While in Africa late 2011, I gave away all of the instruments 
I brought over, including my original Harp-Kora (which is now 
owned by Brother Boris, head Kora-Maker at Keur Moussa Monastery 
west of Dakar, Senegal).

Missing my original invention, I set out 2/15/2012 to build 
another one and just completed it in three days of occasional 
tinkering – thus this article.

The Harp-Kora described here is quite similar to the original 
except that it utilizes inexpensive guitar-type machine gear 
tuners instead of “Zither-Pins” & therefore is much easier to tune.

My original Harp-Kora construction article (with a few modifications) 
is still on my webpage here. I have no plans to remove it.

Zither Pins only adequately work (hold without slipping) if 
mounted in VERY hard wood such as Rock (aka Sugar) Maple, but 
in this 2nd generation instrument where geared tuners are used 
instead of Zither Pins, a hardwood frame is not at all necessary. 
The frame described here is cut from a single piece of three foot 
long regular soft Pine construction wood – a “2 by 10”. 
The relative light weight of Pine somewhat offsets the added 
weight of the geared tuners. The triangular shape is cut first, 
then the innards of the triangle are cut free. If a bandsaw is 
used, the “entrance cut” is then repaired by gluing in a sliver 
of any type of wood and clamping.

One might object that this frame might be too flimsy to support 
all the string tension – but because there are strings on both 
the right and the left side of the instrument – any one-sided 
tension is easily balances out by the set of strings on the 
opposite side.

The soundboard for each of the two sides is made from salvaged 
1/8 inch thick plywood obtained from a Habitat for Humanity thrift 
store door (a great and inexpensive source of musical instrument 
tinkering plywood).

Although it looks nothing whatsoever like a west African Kora, 
this Harp-Kora plays JUST like one – same string intervals, same 
scale, same string spacing etc. The tone is different, but by no 
means objectionable. Being that this thing can be built essentially 
for the low cost of purchasing 21 guitar-type tuners (less than two 
dollars apiece), a few yards of musical wire strings (most can be 
salvaged from nylon-covered steel core clothesline), an old door 
(they go for $5 locally) and some scraps of wood, this is a very 
easy and inexpensive way to break into the most fascinating world 
of playing the Kora.

On this Harp-Kora I experimented with different gauges of steel 
strings and have tuned the pitch up to the (debatably) “standard” 
Kora pitch of “F”. The balance “feel” while playing this instrument 
is different than my original one due to the weight of the geared 
tuners, It nonetheless feels quite comfortable perched upon a knee 
or lap and can be held while standing comfortably too. The soundholes 
are larger than in the original and that, along with the higher pitch, 
makes for a noticeably louder overall sound – I'd judge the overall 
volume to be similar to that of an acoustic guitar.

Shortly I plan to upload a youtube video of this instrument being played.

This article has been “rushed to press” - check back here in a while 
for the finished article.


Dennis Havlena

Key words: build make diy kora west africa gambia senegal construct homemade home made

Click here to access my webpage