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What are some of the features my kalimba could have?

Sound Holes

Sound Holes

Sound holes are used for modulating the sound of the kalimba. By holding your thumbs or fingers over the holes and then moving them away and back, you change the resonant properties of the cavity made by the box, and different notes will be amplified by the box resonance, resulting in a wah wah effect. (See video below.) Hugh Tracey box-mounted kalimbas come with a sound hole in the front, and two smaller holes in the back. Both the Catania gourd-mounted kalimbas and the Goshen box-mounted kalimbas have one sound hole in the front and two small holes on the sides.


Notice the tonal modulations or wah wah made
when the thumb covers and uncovers the sound
hole in the opening 30 seconds of this video.

Electronic Pickups

Electronic Pickups

Electronic pickups are available on all Hugh Tracey kalimbas, adding between $12 (for box-mounted kalimbas) and $20 (for board-mounted kalimbas) to the price. Also the kalimbula, a sansula-like instrument, comes with optional pickups.
Board-mounted Kalimbas

Board-mounted Kalimbas

Board-mounted kalimbas can't modulate the sound with the wah wah as box-mounted kalimbas can, but the board mounted models are more durable, making them a good choice for people who may drop their kalimba often. Also, you can more easily place a board-mounted kalimba inside of a gourd (called a deze in Shona tradition) both to amplify and also give it a bit of a buzzing sound - a traditional effect much desired by Africans. If you don't have a gourd, experiment with different sized plastic bowls in your kitchen or at the 99-cent store.
Gourd-mounted Kalimbas

Gourd-mounted Kalimbas

Catania and Goshen kalimbas can come permanently mounted on a gourd, which will have a large sound hole on the top wood and two small sound holes on the side of the gourd. The gourd serves a similar purpose as the Hugh Tracey kalimba's resonant box - it amplifies the sound, especially over certain frequencies in the midrange of the instrument. The frequency of the resonant peak shifts when you cover and uncover the holes. In Africa, gourds were traditionally used for amplification on kalimbas - either the instrument was put inside a large gourd, or the kalimba was played in close contact with a smaller gourd. The kalimba mounted on a gourd is a 20th century design.
Resonator Frames

Resonator Frames

The resonance and wah wah effects are among the coolest things about the kalimba. I was astounded when I learned that Africans had the wah wah effect in their music centuries ago. The Hokema Sansula (shown in the illustration) and the 2B Resonator Frames are two newfangled ways to get a very rich wah wah out of modern kalimbas, and these are equally mind-blowing!
Buzzers

Buzzers

Buzzers are common on essentially all traditional African kalimbas, though western ears often prefer a cleaner sound without the buzzers. The buzzers distort the sound much the way a fuzz pedal electronically distorts the sound of an electric guitar. African players have been creating this distortion for centuries; guitar players just figured it out in the 1960s. The buzzers on the Hugh Tracey kalimbas are beads that slip onto the tines, and they can be easily removed.
Tunings and Tuning Charts

Tunings and Tuning Charts

The most important feature of any kalimba is its tuning. Tuning is distinctly divided into two branches, as you will see in this Tuning discussion. The first branch exists because your kalimba will slowly go out of tune as you play it, and you will need to retune it periodically - say once a year for a seldom played kalimba, once a month for a moderately played kalimba, and once a day if you play hard and loud for hours daily with a drummer. The other branch of Tuning is all about choosing to put your kalimba into a different tuning to experiment with the way the kalimba will sound and feel with a whole new arrangement of notes.

Each kalimba we sell comes from the manufacturer in a standard tuning, which will work with most of the books that we write and sell. However, we also provide you the opportunity to select and order an alternative tuning, which may sound emotionally different to you, or which may be required if you need your kalimba for a special purpose - like playing along on a particular song with another instrument playing in a specific key.

Each kalimba we ship will come with a handsome tuning chart like the one shown here. It will clearly indicate the note that each tine should be tuned to, and many of the tuning charts also list the degree of the scale (ie, 1 is the root, 3- is the minor third). These tuning charts will help you understand how to play the kalimba and will help you get the most out of your kalimba experience.

Here's some friendly advice: If someone tries to sell you a kalimba that is not in tune, or if they claim that tuning doesn't matter, run the other way!

Explore Alternative Tunings

Select Color of Painted Tines

Select Color of Painted Tines

The Hugh Tracey kalimbas have traditionally come with select tines painted either red or blue. The color was not important, but which tines were painted was important - they served as reference posts as you played the kalimba, and also helped you transfer notes from tablature to your kalimba.

Kalimba Magic now paints the tines ourselves, meaning we can also spice it up a bit and give you the colors you want. Tine colors available are: red, blue, green, yellow, black, white, unpainted and custom (a combination of the available colors).

Select Style of Wood

Select Style of Wood

Our best selling kalimbas, the Hugh Tracey kalimbas, are all made from the African hardwood kiaat. Kiaat presents in a variety of colors and grain styles. Usually it is a warm brown, but the sapwood is blond and it can have red, black, and blond highlights.

Our most popular kalimbas now offer a choice of wood style, including solid wood color, darkest, mostly blond, part blond, and interesting grain. Even if you are ordering a kalimba which does not have wood style as an option on the product page, you can still request that wood in the comments field.

Questions?

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via the email form, or speak directly to Mark Holdaway at 520-488-7641.

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