Kalimba is originally a wooden musical instrument that originated from Africa. The structure of this item consists of metal keys and a soundboard often made of wood. The Kalimba has keys that are quite varied, the popular model usually has 17, but some variants come in 19,15,10,8, or even just 7. This instrument is classified as lamellophones or also known as plucked idiophones. It was originally designed for wood but in the market, there is also Acrylic Kalimba available.
Playing the Kalimba is simple, the player must hold it first with both hands. The hole located at the back must not be blocked to achieve the correct sound. Second, hit a tine or metal key with your thumb to make a musical note. Third, to apply progression, the player’s two thumbs must alternately hit the tines. To play a chord, 2 adjacent tines must be hit. Combining a chord and note using your thumb is also possible.
Now that we have established what a Kalimba is and how it is played, we can assume that the quality of the soundboard is important. As stated there are two available types players could opt to have. However, the question is between Acrylic vs. Wood Kalimba, which one would be better? To get to the bottom of this the two variants will be compared through several factors, from there you can decide which one you will like better.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Appearance:
The Acrylic and Wood Kalimbas have their distinct style. However, if you are more inclined to be individualistic and unique, the Arcylic has more options in terms of design. Due to the needed functionality of wood, the structure variants are very limited. Wood Kalimabas keep the traditional box-type design, while Acrylic can take different forms and shapes.
Winner: Arcylic because it has more variants to suit different personality styles.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Sound Quality:
To normal listeners, the sound of Wood and Acrylic are quite similar. But to music enthusiasts, there is a difference between the two that can be used. Using the Acrylic Kalimba the sound is described as light, warm, and smooth. This type of tone is fit for mellow pieces like lullabies or other soft-sounding songs that can give a sense of calm and relaxation. To get a better idea about the tune coming from an Acrylic Kalimba, imagine a gentle playing music box. That is the overall feel of this type.
Check out our other post on the best Acrylic Kalimba brand.
As for the Kalimba that is made of Wood, the application for this type is different. The tone is deep, bright, crispier, and richer, which is just as beautiful to hear. This type of sound would be a nice addition to lively music genres like pop. If for instance, you would choose a Wood Kalimba, it is best to get the hollow one. The instrument will sound better if this is the main soundboard.
Winner: Both, since Acrylic and Wood produce great sounds either of them can do the job well.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Dynamics and Volume:
In terms of volume, the Acrylic kalimbas are the direct opposite of the Wooden Kalimbas. The Acrylic is quieter and getting it to volume up is difficult, since the player would have to put extra effort into hitting the metal keys. It could be stressful to your fingers especially for beginners. that is why in creating a dynamic set of notes, the Acrylic fairs less than the Wooden. But if a user would still want to pursue it and get higher volume, it would be best to allow the nails to grow longer. So instead of the fingers, it would be the nails hitting the tines.
The reason why the Wooden Kalimba has better note dynamics and can produce louder volume is due to the wood’s natural resonance. The hollower the wood type used, the higher volume can be reached. For beginners, it will be more advisable to get a Wooden Kalimba if the types of songs they want to play would require lively sounds.
Speaking of wood Kalimbas it also has two variants called the hollow or flat type. As stated before in terms of volume the hollow is better. But if the dynamics are more important and the required loudness is the mid-range the flat type would be better. The reason is the wooden flat type has a more even volume and tone across the metal keys.
Winner: Wood, in terms of being heard and lesser strain on the finger to avoid injury it is the better option.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Vibrato:
Vibrato is the musical effect that comprises the regular pulsating change of pitch. It is essential in setting the mood making the sound piece more expressive. Considering this additional flair for a song, the Acrylic Kalimba is incapable of making this. However, the Wood Kalimba with its hollow form will surely be able to deliver. How is it possible?
Checking the structure of the hollow Wood Kalimba there are additional 2 holes at the back. This also serves as a pathway for sound to be released. By the gesture of uncovering and covering these parts, the vibrato sound can be created. Having mastery of how to do it properly will create versatility to the melodies that can come out of the Wood Kalimba. This flexibility will give the player more room for creativity and fun.
Winner: Wood, thanks to its natural characteristic and its overall structure it can produce vibrato. Something the Arclyic cannot do.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Instrument Weight:
In this category, if the user is part is particular about carrying the Kalimba they knowing which one is heavier is essential. Playing music can take long periods, that is why it is important to manage the weight one can comfortably support. Comparing the Acrylic vs. Wood Kalimba, due to the hollowness of wood it is lighter compared to acrylic. Even with the non-hollow flatwood Kalimba, it would still have a lighter mass than acrylic.
In instances that play hours would last longer than an hour, Wood Kalimbas are more suited for the job. As the lesser weight will ease the burden of the instrumentalist. The reason why acrylic weighs a lot more is due to its dense structure. However, experienced players claim that once their wrist capacity is strengthened, say in a week the extra mass is not a problem. However, for beginners who have to deal with the mastery of hitting the tines, proper positioning, and wrist endurance, then getting the lighter option would be best.
Winner: Wood, the lighter weight will be an advantage especially when playing for long hours.
Acrylic or Wood Kalimba – Playability:
In terms of playability, we are going to talk about the level of difficulty in handling the Kalimba. In this sense, as discussed with the earlier characteristics, Acrylic vs. Wooden Kalimba, the wood one is a better choice. The reason is the wooden one is lighter and will have a lesser strain on the wrist. This option also makes the player exert lesser effort when hitting the tines. In effect, the fingers will have lesser strain.
Comparing the structure in how the tines are lined up, the Acrylic also seems a bit crowded. That is why it might be a challenge in managing single notes and chords when hitting the metal keys. The question would most likely be, why not make it bigger? Well, acrylic is already heavy as it is, expanding the design will increase the weight which can also be another disadvantage.
Winner: Wood, for beginners this is an ideal Kalimba type to start with.
Wood Kalimba Material: Mahogany vs Acacia
We have been talking about the Wood Kalimba, but what type of lumber is it made of? In terms of the price bracket from lowest to highest the popular pieces are Mahogany, Acacia, Walnut, and Rosewood. If you are only starting it is best to choose between Mahogany or Acacia. In terms of price both are similar range and in terms of wood density their level is also similar. However, the Mahogany is a bit lighter than the Acacia besides that there seems not much difference between the two. So if you just want a lighter one go for Mahogany, but in case it is not available and you are on a budget Acacia will be a good second choice.
As we have gone through the numerous characteristics of Arcylic vs. Wood Kalimba, we can conclude that for beginners or inexperienced players the Wood Kalimba is a better choice. It is lighter which gives the player less stress, the sound is louder so during learning one would be more sensitive to mistakes, and it requires lesser force to play which will have less toll on the fingers. The vibrato makes also can help the user express themselves more.
However, for advanced players who want to challenge soft songs, the Arcylic would be better. Their experience hands will compensate for the vibrato that the Arclyic lacks. And they can have a design suited for their personality that makes the instrument playing more intimate. Carrying the Arcylic Kalimba or creating notes and chords will also not be difficult for them. So it is in a matter of experience how this denser variant can be effectively played and controlled.