27 May 2017
The New Hokema Sansula Elektro
The kalimba community has been asking for an electric sansula for a decade. It's finally here!
The new (2017) Sansula Elektra is a quality, amplifiable version of the Hokema Sansula Renaissance. The amplification system of the Elektra is rather sophisticated: a piezo-electric pickup gets the wood vibrations while an internal microphone catches the air vibrations of the sansula. These signals are mixed together optimally and sent out through a 3-prong XLR cable to your phantom-power-capable PA system, mixing console, or recording console. The Elektra does require phantom power; you can't simply plug this one into your guitar amp without going through a direct box with phantom power. But the sound? Totally worth it! And with your amplified sansula, you can compete volume-wise with loud instruments in a band situation and you're quite mobile and not stuck next to a microphone when performing.
Capturing the true sound of a kalimba through an electronic pickup is a challenging proposition. After a tine is plucked on a kalimba, its vibration drives the sound, although, on its own, the tine itself actually makes very little sound. A rigid metal bridge mechanism transfers the tine vibration to the kalimba's wooden body, which will produce louder vibrations. This wood vibration is usually the only thing transmitted electronically through contact pickups used on most kalimbas, but this is only the beginning of the sound of a sansula.
Next down the signal chain, the vibrating wooden frame causes the sansula's thin membrane to vibrate, further amplifying its sound. The membrane-covered frame on which the sansula is mounted forms a partially or entirely closed air cavity, and the air in that resonant cavity will vibrate with its own special resonances. And last, as you alter the geometry of that air cavity by lifting and lowering the sansula's frame on a playing surface, you change the resonant properties of the air cavity, producing a wah-wah effect.
Peter Hokema long understood this situation: reproducing the essential sound of the sansula requires accurately transmitting the juicy air-based wah-wah sound, but standard pickups only hear the wood vibrations without any of the wah-wah.
Peter Hokema is a true perfectionist. He worked on this for 10 years until he achieved a sansula pickup design that he was happy with: a blending of the instrument's wood vibrations through a piezo-electric pickup, and the air vibrations through a tiny condenser microphone. A mini-XLR plug on the sansula's frame connects to a short cable that converts to a standard XLR output. The XLR-out requires 48V phantom power to run the condenser microphone.
The Sansula Elektra plays, acoustically, the same as the Sansula Renaissance, with its sturdy synthetic Remo membrane. To say this again, when I play the Elektra without plugging in, I cannot discern a difference between this instrument and the Sansula Renaissance.
To demonstrate the Sansula Elektra in action, and for comparison, I have recorded the exact same moment, first through the XLR Direct In, with some three band EQ applied, and second through an external reference microphone as a reference signal:
Sansula Elektra, Direct In:
Through external microphone:
Before I applied EQ to the direct recorded signal, I found the sound to be a bit dark. It doesn't pick up exactly like the external microphone does. But after a bit of tweaking I found an excellent sound from the pickup that makes for a totally convincing sansula recording. Now you can use your plugged-in sansula in any kind of situation where an external mic would be inconvenient or impossible.
The Sansula Elektra is a long-awaited, high-quality advance in the kalimba world! Now available in standard A minor and all of our exotic tunings.