About Our Koras

After years of working with koras, repairing and experimenting, Adam made our first kora for sale in 2007. We have been developing and improving them ever since. They have evolved with different woods and finishes, improved string spacings, a variety of skins, advanced building techniques and subtle refinements.  See below for more details.

We have dedicated years to producing the very best instruments and we’re proud of their quality and of our reputation.  We only make koras, nothing else.

Our koras cost from 600€ to over 2000€ with the price reflecting among other things, the amount of work needed to source and work the wood, as well as an array of optional extras.  We have always tried to ensure that there are affordable koras available but we will never make ‘cheap’ koras.  Instead we are producing a Budget Kora where all the hardware is of the same quality, but without the hours of labour and years of skill that Adam puts into our main range.

WOODS

We use four types of timber (although we do work with a wider array on specific commissions) and we only work with timber from sustainable sources.

Sapele
Walnut
Bubinga
Keno
Sapele

Sapele is a readily available, sustainable hardwood and it works beautifully.  With our Sapele koras we aim to provide a healthy balance between affordability, finish and tone.  We often use Sapele for our Budget Koras too, though without the fine finish.

Walnut

Walnut is a good local-sourced alternative to Sapele as it is plentiful at our French base, in the Midi-Pyrénées.  The colour varies very widely from a light coffee brown through to a dark chocolate. When we find particularly darker pieces or pieces with especially good figuring, we reserve them, making them available for the Dark Walnut Kora. In terms of sound quality, we’re really pleased with the mellow tone; it provides a good step up from the Sapele Kora without the expense and weight of Bubinga.

Bubinga

Bubinga is a harder, heavier and rarer wood. Its beauty lies in the colour and its distinctive cross-grain. It’s a tough wood – tough enough to blunt blades, very hard to work and takes many layers of sanding and oiling to bring it to a smooth sheen with a characteristic reddish colour and figurings.  The rewards are certainly worth it, and the combination of Bubinga with a fresh European deerskin, is not only aesthetically beautiful, but for a long time produced our best-sounding koras (now Keno, see below).  It has a brighter tone and good volume.

Keno

Keno is a Mandinka name, and it is a traditional ‘tone wood’ of West Africa. Our Keno koras produce a beautifully complex sound, of a similar quality to that of our Bubinga koras, but with a lighter and finer tone.  It has striking grain and a colour that varies within the same tree, giving each kora a different character.  Our Keno koras are the pinnacle of Adam’s skill as a kora maker and we are very proud of them.

Keno is the wood traditionally used for koras in West Africa but it is not grown commercially. We only import it ourselves directly in small quantities because we know the source.   It is plentiful on our 7 hectare Forest Reserve in Kafountine, Senegal and easily identified when flowering by it’s profusion of yellow flowers, much loved by bees. The tree often seems to be humming to itself.  There are about 16 keno trees visible from our rooftop garden alone and we are nurturing them to ensure there is a plentiful supply for the future.  In the rainy season of 2014 a very large keno came down on our land and were able to follow from tree through to instrument.  Now we buy it locally from approved sources and continue to nurture the hundreds of trees on our own land for future generations.

It is hard to describe what makes the sound of these koras so special. Apart from the tone itself, which subtly has more complexity and richness, they seem to play back to the player, making it feel easier to play for longer periods and on some level, more enjoyable.  It has to be said that everyone who plays one, wants to keep it…

SKINS, CALABASHES and MORE

Skins
Calabashes
Machine heads
Strings and things
Skins

Almost all our of our koras are made using fresh deer skins.  We use Red Deer because of the size and strength, with only one kora per skin.  They are kept frozen for us until we are able to collect them.  Adam soaks the skin for days and de-hairs them himself, so is completely in control of the process.  The skin is stretched and dried for the first time when it is put on to the calabash.  Occasionally we use skins from a specialist supplier in France.

The Budget Kora uses a strong European goat skin.   This is very different from the goat skin used in West Africa which are definitely only suitable for drum heads.   We have been delighted with the quality of these skins, and as they available  in larger quantities ready-prepared, it is making it possible for these koras to be produced in larger numbers and at a more affordable price.

Calabashes

This part of the kora body has always presented us with a challenge as they are so fragile to transport until made into a kora.  The arrival of a lovingly and well packed parcel of 10 from our good friend Aliou Gassama in Ziguinchor that rattled when we picked up is still seared on our memories… so we now fly back from Senegal with most of our calabashes in purpose built crates.  This has meant that we find ourselves showing the customs officers how to find information on their phones explaining what they are…  “Yes it really is just a hollow, dried vegetable shell, officer”

We also work with the wonderful David Thille of La Case a Gourdes in France.  He works with a wide range of growers across the world and if we need more calabashes we are able to go and choose our from a wide selection.  David is just as obsessed with gourds in all their forms as we are with koras.

Machine heads

We use top quality Gotoh machine heads on all of our koras, from Budget to Keno.   Trebles are used as standard but bass machine heads are an option.  They are larger and stronger so enable thicker or twisted strings to be used, as well as greater tension.  We will replace up to 6 trebles with a bass head.

Chrome is standard but it is possible to have black machine heads and matching eyelets as an option. If you want a different kind of machine heads, e.g. gold Schallers, or wooden button ones to match your kora, that is certainly possible.

Strings and things

We use monofilament nylon and include spares for the lighter strings.  As you may have heard, it is indeed fishing line, but of 9 different gauges, all clear in colour.  We discourage the use of coloured strings as the player becomes dependent on the visual clue.   The debate always continues though and we may yet be persuaded to make the 5th string on each side a black/coloured string as a reference, watch this space!

Specialist strings are an option and use Fluorocarbon and Hard Nylon.   Twisted bass strings are an option too, they give more volume, but they need bass machine heads on the kora to take the strain.  Some people don’t like the feel of twisted strings other love them.  These strings gives a brighter sound, with more resonance. It can make playing sound more harp like, so if you are trying to play the traditional repertoire, these strings actually make it harder and so we do not recommend the for beginners. They, like our standard strings,  are available as a separate product in Accessories.

The other components of our koras include metal eyelets where the string enters the neck, a marine-quality fixed eyebolt to tie the tail strings onto, and tacks to fix the skin to the calabash and to decorate it.

All are parts that have been chosen after many years of research and trial, and as with the machine heads, we have found that good quality in the end wins hands down over cost.

Menu