenfield, OH. In the near future I hope to have them available for purchase online.

Here’s another example of an 8-tine kalimba being played.

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