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I Made A Kalimba And I May Make Another

May 14, 2020

Before the end of last year I had never even heard of thumb pianos. Then, completely by chance I saw a youtube video which featured a kalimba and I was instantly amazed by how such a simple instrument could make such a beautiful sound. 

I have many skills, however musical skill or talent is not among them. I can’t read music either. I’m sure I could read music if I really tried, but I have zero hope for ever applying that to an instrument and it’s something I’d have to invest a lot of time in. Time I do not want to spend on music. I’d much rather construct and create visually because that is what brings me joy. But the more I looked into this specific instrument, the more I wanted one despite knowing I’d never be very good at playing it. 

The gorgeous simplicity of the kalimba had started gears turning in my head regarding the customization potential, and after a few searches I found kits which would allow me to build my own kalimba from scratch.

And just like that I was sold! 

I bought a 17 key kalimba kit off of aliexpress because the price was right. Unfortunately for me though, it didn’t come with instructions. It’s definitely not brain surgery assembling a kalimba, but having never even held an actual thumb piano of any sort before, I was unsure as to which order I should assemble the key parts. 

Instead of squinting endlessly at photos on google I opted to buy myself a 17 key kalimba to help solve my dilemma…. which may seem crazy and a little redundant, but 2 kalimbas are better than 1, right?

As a side note, I have to say that even with no musical talent, I very much enjoy plucking away on it aimlessly and playing simple tunes. (I am the master of twinkle twinkle) 

So it was a bit of a gamble, but having the other kalimba there to physically guide me, even though the parts were slightly different was indeed a huge help. 

After the new kalimba arrived I had one kit in pieces, one functional one and two little girls nagging, fighting and desperate for their own kalimba because by this point (against my better judgement) they’ve both already had a shot at it.

This is entirely my fault, I know better than to let them touch my cool stuff if I want to keep the peace, but that’s parenthood isn’t it? Constantly doing things you know you shouldn’t for the short lived happy experiences, even when you are fully aware it’s going to cost you long term frustration, and probably some screaming too. (facepalm)

Anyhoo… perfect time for me to put it all away and forget about the whole idea because they make me crazy. 

Then a couple months later…poof… pandemic.

I start pulling out half imagined projects and reconnecting with old ideas which included reassessing my willingness to look at the kalimba kit again.

It must have caught me at the right moment, because inspiration hit pretty hard.  

I decided that It would be an early birthday gift for my oldest daughter.

It took a few days to get the pieces glued together properly, but once it was solid my husband drilled the holes for the screws and I sanded it into shape. Even naked it was already a thing of beauty. It felt really good in my hands and I was completely motivated to keep going until it was finished. 

The painting happened in stages. I primed it, sanded it (wood swells) and primed it again. Then I sketched on my design which is personalized with an image of her most special and favorite toy, Bun bun. There is also a little nod to Totoro which she really loved. 

I painted the design in acrylic over the course of many hours and 3 or 4 days. I had to keep stopping to let the paint dry fully between layers which is what I normally do for all acrylic painting, but it was extremely difficult to wait this time as I was absolutely dying to finish making the kalimba by securing the keys in place. I was desperate to hear it, because only then would I know if my experiment was an actual success! 

When the painting was finished I sprayed a couple layers of varnish on and allowed them to dry completely as well which was another 2 days…. But I confess…. after the first day I did carefully assemble the keys… and I tuned it…. then I took a million photos of it even though it wasn’t 100% bone dry because I was so excited by how WELL it came out. 

 

 

My little girl is over the moon with her kalimba, so that’s a win. It sounds lovely so that is also a win. 

As with most projects… I regretted starting it several times during the process, but by the end I was already thinking about making my next kalimba. 

2 more kits are on their way. I couldn’t stop myself… I’ll probably put them away for a while after they arrive.

But I bet they’ll be awesome eventually. :)

2 Comments
  1. Amazing work! So cuuute! 💞

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