A kalimba using bobby-pins as twangers.

NOTE: 10 additional photos and a sound sample of this instrument are available. Click here for information.
This extremely simple kalimba is a real instrument --- 
playability is great. Tone and volume is surprisingly good too. 
I made it to see just how simple a kalimba can be made.

It's construction needs little or no description -- everything 
can be seen in the photo.

I made this kalimba to have the same scale as a bagpipe 
(9 notes). There is no sound-box, only a "sound-board".

The type bobby-pin used is one size bigger than "regular" 
bobby-pins --- they are about 2-5/8" long & a small bit wider 
than 1/16". I used Goody brand, product number 01457.

- Bend each bobby-pin to right angles (careful - they can break).

- With each of the pins, cut off all but a half inch of the side 
  with the bend. (I dulled the jagged ends with a grinder)

- The soundboard is a piece of 3/16" or 1/4" solid or plywood, 
  4" by 6". Absolutely nothing here is critical.

- I used a piece of 3/8" square by 4" long hardwood that the 
  twangers rest on. This piece is glued to the soundboard.
- For the piece of wood that pushes down on the twangers, I used 
  hardwood - 1/4" square by 4" long. Five evenly spaced 3/4" 
  woodscrews securely clamp the twangers between these two 
  pieces of hardwood (three screws didn't hold it good enough). 
  Make sure that the front edges of the two hardwood pieces are 

- The only awkward thing is holding and positioning the nine 
  twangers while tightening the five screws. My advice is to 
  not tighten the screws too tight at first --- once the 
  twangers are positioned properly, then tighten them.
  I also found it a help to clamp the instrument in a vise
  while installing and tuning the twangers.
- Tuning is easy, but may require a slight temporary 
  untightening of the screws.

Do not remove the plastic tips of the bobby-pins as they make 
comfortable twanger ends.

It took me a bit less than a half-hour, start to finish, to 

I made a simple box for an experiment, but it didn't add much 
volume, so went back to just a single board.

My first bobby-pin kalimba had the twanger base mounted along 
the narrow edge of the soundboard, but the tone of the shorter 
twangers was not good. By instead mounting the twanger base 
along the wider edge of the soundboard (and about 3/8" in from 
the edge), the tone improved immensely.

This is a good tuning:

          ti so mi do *  re fa la do'      
          |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
          |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
          |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |   
             |  |  |  |  |  |  |   
             |  |  |  |  |  |        
                |  |  |  |  |       
                |  |  |  |         
                   |  |  |             * = a full step
                   |  |                    below "do"
The short length of the bobby-pins more or less limits what key 
the instrument can be tuned in -- Optimum sound/tone in my case 
(where the lowest note uses almost the full length of the 
bobby-pin) was when the instrument was tuned in the key of G but 
considering that this simple kalimba will likely never be played 
in a band, the key is relatively unimportant.

Fun little thing!

I made another such instrument, but used regular sized (smaller) 
bobby-pins instead. it worked fine too --- had a different, but 
also pleasant tone.

Dennis Havlena - W8MI 
Mackinac Straits, northern Michigan

Click here to access my webpage