ThomasBothe 150 How to Play the 2B/9 and 2B/14 Kalimbas

These are some of the most charming of kalimbas.  Maker Thomas Bothe tunes each one to a different tuning - amazing.

Introduction to the 2B Kalimbas

Each 2B Kalimba comes with between two and four magnets embedded in the wood (depending on the size of the kalimba) and an equal number of external magnets to assist in attaching the kalimba to an optional resonator or a small box to amplify the sound. Watch this video to understand what to do with the 2B kalimbas - but note that this video incorrectly attributes the kalimba to Wolfgang Bothe, Thomas' brother, who sent me the first instance of this kalimba:

An introduction to the Thomas Bothe 2B kalimbas.

If you are thinking "Wow, that is one tiny kalimba!" you would be thinking right. The fact that every other tine is offset helps. Also, the resonator frame effectively makes the kalimba bigger and easier to hold.

A very important feature of the 2B kalimbas is that there are two sets of tines - longer tines, and shorter tines that have been bent up and are mounted in between each of the longer tines. In Thomas Bothe's tunings, the longer tines usually present one musical idea, chord, or scale, and the set of shorter, bent tines presents a different contrasting or complimenting idea. In other words, the notes have been preorganized to help the musician play.

One more feature of the 2B kalimbas that is essential: Thomas Bothe is an artist and views each kalimba as a unique creation. If you make 20 kalimbas that look identical, how can they be made unique? By tuning each one in a different way. Part of the work that Kalimba Magic does in support of the 2B kalimbas is to document every unique tuning that comes to us. This way, the entire community of 2B kalimba owners - even those who buy his kalimbas elsewhere - can benefit from the wealth of creativity that comes from Thomas Bothe through me and to you. Those tunings are documented below.

You can learn more about Thomas Bothe in this interview.

Notes on Retuning the 2B Kalimbas

Are you afraid of retuning your kalimba? Well, in a way you should be. Some people jump in, not knowing what they are doing, and do get themselves into a place they don't know how to get out of. A healthy respect for your kalimba tuning is in order. On the other hand, how do you learn something new without jumping into the deep? You won't drown, but do be careful!

First: if you are unsure of yourself, study the tuning page and its videos! I recommend that you get an electronic tuner to help you, as shown in these videos. Second: make sure you have the printout for the original tuning that your 2B kalimba came in. Kalimba Magic documents the tuning that your kalimba came in, to help you maintain that tuning. Third: take small steps. For example, if you want to change the tuning to one of the tunings listed on this page, first pick one that is only slightly different from the tuning you are already in. Retune just one tine and see how it goes. If you feel you are in over your head, just tune back to the original tuning.

Now, some tips on the mechanics of retuning the 2B kalimbas. I loosen the wing nuts by 1/2 turn to retune. (This 1/2 turn rule also works for Goshen, Catania, and Hokema kalimbas - Hugh Tracey kalimbas should never have the screws loosened (they are under the tines and inaccessible), but the Hugh Tracey tines should just slide in and out.) The nuts will still be tight enough to keep the tines from falling out, but loose enough to let the tines slide. To shorten the vibrating length of the tine (i.e., raise the pitch), I just grasp the tine tips with my thumb and first finger, and gently push in while wiggling left and right. To lengthen the vibrating length (i.e., lower the pitch), I use something stiff, but not too hard - a guitar pick for example - to push the top end of the tine down. A guitar pick will not gouge the wood.

After you retune, make sure these tiny little tines are parallel and do not touch. Touching tines can result in a buzz. If you have a tuner, try to get the pitch to within 5 or 10 cents of the desired pitch. Retighten the wing nuts by 1/2 turn. Recheck the tuning, it has probably changed by 5, 10, or 15 cents. You can also get a buzz if the wing nuts are not tight enough. If you tighten too much, you can bend the tines, which you don't want to do.

Above all, treat your kalimba, the tines, and the tuning with respect.

2B/9 Note Tunings

2B/9 Note Tunings

By the way, while I thought all of these tunings were fine, I have labeled some as good and some as great, indicating the tunings that I felt really stood out.

2B/9B (w Buzzers) Tunings

2B/9B (w Buzzers) Tunings

The 2B/9B Kalimba is a charming 2B with buzzers. It is slightly narrower than the 2B/9, and has only two magnets embedded in the wood, and uses the same resonator frame as the 2B/9. We document here the 2B/9B tunings, but this instrument can also be tuned to any of the 2B/9 tunings listed above.

2B/14 Note Tunings

2B/14 Note Tunings

In my opinion, the 2B/14 is the finest of the 2B kalimbas. It has enough notes to achieve a fair amount of complexity, but it is not complicated to play due to the two level organization and the simple tunings. It is bigger and easier to play than the 2B/9.

2B/14L (Large) Tunings

2B/14L (Large) Tunings

The 2B/14L is logically the same kalimba as the 2B/14, but it is significantly larger. This has two main effects. First, if you have large hands, the 2B/14L is much easier to play. Second, on average the tines will be tuned to lower pitches. Made of teak wood, it too is a great kalimba, but the extra material and workmanship that go into it make this more expensive than the other 2B kalimbas.

  • 2B/14L Tuning: Ab mixolydian 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Scale-like. Great!
  • 2B/14L Tuning: B major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Heavenly arpeggio. Very Good
  • 2B/14L Tuning: C# dorian / B major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Dramatic - lower half is pentatonic, upper is idiosyncratic.
  • 2B/14L Tuning: Db major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Heavenly arpeggio. Excellent
  • 2B/14L Tuning: D major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Heavenly arpeggio.
  • 2B/14L Tuning: Eb dorian 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Scale-like. Great tuning.
  • 2B/14L Tuning: E major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Scale-like. This is the tuning in the demo video - good!
  • 2B/14L Tuning: E major 2 - Listen or View PDF
    Heavenly arpeggio.
  • 2B/14L Tuning: E lydian 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Scale-like. Angelic.
  • 2B/14L Tuning: F major 1 - Listen or View PDF
    Heavenly arpeggio.

2B Resonators

The 2B kalimbas come with an optional resonator frame made of wood with goat skin fastened tightly onto one side (see the images of the 2B/9B and 2B/14 above). The kalimba is held in place with magnets. When traveling you can reverse the kalimba, placing it on the inside of the frame to protect the tines. If you don't want to pay the extra money for the resonator frame, you can still attach your 2B kalimba to other objects for amplification: cardboard boxes, wood boxes with thin wood, tupperware, and frame drums all work.

Instructional Materials

As each 2B kalimba has a unique tuning, it is not really possible to write a book for each one. Some generic advice may be applicable to many of the kalimbas (for example, try playing the lower tines, then try playing the bent shorter tines, then back). However, some people have asked for explicit instruction on the 2B kalimbas, and I oblige them by spending about 30 minutes writing out tablature that works for their particular tuning, and charging them $10 for the work. This is not too expensive, and may be a nice way for you to get a jump start on your 2B kalimba.


If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via the email form, or speak directly to Mark Holdaway at 520-488-7641.

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