Which are the best kalimbas? That’s what this article is about today. Let’s get started. It is a magical instrument that is reflected in its very special sound. The kalimba is a versatile instrument that has its roots in Africa and is now recognised and used in the music world far beyond its home continent. Would you also like to get to know the world of the thumb piano and immerse yourself in the extraordinary sound colours of the kalimba? Then read on right now.

The Kalimba

Origin of the kalimba

The thumb piano, as the kalimba is also known, or the mbira or sansa, is an instrument with a history that goes back to the 10th century AD. It is therefore no wonder that the instrument, which originates from Africa, has long been widespread across the sub-Saharan continent and has secured its place in society and the world of music. Due to the enormous diversity of Africa, its different regions and cultures, many different types of kalimbas have developed over the years.

Types of kalimbas

There are various types of kalimbas, which differ in size, range, material of manufacture, origin and the number of notes that can be played:

The mbira is a very classic, traditional kalimba and comes from Zimbabwe.

The marimbula is a very large kalimba and comes from South Africa. It has a range of 30 to 40 notes in total. It is a kind of bass version of the kalimba, on which particularly low notes can be played.

The sanza is a kalimba from East Africa. It has 8 to 10 notes.

The sansula is a further development of the kalimba.

Structure and playing style

The kalimba is a so-called lamellophone and thus belongs to the family of percussion instruments. The kalimba is played with the thumb, which is why it is also called a thumb piano.

The kalimba consists of a wooden resonating body to which the sound of the kalimba is transferred and thus amplified. This resonating body, which resembles a wooden box, is provided with a sound hole over which the so-called lamellae are stretched. The lamellas are usually long metal rods with which the sound is produced by plucking with the thumb. They sometimes give the lamellophone its name.

The reeds have a specific arrangement: the centre reed is often the longest and therefore the deepest sounding. The other lamellas are arranged to the left and right of the centre lamella and become shorter and shorter towards the outside and therefore have a brighter sound. Traditional kalimbas have up to 28 reeds. However, the kalimba often only has seven reeds. Other models have up to 56 metal lamellae.

The kalimba is tuned by moving the slats, which shortens or lengthens the vibrating part of the reed and thus allows the pitch to be adjusted. Basically, the longer the sound tongue, the lower the tone and the shorter the sound tongue, the higher the tone.

The sound of the kalimba is soft and similar to a music box. It is relatively easy to learn and fun to play. Today, kalimbas are used in many musical styles and settings. It is a versatile instrument that enriches the world of music.

Have you got a taste for African «sound flair» and want to immerse yourself in the world of kalimbas? We do too, and that’s exactly why we set out to find the best kalimbas. But before we jump to the top 5, let’s take a look at the criteria to consider when buying:

Criteria when buying a kalimba

The following criteria play a role when choosing a kalimba:

Quality of the wood
The quality of the wood is important because the tone colour of the kalimba depends on the type and processing of the wood. The following therefore applies: If the wood is of high quality, the instrument is guaranteed to sound good.

Tone range
Depending on your individual wishes and preferences, you can choose a kalimba with a different range of tones. As a beginner, it is advisable to start with an instrument that has a small range due to the simplified playing style and better overview. Gradually, you can progress to more extensive and complex instruments

It is important that the kalimba is tuned before purchase to ensure a smooth start to your playing.

The sound of the instrument is one of the most important factors when buying, because ultimately it is precisely this that makes the difference between the various instruments. You should make sure that the sound responds clearly and distinctly, that there are no unpleasant background noises and that the resonance of the sound is soft and balanced.

It is important to ensure that the workmanship of the instrument is flawless and clean.

Of course, your own personality and taste play a part in the choice of karimba. In addition to the many different and truly extraordinary designs to fall in love with, it is important to know which sound you like best. After all, playing should be fun and make you happy.

The budget also plays an important role when making a purchase. Basically, you should attach importance to the points mentioned above. If these criteria are met, you can choose a suitable instrument depending on your available budget.

Let’s take a look at the 5 best kalimbas to start your musical journey.

The 5 best kalimbas in comparison

We went in search of the best kalimba models and tested a variety of instruments for you. The following instruments impressed us with their price-performance ratio and made it into our top 5 list:

Thomann TK17-R Kalimba
Thomann TK10-R Kalimba
Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623P Kalimba
Sela Kalimba 17 Koa with Pickup
Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623 Kalimba

1. Thomann TK17-R Kalimba

Number one among the best kalimbas is the Thomann TK17-R, a beautiful kalimba that stands out from other instruments of its kind thanks to its simple but elegant design and its balanced and soft sound.

The TK17-R is small but mighty, with dimensions roughly equivalent to a bar of chocolate. It is a lamellophone with a resonance body made of high-quality mahogany wood. Above the round resonance hole are 17 lamellas or sound tongues of different lengths made of fine mineral steel, which are set in vibration by plucking with the thumb and thus made to sound. The instrument is tuned in C major and therefore offers a great basis for learning many well-known songs and pieces of music. Both melodies and chords can be learnt.

