Make a Thumb Piano (Mbira) Steps 4 and 5

CAM04121.jpg  The Faceplate Assembly if the Mbira or Thumb Piano

This Mbira or thumb piano requires a thin metal sheet on either side of the wood where the wire will be threaded through, to make it stronger so that the wire does not break the wood when tightened.

The faceplate assembly consists of:

– 2 thin 1mm rectangular metal sheets (faceplate and backplate)

– A piece of 2mm dia. wire/ a nail

– Another piece of 2mm dia. wire/ nail

– a small metal tube (mine was 5 cm long with a diameter of 5 mm)

– Lots of thin binding wire (mine was 1mm diameter)

To begin, cut two rectangular pieces of sheet metal to the correct size so that they fit onto your mbira as shown on mine. (mine were 55 mm X 27 mm.)

One of them needs to look nice, that is the faceplate. The other can look rough since it will never be visible, it is called the backplate.

Place your frontplate in the desired position on the Mbira. Use my pictures for reference of where that should be.

Then mark with a pen or pencil, holes in the places shown. Use a very small drillbit to drill the holes through. Drill through the faceplate and the wooden front face at the same time, so that the holes match up well. Then hold the backplate under the frontplate and do the same thing. This is much easier than measuring every time.

If you use a nail for the top tine holder, like I did, then clip the head of the nail off with a hammer and some pliers. It can stick out of the sides like mine to prevent it from falling out of the wires that will hold it. You may also bend the ends if you use a thinner nail, to achieve the same.

Cut 4 pieces of thin binding wire. Mine were about 4,5 cm long each.bend them into a “U” shape and drop them into the holes as shown in picture 2, with the second nail/piece of wire in place. Place the backplate on the back side of the face.

Twist the two ends of each piece of wire together, to make an “X” shape behind the face, then twist them more to tighten them. The larger wire/ nails must not be able to move.

Once this is done, it should look like pictures 3 and 4.

Next you will need to drill another set of holes, this time to hold the tensioning tube over the tines. I drilled 10 holes to fit wire between the tines and another hole at each end of the tube. See the last picture for more detail. Next we will fit the tines, then the tube goes on top of them to create tension in them.

Step 5: Attaching the Tines and completing the instrument

Place the tines carefully over the two horizontal pieces of wire/ nails. Take careful note of the placement of them in the first picture! This allows them to vibrate properly.

Once they are loose on top of the faceplate, thread a long piece of wire through the tube. (Mine was about 18 cm long)

bend the two ends of this wire down and push it through the two outer-most holes in the faceplate. At the back of the face, twist the two ends of the wire together like you did before, and make sure that the tube is against the tines as TIGHTLY as possible.

Then, start with the other holes you made. Make more “U” shaped pieces of wire, in this Mbira you will use 5, each of them about 5 cm long. Put them through the holes as shown in the completed front face above. Twist them behind the back of the face, and make sure once again that the tube is pressed TIGHTLY against the tines. This tension is what allows the instrument to function. If a key is loose, twist the wire closest to is a bit more at the back, this will pull the tube closer to it.

Once the tines are all in place and firmly held there, you may glue the front face onto the rest of the resonator box.

Congratulations! 😀 Your Mbira is complete. Now have fun for the next few days playing with your new creation!

via Make a Thumb Piano (Mbira).

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