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The Best Kalimba in 2020 – Everything You Need to Know

In Buyer's Guide, Guides for Musicians, Guides for Percussionists by Jake LLeave a Comment

Last updated on November 6th, 2020 at 10:41 am

I love playing on my kalimba, it’s such a fun instrument that’s easy to learn and relaxes me with its soothing melodic tone. If you’re looking to purchase your own, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you find the best kalimba that fits all of your musical needs, but before that, let’s talk about some important things you need to keep in mind.

What is a Kalimba?

A photo of a Kalimba near small flowers

The Kalimba, also known as the African Thumb Piano or Mbira, is a simple percussion instrument that utilizes metal tines fixed onto a sounding board to produce a nice soothing sound with relaxing rhythmic tones.

Kalimbas are often handmade and can have anywhere from 5 keys to 21 keys to play with. With so many options to choose from nowadays, it’s hard to say that one specific choice is the best Kalimba on the market. Before buying one, there are some things that you should consider.

Important Things to Consider

How Many Keys are on the Kalimba?

Red lines showing the distance between each key/tine.

Probably the best place to start is figuring out how many keys you want to have on your kalimba. You’ll find that a lot of Kalimbas on the market have17 keys and are set to a specific tone/key (Standard tuning in the Key of C). The key thing to keep in mind, no pun intended, is that the more keys/tines you have on the kalimba, the more chords you have to work with.

Having more chords to work with widens your list of songs to play and allows you to have more freedom to musically experiment on your thumb piano. Of course, the more keys your kalimba has, the bigger the instrument will be. If size and portability is an important factor for your kalimba purchase, then we recommend you look at options with fewer keys.

Closely Spaced or Widely Spaced?

Something that a lot of people may not consider is the spacing between the keys/tines on the kalimba. If you’re like me and you have bigger fingers, playing on a kalimba that is closely spaced might be challenging. This is especially important if your playstyle requires precise plucking. Precision is very important when it comes to playing a thumb piano so definitely consider what type of spacing would work best for your fingers.

Of course, your playstyle is an important thing to keep in mind when buying a Kalimba. If the songs you want to play require you to strum on multiple keys at once, then a kalimba with closer keys might fit you best.

Kalimbas with keys that are more spaced out usually have a hollow body with a soundhole while a kalimba with closely spaced tines is usually pure wood.

Now that you have a better idea of what you might be looking for, let’s get into our list of recommendations to help find the best kalimba for you.

Our Top 5 Best Kalimba Options in 2020

1. Rain Whisperer Kalimba by LingTing (Our Favorite) 

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An excellent choice for players who are looking for a Kalimba with more keys. The LT-K21W, also known as the “Rain Whisperer” Kalimba from LingTing is a great option for beginners and professionals. Made of high-quality black walnut wood, the sound that this thumb piano produces is angelic and pure. Since this is a pure wood kalimba, the resonance is quieter than its Hollow body counterparts.

This kalimba comes with 21 keys and comes tuned in the key of F. Having 21 keys to work with gives you more room to experiment musically while also opening the opportunity to expand your list of playable songs. And like any standard kalimba, you can always tune the keys with the included tuning hammer to fit your musical needs.

It’s also good to keep in mind that you will find that the keys/tines are closer. This is great for anyone planning to play songs that require you to strum multiple keys at once. Chords are not engraved onto the keys, so you will need to use the syllable stickers if you need assistance distinguishing what chord every key is.

Overall, the “Rain Whisperer” kalimba from LingTing is our favorite kalimba available on the market. LingTing puts in a lot of work to make sure their Kalimbas are of utmost quality in both it’s build and the sound/tone it produces.