We tested the Thomann TK17-R: This kalimba is ideal for beginners, as its construction makes it very easy to handle and relatively quick and easy to learn to play. This instrument is also perfect for children or in the field of early music education or music pedagogy, as it has stickers for better orientation when playing and thus simplifies the learning process. Adults who want to immerse themselves in playing the kalimba will be delighted by the cosy, pleasant sound, as the great mahogany wood gives the instrument a radiant sound. The kalimba comes with a very practical bag and a special tuning hammer so that the tuning can be corrected if necessary.

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2. Thomann TK10-R Kalimba

Number two of the best kalimbas is the TK10-R Kalimba, which also comes from the instrumental Thomann production. It impresses with a sound that is warm and sensitive, but also has a lot to offer in terms of percussive sound production. The price-performance ratio is also unbeatable.

The TK10-R Kalimba is a lamellophone whose body is made of fine and very robust mahogany wood. The instrument is equipped with a resonance hole above which 10 reeds made of mineral steel are attached. The workmanship of the kalimba is flawless and demonstrates the high quality for which the name Thomann stands and is known.

We have tested the TK10-R and are delighted with its soft and pleasant sound and its response and articulation are very clear and clean. The small but very fine instrument has a high level of stability and a very impressive range of different sound colours. Different dynamics, i.e. volumes, can also be reproduced wonderfully on this kalimba. A great instrument through and through for young and old, whose sound becomes a sound experience.

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3. Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623P Kalimba

The next kalimba that has made it into the top 5 best instruments is this very special alto kalimba with special pickup, and we’ll tell you exactly why here.

The Afroton Hugh Tracey Kalimba is a thumb piano that is tuned in G major and therefore offers ideal conditions for learning beautiful melodies and chord accompaniments. Its resonating body is made of high-quality wood. There are 15 metal reeds of different lengths and pitches above the resonance hole.

In the test, the Afroton Hugh Tracey Kalimba stands out from other models due to its soft, exquisite sound. The pickup makes it an absolute hit, as it allows the sound of the kalimba to be amplified, making it easily audible. It can also be used to create wonderful sound effects such as echo, tremolo or reverb. There are no limits to experimenting and trying things out with the pickup. Due to its top quality, the Kalimba is also much cheaper than the Thomann models, and justifiably so, because it can really be heard (everywhere).

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4. Sela Kalimba 17 Koa with Pickup

Another kalimba model with pickup is the first-class Sela Kalimba 17 Koa including pickup, which is a real speciality among kalimba instruments.

As its name suggests, the Sela Kalimba is made of glossy lacquered koa wood, a special wood that is only available in Hawaii and gives the Sela Kalimba its beautiful and unique sound. This instrument is tuned in C major and therefore provides a great basis for playing melodies and chords. The Sela Kalimba is equipped with 17 slats of different lengths with a range from C› – E»‹.

We not only fell in love with the sound of the kalimba, but also with its elegant design, which is given a beautiful, natural colour by the special koa wood. The kalimba comes with a padded carrying bag, a tuning hammer to correct any discrepancies and a cleaning cloth. Get started and let yourself be enchanted by the sound of the Sela Kalimba.

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5. Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623 Kalimba

Last but not least, the Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623 Kalimba, which captivates us with an unbeatable price-performance ratio and an optimally balanced and melodious sound.

The Afroton Hugh Tracey is a thumb piano with a sound box made of cleanly crafted wood. The kalimba has 15 metal reeds of different lengths. The Afroton is tuned in G major, which is the ideal key to start playing the kalimba and to learn simple, catchy melodies and chords and also to make music together with other instruments.

The Afroton Hugh Tracey was ranked 5th in the test and has therefore made it onto the list of the best kalimbas, mainly due to its clearly defined tone, which is a pleasure for the ear and soul. The Afroton Hugh Tracey is an ideal instrument for learning to play. Due to the excellent workmanship and quality of the instrument, the kalimba is also somewhat cheaper. However, if you decide to buy this instrument, you will certainly not regret it.

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What are you waiting for?

If you are looking for inexpensive instruments that are still of high quality, then choose one of the two Thomann models, the Thomann TK17-R Kalimba or the Thomann TK10-R Kalimba. If you are looking for a very easy-to-learn instrument that is also suitable for children, then you are ideally equipped with one of these two instruments.

If you want an instrument with which you can experiment and produce new sound effects, then it is best to choose a model that comes with a pickup. You have the choice between the Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623P Kalimba and the Sela Kalimba 17 Koa.

If you are looking for an instrument with which you can immerse yourself in the sound world of the kalimba for the first time, then pick up the Afroton Hugh Tracey AKA623 Kalimba and enjoy a soothing sound that invites you to dream.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get into the sound action.

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