26 June 2019

A New High-End Electric Nyunga Nyunga

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The Dave Bellinger 15-Note Electric Karimba in F

Dave Bellinger has long been known for his solid, meticulously crafted and innovative eKalimba designs (an eKalimba is a kalimba with an electric pickup). This one combines a hot pickup (that is, with a very strong output signal), "graphical buzzalizers," and generally smooth design and construction - with the 15 traditional notes of the mbira nyunga nyunga, also known as the karimba in F.

All of this makes the Bellinger F15 Nyunga a great instrument for looping (a looper is a device that instantaneously records what you're doing and plays it back in a loop, so you can layer multiple parts or instruments at the same time). The lower-row notes are the same notes as on the Student Karimba - meaning complete phrases of African songs can be played on its lower-row notes. So, imagine playing a lower-row song into the looper, and coming back and adding upper-row notes to the second pass of the music.

I do that, and much more, in the video at the end of this article.

 

Sound Clips of the Bellinger F-15 Nyunga

How do the acoustic and electric sounds of the F-15 Bellinger Nyunga compare?

The acoustic sound has much more treble, but also seems to be a bit brittle. The sound through the pickup is a little darker with a bit less of the buzz.

This track includes 3 short clips: acoustic, electric (pickup), and combined acoustic and pickup

Acoustic sound of the F-15 Bellinger Nyunga.

Sound of the F-15 Bellinger Nyunga's Pickup

The tuning of the Bellinger F-15 Nyunga

F15Tuning

Design Features of the Bellinger F-15 Nyunga

Superbly designed Tine Attachment Mechanism

Superbly designed Tine Attachment Mechanism

One of the most important aspects of any kalimba design is: how well are the tines attached to the resonant kalimba body? Tines on traditional mbiras are attached with several wires twisted tight to hold the bridge down. Hugh Tracey patented his design for the "Z" bracket method of attaching the tines firmly. In the photo you can see the sturdy and elegantly simple tine-attaching hardware on the Bellinger eKalimba. It is very tight, and will reduce the need to adjust tine tuning. Also, note how the tines have been very accurately cut to length, so the top ends of the tines neatly line up. Any tightening or loosening of tine hardware bolts must be accomplished with a metric hex wrench.
Smooth Tines

Smooth Tines

The tines on the Bellinger kalimbas are very smooth and are a pleasure to play.
Hot Pickup

Hot Pickup

Check this out! That "L" bracket is firmly attached to the bridge, and it transmits the vibrations directly from the bridge to the electronic pickup.

By the way, after playing my personal Bellinger Nyunga for a few months, I noticed an unpleasant buzzing sound when I played acoustically - it was because the bolt that attaches the "L" bracket to the black disc of the pickup had come a bit loose. I tightened it about 1/4 of a turn with a metric hex wrench, and the acoustic buzzing went away.

Jack on the Back

Jack on the Back

The series of dashes at the top of the photo here is actually the top ends of the karimba's tines. The top of the instrument is also where you plug a 1/4 inch guitar cord into your kalimba. Note that this pickup does not need any phantom power, so you can just plug this into a guitar amplifier, effects processor pedal, looper, or your PA system.
Graphic Buzzalizers

Graphic Buzzalizers

The first thing to note about the Bellinger F-15's buzzers is how light, gentle, and warm they sound. In large part, this is because the buzzers are little tiny bits of metal, hardly any larger than a staple. The buzzers are kept on the tines with a bit of tight, clear plastic tubing. If you want to remove the buzzers, remove the tubing and they'll come off. But if you just want less buzzing, choke up: push these plastic tubing bits closer to the bridge. If you want more buzzing, pull the tubing down to allow the buzzers to travel more on the tine. (So you see that Dave Bellinger's word play on "graphic equalizer" here is accurate - these little stoppers can make some big changes in the sound of your instrument.) If you want to quickly reduce the amount of buzzing as you are playing, play with the head of your kalimba tilted down, and the buzzers will not travel much away from the bridge, giving a purer sound to the instrument.
Gorgeous Cherry Wood Body

Gorgeous Cherry Wood Body

The lovely cherry board on Bellinger karimbas is also heavy. This instrument weighs 19 ounces as compared to the Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba which comes in at 10 ounces.

See the Bellinger F-15 Nyunga In Action

I have been enjoying looping many songs from the Nyunga repertoire on my personal Bellinger F-15 Nyunga.

In the video below, I create a loop with a single repitition of the basic part of the traditional song Shumba Panzira. This music stays on the lower row notes.  Next, I play and record a second nyunga part that interlocks with the first layer I recorded. With the two interlocking parts playing in the looper, I solo on the upper notes of the F-15 Nyunga. This sort of African karimba music gave rise to an African guitar style ubiquitous in modern African pop music.

About the Author

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway has been playing kalimba for over 30 years.  He invented his kalimba tablature in 2004, and has been writing books and instructional materials for kalimba ever since.  His business, Kalimba Magic, is based on the simple proposition that the kalimba is a real musical instrument capable of greatness.  Mark's kalimba books are a down payment on this proposition.

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