Ask Mark
Sizes and Weights of the Alto & Treble Kalimbas

Ask Mark

I get one or two dozen emails each day asking me all sorts of questions, and I answer almost every one. In this newsletter, we draw on the brand new Sansula book to answer these questions that people have been asking me about the Sansula. —Mark Holdaway

Alto and Treble
The Hugh Tracey Treble and Alto.

How Big Are the Alto and Treble Kalimbas?

Urszula of Poland gives us two questions this month. She asked: "Is the Bb Treble Kalimba smaller or lighter than the Alto Kalimba?"

The ALTO kalimba's box is 8 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches, and the TREBLE's box is slightly smaller: 7 x 5 x 1.25 inches. Even though the Alto is larger, the Treble has more tines: 17 to the Alto's 15. The Treble's tines are 4mm wide, and the Alto's are 5mm wide, so you can fit 17 Treble tines into a space narrower than the Alto's 15 Tines.

The Treble's smaller box means that it doesn't resonate so well with lower notes. The Treble's lowest note is a B, and you start to lose resonance as you go down to an A. The Alto's lowest note is a G, and you start to lose resonance when you go down to an F.

A typical Alto kalimba will weigh about 1 pound = 16 ounces (0.450 kg). A Treble kalimba will weigh about 12 ounces (0.335 kg). However, there is a lot of variability. One customer built a form-fitting box for his Alto kalimba and then found out that his new Alto kalimba didn't fit into the same footprint as his old Alto. Because they are hand made, the kalimbas have slight variations in the size and shape of the box, and sometimes the face wood is slightly thicker or thinner too.

An even larger source of variation is the wood itself. Some kalimbas have a piece of wood that is half dark brown and half blonde. If you look at the curve of the grain between the brown and blonde, you will probably be able to see that the blonde wood is on the outside of the tree while the brown is on the inside of the tree. So the heart wood is brown and the sap wood is blonde. I have found that light colored kiaat wood is much less dense than the darker colored wood. Dark wood can add 2 or 3 ounces (56 - 84 g) to an Alto kalimba.

Alto and Treble
A strip of blonde sapwood.

The denser dark kiaat wood tends to be somewhat softer in sound with a longer sustain, and the less dense light kiaat wood has a louder sound with a shorter sustain. I have just started carrying blonde kiaat Altos, as I like the shorter sustain and louder, brighter sound.

By the way, the Celeste (solid wood) models and the karimba have the same footprint as the Treble kalimba, but the solid piece of wood is only 5/8 inch at its thickest. A celeste kalimba weighs between 8 and 11 ounces (0.225 kg - 0.310 kg).


Does the Pickup Add Weight to the Kalimba?

I would estimate that the pickup and the jack add less than half an ounce (14 g) to the weight of the kalimba. This is much less than the variation in the weight caused by density variations in the wood.

Send me your questions! I certainly don't know everything about the kalimba, but I know a lot, I'm learning more each day—and I am happy to share this information.