Learning to tune a kora is arguably as difficult as learning to play it and many people entranced by the sound while in Africa, buy a konso (traditional hide ring) kora and then find they are unable to keep it in tune once back home, relegating it to an ornamental piece.
– Learn to turn your kora here
Wooden peg and harp peg koras are also used by some players but both can still cause tuning problems in damper climates unless the pegs are made with great skill.
We make machine head koras because they are easier and quicker to tune. We also convert koras, both those with konso rings or pegs, completely replacing the neck with one that has machine heads.
A traditional konso kora takes serious determination to learn and tuning it is a completely separate skill to playing. However, the hide rings do offer the player more flexibility and total control over the pitch as they can alter the length of each string. Machine-head kora strings are fixed and this gives it a relatively limited range of sound in comparison. To adjust the pitch of a string on a machine-head kora by more than two tones, you would need to change strings completely, lighter or heavier accordingly. Our koras, which are normally tuned to F, could be tuned up as high as an A in major scale but that may put some of the lighter strings under strain.
The tuning system here and that of most kora players, particularly those who play with other musicians, now tend to use western scales. This type of a regularised system as it were, isn’t really necessary for kora playing and wasn’t traditionally employed. It is something that has developed as the kora has become more widespread and used as an accompaniment.
You can tune your kora to any scale you like as there are no rules or traditional written music.