You wish to acquire a wooden kalimba. However, you do not know how to choose wood from all the options presented to you. You can tell yourself that the wood used to make this African musical instrument will influence the quality of the sound. Or worse! You are worried about using the wrong wood for your kalimba. We are here to help you.
Sound travels through wood differently and is heard by your eardrums differently depending on the hardness of the wood. As each type of wood is unique, you need to decide what kind of sound you want to hear from your instrument. Finally, the appearance and even the smell of the kalimba will be affected by this choice. Let's see together why.
Why is it important to choose the right material for your wooden kalimba?
The choice of wood is a crucial element of this African instrument that is the kalimba. The calabash is no longer the material of choice for this instrument. Now it's wood. And the choice of this wood will have a significant impact on the transmission of sound, as well as the smell and design of the kalimba to a lesser extent.
The sound of a musical instrument is actually a wave-like air vibration that is distributed through the air. Depending on the hardness of the wood, whether the soundboard of the kalimba is formed from a single board (called "flat") or whether it contains a resonator (called "hollow"), the vibrations created by the blades of steel will be more or less absorbed by the wood.
Kalimba softwood or hardwood?
The sound waves will indeed reflect more on a more resistant wood. On the contrary, they will be all the more absorbed as the wood is soft. Therefore, a kalimba with a hardwood soundbox will typically resonate much louder than a kalimba with a softwood soundbox.
As a result, the notes will last longer, which will come in handy for a musician practicing in front of an audience. For people looking for a kalimba for relaxation, yoga, or music therapy, on the other hand, a softwood kalimba tends to emit more diffuse, even intimate notes.
Your measure of wood hardness: the Jonka Index
Gabriel Jonka, an Austrian expert in dendrology, the science that studies trees, performed the same experiment for each species of wood to compare their hardness and determine the degree. He wanted to measure the force needed to drive a steel ball about 1.1 cm into the wood. To do this, he simply dried the different types of wood to the same moisture content.
After he pressed the ball, he measured the power in newtons per meter and collated the information into a chart he called the "Jonka Hardness Chart".
The Jonka index of wood hardness is derived from this. The harder the wood is considered, the higher the Jonka index.
Should you choose a precious material for your wooden kalimba?
Due to their rarity, some woods are more valuable than others, making your kalimba a true collector's item! Examples of precious woods include black walnut and sandalwood. These materials are often more expensive than the woods used to make more common kalimbas (between 2 and 3 times more expensive).
It may be that a wooden kalimba in these precious materials is of exceptional quality. But beware, this is not automatic!
It turns out that mahogany kalimbas, which are often extremely cheap, are very good instruments in terms of value for money.
The 10 woods to know to choose your wooden kalimba
Below is a list of the woods most commonly used for making kalimbas. These woods are ranked from hardest to softest. Choose the wood that suits you best using this list!
Acacia is a beautiful wood whose golden hue is pleasing to the eye. It is renowned for its great resistance, its color, its exceptional touch. Its hardness is 1750 on the Jonka scale. This wood is used to make some very high quality kalimbas, but it is still quite expensive.
Red pine is found only in eastern Canada. It is a robust and resistant wood (1630 on the Jonka scale), used for the manufacture of frames. The durability and strength of a red pine kalimba is exceptional. This wood will be ideal for travelers who need to take their instrument everywhere without worrying about its resistance.
Even though maple is mostly used for floors, it can be used sparingly to make flutes and guitars. Maple is also the origin of the famous Canadian syrup. This light wood, with a hardness of 1500, produces a full sound. It is an optimal wood for kalimba players who want an instrument with great resonance and a “zen” sound.
Sapele is an extremely expensive and uncommon rosewood from the Congo, also known scientifically as Entandrophragma cylindricum. It is rare and therefore expensive, with a hardness index of 1439. If you want to acquire a sapele kalimba, you will have no doubts about its authenticity and origin, this wood being purely African and handcrafted.
European beech is a deciduous tree, but it can be difficult to work with. It is found, however, in some other percussion instruments, such as drumsticks and drums with stretched skin or membrane. It's a master key: it restores clear and classic sounds, and you risk nothing by handling it. Its hardness is 1300 on the Jonka scale.
A particular species of walnut native to America is the black walnut. The term "black walnut" comes from the fact that it is much darker than its walnut cousin and the attractive wenge-like grooves on its surface. This wood, which is used in high-end furniture and marquetry, is extremely resistant to humidity. Its estimated hardness is 1010, and players who want a high quality instrument will choose it. This is the material used on our special edition 21-Note Black Walnut.
Both Asia and Europe have walnut trees. Because it bends easily, it is widely used in the construction of harps, sides, neck and back of acoustic guitars. It has an exquisite grain and a Jonka hardness rating of 940. Therefore, walnut is recommended for people looking for an aesthetically distinctive instrument with exposed ribbing.
The camphor tree is native to Asia and has since spread to many continents. After being cut, camphor wood retains a wonderful scent for several years. Although it is a premium wood and has a hardness of 930, it is not used to make violins. Its greatest asset is the distinctive smell that camphor gives off.
Pine is a soft, yellowish-colored wood found in Europe, Asia and America. It is soft and very malleable. Jonka rates its resistance at 870: given its softness, it provides a variety of singular sounds that some kalimba players may find enjoyable.
Mahogany is not a specific tree species; it is rather the name given to about 250 tropical trees of red or pink color of the family Meliaceae. This wood produces rich and pleasant sounds, which is why xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels, balafons and other rhythm vibraphones are often made with this wood.
Mahogany remains a very good value for a kalimba and is pleasant to the touch. It is recommended for beginners who wish to study this unusual musical instrument. The Jonka scale places mahogany at 800.
Spruce, a resinous tree with needles (we know it well at Christmas!), is used for the manufacture of house frames throughout Europe. It has beautiful ribs and is frequently used in the construction of violins and guitars, and for good reason, it has exceptional acoustic properties.
Spruce has a Jonka Index of 647, making it an exceptionally soft and very light wood. Spruce is the best option if you are looking for a relaxing instrument.
Avoid chipboard or reconstituted wood kalimba
We advise you to choose solid wood if you want a good quality kalimba. Solid wood is a raw material that is sawn directly from the tree and is highly valued by cabinet makers due to its superior quality.
Thumb pianos constructed from reconstituted or chipboard wood are actually constructed with shavings that are considered industrial waste. Manufacturers have discovered a clever way to recycle them by creating new boards from these scraps which are then bonded together with various glues and chemicals.
In addition to having a random quality, this type of wood produces extremely dangerous particles in the air, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It can therefore be harmful to your health!
If no indication “solid wood kalimba” is mentioned during the purchase, then there is a good chance that it is reconstituted wood. Choose a solid wood instrument that is much better and safer for your health when playing music than one like the kalimba that you will frequently hold in your hand and close to your face.
You now have all the cards in hand to choose the right material for your wooden kalimba! Once again, if you invest in this instrument, we remind you that it is really important that you choose solid wood. This will avoid any problems and preserve your health.
Ready to get started? At Pawpaw.ch, we only offer real wood kalimbas, without compromising on quality. Our kalimbas are made of acacia to avoid any doubt about the reliability of your instrument. Discover our range of kalimba now and start your great adventure!