The Thomas Bothe “2B” Kalimbas Return

Get your 2B kalimba while they last

Left to right: 2B/14L, 2B/14, 2B/9B, and a pair of 2B/9 kalimbas

“I received my 2B/9 Kalimba several days ago and it is truly a magical little instrument… I LOVE it!  I love the A/C tuning too…great choice.  I am drawn to picking it up frequently and picking out random tunes.  I don’t really now what I’m doing, but it always sounds great!”

    –  Marcy, 2016

 “The 2B kalimba arrived today.  What a dear instrument!  I just adore it”

     –  Vickie, 2016


In the world today, I am guessing there are hundreds or even thousands of people who are making pretty good kalimbas and a few dozen people who are making super fine kalimbas. The makers of Hokema Sansulas and Hugh Tracey kalimbas are in the super fine category, but in a way they do not count – they are institutions now, with hundreds of person-years of experience in making their products. (Of course, their kalimbas count – they are great, as they should be.)

Thomas Bothe is in the upper atmosphere of the super fine kalimba makers.

And what are Thomas Bothe kalimbas good for? I think they are perfect little “personal kalimbas”. If you want something to play to relax before meditation or before you lay down to sleep at night, or to calm yourself in a tense situation, the 2B kalimba may be your answer. If you want a kalimba to pass back and forth between your intimate partner in quiet moments, the 2B may be exactly what you are looking for.

The 2B Kalimbas would not be my first choice for performing. They are not very loud, and the idiosyncratic note layouts make it difficult to play known songs. But if you let go of that desire to control the 2B kalimbas and let them do what they were designed to do, wonderful surprises result.

I love recording with the 2B kalimbas. After dreaming about it, I finally got around to recording a song on the very first Thomas Bothe kalimba I ever touched, a little 9-note kalimba. That song plays automatically when you go to the COUPON CODE page, where you can get 20% off on any Thomas Bothe 2B kalimba between now and July 4, 2016.

Though he knew his work was very special indeed, Thomas was too shy to contact me or send his kalimba directly to me – instead he sent it to his brother Wolfgang Bothe, who then sent it on to me. I was skeptical about this tiny little kalimba – how could something so small be as good as the accompanying letter from Wolfgang claimed it to be?

The first thing I noticed about that first Thomas Bothe kalimba was that it was a bit out of tune. It turns out Thomas tunes all of his kalimbas by ear, to whatever tuning he is drawn to. He has come up with hundreds of tunings, and many of them cluster around the idea of arpeggios. Each 2B kalimba comes with about half the tines – the shorter ones – bent upward and interspersed between the longer tines. The tines being bent upward and out of the way indeed gives more distance between tine tips than if they were all on the same level, and this is great on such a small instrument. It is also an organizing principle, giving us two sets of tines – the long flat ones and the short bent ones. Thomas generally tunes the lower set of tines to one arpeggio – let’s say an E major 7 chord – and then tunes the upper set (the bent ones) to a different arpeggio – say an F# minor 7 chord. With such a setup, you can pick up the kalimba and play the lower tines for a few seconds, and then switch to the upper tines for a few seconds, and you have instant music without needing any detailed understanding of the tuning.

One of the strengths of any good kalimba is that its tuning will tilt the odds in favor of success. On Hugh Tracey kalimbas, the 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 are on the right side and the 2 – 4 – 6 – 8 on the left, so any two or three adjacent tines will make a beautiful chord. The African-tuned karimbas are tuned such that the interspersed upper tines are an octave or a 5th higher than their neighboring lower row tines, making delightful variations very simple. And Thomas Bothe segregates his tines into two complimentary chordal kalimbas interwoven on the same kalimba body. The result: you can pick up this kalimba and start playing beautiful meditative music with essentially no effort.

I remember six years ago when I opened that box with the first Thomas Bothe kalimba in it, taking the instrument out of the box along with a letter, and reading brother Wolfgang’s words: “I think this is the most charismatic kalimba of all!” How could it be? This tiny little kalimba wasn’t even tuned precisely (remember, Thomas tunes totally by ear). The first thing I did was to try to refine the tuning, but was very surprised when the kalimba body slipped on its goat skin resonator as I pushed on the tines. My first impression was that not only was it tuned poorly, it was made poorly! Then, when one of the magnetic feet popped off, I suddenly saw the genius of Thomas Bothe’s kalimba design, and realized that the 2B kalimbas are the Transformers of the kalimba world! You can take them apart and put them back together in different ways. Watch the video below for a tour of the 2B’s flexibility.

Part of the magic of the 2B kalimba is the resonator frame, which is optional and costs extra. If you don’t want to purchase a resonator frame, you can try all kinds of household items: cardboard boxes, Tupperware, or little wooden craft boxes all work well.

When Kalimba Magic receives 2B kalimbas from Thomas Bothe, we document their tunings and list them on the 2B Kalimba Learning Zone Page, and we refine the tuning on each instrument as well. When you purchase a 2B kalimba, you can select from among those tunings, or you can take the luck of the draw and accept what we think is a nice tuning for you.

And don’t forget the coupon code: TB20, which is good for 20% off any Thomas Bothe 2B kalimba between now and July 4, 2016.

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