Transforming Your Kalimba to Celtic D, Lotus, Karimba – A Guide

Kalimba Magic is a leader in transforming one type of kalimba to another. For example, in the image above I show you a 17-Note Hugh Tracey Treble Kalimba, which can be transformed into a box karimba. We take the instrument apart, bend half of the tines, reassemble, and tune it up.

Why Do Some Kalimbas have Upward-bent tines?

To see the steps we take to accomplish this transformation, I made a YouTube video a few years ago. This specific transformation is from the Celeste Treble (in this context, “celeste” means a board-mounted Hugh Tracey kalimba) into a Celtic D karimba:

The big thing to consider: the Hugh Tracey kalimba bridge is not glued down. It is held in place by friction. This permits me to perform this operation. The Chinese-made 17-Note Kalimbas have bridges that are glued down, and they will not permit you to do this sort of operation.

Counter-bending the tines

Perhaps the most important aspect of reassembling the kalimba is that the tines need to be re-tensioned. The tine is a spring, and if the tine is not straight (due to being depressed by the “z-bracket”, and pushed up by the other two pieces of the bridge on the kalimba), it has lost some of its springiness. You can counter-bend the tine with your fingers – you see be doing this at 0:25-0:35 in the sped-up video.  Look for a single, fluid pushing motion after I pick up the tine off the kalimba, and before I lay the tine down on the table with the other tines. If I didn’t do that counter-bend, the tines would not lay flat on the table, but would bend upward on both ends.

If you push too hard on a Hugh Tracey tine, you will fracture the plating. If you push too hard on one of the softer Chinese-made tines, you will break it! So, do be careful.

Making upward-bent tines

Kalimbas with about half the tines bent upward are a uniquely African design. Logically, this action separates the instrument into two different instruments – a lower row and an upper row of tines. Then, there are simple connections between adjacent tines on the upper and lower rows. These ways of understanding and relating the tines result in a different relationship between the player and the karimba. In short? This kalimba arrangement will produce new music.

And there are many different types of kalimba instruments that have their tines bent upward: the 17-Note African Tuned Karimba, the 15-Note Nyunga Nyunga, the 14-Note Mufrika Karimba; the SaReGaMa Lotus, Air, and Freygish karimbas; the Sansula, B9, and B11… and a whole lot more.

Check out these karimbas.

I have found that the Hugh Tracey tines can be bent. Drill a 1-2 cm hole in a block of wood, insert the playing end of the tine into the hole, and bend to the desired angle. If you bend too far, it is easy to decrease the bend a bit. Once you have bent a tine like this, I don’t recommend trying to “unbend it” back to straight.

Can I rearrange my Lotus into an African Karimba?

I get this question a lot: how easy is it to transform one type of karimba with upward bent tines… into a different one?

Minor retunings can be accomplished without switching tines. But a big transformation, such as from a Lotus Karimba into an African Tuned Karimba? This requires major kalimba surgery such as in the “Dinner Invite” video above. You won’t need to bend the tines upward. You will need to “re-tension” the tines to restore their springiness. And you will need to reorder the tines, matching the longest tine to the lowest note, the second longest tine to the second lowest note, and so on. You will need to do that ordering separately for the straight tines and the upward-bent tines.

And it goes without saying, that you will need the tuning chart for the new karimba in front of you to remind you about the notes you will be tuning to.

Oh, never mind… Just send it in to the Kalimba Doctor!

Yes, there are some people who will do these sorts of operations on their own. I recommend that most people do not try this on their own. But the Kalimba Doctor can help you. We can accomplish a kalimba transformation for you… or we can rescue you if you attempt the operation and then change your mind.

Check out the kalimba doctor








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