BillyRadd Music

Friday, July 4, 2014

Electric Kalimba Upgrade

Beefed Up Electric Padron Kalimba

Last year I gave my wife, Anita Gayle, a birthday present of a cigarbox kalimba that I made from a Padron cigar box. Originally the kalimba was equipped with a piezo disc pickup and volume control so that it could be amplified through a combo speaker/amp. It worked just OK since the tone from the kalimba was kind of muffled, produced a slight hum, and needed to be boosted with an additional preamp, an attempted fix that really was not that satisfactory. Since piezo pickups work by picking up vibrations, they will also pickup any vibration that might be made through incidental handling and movement, not just the musical sound of the instrument it is attached to. So, piezos are a bit touchy and also prone to feedback when used at higher amplified volumes.

After a few weeks of thinking about it, I thought, since the tines that produce the vibration are likely made of ferrous metal (steel), why couldn't I replace the piezo pup with a humbucker which would likely increase the volume able to be produced and get rid of the hum. 

I consulted with my goto humbucker supplier, Elmar Zeilhofer in Vienna, Austria. He thought my idea might work but told me that another client had tried to amplify his kalimba with one of Elmar's Flatpup Humbuckers and was not satisfied with it because it sounded too "thumpy". But, I reasoned, "thumpy" would be a great way to describe the tone that naturally emanates from a kalimba when it is not amplified or when played acoustically without any amplification. "Thumpy" makes a kilimba sound like a kalimba.

I measured Anita Gayle's Kalimba so I could order the right size flatpups, determined that the the metal tines were, indeed, made of ferrous metal (able to be picked up by a humbucker pickup) with the never-fail magnet test.

So, I ordered two of Elmar's 6-string Flatpup Humbuckers, installed them on the Pedron Cigarbox Kalimba, wired it up and, jeez, what a difference in the sound. The replacement of the piezo pickup really makes a big improvement in the strength of the signal to the amplifier AND reproduces a wider range of tone, too. Anita plays it a lot more, too.

Worth all the effort and expense. An electric kalimba cranked up to 11 with just a touch a reverb is a "bootiful thang".

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