Category Archives: Chordophones


Guitarra Leona

Name: Guitarra Leona.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Guitarillos > Bajo.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Veracruz, Mexico.
Region: Central America.

Description: The Guitarra Leona [lioness] also goes by other names, bumburona, bombona, vozarrona, big guitar. It is a large-sized four stringed flat-backed composite lute that plays the role of bass in Son Jarocho. Slightly smaller in size to the guitarrone as played in Mariachi. It is struck with a plectrum that is usually a piece of bone or carved bull-horn.

Citations: Bibliography: Cultural Atlas of Mexico. Music . Mexico: Grupo Editorial Planeta. 1988. ISBN 968-406-121-8 ;

Baroque Guitar

Name: Baroque Guitar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Period: 1600-1750.
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe & Europe.

Description: The Baroque guitar [c. 1600–1750] is a string instrument with five courses of gut strings and moveable gut frets. The Baroque guitar replaced the Renaissance lute as the most common instrument found in the home.

The earliest attestation of a five-stringed guitar comes from the mid-sixteenth-century Spanish book Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales by Juan Bermudo, published in 1555.

History: The first treatise published for the Baroque guitar was Guitarra Española de Cinco Ordenes. The Five-course Spanish Guitar c. 1590 by Juan Carlos Amat. The baroque guitar in contemporary ensembles took on the role of a basso continuo instrument and players would be expected to improvise a chordal accompaniment. Intimately tied to the development of the Baroque guitar is the alfabeto system of notation.

Tunings: Three different ways of tuning the guitar are well documented in seventeenth-century sources as set out in the following table. This includes the names of composers who are associated with each method. Very few sources seem to clearly indicate that one method of stringing rather than another should be used and it is often argued that it may have been up to the player to decide what was appropriate. The issue is highly contentious and different theories have been put forward.

Boroque Guitar Tunings
Ferdinando Valdambrini [Italy, 1646 / 7] A / D / G / B / E
Gaspar Sanz [Spain, 1674] A / D / G / B / E
Antoine Carre [France, 1671] D / G / B / E
Robert de Visée [France, 1682] D / G / B / E
Girolamo Montesardo [Italy, 1606] D / G / B / E
Benedetto Sanseverino [Italy, 1620] D / G / B / E
Giovanni Paolo Foscarini [Italy, 1640] D / G / B / E
Francisco Guerau [Spain, 1694] D / G / B / E

Citations: Bibliography: Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar – From The Renaissance to the Present Day 3rd, impression 1978 London: Batsford [ISBN 0 7134 3251 9] p. 15: Chapter 1 – The Development of the Instrument. Lex Eisenhardt, Bourdons as Usual – In The Lute: The Journal of the Lute Society, vol. XLVII 2007;


Name: Gittern.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The gittern was a relatively small gut stringed bowl-backed instrument. It first appeared in literature and pectoral representation during the 13th century in Western Europe; in which this includes Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France and England. The name of this instrument changed by way in language based on where the gittern was played.

It was also called the guiterna in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and quintern in Germany. A popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels, and amateurs, the gittern is considered ancestral to the modern guitar other instruments like the mandore, bandurria and gallichon.

Etymology: The gittern had faded so completely from memory in England. Identifying the instrument proved problematic for 20th century early music scholarship. It was assumed the ancestry of the modern guitar was only to be discovered through the study of flat-backed instruments. As a consequence, what is now believed to be the only known surviving medieval citole was until recently labelled a gittern.

In 1977, Lawrence Wright published his article The Medieval Gittern and Citole: A Case of Mistaken Identity. in issue 30 of the Galpin Society Journal; with detailed references to primary historical source material revealing the gittern as a round-backed instrument – and the so-called ‘Warwick Castle gittern’ [a flat-backed instrument] as originally a citole.

Wright’s research also corresponded with observations about the origins of the flat-backed guitarra made by the 16th century Spanish musicologist Juan Bermudo. With this theoretical approach it became possible for scholars to untangle previously confusing and contradictory nomenclature. Because of the complex nature of the subject, the list and links below should assist in further reading.

History: From the early 16th century, a vihuela shaped and flat-backed guitarra began to appear in Spain and then later in France in coexistence with the gittern. Although the round-backed instrument appears to have lost ground to the new from which gradually developed into the guitar familiar today, the influence of the earlier style continued.

Examples of lutes converted into guitars exist in several museums, while purpose-built instruments like the gallichon utilized the tuning and single string configuration of the modern guitar. A tradition of building round-backed guitars in Germany continued to the 20th century with names like gittar-laute and Wandervogellaute.

