Some people may be wondering what the best kalimba is, but a kalimba is not really a "best" instrument and there are many different types of kalimbas.
The best kalimba for someone to buy depends on their skill level, the song they want to play, and what they want to get out of playing the instrument. They also need to factor in their budget and other instruments they own, such as guitars or drums, that they want to mix with the kalimba sounds.
In this guide, we share our knowledge about different types of kalimbas in the market and walk you through how to find the best kalimba for yourself.
Introduction to Kalimba
A kalimba is a musical instrument that has been used by Africans and Zimbabweans for centuries. It is said to be the ancestor of the modern-day piano. The word "kalimba" comes from an African word meaning "thumb piano". The earliest form of the instrument was no more than a piece of wood with some wire tacks used as levers that could be used to pluck out melodies. But since then variations have been found all over Africa, including doubled-bridge instruments. Later on, the instrument was introduced to the west and adopted to the western scale by a musician named Hugh Tracey. After that, the first kalimba became the prototype of modern kalimbas. It is played using both hands to create sounds that vary from soft to loud and deep to light. (To learn more about kalimba history, read here: https://www.relaxationstudio.us/blogs/kalimba-song-book/why-kalimba-is-an-interesting-instrument-and-why-you-should-get-one-kalimba-history-and-benefits)
What are the Different Types of Kalimbas Available?
Kalimbas come in different shapes, sizes and with a variety of materials. The best kalimba for you is the one that suits your needs best.
We will compare different board shapes, sizes, and materials that you can consider before finding and purchasing your best kalimba!
Kalimba Board Shapes
The two major best kalimba board styles are box-shaped ones with soundholes or flat boards without soundholes.
Kalimba is originally designed without a soundhole. The resulting sound is actually more clear and gentle, from our experience. Also, the higher pitches are more in tune and more clear. Thus this is the best kalimba shape if you play higher pitches often.
The box-shaped one has a resonance body. When the tines are plucked, the resonance effects are strong. Especially when the areas around the sound holes are pressed, there will be vibrato-like “wua” sounds. In a word, it performs well at the low to the mid key range with a strong vibrational sound.
To pick the shape that works best for you, try to listen to the sound samples of different kalimba types before purchasing to see which sound you like.
What is the Best Kalimba Size to Begin With?
Currently, there are 8 keys, 10 keys, 15 keys, 17 keys, 21 keys, 24 keys, and 32 keys versions available on the market. Without a doubt, with more keys on the board, you can play a wider range of scales (and thus more songs) and tune it to different tones. However, as a beginner, you can still start with best kalimbas with fewer keys:
8 keys – It is good for beginners to get a feel of how kalimba sounds likes. It is small enough to be carried around and even used as a pendant!
10 keys – It can be used to play songs within one octave. It is larger than the size of hands and slightly smaller than the 17 key version.
15 keys and 17keys – These two are similar in size and are the best kalimbas for beginner-to-mid level people. 15 keys are used more often for bass/low pitch sounds while 17 keys are used for a general pitch of all levels. With either 15 keys and 17keys, you can play most of the popular songs.
21 keys – It has a wider range of scales to be played so it is more suitable for complex song notes. It also requires more advanced skills to use since you have to balance your fingers on a broader range of keys!
24 keys and 32 keys – These are definitely the best kalimbas for more advanced levels. Due to the demand, it is harder to acquire in the market. Since it is more difficult to make one (need more adjustment to tune it), the price is higher as well. However, if you are that advanced musician who loves to level up in playing kalimba, you should definitely search for it in the market or contact us for available styles!
What is the Best Kalimba Wood?
Just like purchasing a guitar, the wood board matters as well. Different wood species have different appearances or feels and can affect the sound quality. The best wood kalimba wood is one that creates a clear sound and resonates with you.
The suggestion we offer here – again – is to try to hear the sound samples before purchasing. In this guide below, we will also compare several wood types that are available in our store, in terms of appearance and tone. These are also what we think are the most suitable and price-effective materials for best kalimbas:
Walnut wood: color: dark in color with more shining glow; tone: rich
Pinewood: color: bright light wood color; tone: high volume with a full and clear tone
Okoume: color: solid and darker brown color; tone: solid and stable
Acacia: color: red-brown color with waves; tone: mild
Bamboo wood: color: light in color with natural lines; tone: soft and gentle
Acrylic vs Wood
Though acrylic is not a type of wood, it has become more and more popular among kalimba lovers, due to its appearance and feels. Acrylic is a type of plastic that has been used to make the kalimba (a musical instrument) after it was discovered that wood was becoming increasingly scarce. It is heavier and larger. It is transparent in color and thus good for exhibition as well. It produces a crystal clear gentle sound like a music box. This is the best kalimba design in our opinion and one of our favorites! We recommend having one as a beginner or even advanced user, because of its uniqueness.
When you order kalimbas from us, you will find a complimentary booklet that includes instructions to play/tune the kalimba, an instrument fix guide, care information as well as a guide to read kalimba tabs and notes.
After you get familiar with the basics, you can learn to play different songs available on our site ( https://www.relaxationstudio.us/blogs/kalimba-song-book ), Youtube, or other sites on the web. It is good to be used as a stand-alone instrument or mix with other instruments. You can also join kalimba circles and groups to improve your skillset over time.
One of the fun parts about using the best kalimba is that you can also build your own song easily or construct notes that complement other songs! To add a little bit more fun to the music, you can also add tremolo ( https://www.relaxationstudio.us/products/tremolo-tone-enriching-chain-tool-set-for-17-and-21-key-kalimba?_pos=1&_sid=9ee6dface&_ss=r ) to enhance the sound or produce variations; or use tassels (https://www.relaxationstudio.us/products/colored-tassel-pendant-for-kalimba-decoration?_pos=1&_sid=35fb43b45&_ss=r ) to make your kalimba more personal.
People who are looking for the best kalimba should consider the following factors: size, board types, material, extras/add-ons, and price. The material and the board types affect the sound quality. The size and the number of keys on the best kalimba are also important because it determines what kind of music you will be able to play on it. When making a purchase decision, be sure to consider these factors as well as any extras that you may want your kalimba to have. Finally, before purchasing any specific instrument, having a good understanding of the usage and the price will help you decide if it is worth your budget.
Hope you find the most suitable and the best kalimba and enjoy the music!