Best Kalimba Instrument

The kalimba is a member of a whole family of instruments with origins in many regions of Africa.

Instruments in the family include the mbira, the karimba, and likembe, among others.

The kalimba was actually discovered by Hugh Tracy. Born in 1903. He was sent to Zimbabwe to work on his brother’s tobacco farm.

That’s where he saw his African staff playing these instruments and the rest, as they say, is history.

You might have heard the kalimba in some synths, etc but no matter where you heard them, you won’t be forgetting their soothing relaxing sound anytime soon.


Donner Kalimba

A mahogany body and nice carbon steel keys, make this Donner Kalimba an excellent choice for beginners or enthusiasts to play around with a kalimba. You can get this neat kalimba in two types. 17 keys or 10.

If it’s your first time, it really doesn’t matter. Besides, this kalimba is literally pocket size so it’s pretty portable. Most beginners absolutely love it.


Newlimb Kalimba

Whether you are a beginner, adult, child (Literally 3 years old), the kalimba is truly one of those special instruments that anyone can play around with. This Newlimb model takes that joy to the next level.

Thanks to its solid construction and overall clean sound, most report to have a nice ‘soothing’ experience when playing around with this specific model. That’s great news as a kalimba was originally designed for you to relax and just enjoy some great music. Good stuff Newlimb peeps.


Gecko Kalimba

If you’re looking for a complete beginner’s package, the Gecko kalimba set might just be what the doctor ordered. It comes with a nice case so you can keep your kalimba safe (Even while traveling), a tuning hammer which allows you to keep your kalimba tuned properly.

This is awesome but that’s why I don’t recommend this package for kids. For grown-ups, I think it should be just fine though. The Gecko kalimba is built very well as well. Overall, it’s a solid package for most though some have reported getting something completely different.


Newlam Kalimba Thumb Piano

Now don’t worry, as I mentioned earlier, thumb piano is just an American word for a Kalimba. I guess it’s pretty self-explanatory right? Anyways, This thumb piano by Newlam doesn’t disappoint. At least that’s the verdict from most users. This one is a hit with the kids and the adults alike.

Why?

Well it pretty much has what you would expect in an ideal beginner instrument. It comes with easy to follow instructions and doesn’t need to be tuned. It does come with a tuning hammer which is definitely appreciated. Most like it, some don’t.


JDR 17 Keys Kalimba

Another wonderful Kalimba package. It comes with everything you need and is meant for beginners and advanced users. The best thing about a kalimba is it’s way easier to play then what you would expect. This JDR kalimba is a very good example of that. Most people report this specific kalimba model to be better than expected. Which is always a good thing.


QStyle Kalimba

This is one of those out of the box, ready to go kalimbas. If you are planning to give to this a beginner, make sure to put the labels on the keys. Don’t worry, it comes with those as well.

The sound produced is loved by literally all users and if you are looking to give a kalimba as a gift, this QStyle package seems to be the one of the most beloved out there today.


JiangChuan Scorina Kalimba

The JiangChuan Scorina Kalimba is considered of the highest quality kalimbas out there. If you were looking to get two kalimbas right away, this just may be the right deal for you.

Great way to share something new with the people you love (Especially slightly older kids) and see where it takes them. If anything, you will most likely end up enjoying a new hobby.


Helesin 17 Key Kalimba

If you are looking to fall in love with a music instrument, this kalimba (Actually the entire package) may just do the trick. Forget about being new to making music, if you haven’t even played a musical instrument ever, this little guy just might turn your world upside down. In a good way that is.

The Helesin 17 (Stands for the number of keys), comes with everything you need. If you really start getting into it, you’ll really enjoy how easy it is to take around with you.


Unokki 17 Keys Mbira Sanza African Wood Finger Piano

As mentioned earlier, sometimes people refer to a kalimba as a finger piano. Well this “finger piano” is not just a quality product but also quite easy on the pockets. Especially if you compare it with the Hugh Tracey kalimbas. Comes with nice instructions (In English if I may add), a hammer to tune this little wonder and labels as well.

Great package overall for the first-timer and your regular kalimba master.


GSM Brands Kalimba

Made of solid mahogany and looks absolutely stunning, Vince Kalimba by GSM brands definitely has that antique, classic look to it. This is probably one of the most authentic-looking kalimbas out there.

Comes with this very own tuning Hammer, carrying case and a few other things that you may need. One thing that really makes this Kalimba special it’s the letters, or actually engraved in the Keys. So you don’t have to even use stickers like most of the commitments that are out there. Call Annie Potts all around that produces Great Sound.


UNOKKI Thumb Piano 17 Keys

Another incredible package by the Unokki team. This isn’t the same African version we shared earlier but a true gem in its own right. To be honest, if you’re introducing your kids or even yourself to a musical instrument for the first time, you just can’t go wrong with a kalimba. The only downside as some people have reported is the company might be a tad bit slow in replying, etc. I guess customer service is something everybody can improve on but as far as this product goes, it’s almost close to perfection.


Kit House 17 Key Kalimba

Another beautifully designed Kalimba. This 17 key wonder by Kit House it’s not just easy on the eyes but the sound is considered quite soothing by many. Arrives in a nice stylish case, and with a tuning hammer, so you can make adjustments later on. The specific package is considered a great gift by a lot of users and a great idea for birthday presents as well. Overall, this is a great kalimb set for beginners and professionals alike.


Apelila 17 Key Kalimba

If you’re looking for something that comes in many different kinds of unique colors and patterns, this Kalimba might just be up your alley. Made by the good folks at Apelila, the Apelila thumb piano comes with everything you need in this fun beginner package. Even some funky finger picks. Great construction overall but some do report it being a little clunky. Hopefully, these guys can improve on that as overall, most really seem to love playing this kalimba.


