Matched Octave Alto and Treble Kalimbas
Get Sonic Diversity without Relearning

Matched Pair
Matched Alto/Treble Pair in G

For years, we have been offering the standard Hugh Tracey Alto and Treble kalimbas as a set through our sweetheart deal. I have come to see that there are some issues with this combination, and want to discuss them and present an alternative that I feel has much better attributes.

Both the Treble and the Alto kalimbas come from the manufacturer in the key of G (standard tuning). I personally have two issues with playing the Alto and the Treble together in their standard tunings. First, the Treble only goes a fifth above the Alto and the Alto only goes a third lower than the Treble - that is, most of the notes overlap and thus the two instruments together do not extend the range of only one instrument by very much. Second, any Alto song that relies heavily on the lower two notes cannot be played on the Treble kalimba without relearning the piece by flipping up an octave and playing the song as a mirror image of what is played on the Alto. This is not easy to do and takes significant practice, and even then the music (up an octave) might not fit within the range of the Treble.

Matched Pair
Tuning chart, matched pair in F.

We are proud to offer a new concept in kalimbas that handles these issues in an elegant and easy-to-use way: the matched Alto/Treble pair, available in the keys of E, F, F#, and G. The diagram to the right shows the tuning for the matched pair in F, which is also what is used in the demonstration video above. The Alto, usually in G, is tuned down a whole step to F, while the Treble, usually with the a high note of D, is tuned up a step and a half to F, and the tines are painted as a "D Treble", which itself is modeled after the Alto style of tine painting. As you can see, all of the notes line up, except for the two extra low notes D and E on the Treble.

Remember though, that the Treble is now playing a full octave above the Alto. As all of the notes are in the same place on the instrument and relative to the painted tines, there is no relearning involved when switching from the Alto to the Treble or back - they "look and feel" like the same instrument, only the Treble has slightly smaller tines, two extra low notes, and is an octave higher than the Alto.

Who might use the matched Alto/Treble kalimba pair? It is a wonderful set to get so you and your friend or partner can play together. The Alto can play a more harmonic supportive role, and if the Treble plays the melody it can soar above. Played in octaves, these kalimbas give a really cool sound in recordings. Or you can use these as a looping pair, laying the groundwork on the Alto and then giving a contrasting part on the higher Treble.

"Rougham Farms", a song I wrote while visiting South Africa, used to demonstrate the matched Alto/Treble pair in F. You can download tablature for this song for free.

An aside: the keys of E and F require the minimal retuning (i.e., the instruments are minimally altered from their original tunings, and from what the tine sets were designed for). However, the low E on the E Alto is getting a bit wonky because the Alto box doesn't resonate well at that low a note. Similarly, tuning the Treble up to F# and G results in a high end that is a bit thin, and the tines which were designed to have a high D end up hanging off the upper edge of the box slightly, making them susceptible to "unintentional detunage" if they are put in their boxes without protective padding.

The matched Alto/Treble set, tuned to octaves, is available for purchase at a discounted price over purchasing the kalimbas separately. And don't forget to use the coupon code HT16 to get 16% off Hugh Tracey kalimbas before Dec 31 2015.