Up until 2002, there were only two known surviving medieval gitterns, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the other in the Wartburg Castle Museum. A third was discovered in a medieval outhouse in Elbląg, Poland.

Construction: The back, neck and pegbox were likely carved from a single piece of timber. Occurring less rarely in the 15th century. The body was formed around system of tapered ribs. Unlike the sharp corner joining the body to the neck seen in the lute, the gittern’s body and neck either joined in a smooth curve or straight line. The sickle, or occasional gentle arc pegbox, made an angle with the neck of between 30-90 degrees. Unlike the lute, most pegboxes on gitterns ended in a carving of a human or animal head.

Most gitterns were depicted as having three courses [total of six pared strings] or more commonly four courses [total of eight pared strings]. There are also references to some five course gitterns in the 16th century. Although there is not much direct information concerning gittern tuning, the later versions were quite possibly tuned in fourths and fifths like the mandore a few decades later.

Frets were represented in a few depictions mainly Italian and German, although apparently absent in most French, Spanish and English depictions. The gittern’s sound hole was covered with a rosette, a delicate wood carving or parchment cutting, similar to the lute.

Citations: Bibliography: The Encyclopedia of Music. New York: Hermes House, 2002 P. 118 ;  The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments [2nd Edition] “Quinterne [quintern]” ; Tyler, James [January 1981]. “The Mandore in the 16th and 17th Centuries” [PDF]. Early Music. 9 ; Meucci, Renato. “Da ‘chitarra italiana’ a ‘chitarrone’: una nuova interpretazione”. Enrico Radesca da Foggia e il suo tempo: Atti del Convegno di studi, Foggia, 7-8 Aprile 2000. pp. 30–57. ISBN 978-887096347-2 ; Tyler, James; Sparks, Paul [1992]. The Early Mandolin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 1–7. ISBN 0-19-816302-9 ;


Name: Keteng-Keteng.
Type: Cordophones > Zither > Tube.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 312.11
Country: Batak Karo area, North Sumatra, Indonesia.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The Keteng-Keteng is a tube zither that is found in the Batak Karo area in North Sumatra, Indonesia. It is between 60 cm and 80 cm in length and usually about 10 cm to 15 cm in diameter. When the lower strings are beaten, they produce a sound resembling a gong.

The part played on this string, resembles the punctuating part of a gong in the main Batak Karo ceremonial orchestra, the Gendong Sarunai. It is played four, eight or 16 beat intervals. The other string, producing two pitches, contributes, to the stock melodic patterns. Rhythmically the music performed on this instrument, resembles the drumming in main ceremonial orchestra.

Construction: The tube is at each end retaining both nodes. A whole is cut into one node at the front and back of the tube. Two or occasionally three strings are cut from the same piece of bamboo. Bridges are inserted at both ends underneath each string.

The highest of the strings is raised by inserting a bridge in the middle. The insertion of the middle fret when raising the string, allows for two separate tones to be produced.

Citations: Bibliography: Margaret J. Kartomi, Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music, Vol, 2 Book Go to O page 379 ;


An idiochord [Latin: idio – “self”, chord – “string”, also known as a drum zither] is a musical instrument in which the “string” of the instrument is made from the same material as its resonating body. Such instruments may be found in the Indian Ocean region, disparate regions of Africa and its diaspora, and parts of Europe and North America.

Bamboo is often a popular material for idiochords: a tube of bamboo may be slit to loosen portions of the husk at the middle, leaving them attached at the ends, and these “strings” may be raised up by inserting sticks to serve as bridges. Such bamboo idiochords include the valiha of Madagascar, the kulibit in the Philippines and Indonesia, and the karaniing of the Mon-Khmer “Orang Asli” tribal peoples of Malaysia. A massive one-string bamboo idiochord, the benta, is native to Jamaica and played with a slide, much like a diddly-bow.

Idiochords are also made from other materials; cornstalk was used in North America to make the cornstalk fiddle, and the same instrument was played in the Carpathians and in Serbia as the gingara or djefje guslice. In Eastern New Guinea, one-string idiochords are made from the rib of the sago palm. The Warao people of Venezuela and Guyana create a monochord idiochord by raising up a fibre from an eta leaf.

Various idiochords are found in mainland Africa, including the akadingidi of Uganda, and the one-string mpeli of the Mpyeme people of Congo and the Central African Republic.


Name: Qanbus.
Type: Cordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Tuning: G / B / D / A / E
Country: Yemen, Malaysia.
Region: Middle East, Africa & South East Asia.

Description: A qanbūs or gambus [in Arabic: قنبوس‎ qanbūs] is a short-necked lute that originated in Yemen and spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. Sachs considered that it derived its name from the Turkic khomuz, but it is more comparable to the oud.

