The best kalimba

Percussion Instruments

While it is not essential, many players find they have greater success with playing the kalimba when they let their thumbnails grow out a little.

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Which kalimbas are best?

With the right instrument and a little bit of practice, music can become a rewarding endeavor for nearly anyone. A kalimba, for example, is a portable musical instrument that has less than two dozen keys. It doesn’t involve any difficult tone-production techniques, so you can sound like a pro from day one.

The best kalimbas have a satisfying sound, aren’t too heavy and fit easily in your hands. Moozica’s 17-Key Professional Electric Kalimba is a special model because it comes with a built-in pickup that allows you to play the instrument through an amp, if you desire.

What to know before you buy a kalimba

What is a kalimba?

A kalimba is a small musical instrument that originated in Africa. It features an array of differently sized metal tines attached to a wooden or acrylic base. There are no strings or membranes. It is the vibrating tines that produce the sound. Each tine is manufactured to create a different pitch when played. The instrument produces relaxing tones that are similar to a music box.

Playing a kalimba

Another name for a kalimba is a thumb piano. This is because you hold the instrument in your hands and press the tines down with your thumbs. As your thumb slides off a tine, the tine is released and springs back into place, making it vibrate to produce a pleasant tone. The best tone is produced when played with the thumb nails. While many individuals prefer to play with their bare thumbs, some wear a thumb pick, which is often included with the purchase of a kalimba.

8-key kalimba vs. 17-key kalimba

Most kalimbas have either eight or 17 keys. These keys are the white keys located roughly in the middle of the piano. An 8-key kalimba is best for beginners who just want to play basic melodies, while a 17-key kalimba allows the musician to play more complex songs with accompaniment.

Alternatively, a chromatic kalimba features all of the keys — both the white ones and the black ones — that are located roughly in the middle of the piano. This allows you to play even more complex arrangements.

Types of kalimbas

Acrylic kalimba: An acrylic kalimba features a solid acrylic body. This type of kalimba produces the softest tone and many feel sounds the most like a music box. These models can be larger and heavier, so they aren’t the best for beginners.

Flatboard kalimba: A flatboard kalimba features a solid wood body. This type of kalimba typically has a deeper tone than an acrylic model. It is slightly louder yet can still be a little heavy for a beginner.

Hollow body kalimba: This type of kalimba is the lightest and the loudest. It produces the fullest sound on its own.

Electric kalimba: For individuals who do not want to mic their instrument, the electric kalimba can plug into an amplifier much like an electric guitar. This type of model is best for a stage performer.

What to look for in a quality kalimba

Lightweight

Since you will be holding your kalimba in your hands the whole time you are performing or practicing, the lighter the instrument weighs, the easier it will be on your hands.

Ergonomic design

Your thumbs need to be able to reach the middle of the instrument to play the lowest notes. If the kalimba is too large or features sharp edges, it can be more difficult or uncomfortable to play. Some of the best kalimbas feature built-in grooves that match the curve of your palms for greater comfort.

Accessories

While the instrument is the most important element, there are a number of accessories that can enhance your kalimba experience. Thumb picks, a tuning hammer, a travel case, instructions, song sheets and a dust cloth are all desired accessories that you will be happy to own.

How much you can expect to spend on a kalimba

As far as musical instruments go, a kalimba is a very affordable option. While there may be outliers, you can usually get one for between $25-$50.

Kalimba FAQ

How do you tune a kalimba?

A. The metal tines on a kalimba are not fastened in place. They can slide back and forth. If you notice that certain notes on the instrument do not sound right, these tines can be tapped into tune with the thin end of the included tuning hammer. If a note is sharp, tapping it from the top will lower the pitch. If the note is flat, tapping it from the bottom — where you play the instrument — will raise the pitch. You can use a kalimba tuner or chromatic tuner to verify when the tine is in tune.

My kalimba tine is buzzing. How do I fix that?

A. A kalimba often buzzes simply because some dirt got between the bridge and the tines. To stop the buzzing, all you need to do is gently move the buzzing tine from side to side to clear away the debris. If that does not work, you can try slipping a piece of paper between the tine and the bridge to clear away the debris.

What’s the best kalimba to buy?

Top kalimba

Moozica 17-Key Professional Electric Kalimba

Moozica 17-Key Professional Electric Kalimba

What you need to know: This kalimba stands out because it features a built-in pickup with a jack to make it easy to connect to an amplifier for stage performance. 

What you’ll love: This hollow kalimba is manufactured using acacia koa wood for the resonance box and ore metal for the tines to give it a deep, warm sound. The curved designs on the body offer a natural resting place for the hands. It comes with a number of accessories that allow you to start playing right away.

What you should consider: Occasionally, an instrument that has a crack in the wood slips past quality control.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Top kalimba for the money

UNOKKI 17-Key Kalimba

UNOKKI 17-Key Kalimba 

What you need to know: This resonant option is ideal for the individual who wants a quality instrument but has a tight budget.

What you’ll love: This is a 17-key instrument that is great for the beginner but has enough keys for an advanced player to enjoy as well. It features a compact design, which makes it easy to hold, and the hollow body build makes it suitable for playing outdoors at picnics and campfires. The note names are engraved on the keys to facilitate faster learning.

What you should consider: The thumb protectors are best for individuals who have smaller hands.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

Worth checking out

MOOZICA 21-Key Kalimba

MOOZICA 21-Key Kalimba

What you need to know: For individuals who prefer the flatboard design of a kalimba, this high-quality option will satisfy.

What you’ll love: This kalimba was manufactured using rosewood board. The solid design gives the instrument a brighter sound. This instrument features 21 keys, giving the player four extra bass notes to extend the range of the instrument. The unit features a rounded shape to fit more comfortably in the player’s hands.

What you should consider: This model doesn’t hold its tune as well as some of the other kalimbas.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon.

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