Abida Waterproof Kalimba

Although we don’t recommend you play the center water, this Kalimba is waterproof. Obviously, that’s not the main reason people buy these things but Abida did a great job here.

By making this kalimba waterproof, they made sure that if you are playing along with your Kalimba near the swimming pool or at the beach, you can still bring it home without ruining it. It comes with all the fixings as well such as tuning Hammer, a nice case and a few other goodies.

As far as the sound is concerned, it’s nice and soothing and seems to be loved by everyone. Overall, a great solid piece of music equipment for everyone who loves music basically.


Moozica 17 Key Kalimba

Out of all the wonderful kalimbas, that are featured on this page, the Moozica 17’s unique design really takes the cake.

We love this classic yet the rich and retro look of these Kalimba’s. Mostly thanks to the koa and mahogany wood combination but also to the craftsmanship of their team.

Just like any decent package, it comes with a few other goodies and produces a great sound to boot.

Most love it.


Aklot Kalimba 17 Keys Thumb Piano

Talk about taking an already exquisite instrument to the next level, this Kalimba by Aklot is actually shaped like a cute little bear. If you ever wanted your kids to get into music, this one will do it and then some. You know this product is aimed at kids because these guys have their own youtube channel. Most people love the sound but their maybe a few who could be disappointed. Great idea for kids but the professionals might ask for a better sounding kalimba.


Tom Kalimba 17 Key Thumb Piano

Now this Kalimba actually looks like one of those old school, retro radios. I believe that was the idea behind it. Anyways, the details on this 17 key thumb piano by Tom are just quality. Most love it but if there are definitely some odd and opposite opinions about this particular Kalimba as well.


Luvay 17 Key Thumb Piano

This Mahogany beauty I’ll give you that African style vibe that most Kalimba users crave. The construction on this Kalimba is quite solid but at the same time, it’s very lightweight. Which makes the Luway 17 quite easy and portable for you to take along anywhere. A great sounding kalimba for most that comes with clear instructions and a whole bunch of other stuff. One fo the best packages for gifting in our opinion.


Elejolie 17 Key Thumb Piano

This kalimba is simply great sounding. In fact, a lot of people even labeled it as “unique”. It might not be tuned when you get it so make sure you use the tuning hammer that it came with. However, only use a piano or chromatic tuner. Guitar tuners may not give you the best results. The only possible downside (Especially if you’re a beginner) is there are no instructions. Not a big issue as you can Youtube those but still, it may be annoying for some people.


Anatomy of a Kalimba Instrument

Anatomy of Kalimba Instrument

Head

This refers to the top part of the kalimba.

Backstop

Holds the placement of the tines which helps a kalimba hold it’s tuning.

Bridge

Supports the tines so they stay put.

Tines

Usually, metal rods that are arranged in a certain way to create proper sound. Some refer to these as ‘Vibrating bars’.

Sound Hole

As you may have guessed, this is where the sound comes from. There are actually 3 sound holes in a kalimba. There are also two small ones in the back.

Box

This refers to the entire body of the kalimba.

Foot

Located near the base and is aligned with the soundhole, the foot is basically the bottom of a kalimba (When it’s upright).

Back Sound Holes

These are sound holes available on the backside of a kalimba. In some cases, tines are on the backside too so you can flip the Kalimba and play it the other way as well.


History of the Kalimba

Africa the birthplace of humanity, the birthplace of the rhythm, and the birthplace of the kalimba.

Kalimba, also known as an African thumb piano, is widespread across Africa. Ranging from South Africa to the edge of the Saharan desert, the Kalimba has over 100 traditional varieties. Indicating a very ancient and rich history.

In the 20th century, forces such as evangelical church music and radio threatened to overwhelm traditional music. In addition, the urbanization of kalimba led to the death of many traditional branches of the kalimba.

However, thanks to the work of some pioneering ethnomusicologists, the Kalimba story has been preserved.

The earliest kalimba was made of bamboo in western Africa about 3000 years ago.

This early kalimba spreads slowly across Africa.

Also during this time, people started using iron in the Middle East and this technology spread throughout the world including southward through Africa.

About 1300 years ago shortly after iron age technology reached the Zambezi River Valley in southern Africa, the metal used in kalimba was invented.

Based on Andrew Tracy’s studies of the distributions of kalimba types and tunings, it is thought that this tuning may be the grandmother of all-metal timed kalimba from southern Africa.

The kalimba is truly an ancient testament to African innovation


How to play the Kalimba

With the purchase of your kalimba, you will often receive a kalimba cleaner which can be used to wipe down.

  • A Kalimba Cleaner.
  • A Kalimba Tuner.
  • A Kalimba Thumbpick.

Imagine you are using a 17 K mahogany wood kalimba from Moscow.

Note the type of wood used for your kalimba barely affects the performance in terms of sound quality so to create some basic sounds, you can use the skin of your thumbs to play the notes on the kalimba.

If you don’t have any fingernails or you don’t like the sound of that, use the kalimba thumb picks. It’s actually a good idea as it will help you from getting injured as well. Especially when you really start practicing. Professionals, however, use their fingernails. Yeah sounds gross but it seems to work for most.

Once you get the feel of things, it’s time to tune your kalimba. Simply download any universal tuning app on your smartphone and start tuning away. By the way, the wood type used in a kalimba doesn’t really affect its sound.

Sources:

Peter Thomas
Peter is a well-known guitar teacher in Ealing. He’s taught hundreds of guitarists of all levels, covering everything from rock and pop to jazz and classical.Have a question, need some help, or want to give your opinion? Drop us a comment below!

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