Distribution: The qanbūs spread through out the Middle East, on route to South East Asia by trade routes on the Indian Ocean. Southeast Asia especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei where it is called the gambus, it sparked a whole musical genre of its own.

Today it is played in Johor, South Malaysia, in the traditional dance Zapin and other genres, such as the Malay ghazal and an ensemble known as kumpulan gambus “gambus group”. Kumpulan gambus can also be found active in Sabah, especially in the Bongawan district of East Malaysian Borneo. In the Comoros it is known as gabusi and in Zanzibar as gabbus.

Citations: Bibliography: Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music – Page 9, Gambus by Margret J. Kartomi ;


Name: Bulgari.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Crete, Greece.
Region: South Europe.

Description: The bulgari or [in Greek: μπουλγαρ] is a string instrument that originates from Turkey, especially from Anatolia among the Oghuz Turks living in the Taurus Mountains, similar to the bağlama and the çağür. The Bulgari belongs to the family of tambûr [long necked lutes] an instrument class that started in early Mesopotamia, which started to spread in the Ottoman Empire approximately around 14th-century.

The French musicologist William André Villoteau mentioned in his journal an instrument with two strings existing in Cairo called the tanbour boulghari or bulgarie. The bulgari proceeded to implant itself into Greek culture through Crete when refugees came from Anatolia in 1920, although a type of bulgari seems to have existed in the 19th-century among Christian and Muslim populations.

Citations: Bibliography: Laurence Picken, Folk musical instruments of Turkey, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 276-278 Observation reported by Turkish professor Ali Raza Yalgin, in his work from 1940 ; “Stefanakis Antonis – Zaros, Crete”. Mid-East Saz Owners Manual Villoteau, William 1807 ; Recherches sur l’analogie de la musique avec les arts qui ont pour objet l’imitation du langage – Librairie Imperial ; Facaros, Dana 2003 Crete. New Holland Publishers. p. 61 ;


Name: Arbajo.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Nepal.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The arbajo is a type of Nepali plucked lute, long-necked and four stringed, now described as largely extinct and superseded by the smaller sarinda bowed Nepali sarangi. Some of the few musicians still playing the arbajo are of the Gaine caste, in Lamjung District and Kaski District of western Nepal.

Citations: Bibliography: Carol Tingey [December 1994] Auspicious music in a changing society: the Dāmai musicians of Nepal. Heritage Publishers ISBN 978-81-7026-193-3 – Retrieved 24 March 2012.. …ancestry are not confined to the damai, but are prevalent in the folklore of other Indo-Nepalese occupational castes. Always accompanied by the cow’s hoof, which became the (now extinct) plucked lute arbajo [Helffer 1977:51] ;


Name: Mbira.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellaphones > Combs.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 122.1
Country: Zimbabwe.
Region: Southern Africa.

Description: The mbira [pronounced as M Bee Ra or in IPA: (ə)mˈbɪərə] it is an African musical instrument consisting of a wooden board often fitted with a gourd resonator. The mbira is classified as a plucked lamellaphone or comb lamellaphone in the idiophone family.

The instrument and its resonator are often attached with soda bottle caps. The Mbira is played by the musician holding it by their left and right hands. It is played by plucking with the thumbs allowing for complex poly rhythms.

History: Numerous plucked idiophones of different kinds have existed in the African continent for thousands of 3,000 years. The tines [tongues or lamellae] were originally made of bamboo but over the years metal keys have been developed.

The metal tongued lamellaphones appeared in the Zambezi River valley around 1,300 years ago. These metal-tined instruments traveled all across the continent, becoming popular among the Shona of Zimbabwe, from which the word mbira comes and other indigenous groups in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Usage: The mbira differentiated in its physical form and social uses as it spread. Kalimba-like instruments came to exist from the northern reaches of North Africa to the southern extent of the Kalahari Desert, and from the east coast to the west coast, though many or most groups of people in Africa did not possess mbiras.

There were thousands of different tunings, different note layouts, and different instrument designs, but there is a hypothetical tuning and note layout of the original metal-tined instrument from 1,300 years ago.

Varieties: The nyunga nyunga which normally has 15 keys, originated from Manicaland where it traditionally played the entertainment role during social gatherings and commemorations. Jeke [Jack] Tapera introduced the mbira nyunga nyunga in the 1960s from Tete province of Mozambique to Kwanongoma College of African music [now United College of Music] in Bulawayo.

