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Best Kalimba 2024: 10 Thumb Pianos You NEED To Try!!

Which brand of kalimba is best for professionals & beginners? We reveal all...

There’s plenty of good kalimbas out there, but finding the best kalimba – that’s going to need more detective work.

Why you may ask? Well, that all comes back to kalimbas themselves.

Despite virtually all looking the same, these handheld pianos are actually a whole lot more different than you might think. As any keen ‘Kalimbist’ will know, the sound & variation of tones that you can eeek out of these nifty thumb pianos, can differ quite dramatically. To the point that you could even say that your choice of Kalimba can (somewhat) dictate how easy it is to learn!!

In other words, you cannot afford to take a lucky dip. See, it’s no coincidence that Kalimbas are nicknamed ‘thumb pianos’. Aside from the obvious fact that’s virtually what they are, it’s also a subtle nod towards (how just like pianos) kalimbas are all about feel. So just as a pianist may choose a Bösendorfer over a Roland, a keen Kalimbist may favour a Gekko kalimba over one by Quokka Tones.

And it’s that what you need to be fully aware of before you buy. Fail to do so & you may find yourself unable to fully express yourself through your chosen kalimba & be left dissatisfied. Not something we want to happen!! So with that in mind, which brand of kalimba is best? And do you really need 21 keys? We discuss all this & more…

After something specific about the best Kalimba? Or just curious how to pick a good kalimba?? Use the menu below to find all the answers you need in 1 click…

review of the best kalimbas

NOTE: Interested in more instruments than just the Kalimba? Be sure to check out our reviews of the Best Lyres + the Best Electronic Wind Instruments.

Just as with any alternative instrument, you need to do your research before buying a kalimba.

That’s because not only are there key counts & wood types to be aware of, but also more ‘niche’ details like the quality of a brand & whereabouts certain kalimbas are made. We say so to protect you! In our time we’ve bought a whole host of cheap kalimbas, & will be the first to tell you that 99% of those that retail for below a tenner are – well, there’s no other word for it – utter Sh*te.

So to help you avoid falling into the ‘cheapskate’ trap, & give you a better gauge of what Kalimbas are out there + what to look for, we’ve compiled a rundown of what we consider to be the best kalimbas you can but today…

1: Gecko Kalimba (17 keys/ solid mahogany)

2: Hokema Kalimba B17 (17 keys/ handmade in Germany)

person sat under a tree playing a kalimba

3: Unokki kalimba (17 keys/ mini care kit)

4: Quokka Tunes Kalimba (17 keys/ designed in Australia)

5: Yundie Thumb Piano (17 keys, over 250 5-star ratings!)

6: Beveetio clear kalimba (17 key, crystal finish)

close up of the wood on a kalimba

7: Hokema kalimba B11 (11 keys/handmade in Germany)

8: TienClef thumb piano (17 keys/ Gradual Blue + engraved)

In some cases, you may not be after a full size kalimba.

So whether you’re after something that’s a bit more ‘on the go’ or even just a pocket-sized kalimba that doubles as a stress toy, you’re not short of options. However, just as with your standard kalimba, not all mini kalimbas are worth it. In fact, out of all the kalimbas you can buy, these tend to be the cheapest made. Saying that though, we have stumbled across one that’s of good quality.

Here’s what we deem to be the best mini kalimba you can buy today…

9: Bswan mini kalimba (8 keys/ solid Sapele wood)

man using a thumb piano to create music

If you’re a beginner, then chances are you’re after a kalimba that’s (A) easy to play & (B) doesn’t cost the earth.

And while there are quite a few kalimbas out there that meet this criteria, when it comes back to quality & overall sound, we genuinely think that we’ve found the perfect combo. A kalimba that (dare we say it) surprised us, especially with its build quality. Despite the price, this is one solid instrument!

So without further ado, here’s what we consider to be the best kalimba for beginners…

10: Everjoys Kalimba (17 keys engraved with each note)

Enjoy this best kalimba review & keen for more? Be sure to dive into our News Of Alternative Instruments, as well as our Reviews of Musical Instruments. Recently, we also did a rundown of the Best Sounding Guitaleles + the Best Harmonicas, which may also be a good read!

close of a child's fingers on a thumb piano

Or, if you’re here purely to learn more about kalimbas, keep reading & we’ll answer even more of your burning questions…

While there’s non right or wrong answer as to which brand makes the best kalimba, not all kalimbas are made equal. There are some kalimba brands that stand out from the crowd for their testiment to build & others that have an incredibly focused sound.

So if we were buying a kalimba, these would be the brands we’d be in favour of…

  • Geko – You can tell when a kalimba’s made by Geko. As far as kalimbas go, these feel super strong & (for the £$€) double as great value. We really like the keys on Geko kalimbas too – unlike some, they’ve got a good amount of resistance, without being tiresome to play. Factors that almost instantly explains their popularity.
  • Hokema – While some kalimbas are made in China, Hokema kalimbas are made in Germany – the manufacturing hub of Europe, known for it’s testament to quality… & you can tell. The wood used for Hokema kalimbas feels considerably more ‘specialist’ than that you get with budget kalimbas + it also helps to give the sound a real nice character. Extremely resonant!
  • Quokka Tunes – Kalimbas by Quokka Tunes really do give you that ‘down under’ flavour. Being designed in Australia, they carry a real nice rounded tone & come specced with some of the best woods you can get your hands on. Compare this type of kalimba to your run-of-the-mill ‘made in China’ kalimba & there’s no competition. Not the cheapest kalimba, but certain worth every penny!

