Do you remember when Aaron Chavez put out a call to the world for a four octave hand-held chromatic kalimba? That was just over a year ago, and it was a tall order. I didn't know if it was possible. I had some ideas of how it could be done, and I suspected the rough design: we already have a two octave chromatic kalimba with a single bridge on the front and a single bridge on the back, so you could get four octaves with a double bridge on the front and a double bridge on the back.
But I was not prepared for the beauty, simplicity, and compactness of the instrument which Josh Humphrey of JBH Guitars produced. Well, I cannot give it a 100% endorsement, because I have never held one in my hands, and I have never even heard one or seen it in action. I am guessing that the lowest octave of notes may be very weak acoustically just because the instrument isn't large enough to resonate at those low frequencies. You will be able to make those low notes sound better by playing in a large resonator structure (as mbira players do to amplify their low notes), or by rigging up an electronic pickup (as Eric Freeman does with his bass kalimbas). But details like that aside, this looks like one great kalimba. I hope it makes Aaron Chavez very happy.
The JBH four octave chromatic is laid out similarly to the Hugh Tracey two octave chromatic kalimba - which follows a design idea from Sharon Eaton. The second bridge on each side holds extra long tines to play notes two octaves lower that the first bridge. That is handy - having notes that are two octaves apart right on top of each other - if only George Benson could do that on his guitar!
The "flats" are all on the backside, immediately behind the corresponding unflatted notes on the front.
While there is much to learn about this kalimba, it should definitely be on your radar screen if you play the chromatic kalimba and are beginning to get it. I don't even know how much these will cost, but in rough terms you might expect to be twice what the Hugh Tracey two octave instruments run, or a bit more than $300... or maybe a bit more to cover the JBH R and D costs.
Should you run out and purchase one of these? Probably not - wait until you are able to hear one. Wait untill we hear back from Aaron Chavez. And certainly don't jump into this very deep pool unless you are already making significant progress on a two octave chromatic kalimba, OR you are already an experienced musician on a chromatic instrument such as the marimba or piano and you are just bent on getting an instrument such as this one.
But by all means, keep a look out for this rising star of a kalimba. And feel free to contact Josh of JBH and ask him yourself!