The Hardware Store Kora

Get your polyrhythmic juices flowing with this contraption. This instrument is loosely based on the African kora, a multi-stringed harp-like instrument that I find to have much in common with the kalimba (thumb piano). This particular instrument measures 65" from top to base. The main body is 2X3 pine from the lumberyard. It extends the length of the instrument. Its twelve strings made from nylon weed whacker line.



At the bottom end, the strings are fastened with tuning machines for a twelve string guitar. The bridge straddles the 2X3 body and rests on a galvanized steel bucket. It's held in place by string tension. The bottom of the bucket acts as a soundboard. Two coathooks work as handles. Along the rest of the body, the strings are anchored with a simple knot tied through the wood.

Traditionally this instrument is held by both handles and the strings are plucked by the thumb and forefinger of each hand. This particular instrument was originally made for Burning Man 1999, but while there, I found myself easily distracted and didn't play it very much.

Using zither style tuning pins would probably be cheaper, but I couldn't find any when I was building it. Another advantage to using tuning pins is you could mount as many or as few strings as you please.

You could have a lot of fun experimenting with this instrument. One variation I'm eager to try out is a "solidbody" version if the kora. On this, the bridge would simply mount directly on the body with a piezoelectric transducer providing electric amplification capability. And a variation on the solidbody...use a bolt-on styrofoam ice chest, mounted along the length of the body, as a sound board, Bart Hopkin style.

And one particular thing I like about this instrument...tuning really doesn't matter. Although I generally keep it tuned to the key of C, I find that random tuning, like on many kalimbas I've played, can sound just as beautiful as anything. The key here is to keep a good rhythm, and the sound can be heavenly.

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