Make a Thumb Piano (Mbira) Other Ideas to Make

Picture of Heart Mbira Other ideas For Mbira or Thumb Piano

Here are a few of my Mbiras, each is unique. The following steps in this instructable show you other ways of making similar Mbiras, and also how to burn wood patterns.

Step 7: Mini Mbira

This was something I made for my girlfriend, to be used as an earring or necklace piece, but is also a playable musical instrument. Well… Sort of! It makes sounds but I would not call them “music”.

I flattened some pins for tines and used balsa wood for the frame. Completed, the resonator box measures 3 X 3 cm.

Step 8: The Bottle Kalimba

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This one was original intended to be a traditional Zimbabwean Shona Mbira, but I did not have he right equipment to temper the thick wire and make the larger tines, so I used the 9 lightest ones and put them on a resonator box. With one difference…

I moved the hole from the front face to the top of the instrument, and made it possible to fit the top of a Coca Cola bottle inside, to amplify the sound made. It worked!

This was just an idea I had and I think it turned out to work pretty well.

Something worth noting on this one is the much simpler mounting of the tines, a “U” shaped piece of wire is used for each tine and they are all just pressed directly to the frontplate. This takes less time to do but I do not know how well this would work if you did not use flattened wire as tines.

To make it look a little more interesting, I decided to burn the back face with a magnifying glass. This is simple and fast, but hard to get neat. First lightly draw a pencil outline of what you want to burn into the wood, then follow it to burn the shapes into the outer layer of wood.

PRACTICE on a scrap piece of wood first if you decide to do this!

Step 9: Heart Mbira

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This is the Mbira of which I am most proud, it took me over 15 hours to make and it turned out awesome! I made it as a surprise gift for my girlfriend, she loves Mbira music so I wanted to make her a one-off special Mbira unlike any other in the world.

I used a better wood than ply, I think it make have been cherry but I am not sure.

This one also uses wire to hold the tines directly to the faceplate, and the tines were made from a wire coat hanger flattened with a hammer. There are many pictures in this step to help you if you got stuck at any point in the construction of your own Mbira.

This one has a large resonance chamber and is therefore louder than the others.

Around the heart-shaped hole on the front face are some basic tribal flame swirls, I drew those on lightly in pencil before using a soldering iron to carefully burn the shape into the wood. This just makes the front face look a little more intriguing and interesting. I also added in a larger stainless steel frontplate to make it look more uniform, as well as making the 7 tines form a heart shape and shaping the resonator box vaguely like a heart too.

On the back face, I also used a soldering iron to burn the wood. Here I first drew a Jasmin flower on paper, then after I was happy with that, redrew it onto the back face, then used the soldering iron to shade it in. I had to redo it a couple times because you need to do everything in a circular motion so as to avoid black dots being burnt in from stopping.

I DEFINITELY recommend you PRACTICE on a spare piece of wood before you do this on your own Mbira.

via Make a Thumb Piano (Mbira).

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