N'KORA ANOTHER INVENTION:
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Here's a very short, unlisted youtube video showing how the thing sounds.
Obviously not at all a performance but just a quick sound sample:
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I got to thinking ------ as the much as I dearly love the Kora
& as much as I've quite seriously tried to learn how to play
it for over three decades, I'd not feel comfortable performing
my handful of kora tunes in public. Now, at age 68, I realize
all the more clearly that I'll likely never be much of a Kora
player. Truth be known, I spend a lot more time diddling with
making instruments than I do playing them.
In the past I've built several Malian N'gonis as well as the
closely related Goni from Burkina Faso. Their pentatonic,
no-wrong-notes scale makes them leagues easier to play than
the Kora, which, being chromatically tuned, has the potential
for lots of "wrong notes" (in my hands at least!).
With this in mind, I figured that it'd be fun to build an
experimental ten-course N'goni with each note doubled (two
same-pitched strings instead of the usual single string).
Sorta like the difference between a regular six-string guitar
vs a 12-string guitar - adds harmonics & interesting beat-notes.
What I did was to take one of the bunch of Koras I've built,
a simple rather small-bodied one, & converted it into a
doubled-string, ten course N'goni while retaining the Kora
configuration & appearance: hand-grips, bridge, bridge
stabilization, skin bracing system etc - thus the silly
It plays exactly like a conventional N'goni * - just with
This conversion was a pleasant one weekend project.
Only a few things needed to be done:
I had guitar tuners on this Kora (my all-tme favorites, $2 each,
model GTM-21 from elderly.com) (I've used well over a thousand
over the years without a single failure). The tuner's placement
along the neck had to be changed (see photos). Using the existing
tuner shaft holes & string-access holes in the neck, I took off
all the tuners & mounted them in ten groups of two (see photos).
Because some of the previous Kora's string exit holes were on the
"wrong side" of the neck surface for this conversion, I installed
small-headed finishing nails near the strings exit to re-route
the "out-of-place" strings, so that both strings of each set came
away from their exit in the same vertical plane. Hard to talk
about but easy to understand & do with the neck in front of you.
Do this relocation AS you string the thing - for more accurate
Initially intending to make a new bridge, it worked out quite
nicely just to saw ten new double notches in the existing bridge.
I made these notches shallower than the existing Kora notches,
not wanting to weaken & possibly break that part of the bridge.
A spacing of 1/8 inches (at the bridge) between the two strings
in each set worked out nicely. Need not worry about this spacing
at the other end as it happens automatically, one string of a set
exiting higher up the neck.
The rest is simply stringing it up, tune it, fix any buzz & play.
*Well, not quite exactly exactly. Largely because I had one
"left-over " tuning peg on the converted instrument that was
begging to be used, thought I'd make a single-string "bass" note
- running from the vacant tuner at the neck's far end, centered
down the middle of the neck, then going through a small hole
drilled in the bridge's "diamond" to the tie-off ring. It doesn't
interfere at all with playing the main strings. This low drone
worked out great! Much fun to hit. I like it.
As much as possible I used monofilament fishline of the same
gauge/length as would be used on a conventional N'goni:
One nice thing - unlike a conventional N'goni or Kora, where you
must tie the end of each string to the tailpiece ring, all you
need do here is to cut a length of monofilament fishline twice as
long, bend in half & simply loop it through the ring as show in
On the outside chance that you don't happen to have a spare Kora
laying around to convert, you could throw together a Kora from my
webpage (way easier to build than you'd think) & simply incorporate
the above N'kora conversion instructions as you are building it.
See these articles for ideas:
This chart show both the tuning and the string gauge, in thousandths
of an inch.Looking at the bridge from the tailpiece end of the N-kora:
F .036 D .036 (lowest notes)
A .029 G .029
D .024 C .024
G .020 F .020
B .018 A .018 (highest notes)
These two illustraations are added here on the fly - just to
get the information out. I'll do it right shortly:
February 8, 2016
Dennis Havlena - W8MI
Straits of Mackinac,
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