Each kalimba has its strengths and weaknesses. Some kalimbas such as the Sansula are stunningly beautiful, but have just one song, and the challenge is to find ways to vary that song so it keeps evolving and keeps your interest. The Hugh Tracey Alto or Treble kalimbas are general purpose kalimbas and can play hundreds or even thousands of songs, but they do not necessarily suggest a song for you to play.
The "2B" kalimbas are not general purpose kalimbas. It would be difficult to play just any song you might think of, but they have much more than just one song in them. Each tuning seems to have about a dozen different riffs that easily pop out of them. Like the karimba, mbira, and sansula, these kalimbas have an upper row with shorter tines bent upward, and a lower row with longer tines straight out. Just as with the Sansula, this makes for a very suggestive separation of notes. A very simple song that the instrument gives you is to play a pattern restricted to the long notes on the lower row, once or twice, and then follow it with a pattern played on the row of shorter bent up notes. Go back and forth. Thomas Bothe has tuned the kalimba so that playing in the suggested pattern is pleasing, relaxing, enchanting.
The Sansula's pressure bar is held down with a five-pointed star screw head for which I still have not found the tool to turn at any hardware store, the implicit message being: Don't mess with this tuning. The "2B" kalimbas, however, have a pressure bar that is held in place with two small, sweet wing nuts, which are easy to turn by hand, i.e., no tool necessary. This highly accessible design supports and encourages experimentation.
A tuning precaution: If you tighten the wing nuts too tight, you can permanently distort the delicate tines. You can get into a situation where the tines stop singing so clearly. So if you DO loosen the nuts, count the turns or half turns (180 degrees), so that when you tighten them up again, you will know exactly how far to go to get back to the same tension as before. Also, make sure that after you retune, none of the tines are touching.
The Bothe 14-Note and 9-Note Kalimbas.
Now the magic. Thomas Bothe is an artist. Most artists cannot make a piece of art over and over again, but must make something different. Thomas has made a limited edition set of 14 note kalimbas and a set of 9 note kalimbas, and the instruments are remarkably similar - except for the tunings. It is as if he has listened to the spirit of the kalimba and asked it what tuning it wants to be, and brought that tuning into reality. If he can listen very well, perhaps he even can listen to the soul of the person who will eventually own the instrument, and he can hear what tuning you need it to be. I don't know - he probably can't hear that well, but he is a remarkable individual. If anyone can do it, he can.
Each tuning Thomas Bothe makes is like a little universe for you to explore. I cannot just pick each one up and fathom the depths of what is possible with each one, but I can give you a taste of what each one can do. I cannot come up with descriptive names for each of these, so you are stuck with more or less technical names. I cannot keep up with Bothe's creativity! (One can't help but wonder, after he has made a hundred kalimbas or a thousand... will he still be able to come up with a unique tuning for each?)
So, when you get your "2B" kalimba, pay careful attention to the tuning. I am documenting all the different tunings that come to me and making them available to the world. All are good, but maybe you would like a different tuning. If your kalimba doesn't come in a tuning that resonates with you, you can choose from any other of the magical Bothe tunings. or you could invent your own. But if you do, just be careful.
Bothe Tunings for the 14-Note Kalimbas
I've listed my favorites in bold, but they are all wonderful. These recordings were made with the kalimbas mounted onto the optional frame resonator, which increases the volume in general, adds some tonal fluctuations, and especially increases the volume on the lowest notes (the low E or Eb present in some tunings would be very soft if not for the resonator).
We also have the smaller 9-Note 2B kalimbas, but have not yet had the time to refine and document the tunings. They are still available for sale, but you will either have to take the luck of the draw, or express your desire for a certain tuning.
You can purchase the Thomas Bothe 2B 14 Note Kalimba or the 2B 9 Note Kalimba with or without the resonator, and with or without the stylish protective bag, at special prices for a limited time. Base price for the 14 Note is $170, base price for the 9 Note is $99, and the frame resonator and bag are extra. These prices include any retuning you might want.
Learn more about Thomas Bothe in this month's interview. I can't help but play him up as a mythical character, but he is a man just like me - at the peak of his game doing wonderful work in the field of making magic with the kalimba.
"2B" Buyers: We are in the process of making a short instructional booklet for the "2B" kalimbas, and will email you a PDF of it as soon as it is done.
Resonator frames for the Bothe 14-Note Kalimbas.
Bags for the Bothe 14-Note Kalimbas.