Thumb Piano

I made a thumb piano / kalimba / mbira / sanza / likembe / lamellaphone / out of tines from a sprung steel rake. It was very difficult to find a rake, since most people don’t have anything to rake here in NYC. I tried Home Depot, Ace Hardware, a few small hardware/home/garden shops and finally found one at Garber’s Hardware. I took a 20 minute walk with rake in hand. Along the way, I picked up a bike spoke which would come in handy later. I knew because I was following some good directions.

2014-10-16 15.18.38

I hacksawed off some tines, and they were very difficult to remove. I had to strip the paint off to slide them through…

2014-10-16 16.11.42

I picked up this electrical grounding bar with set screws that could be used to secure the tines and easily adjust their tuning. I used the metal saw to chop off the terminals I wouldn’t use (it had 21). Unfortunately it only has two spaces for screws that can fasted it to the base (a block of oak wood, in this case). And those two spaces are on the far left side, leaving the spaces on the far right slightly unsecured and buzzy. I’d like to do something about this eventually. But anyway…

2014-10-16 16.44.45

The bike spoke sits in the bridge and the vibrations of tine against this metal spoke help enhance the vibrations.

2014-10-16 17.19.10

I borrowed some glue to secure the bike spoke after filing space for the bike spoke to sit.

2014-10-16 23.14.45I experimented with placement of two blocks of wood on either side of the set screw terminal, using a tine to try to determine where I could get the best tension…

2014-10-16 17.01.08


I secured the wooden pieces with self-drilling screws and they are so thin (and 1/4″) that one of them snapped because of the tension. But it’s ok for now…and here’s where I’m at so far! I haven’t really tried to tune it yet just messing around with tones/overtones that sound interesting…


Instructables Set Screw Lamellaphone

Kalimba Magic

Bart Hopkin’s book Musical Instrument Design

Next: Overtone Tuning in Lamellaphones


I’m going to make a thumb piano.

I’m planning to use:

– metal tines from a rake, or spring-tempered steel from here. The tines will average less than 10cm and I’d like to have 12 of them, which would make 120cm or about 4 feet.
– resonant wood (I’ve been saving my oak)
– bike spoke
15 terminal grounding bar with 3 spots to mount to base

I’m reading Bart Hopkin’s book on musical instrument design and looking here for some guidelines.

Some notes:

Frequency = A/Length^2 where A is some value of the material itself.

Overtones: “you can make the fundamental more prominent and increase sustain by creating a tongue shape with more mass toward the end or, equivalently, thinning it near the base (which also, of course, lowers the pitch)”