Choosing a good kalimba isn’t as simple as it seems.

Because while you can just ‘chance it’ & go for a lucky dip, you can easily end up with one that’s badly made or just doesn’t suit your playing style. So to avoid this from happening, here’s a speedy rundown of what we feel are the factors you should be paying attention to when buying a kalimba…

  • Wood type – Not all kalimbas are made of the same woods. Team that with how some woods are better for acoustics than others (i.e. tonewoods) & it’s easy to see why cheap kalimbas can be disappointing in terms of sound. So when buying a kalimba be sure to keep an eye out for woods like Mahogany & Koa, which are known for their tonal qualities.
  • Key feel – Just like with a piano, the feel of the keys is incredibly important with a kalimba, as this largely governs how you interact with it + how expressive you can be when playing. Kalimbas with thin keys or those made of a soft metal can very easily bend & be quite a challenge to get sound out of. Okay for kids, but less so serious players. Yet on the flip-side, those who’re looking to play long stints on the kalimba, may actually want a softer key – playing stiff keys for a long time can very easily tire your hands.
  • Country of manufacture – Just as with any instrument, when buying a kalimba you’d be right to pay attention to where it’s manufactured. From our experience, those assembled & designed in the western world – Germany, USA, Australia etc. – while more expensive, seem to be better all-rounders. Go for a kalimba made in China & chances are it’ll be less ‘crafted’ & more ‘produced’. Not that they’re bad – it’s just if you’re after the best kalimba you can buy, spending that bit extra £$€ may well pay off in the long run.

Kalimbas come with a whole range of keys.

So while some mini thumb pianos have a s little as 8 keys, a fully sized kalimba can have upto 21. But really, which one you choose all comes back to what you’re after from a kalimba & how you intend to use it. Our advice would be…

  1. If it’s to keep a young one entertained in the car, opt for a mini kalimba with less than 10 keys.
  2. If you want to take up kalimba but just want to master the basics first, stick with 17.
  3. And if you want to have that bit extra leverage in terms of tone, go the whole hog & get 21 keys

REMEMBER: In comparison to other musical instruments, kalimbas aren’t that expensive. So should you decide to upgrade or want a change, it’s not that big of a commitment to upgrade.

As a beginner, you need to find a kalimba with balance.

One that’s not SO badly made that it puts you off playing kalimba all together, yet at the same time isn’t SO expensive that it feels like you’ve been robbed if you decide not to take it up. So as much as they are a whole range of kalimbas out there, we’d say even as a beginner, you’ll benefit from spending that bit more & going for a premium model.

And granted – a truly talented player can play on anything, BUT as a beginner the last thing you want is to be fighting with your instrument because it’s insufficient. Do so & it’ll likely take you twice as long to learn the Kalimba!! However with that being said, as far as instruments go the kalimba is relatively straight forward, so most beginners should be able to get the hang of it pretty quickly.

PRO TIP: When buying a kalimba as a beginner, be sure to make sure the keys are made from steel & that the wood has been air-dryed.

Whether wood or acrylic is best for a kalimba really depends on what sort of tone you’re after.

If you’re okay with a soft sound, then stick with acrylic. Yes, it’s cheaper & may not last as long, but as far as sound goes it’s a lot more mellow than wood. Whereas should you choose a wooden kalimba, you can not only expect a richer, more rounded tone, but you should also see an improvement in volume too.

Those kalimbas you hear in hit music will typically be wood for this very reason. As an instrument fanatic will already know, the tonal properties of wood are yet to be outshined by any manufactured material. If so, wooden kalimbas would have become extinct a long time ago!

To discover more about the difference between wood & acrylic kalimbas, jump into this video…

YouTube video

Yes – the kalimba is one of the easiest instruments to play… period. It’s very ‘pick-up-&-play’!!

Reason being that unlike other instruments, the technique is very basic. The key count is small, it’s handheld & doesn’t have a great deal of ‘bad-sounding’ notes. Pluck pretty much any key combo on a kalimba & it’s going to in some way sound pretty. Neither is there the need to learn scales like piano or a technological side to learning kalimba, like with midi.

A kalimba is a piano in its simplest & most compact form.

Indeed it is – the kalimba originates from Africa.

To be specific, the area around the Kalahari Desert in North Africa. The history of the kalimba itself dates back a whopping 3000 years, however the kalimbas (with metal keys) that we know & love today have only really been around for a thirds of that. It’s believed the instrument first reached Europe because of the Portuguese, who made the first reference to the Kalimba in literature around 1570.

So really then, as modern as some of the best kalimbas may be, they’re actually quite the classical instrument. In other words, by buying a kalimba, you’re not just buying another instrument – you’re buying a piece of ancient history!

To read more about the history of the Kalimba, click here.