This Bundle Comes With:

  • 21 Keys Kalimba (Black Walnut)
  • Tuning hammer
  • Chain (Adds “bell-like” tone)
  • Carrying case
  • Small bag
  • Syllable Stickers
  • Wiping piano cloth
  • Finger caps
  • Helpful Kalimba Booklet

2. GECKO Kalimba 17 Keys Thumb Piano (All-Around Great Choice) 

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This beautifully handcrafted Kalimba from Gecko makes it onto our list as a great all-around choice for players of any skill level. Gecko made this Kalimba with high-quality mahogany wood and ore steel bars that give users a better sense of hearing, vision, and touch. Many are impressed and surprised by how good this kalimba plays, especially considering the price range it’s in.

This Kalimba comes tuned in the Key of C, however, you can adjust the key with the tuning hammer that Gecko includes with their instrument. It has a hollow design with good resonance and amplified volume thanks to the soundhole. The overall tone this kalimba produces is rich and bright. 

All of this comes together fitting in a nice protective case that helps keep this thumb piano safe from damage, humidification, scratches, and so on. The case also makes it easier for you to travel with your instrument.

The only thing that I need to point out is that it’s listed as not having chord names engraved into the keys/tines. This bundle does come with Phonetic stickers that are great for beginners, however, you might not enjoy this if you want an aesthetically looking Kalimba. You can always remove the stickers later on as you become more familiar with your Gecko Kalimba, so don’t let this one thing stop you.

Gecko has shown us that you don’t need to shell out $100+ for a high-quality kalimba. Their thumb piano is well worth it and again, great for anyone.

This Bundle Comes With:

  • 17 Keys Treble Kalimba
  • Tuning Hammer
  • Travelling Case (Waterproof and Shockproof) x1
  • Thumb Piano Key Stickers (1 Set)
  • Flannelette Bag x1
  • Cleaning Cloth x1
  • Study Guide (User Manual and Music Score)

3. Moozica 17 Keys Kalimba Marimba  (Most Design Options)

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If you want to spice things up with your Kalimba purchase, I definitely recommend you check out Moozica’s 17 keys thumb pianos. Moozica’s 17 key Kalimba comes in 4 different color/wood variations giving players more choices to choose from. There are two Koa Kalimbas, one made with Acacia Koa wood and one made of a mix of selected Koa and Spruce wood. The other two options are made with Mahogany, one, in particular, having a unique deep blue color.

The biggest difference between the two wood options is that Koa wood produces a warmer and deeper tone while the Mahogony kalimbas produce a bright and clearer sound. Many owners found the quality of the tone was consistently good on every note from high to low. This kalimba is tuned to the key of C, but you can always adjust the tuning to fit your needs.

These kalimbas have the chord names and numbers engraved onto each key, making them great for beginner players.

Overall, these kalimbas from Moozica are great, having a solid build that produces a nice high-quality tone making them great for players of any level. While they do seem to be geared towards beginners, higher-level kalimba players can still appreciate the quality and tone these thumb pianos produce.

This Bundle Comes With:

  • 17 Keys Kalimba
  • Tuning Hammer
  • Professional Waterproof Kalimba Bag
  • Finger guards
  • Chord stickers
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Learning Guide and Song Book

4. MOOZICA 21 Keys Solid Koa Kalimba 

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Another great kalimba from Moozica, especially if you’re in the market for a thumb piano with more keys to play with. This kalimba has a solid wood board design and is constructed from a single piece of solid koa wood. Just like Moozica’s 17 key kalimbas, the koa wood body creates a warm and deeper sound while its solid design allows for better expression of the higher pitches.

Do keep in mind that its solid wood structure makes the sound softer in comparison to hollow-body kalimbas, however, the tone that it produces is melodic and pure. Unlike the 21 keys option from LingTing’s, Moozica has this thumb piano come fully tuned in the key of C. The keys range from F3 to E6, giving you a wide range to play with.

Moozica kept beginner players in mind having chords engraved onto each tine. This makes it easier for newer players to become familiar with their kalimba while also keeping their kalimba clean and easy to maintain. You will find that this thumb piano has a bigger wood density making this instrument heavier than other options, however, it helps maintain a direct and complete vibration when playing.

