Why this website ?
This website aims to add to the free knowledge base that the
Web should be.
When I was looking for information about my many plucked stringed instruments,
I found on the internet many sites showing either lots of musical instruments
in general (but with only a few plucked ones), or just with a limited
number of instruments, or only with a few special instruments.
So I decided to try to make one encyclopedia website to incorporate
all plucked stringed instruments (plucked chordophones), that is : of
the lute, guitar, banjo and mandolin type (no harps or zithers).
As I wanted to limit this website to just a picture plus a short description
of each instrument (like in a bird book), I have often given a link
to some specialist site, where you can find more detailed information
about that particular type of instrument. Otherwise knowing the name
of the instrument will help your further search on the Web. Starting
with this ATLAS website will quickly lead to the information you are
So in general : ATLAS is an effort to make the Web a general source
of cultural and peaceful knowledge.
Besides this website being some kind of encyclopedia (showing
all the different kinds of plucked stringed instruments of the world),
it is also the best way of making my vast collection of information
on music (instruments, books, LP's, CD's, etc. that I have collected
over the years) useful to others, but avoiding the logistic difficulties
and limitations to organize an exhibition of my collection, and still
sharing as much knowledge as possible. The collection can now be viewed
anytime, from anywhere on the world, on this website.
Which instruments can be found here ?
As I play mainly on guitar-like instruments, my collection
consists (mainly) of that type of plucked instrument, so it includes
lutes, guitars, banjos, mandolins, steelguitars, etc. And therefore
this website contains only that type of plucked instruments. The basic
rule is that each string must be used for more pitches than one. How
the pitch of the string is changed is not important (fretless / fret
/ bending / steel).
For harps and zithers (also plucked, but where for each different pitch
a different string is used) look elsewhere on the Web, they are not
Of course there is always the problem to decide what
makes an instrument different enough to be regarded as a separate instrument,
to be included in the list. Many of my choices are quite arbitrary -
as you will find especially on the guitar pages. If you have any suggestion
for including (or excluding) any particular instrument, please let me
The choice for the ethnic instruments was slightly easier, and I have
tried to include ALL instruments that are known to be nowadays locally
in general use (but not the historical ethnic ones). They are described
as different when they look different, even if they have a same name
(see dutar, in Central Asia). If the same instrument has different
names (in different regions), it will usually be under one picture,
but with extra names (see ngoni, in Africa). Nevertheless,
sometimes the page is divided in several countries, and then the different
names will be given (with a different picture) under the country (see
the rather similar Chinese pipa and Vietnamese dan tyba).
Why the name Atlas of Plucked Instruments ?
The name is derived from the big Russian book "Atlas Muzykal'nykh
Instrumentov Narodov SSSR" [Atlas of Musical Instruments of the
USSR) by K.Vertkov, 1963, which is a pictoreal encyclopedia of all the
instruments in the many Sovjet Republics, with in separate chapters
a description of the instruments and the music. My aim is to make this
website quite similar to that book (already long out of print...).
Another reason was that already many books and websites use phrases
like "World of ...", "The encyclopedia of ...",
"The complete book of ...", etc., but always stopped (far)
short of the promised completeness. By avoiding those names I hope I
have done better.
As Atlas also means "collection of maps", you will find on
the ethnic pages a map with the region and countries included on that
An added bonus is that ATLAS will end up high on any list in alphabetical
How to use this website
I have tried to keep the website as simple as possible.
The menu with all different website pages is on the top left side, and
repeated on each page. This menu is divided in 3 parts :
- the red part are the
- the grey part contains
the pages with "historical" western instruments,
- the green part contains
the pages with "ethnic" instruments.
In the grey
pages are the modern and historical western style instruments, divided
in their obvious different categories (note that dulcimers
are under steelguitars ).
The green pages
are divided into general world regions, but in such a way that closely
related types of instruments are as much as possible on one page. So
the actual region in ATLAS may be different from the usual accepted
region under that name.
At the top of each region page you can see which countries are included,
and usually also on which other page you can find a neighbouring country.
On the Index page is an overview of the contents and all the
instruments on the different pages (but without description or picture),
which could work easier/quicker if you are just searching for a name.
You can search this page with the search button of your browser to find
a particular instrument.
Searching with the Google bar on the ATLAS Home page will lead
you to a result page, but does not give you all the similar search results
on that same page.
