The Kalimba has become a popular instrument in recent years. This is due to its soothing sound, portable size, and how easy it is to learn to play this instrument. However, you may have noticed that some kalimbas are made from acrylic materials, whilst others are made from wood. But which is better, acrylic or wood kalimbas?
There are many differences between acrylic and wood kalimbas, but they are mostly small, with volume being the biggest contrast. Which is better ultimately depends on your personal preferences, but as a general guide, wood kalimbas are typically a better choice for beginners, with acrylic kalimbas more suited to players who already have experience with the instrument.
Below we will look at all the main differences between the two types of kalimba, which will help you decide which one may be the better choice for you.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the differences between acrylic and wood kalimbas.
Acrylic vs Wood Kalimbas: Key Differences
Consider the following factors when you are deciding whether an acrylic or wood kalimba would be better for you:
The difference in volume, or dynamics, is the most significant contrast between acrylic and wood kalimbas.
Acrylic kalimbas are not nearly as loud as wood kalimbas, which is largely due to the fact that wood kalimbas tend to be hollow (although flatboard wood kalimbas are also available). This design provides a big chamber where sound can resonate. In general, it is much more difficult to create a hollow Acrylic kalimba, so they simply could never be as loud.
There is also a part to play in the material properties of wood and acrylic, with wood being more resonant than acrylic, allowing more volume potential.
Although you can get almost the same amount of sound out of an acrylic kalimba, this requires you to pluck at the tines of the kalimba much harder than you would on a wood kalimba, and this will be tough on your fingers, particularly if your nails are not very long.
While the sound of acrylic and wood kalimbas is not the biggest difference between the two, many players consider this factor to be the most important.
Acrylic kalimbas have a warmer, smoother sound that resembles the tone of a music box. These kalimbas are best suited for softer songs, such as lullabies.
Wood kalimbas, on the other hand, sound a bit richer and brighter. Wood kalimbas are often used to play pop music.
Like volume, this difference in sound is largely down to the material properties of both the wood and acrylic. If the wood kalimba also happens to be hollow, this further increases the brighter, crisper sound that the wood produces.
Have a listen to the sound difference between each kalimba type in the video below and hear for yourself!
Vibrato is a constant and slight change in pitch, dipping just above and below the original note, that gives the music a pulsing or “vibrating” effect.
Acrylic kalimbas are not able to create a vibrato effect. Some wood kalimbas (specifically hollow kalimbas) can, and these instruments have extra holes on the back that you can cover and uncover to create vibrato while you play.
This is simply a nice feature that gives the sound of the wood kalimba a little more flexibility and can add further depth and emotion to your playing.
It is perhaps an obvious difference, but it is very easy to tell an acrylic kalimba from a wood kalimba by looks alone.
Acrylic kalimbas have a lot more flexibility in how the body looks and a vast array of designs are possible. Wood kalimbas, on the other hand, are somewhat limited in looks, often keeping it simple with the square box design!
Many players are often drawn to the more visually appealing looks of the acrylic kalimba over the wood kalimba.
Acrylic kalimbas weigh more than wood kalimbas do. This is firstly, due to the acrylic material having more density than wood. This difference is further increased when the wood kalimba is also hollow.
If you plan on playing the kalimba for long periods of time, at least an hour, any extra weight will put more of a strain on your wrist.
This factor will not be an issue if you do not think you will be playing for long periods of time, however. Many kalimba players claim that the extra weight of an acrylic kalimba only troubles them for about the first week of playing, and then they adjust to it just fine.
Due to the factors that have already been mentioned, especially weight and volume, wood kalimbas are much easier for beginners to play. If you want to pick up the kalimba quickly without developing slightly sore wrists and fingers, the wood kalimba is the better option. I would only consider an acrylic kalimba once you have become experienced with a wood kalimba first.
Acrylic Kalimbas: Pros & Cons
So, what are the pros and cons of the acrylic kalimba?
Acrylic Kalimba Pros
- Warmer tone can suit certain songs and styles better.
- They tend to come in a wider variety of designs and looks.
- The quieter volume can be better for practice without disturbing others.
Acrylic Kalimba Cons
- They tend to be heavier and may cause strain when played for long periods.
- The quieter volume can also be a con in certain situations.
- They are more prone to scratching and damage.
Wood Kalimbas: Pros & Cons
And what about the pros and cons of the wood kalimba?
Wood Kalimba Pros
- Lighter weight makes them easier to hold and play for long periods.
- More traditional tone.
- More advanced techniques, such as vibrato, are possible.
Wood Kalimba Cons
- Limited variety when it comes to style and looks.
- The tone can be a little more punchy, which may not be desirable for softer songs.
- Louder volume could be an issue when others want quiet.
What About Using Both Acrylic and Wood Kalimbas?
Many kalimba players do like to use one acrylic kalimba and one wood kalimba. Having one of each allows you to experiment more with the sounds and explore more versatility. If you like the subtly different sound of each, you can figure out which songs sound best on which kalimba.
Keep in mind that you should only consider having two kalimbas if you already have one that you are committed to playing. If you are still searching for your first kalimba, you should only get one, as you will not know if you want to stick with playing until you have tried it.
Overall, wood kalimbas are clearly better for beginners, as they are easier to learn, and they are also easier to hold and to play due to the hollow design and lighter material. You will get more sound out of a wood kalimba with less finger and wrist strain.
However, many kalimba players prefer the warmer sound of an acrylic kalimba, and the slight increase in difficulties is not nearly as noticeable after about a week. Which type of kalimba is better will eventually come down to your personal preferences if you decide to keep playing.