This simple trick will get your deluxe (goatskin) sansula sounding great again
Along with the Sansula’s beautiful sound and mind-blowing special effects – that is, the deep wah-wah tonal modulation you can get by lifting and lowering the resonant frame onto a flat surface – there are some drawbacks among the different types of Sansula. They can be a bit finicky but are definitely worth having and playing. Knowing how to keep them at their best is easy.
The Standard Sansula (which Kalimba Magic no longer carries) sounds good but has the considerable flaw that, when the instrument is dropped from a height of 1 meter or more, its paper-thin membrane will break.
The Sansula Renaissance, with its synthetic Remo drum head membrane, is robust with respect to droppage, but if you mistreat the drum head by stretching the membrane too much, it can get a bit stretchy and soft. It still plays and “wahs,” but just seems a bit tired after a few years.
And the Deluxe Sansula, with a goatskin membrane, can (in a very dry climate) get dried out to the point that the low note sounds as both A and A sharp, beating together in a markedly unpleasant manner.
But the FIX is in!
If you live – at the other extreme on the spectrum of humidity – by the sea, or in the southeast US, or along the Mississippi, your Sansula (or you) will not have this problem with dry skin. Rather, the Sansula might have an issue with rusting tines.
If you do live in a very humid environment, I recommend dipping a Q-tip in mineral oil and lightly coating your instrument’s tines. After letting it sit for an hour, wipe off the oil. I cannot say that this will entirely prevent the tines from rusting, but I would bet that you will get more rust-free years than if you don’t do it.
But if your home is located in a region of the world with a dry climate, and your Deluxe Sansula develops the nasty beating of the A and the A# (A# is the same as Bb), there is a simple solution: add moisture to the goatskin membrane.
Hokema – the maker of the Sansulas – actually recommends that you first tighten the goatskin membrane, apply moisture, and then loosen the membrane. Your Deluxe Sansula comes with a hex wrench that fits on the six bolts accessible from the underside of the frame. I tried this technique, and found that it was relatively easy to tighten about half a turn (that seems to be the “rule of thumb” for kalimbas in general).
But in the demonstration video below, I bypass the tightening and untightening and just show how to apply moisture to the goatskin. The reason for this: I have noticed that if I loosen the tension more than the “factory setting,” I can make the instrument sound much worse. So frankly, I would not even mess with the hex wrench or the tension.
If you have a Deluxe Sansula in a dry climate that is acting up on its low notes, do try this technique.
On the other hand, if your Deluxe Sansula skin is too loose from too much moisture, try heating your oven to the lowest setting (mine is 170 degrees F), turning the oven off for 10 minutes, and then letting the Sansula sit in the warm (not hot!) oven for 10 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t bake it at 350 for 10 minutes, you will be sorry!
The Remo skin will not absorb moisture, nor would it improve in any way in a warm oven.
And the Standard Sansula (the one that has a very delicate membrane which breaks if you drop it)? I have nothing to say about that beast in this context. Even though I think it has the best sound of all three Sansulas that have the resonant frame, and even though it is the least expensive of the three models, I have cursed those instruments dozens of times, and have not sold them for 10 years. Would the world be better without them? Probably not, but I would have had far fewer headaches. I still get emails from people begging me to help them fix their broken Standard Sansulas. So much beauty, so much promise, and so much disappointment all in one instrument!
Or, if you get dizzy just thinking about all the things that could go wrong, you could always try a sweet little Pocket Sansula, with no membrane at all.