Two keys were then added to make fifteen [Chirimumimba, 2007], in two rows. The mbira nyunga nyunga is similar in construction to the mbira dzavadzimu, but has no hole in the soundboard. Key pitch radiates out from the center, rather than from left to right.

Notation: Zimbabwe’s Dumisani Maraire originated mbira nyunga nyunga number notation. The upper row keys [from left] are keys 2 / 4 / 6 / 8 / 10 12 and 14 while the bottom row keys are notated as 1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 9 / 11 / 13 and 15. Maraire brought awareness of this instrument to the United States when he came to the University of Washington as a visiting artist from 1968–1972.

Recently a Midlands State University [Gweru, Zimbabwe] lecturer in the department of music and musicology has suggested a letter notation; the upper keys as [from first left upper key] E / D / C / F / C / D and E and the lower or bottom keys as [from the first lower key] A / G / F / A / F / C / D and E. But the Maraire number notation has remained the internationally accepted system [Chirimumimba, 2007].

Mark Holdaway of Kalimba Magic has introduced a graphic form of tablature for the karimba, and traditional karimba tunes as well as modern songs and new compositions and exercises are available in this tablature.

Varieties: In the mid 1950s the mbira was the basis for the development of the kalimba, a westernized version designed and marketed by the ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey, leading to a great expansion of its distribution outside Africa.

Njari mbira ~ Njani mbira has 30 to 32 keys and was also originated from Zimbabwe particularly Masvingo and Makonde.

Nhare ~ The nhare has 23 to 24 keys and was originated from Zimbabwe. In the Zimbabwean tradition, nhare was used for rituals of communicating with Musikavanhu or Nyadenga [God].

Mbira matepe ~ Mbira matepe which has 26 keys originated from along the borders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Tom Tom ~ [also thoom, thom or toom] popular in Gambela Region, in Western Ethiopia on the border of South Sudan. This should not be confused with the drum “Tom Tom” under the same name.

Citations: Bibliography: Warner Dietz, Betty; Olatunji, Michael Babatunde 1965 ; Musical Instruments of Africa; Their Nature, Use, and Place in the Life of a Deeply Musical People. New York City: John Day Company ; Howard, Joseph H. 1967. Drums in the Americas. New York City: Oak Publications ; Mutwa, Credo Vusa’mazulu [1969]. My people: the incredible writings of Credo Vusa’mazulu Mutwa Johannesburg: Blue Crane Books ; Andrew Tracey, 1970 “The Matepe Mbira Music of Rhodesia”. Journal of the African Music Society 37–61. Note: this article is the original source of the Matepe song Siti, as played by Zimbabwean Marimba band Musango ; Hugh Tracey 1961 – The evolution of African music and its function in the present day. Johannesburg: Institute for the Study of Man in Africa ; Tracey, Hugh 1969 “The Mbira class of African Instruments in Rhodesia 1932 ; African Music Society Journal. 4 [3]: 78–95 ; Paul Berliner c. 1978 – The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. Berkeley: University of California Press ;


Name: Kissar.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Country: Egypt, Nubia & Ethiopia.
Region: & North Africa & Horn of Africa

Description: The kissar [also spelled kissir] Gytarah barbaryeh, the ancient Nubian lyre, this musical instrument is still in use in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

The 19th-century description of the five string kissar conforms to that of a tanbura. Though it is smaller, about 70 cm in length. Some examples of the kissar from Central Africa are held there, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. They show the use of animal horns and monkey sculls forming the body.

Travellers notes from the 18th to 19th century document a lyre like instrument ‘I saw among the Barbari from Dongola, a sort of … five stringed harp in their language they call kisser, five string tambura of the Arabs C. Niebuhr voyage in Arabia, Amsterdam, 1776] I, 145.

Construction: It consists of a body having instead of the traditional tortoise-shell back, a shallow, round bowl of maple wood the Nubians call “goussa”. The goussa or sound bowl covered with a membrane of goat skin completing the body, in which are three small round sound-holes.

The arms, set through the soundboard at points distant about the third of the diameter from the circumference, have the familiar fan shape. Five gut strings, knotted round the bar and raised from the soundboard by means of a bridge tailpiece similar to that in use on the modern guitar, are plucked by means of a plectrum by the right hand for the melody, while the left hand sometimes twangs some of the strings as a soft drone accompaniment.

Citations: Bibliography: J. B. De La Borde: Essai sur la musique ancienne et modern [Paris, 1780 / R1972] i, 382 ; Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music Volume Two, G-O Pages 437 ; Chisholm, Hugh, ed. 1911. “Kissar”. Encyclopedia Britannica. 15 [11th ed.]. Cambridge University Press. p. 837 ;