And of course, it all comes with accessories that make life easier such as a hard case to keep your kalimba safe, a tuning hammer, finger guards, and music scale stickers.

This Bundle Comes With:

  • 21 Keys Kalimba (Solid Wood)
  • Tuning Hammer x1
  • Hard Protective Case x1
  • Kalimba bag
  • Finger Guards
  • Music scale stickers
  • Instruction Manual and Song Book

5. EASTROCK Kalimba 17 Keys Thumb Piano (Most Affordable/ Budget Friendly)

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If you’re looking for the best kalimba that’s both budget-friendly as well as good quality, then check out this 17 keys thumb piano from EASTROCK. An excellent choice for new players, this 17 keys kalimba is handcrafted with mahogany wood, having a finer texture, better sustain, and a softer delicate tone. The finish on this thumb piano is so beautiful that you wouldn’t think that this was the budget option on our list.

I love that EASTROCK had the chord names engraved onto each key of their kalimba, knowing that a lot of the people in the market shopping within this price range are most likely beginners/first-time buyers.

The sound of this thumb piano is crisp and sweet thanks to its naturally air-dried mahogany veneer. Having a solid wood and box design makes the resonance on this kalimba stronger and fuller, creating a “melodious and lasting” effect as you play. This instrument is lighter than other options but still remains durable. Its hand-polished and curved edges make this kalimba feel smoother to the touch and comfortable in your hands.

It comes standardly tuned in the key of C and comes with a tuning hammer to make adjustments.

Overall, if you want to start playing the kalimba while saving money, this is the option for you.

This Bundle Comes With:

  • 17 Keys Kalimba (Mahogany)
  • Tuning Hammer
  • EVA Case
  • Cloth Bag
  • Polishing Cloth
  • Finger protectors
  • Color Stickers
  • Instruction manual

Other Things to Consider

Solid Wood or Hollow Body?

LingTing's solid wood Kalimba, the Rain Whisperer

Hollow Body Kalimba

With pure wood kalimbas, you will find that the keys are closer together and the sound won’t be as full. These are great for players who plan to “strum” multiple keys at a time, putting chords together while playing.

 

Hollow Body kalimbas, as I mentioned earlier, will often have a soundhole that enhances the volume of your instrument. Keys/tines are normally more widely spaced when compared to their pure wood counterparts. These are great for players you plan to play songs that require a lot of individual picking. With keys that are spaced out, you have more room to be more precise while playing, leading to fewer mistakes.

Stickers or Engraved Chords and Numbers

This is something you should consider if you really need the extra assistance while maintaining a clean aesthetic for your Kalimba. It’s very helpful to see what chord each key/tine is on the kalimba. They’re like the stickers that beginner piano players use to label the keys while learning. You can do the same with kalimbas. Before you do that, just know that there are options that have the chord names engraved onto each key.

I highly recommend that you look at Kalimbas with the chord names engraved. They are nicer to look at and take less maintenance to take care of. Stickers are great to use, but it can be annoying to see the stickers begin to peel off as you play your kalimba more. The clean and professional look of kalimbas with engraved chord names is well worth the extra money you might have to chip in and you’ll never look back.

Tuning Your Kalimba

Kalimbas come tuned in a specific key. A lot of the times, they will be standardly tuned to the key of C, however, you can always tune your thumb piano with a tuning hammer. Don’t worry, tuning hammers usually come with your kalimba purchase. Here’s a helpful video by Karina Javier on YouTube showing us how to tune our kalimbas.

Final Thoughts

Well there you have it, our list of what we think are the best kalimbas currently available. Finding the best thumb piano for you isn’t hard. Just establish what you want from your instrument early on (number of keys, size, tone) and do a little research with the help of this guide. Hopefully, we were able to help you find the right kalimba that you will enjoy for many years to come.

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