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Electric Thumb Piano
Not only is the Electric Thumb Piano (aka the Kalimba) a choice instrument to play, it has its origins in the simplest and oldest instruments in the world. Composed of a hollow wooden box with a resonator hole in the top surface, the electric thumb piano is fitted with a pickup, allowing it to be connected to a mixing desk or powered amplifier for large scale broadcast of an otherwise low volume instrument. The musical tones are produced through the plucking of a series of tuned metal plates with the thumbs. These plates are each placed at measured distances to provide a range of notes, often tuned to a G melodic minor scale.
The Thumb Piano is a traditional West African instrument known as the Kalimba that has a place within many tourists’ backpacks, being collected from thrift shops and junk stores around the world. Due to the desire by some of the more musically inclined individuals to record the sound of these collected instruments the development of the Electric Thumb piano was inevitable. Jim Moray, a UK based crafts man and tinkerer has a Thumb Piano fitted with pickup to allow for its use in a recording environment. They can be purchased online from various providers, including ekalimba.com.
The young age of this instrument means that it does not have a plethora of composers and famous musicians producing music on it, and the very nature of its sound means that it is seldom used as a solo instrument. It fits very well with African drum rhythms, experimental acoustic work and jazz percussion ensembles where the sounds are quiet, melodic and flowing.
Care of instrument:
Care for a thumb piano is a thing to be taken seriously, despite the slightly comical nature of the instrument itself. It is a wooden resonator with properties that are affected by atmospheric moisture. It should be kept dry and away from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. The wood should occasionally be oiled and the instrument kept in an environment that is not susceptible to drastic changes in temperature. If you do this your instrument will last for years. Occasionally the positions of the metal tines may need adjusting, to restore the instrument to the correct pitch.