As I am alergic to detailed coding systems for the sake of coding, you
will not find any reference to any coding system, except the top overall
"plucked chordophones" from the Hornbostel system. The only
"coding system" I use is the menu. In my description of each
instrument you may find the information you are looking for.
I have also avoided the usual name "floating bridge" for a
bridge that is not glued to the front, but use the much more obvious
name of "loose bridge". If you ever took off the strings of
such a bridge you would have noticed there is no floating at all : the
bridge will drop to the ground....
Sources of information.
Under the picture of the example instrument
the source is mentioned - usually from my collection (with some
information about when and where I bought the instrument). If not from
my collection, then the source of the picture is given (when known).
All the text of this website is written by me, using books and
websites with relevant information. Those sources are not specially
mentioned, but on the Books page you can find quite a few.
I have given the measurements of the instruments in my collection
(= millimeters - inches should not exist anymore, but if you have to
: one inch is 25.4mm).
It is the longest Length, the widest Breadth and the
highest Height of the instrument.
The "scale" is the free string-length from nut to bridge.
For instruments not in my collection I usually could give only vague
measurements, if they were known to me at all.
Spelling of names of instruments
As many of the ethnic instruments (especially the Asian ones) are from
countries with a different kind of script (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic,
Hindi, Cyrillic, Greek, etc.) the translitteration into a western type
language (with Roman letters) results often in different ways of spelling.
Like rabab, rubab, robob, rabob, rawap, etc. I have usually
used the spelling used by the book with (to me) the best detailed information.
But if you want to search further on the Web, try also using some alternative
Sometimes the tuning for an instrument is given. This is always from
the lowest to the highest strings (left to right), with the customary
way of writing the octaves.
I prefer to give the "interval" between the strings in the
number of halftone frets, not in the musical "fifths"
So a guitar would be : E A d g b e' - or in "intervals"
: 5 5 5 4 5 (frets).
A mandolin would be : gg d'd' a'a' e"e" - or in "intervals"
: 7 7 7 (frets).
Remember that quite often there are dozens of ways to tune a particular
stringed instrument; I will only give one or two. When it mentions a
"guitar-like tuning" it means you can play the usual guitar
chords, but it may be in a different pitch or some strings may be in
a different octave.
Note that numbering strings starts from the right (usually the
highest one) to the left (usually the basses). So on a guitar the high
e' is string 1, and the bass E is string 6.
When mentioning playing technique it is presumed to be for a right handed
player, so strumming / picking with the right hand, and fretting the
notes on the fingerboard with the left hand.
To keep this website to an acceptable small size in MB, I have
not used thumb-nails for the pictures, so you will have to do with the
360 pixels (72dpi) high pictures, next to the description.
Neither have I tried to put in small samples of music in MP3. This also
because it would take up too much time for me to search my LP's and
CD's for a proper example tune and make it available for download. For
the same reason you will also miss an elaborate list of all possible
alternative instrument names or obscure one-off instruments. Maybe I
will add some of these things in future. For the time being try YOUTUBE.com,
searching with the instrument name - you will be surprised!
And well, in January 2008 I have
been so kind as to help you searching the enormous wealth of music videos
on YOUTUBE. I have selected videos (if available) which not only let
you hear the sound, but also show you the instrument and often also
the playing techniques for both hands. So under most instruments you
will now find a link to one of these videos on YOUTUBE; just click on
the red part of the logo and this will open the YOUTUBE page and start
the video. On that YOUTUBE page is usually also a small menu on the
right side, with further similar videos.
We should be very gratefull for all those people making these videos
This website contains links to other websites solely for the
convenience of users of this website. I do not endorse any such linked
sites and assume no responsibility for the contents of any other website
to which this website offers links. I have provided links both on the
special Links page, as well as directly under the description of the
You are invited to make links to this ATLAS website; preferably to the
home page, from which all other pages can be reached in one click.
Copyright issues and use/ownership of images:
All information provided on this website is copyrighted by me. All images
used within this site are copyrighted by me, unless they are copyrighted
by the original image owner. The source of all images that are not taken
by me, can be identified by the description underneath or by their file
name, the name of the person, author, or source from where the image
was obtained. These sources may or may not be the original copyright
owners of the image, and are accurate only in so far as I have been
able to determine. Permission to use any images from this site must
be granted by either the original owners or myself. Those images taken
from books, websites or other published sources without express permission
are reproduced here for research purposes only. If anyone believes an
image belonging to him or her is mis-credited, or violates his or her
use policy, please contact me for correction or removal.