If you’re getting ready to buy your first (or next!) kalimba, you may be wondering – should I get a wooden or Acrylic Kalimba?
The truth is, there are subtle differences between the two, and knowing the similarities and differences in advance can help you pick the perfect kalimba for you.
Therefore, in this article I’ll cover how the difference in material effects the sound and experience of playing this beautiful instrument, and provide some of my best recommendations for each.
Let’s get into it!
Difference #1: The Sound
The first and perhaps most important difference between wooden and Acrylic Kalimbas (otherwise known as ‘thumb pianos’) is the sound.
Although acrylic and wood kalimbas sound very similar, there are noticeable differences if you play them side by side.
Acrylic Kalimbas (in my opinion) sound closer to a traditional music box, with bright, warm tones. They sound wonderful when playing soft songs or lullabies.
Wooden kalimbas have a darker, colder, but more full sound. This isn’t to say they sound worse, just different. The sound feels mellower and smoother. You can hear the difference here:
Difference #2: Dynamics
The second major difference is in dynamics.
Honestly, the difference is night and day. Acrylic kalimbas are a lot quieter, meaning that you will never be able to get quite as loud as you would with a wooden kalimba. You also have to pluck the tines much harder to get the same level of sound, which can be difficult those first few days of playing – especially if you don’t have nails.
This is largely due to the hollow design of many wooden kalimbas – with large chambers for sound to resonate. This is simply not possible with Acrylic Kalimbas, so the wooden ones definitely have the advantage here!
Difference #3: The Weight
Next up, we have the weight.
Because wooden kalimbas are usually hollow, they weigh a lot less than solid acrylic kalimbas.
Even non-hollow, flatboard kalimbas weigh less than the acrylic kalimbas do, which is definitely an important factor to keep in mind – especially if you intend to play longer than an hour at a time without taking a break.
Lengthy kalimba playing can put some strain on your wrist, which comes more quickly as the weight of the kalimba increases. However, if you don’t think you’ll be playing lengthy sessions, weight isn’t all that much of an issue.
Difference #4: Playability
Unfortunately for acrylic kalimbas, wooden kalimbas win in this aspect as well.
It’s largely due to what we’ve already mentioned so far.
Acrylic kalimbas are simply more difficult to play, especially for beginners. Between the weight and how hard you have to hit the tines, it can be difficult to play for any lengthy period of time without either your fingers are wrist starting to hurt.
Truth be told, I still prefer the sound of acrylic kalimbas over wooden ones.
Difference #5: Vibrato
The final difference worth mentioning is vibrato – which isn’t possible on Acrylic Kalimbas (or on flatboard wooden kalimbas, actually.)
With hollow, wood kalimbas, you’ll usually find two additional holes in the back for sound to escape from. By covering and uncovering these, you can create a ‘wah’ / vibrato effect that can effect the sound, and give your kalimba a little bit more versatility.
This isn’t something that’s all that important to beginning kalimba players, but it can be nice to have the option if you want it!