Introduction: Trash Kalimba Musical Instrument

About: I am a musical instruments inventor and builder.


Warning: making your own musical instruments is fun and addictive. You may experience so much joy that you will never buy an instrument again and choose to build them instead. Symptoms include:

  • compulsive dumming and tapping on surfaces to check for timbre
  • combing through bins and trashcans in search for that one resonator you need
  • using fishing line for non-fishing stringed instruments
  • tuning beer bottles on parties
  • sneaking rice from the pantry to make shakers
  • taking your homemade instruments everywhere you go
  • general hoarding behaviour

Step 1: Materials

  • springy metal for the vibrating tines (for a more complete idea of what could be used see step 3)
  • wooden base (i got mine from the dumpster, these were old doorsteps)
  • metal wire for binding
  • pliers
  • cutting pincers
  • hammer
  • saw
  • metal hacksaw
  • drill

Step 2: Making the Crossbars

You can make the crossbars from virtually anything that is resillient enough to hold down the springy tines. here I used three crossbars from different found materials to demonstrate. There may be a diffirent sound dependng on the materials. Harder materials account for a brighter sound and softer woods for a warmer one.

Step 3: The Tines

you can make kalimba tines from lots of different things. You want a pringy flat thing (although nonflat things sometimes work too). Look around, a ruler clamped to a table is basically the simplest form of lamellophone.

Some of the best are made from steel. Spring steel is the best. It obviously can be found in springs but also in windshield wipers, sewer springs (the flat ones). To spare you juicy anecdotes here is a list of things to try out:

  • hacksaw blades
  • rake
  • flat sewer spring used by plumbers
  • bicycle spokes
  • hairpins
  • windshield wiper (hidden in the rubber)
  • some of the thicker piano wire (found on trashed piano's, be careful when it is under tension)
  • dipsticks used in vehicles as suggested by user Rdorrance

  • electricians snake as suggested by user spark master

Even some streat cleaner vehicles use metal bristles, when they fall off you can use them for your kalimbas. It may sound like I'm joking, but I seriously picked those things up to use in kalimbas. They work really well for the smaller quiter ones (one is featured in the last step).

Step 4: Determine the Size of Your Kalimba

Using the tines as a guid, mark where you want your board to end. Ideally you want the lenght of the board to protect the tines and provide sufficient counterweight for sustain. Make the board to light and the tines will just "ploink", make it heavy and the notes will sing for longer.

Step 5: Wire Holes

Here we drill the 3 holes for the metal wire to loop through and fasten the middle crossbar. Best if the holes are alligned.

Step 6: Fastening the Middle Crossbar

  • Cut a piece of metal wire to fasten the middle crossbar with.
  • fold the wire in half
  • place the crossbar at the halfway point and secure with a few twists
  • guide the two wires through the hole in the middle face up
  • turn over and guide one of the wires through the left hole
  • same goes for right
  • turn over again
  • loop the wire over the crossbar back in the hole for both sides
  • check if the height of the middle crossbar is low enough to press the tines to the other crossbars
  • loop the sides a second time
  • fasten the wires to ach other on the back of the board by twisting
  • snip off exess wire

Step 7: Adding Tines and Tuning

Push the tines underneath the middle crossbar. Lift the tines and push the other crossbars under the tines. Space the tines evenly across the board.

Now for tuning you can simply adjust the length to get different pitches. Longer results in a lower pitch, shorter in higher. I Strongly suggest playing around and listening by ear to what you find to be a pleasing set of notes. You can allways eventually resort to a guitar tuner or online apps to tune the kalimba but I found that with experiment you find the nicest and even sometimes very alien tunings.


Make sure the tines are pressed down hard. If not your kalimba may rattle or buzz without you intending it to do so. Push the bridge crossbar more towards the middle crossbar to solve this problem.

Step 8: Don't Stop Building!

Here are some examples of the lamellophone family I have made. I hope they may inspire you.

things to try out:

  • adding resonators (boxes, cans, polystyrene, cookie tins)
  • adding buzzers and rattles (bottlecaps, pieces of sodacans, wire loops, tin foil)
  • making it electric! (piezo pickups are simple and cheap to use) (electrig guitar pickups work really well, especially humbuckers. Make sure your tine is picked up by the coils though, not all metals are)
  • painting it funky

thank you for participating in taking over the world by means of DIY music extravaganza!

being my first instructable, please let me know what was unclear, could be improved etc.

If you like this and want to see more of my creations in instructable form, let me know.

Also, if you like this project as part of the TRASH TO TREASURE Contest, let it be known trough the vote button.

Step 9: Sound Demonstration Featuring a Cute Cat!

Since a video's succes is proportional to a cat being in the video, I persuaded mine with snacks and petting.

A lot of the sound is in the lower spectrum so be sure not to listen to this only on tiny laptop speakers.

also, this is just the sound of the plain kalimba. Play it on top of a table, the sound will be already more amplified. For more amplification ideas, go back to step 8

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