3 Key Factors of Choosing the Right Kalimba

Posted: 2019-12-12     Last Update: 2020-08-26

how to choose kalimba poster

People always are looking for best kalimba because so many thumb pianos available in the market nowadays. They can be very confusing at kalimba selection for themselves, or for others as gifts. Things may get even awkward if the kalimba purchased is not the right fit for the player, for example, a 21-note kalimba is too complicated for a kid who does not have any music knowledge and instrument experience. 

We make a summary with three key take-aways which are easily applied when purchasing a right kalimba at a given budget. The 3 factors are material of kalimba, pattern differences and numbers of keys. The various material not only determines how thumb pianos look like but also how their sounds differ from each other. The three patterns play important roles for different occasions when the players try to explore with the instruments. The number of keys is the critical point how wide songs the player can try. Additional tips are also available for a more detailed exploration.


What makes the kalimba body has largely determined not only the appearance but also the tones, vibration, sense of touching and even more. Wood is the most widely used materials while acrylic has also gained increasing popularities.

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Mahogany has been one of the most widely used woods for kalimba, which is a straight-grained, reddish-brown timber of three tropical hardwood species of the genus Swietenia, indigenous to the Americas and part of the pantropical chinaberry family, Meliaceae. Markings on the mahogany is moderate and graceful. Sound by mahogany delivers a sense of warmth and fulfillment with fairly good tenuto.


Acacia has its recognition, which is a polyphyletic genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae. The acacia has beautiful markings with good smelling. Regarding acoustics, it behaves great potential due to the intermediate frequency of sound which generates a sense of sweet and crisp.

Black Walnut

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Black walnut normally comes from the eastern United States. Smooth surfaces, soft luster and a light dark brown with purple color are usually the features. Super beautiful markings derive from a large parabolic pattern after a proper process. Black walnut is very durable and decay resistant with low rate of shrinkage. Consequently, it adapts to various climates. Sound is bright and clear in mid-low tones with very good tenuto and superior timbre.


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Pine is also a wood hardly been ignored. Pine wood acquires high fibrousness with moderate colors and long duration. It comes with a loud and clear sound that leaves a memorable impression.


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When we talk about Acrylic Kalimba, we are saying the body of the instruments made from acrylic. With the optimization of manufacture process, acrylic kalimbas are in different shape while a shared feature of transparency has significantly stand out for those who care about how kalimba looks. Due to a different material, the vibrations vary from acrylic to wood which contributes to a lower yet softer sound. This also catches some kalimba lovers who are keen to enjoy the similar sound of music boxes.


There are mainly three patterns of kalimba in the markets that are easily getting access to. They are resonant box, flat board and electric.

Resonant Box

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This type of thumb piano has a resonant box with a hole on the front side following two smaller holes on the back end. It is larger and thicker than flat board. The sound produced by plucking is strongly resonated within the box. The performance ranks better for those notes in the mid-low range. What’s more, as the finger moves around the hole which produces the “Wha Wha” sound, a more diversified effects can be achieved. This also generates a better music effect during live performance. On the contrast, given the resonant property, the tenuto is weaker and the sound fades less slowly which brings up a sense of compression.

Flat Board

Flat board kalimba

As for flat board, there is only one solid board acting as the body of the instrument without any holes. As a result, the resonance is relatively weaker while each tone produced is, on the other hand, clearer, brighter and crisper. The alternative is also available to amplify the sound by placing the kalimba into or above a resonant box. It also does better when comes into notes in high range. Concerning a stronger effect of tenuto, flat board kalimba is more suggested in recording. In the meanwhile, a better sense of touching can be acquired from this sort.


electric kalimba

Equipped with a sound pickup and a wire connecting to external louder speaker, the traditional kalimba has been developed into modern instrument perfectly fitting into live performance regardless of small sound produced by kalimba itself in a big stage and the limited amplified effect by microphone. This certainly leads to a higher price which shall be considered in prior of purchase if live performances are not highly expected.

Number of Keys

A bulk of options are available, ranging from 8 to 33 or even more. The more keys result in more choices for the songs to be played. However, note that more notes do not always mean better experience. Let’s see how to choose the right key numbers for the kalimba explorer.

8-15 Keys

10 key kalimba

This number range is greatly fitting for the kids whose ages are less than 12. Given a smaller size and easier way to master the basic music notes as of 8-10Keys kalimbas, kids are more likely to explore the interests for the music without being frustrated for handling more notes they are supposed to. It is also in a more controllable manner for them to advance their skills by playing the thumb piano in a smaller size.

15-20 Keys

17 note kalimba

This range is the best recommendation for beginner. With the availabilities of 15-17 Keys, lots of widely known songs can be played while the size is still far from too big for beginner to play. More importantly, the prices are always affordable for most of people. Great joys can be easily acquired without too much music fundamental required.

21 Keys and More

21 note kalimba

Stepping into 21 Keys and more, an even larger options are available for the songs to be played. It also requires more skills in dealing with this larger kalimba due to the increased keys. Thus, this rang will be highly suggested for intermediate or advanced player who have proved their interests for kalimba and are excited to explore more out of this stuff. The prices are absolutely higher than 8-10/15-17 for the same brand.

Additional Tips


Cheapest price shall not always be the first consideration when make the purchase. Compared with piano or other expensive instruments, kalimba almost costs nothing. Buying a kalimba in a reasonable price surely ensures a good quality instrument and a pleasant music experience alike.


Note that some types of wood are dry sensitive which means they can easily crack if no additional cares taken. Acacia is one of them. If it is still expected to play the dry sensitive kalimba in such circumstances, oils for protection shall apply.


Hope what shared above really helps you to make the right decision. It is time to choose a kalimba right for the player.

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