At a Session somebody showed up with a Donson Ngoni , that was made by Jeremy Cloake. A beautiful and very good sounding instrument. I was “infected” at the first sight. After some hesitating I decided to build my own.

It is difficult to clarify if it should be named Donson Ngoni or Kamalen Ngoni. Being white-skinned (and red eared ;-)) I might just call it Tubab Ngoni.

The Body

It’s not easy to find suitable large calabashes in central Europe. But I found one here. Attaching the skin was some new work to me so it didn’t turn out perfectly. Hope I will do a better job next time.

The Neck

The local carpenter could deliver a piece of walnut, sized  35 mm x 30 mm  x 1400 mm. I chose Banjo tuning machines from Schaller. They cost a lot more than guitar tuners but as  they are on the sides of the neck they are a lot easier to reach and handle. The chrome plated tuners (seen on the picure) are so called “D-Tuners”. The original American made tuners were named “Keith tuners” after the famous banjopicker Bill Keith, who invented them. They allow you change between 2 different tunings, quickly and precisely. They work fine on a banjo with steel strings but here, with nylon strings they don’t do the job as a hoped they might do.

The Handle

I decided to use an aluminium rod a a handle. I’ve never seen this before on any other instrument. I stuck it through the neck and then bended it to fit. This solution saved me from cutting holes in the skin like it is done on traditional instruments.

The Bridge

The bridge is made from walnut too and is made from three parts:

  • the upper part of the foot with a sawed slot for the bridge
  • the lower part of the foot, glued together with the upper part
  • the bridge itself with 12 holes for the strings

The Strings

Tuning from low tho high (lowest string on the left)

A (0), diameter 2mm

D (1) , E (or F), G, 1.6 mm

A, 1.5 mm

C (2), D, E (or F), 1.3 mm

G, A, C (3 = middle C), D, 1mm

The tailpiece is a steel ring with an 8 mm thread, simply fixed to neck with a screw.


Finally I added a piezo pickup inside some centimeter off the bridge, connected to a common jack like electric guitars have. The use of a pre amplifier is necessary.
The “sesse” or “kessing” (vibrating and rattling piece of tin with rings on top of the neck) was made from an olive oil can and rings of steel wire.

A sound example