Trash Kalimba Musical Instrument




Introduction: Trash Kalimba Musical Instrument

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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    40 Discussions

    I love the disclaimer....almost as if these instruments hypnotize you into making more of them so they could rule the world! Or make a really awesome orchestra! XD

    These are so interesting looking that I'd want to put them all on a wall for an art display.

    I could not help myself, I made another one. This time from piano wire and the result is less tunable but a very strange and lovely sweet sound. It looks a bit like a turned over woodlouse. For these thin tines (piano wire) it is advisable to really clamp them down, instead of using the above method. Here I used a metal bar with holes to screw down onto a hard wooden base. The whole thing is mounted into an old wooden drawer (because new drawers are too often made with that horrible particle board), which acts as a resonator. It is a bit similar to how Mbiras are mounted inside hollowed out gourds.


    Great Instructable, and I love your example instruments! So much personality. I clicked through to your site too, and I can't get over how cool that Bike Gamelan is. I'd love to see that one written up.

    3 replies

    Nice words Donald! I was actually thinking about making the bike-gamelan instructable first. But then I thought to start off smaller and with something with less specialized tools like a welding machine. I think I will still make the gamelan instructable too, hope to find some time before I travel through Europe for a while.

    Perfect! I'm chopping up a bike this afternoon, actually, and now I'm inspired to save the spokes and different tube sections for some instruments. Are those bungee cords you're stringing up the pipes with?

    Great! go for it! I string them up with washing line actually (it has a metal inner layer). Tuning is a lot of You could also make the frame from wood instead of metal. Let us know how it turned out!

    I forgot to include these four kalimbas that I have at home (I shot the instructable in my workspace). The two dark ones were not made by me but found in a thrift store. The small tall one is amplified with a piezo element, very simple to do. If you are curious how, let me know, then I'll try to make a instructable about it.


    I tried only once (yet) to make my own kalimba and it sounded like shit !

    Not a reason to stop, I know, but I wonder : how does sounds yours ?

    7 replies

    Maybe difficult, but can you discribe the shit? Was the sound short and not so tonal? was it too buzzy for your taste? Short sounds can come from the base not being hard and massive enough. I hope I can help turn the crap around! (not litterally for obvious reasons)

    Great! I wouldn't have bet that metal saw blades could sound so nicely. Thanks for sharing !

    I'll definitly try again differently. Thanks for instructions and motivation :)

    Well it was pretty tonal actually. I was much less ambitious than you because I bought some stainless steel strip dedicated to kalimba blades, so the notes were pretty correct. However the sound was kind of muffled (if it is the right word) and disappeared pretty quickly. I think it came from the material of the transversal bars, which were all wood. And the middle transversal bar was not rigid enough to resist the elasticity of the steel. also the distance between bars was probably too short.
    But your suggestion on the base hardness might also makes sense as I took a thin plywood sheet on the top of a sort of can as a resonator... Probably not a good choice either. But I'll try again one day !
    Still interested on the sounds of yours. Would you have some recording to share of the different you made ?

    I think you made a correct observation about yur transversal bars, but I think the main reason for your dull sound is the thin plywood. It is a bit counterintuitive at first, because with stringed instruments you try to get the soundboard as light as possible (without compromising the strength). With lamellophones it is a bit different; first you need enough 'counterweight' to prevent all of the energy of the tine to disappear into the soundboard and air in a split second. A foolproof solution to both sustain and volume I found is making your kalimba with a good solid base, which you then attach to a soundboard/ resonator. For portability you dont even need the soundboard on permanently, you can travel with your kalimba and find a good carboard box/ polystyrene box/ table/ cookie tin etc.. An idea might even be to have the soundbox be the travel container now I come to think of it. About the sound of mine, I wil really try to upload something but my day job prevents it from doing it within the next two days, sorry!


    Finaly a use for the roadsweeper bristles that isnt lockpics :)

    1 reply


    Love the beautiful sound these things make. Thanks for sharing the" how to make"