miscellaneous ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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miscellaneous

Here I have put all the instruments that I found difficult to put on any of the other pages, but which still can be regarded as plucked instruments in one way or another.

These also include some interesting, but rather obscure guitars.

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, if you were looking in vain on the other pages for a particular instrument that you thought was a plucked instrument (within the definitions of this website), try the second half of this page : Not Included, to see why it is not. If still in doubt, please contact me.


 

multi neck guitar
example :
from internet
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
triple neck
You Tube
Pikasso
You Tube
another way to play guitars...

 

multiple neck guitar

Sometimes guitar players like to have 2 instruments in one, so they can very quickly change instruments. Makers came up with the idea of putting 2 different necks on a body. Combinations can be of a normal 6-string neck with a 12-string neck, or with a bass-neck, or with a mandolin-neck, etc.

For very strong players (these instruments are very heavy) triple and even quadruple necks are made, with any combination mentioned above, or (see picture) including a 7-string neck.

both from internet
Multiple neck are mainly used on electric instruments, where it is easier to fix another neck to the solid bit of wood that serves as body. Nevertheless some acoustic versions exist; the most famous one is the Pikasso, made by luthier Linda Manzer for guitarist Pat Metheny (although it has piezo-electric pickups).
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multi stringed guitar
example :
from website Tamura
L= B= H=mm
scale mm
You Tube
multi-stringed guitar

Already in the 18th century guitars were made with more than 6 strings, but that were often harp guitars, where the extra strings can only be played open, as they run from a separate neck, and not over the fingerboard.

Multi-stringed guitars are having all the strings running over the fingerboard and all strings can be fingered. The most popular type used nowadays are 7-string guitars (both classical and electric), with special versions like the Russian guitar and the Brazilian violão de sete cordas (see elsewhere in ATLAS).
Quite a few classical guitar players now use a 10-string version (see example).

It was probably the guitarmaker Lacote who developed special multi-stringed guitars, although most of them were harp guitars. The ten-string version was called decacorde - "ten strings" - (see harpguitars.net), and Carulli even wrote a study book for it. Tuning for his decacorde was C D E F G A d g b e'.
Strictly speaking this was a kind of harp guitar (see guitars-early).

Narciso Yepes had in the 1960s a 10-string guitar built (now based on modern guitar making techniques), with the intention that the 4 extra strings would give more resonance from the overtones of the (free) bass strings.
His tuning was : Gb Ab Bb C E A d g b e' (note the octave jump for the 3 lowest strings).
Later this type of 10-string guitar became also known as "decacorde".

For more information about the 10-string guitar see Tenstringguitar.info, Decacorde, or Tenstringguitar.com.
And for the history of the early multi-stringed/harp guitars, see : Romanticguitar.

 

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fretless guitar
example :
from website Godin
L= B= H=mm
scale mm
You Tube
fretless guitar

In fact any type of guitar can be fretless, if there are no frets on the fretboard.

Already for decades bass guitars (both electric and acoustic) were available in fretless versions. Now also normal guitars with fretless necks are becoming popular, mainly to give the music a kind of Oriental (or better : Middle Eastern) sound.

Although not yet made in large numbers, several firms can provide fretless guitars.
Godin even makes a hybrid guitar with 11 strings (in 6 double courses) which plays and sounds like an oud "for the adventurous guitar player".

For more detailed information see Unfretted.


Just another way of making oriental music :
adding a few more frets in between the normal ones, to make it easy to play quarter tones (see also the mondol in North Africa).




(picture from eBay)

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guitalele
example :
Yamaha GL1
bought from Thomann.de 2010
L=710 B=230 H=70mm
scale 435mm
You Tube
guitalele

A guitar, with the size of a tenor ukulele (see America north), hence the name. Sometimes also called guitarlele, or 6-string ukulele.

Usually the guitalele looks like a small guitar (with guitar-like tuninghead and machines), not like a standard ukulele. Although it may look like a toy childrens' guitar, it is a proper playable instrument. Yamaha makes a cheap version, but most ukulele brands can provide an upmarket version.

The six nylon strings are tuned 5 frets up from a normal classical guitar :
A d g c' e' a'.

 

 

 


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gittler guitar
example : from internet
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
Gittler guitar

This instrument ranks as the most minimal guitar. It was designed and made in the 1970's by Allan Gittler.

It is just a round metal pole as body/neck, with press-fitted round metal frets and bridge. No wood is used for the instrument.
The 6 strings are fixed at the top and can be tuned with special devices at the bottom end. It is electric (otherwise you would not hear much noise from only the strings....).

Gittler himself made only about 60 of these guitars, and later Astron (in Israel) produced another 500. A few basses were made as well.

Since 1982 Gittler moved to Israel and adapted the Hebrew name of Bar Rashi. Under that name a newly designed model was introduced and produced in limited numbers. Pity these had left the original minimal concept, and added a small body (with a turning "blade" so you could rest it on your knee) and often also a thin neck behind the "frets", to make it look (and feel) more like a normal guitar. Even that model is at first not easy to play, because of the lack of a proper fretboard.

For more information see Vintageguitar.

The later model,
picture from eBay.
A copy of a very rare Gittler (fretless) Bass (sent in by a reader)
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digital guitar
example :
Casio DG-20, bought via Marktplaats.nl 2013
L=990 B=335 H=65mm
"scale" 640mm
You Tube
guitar synthesizer / digital guitar

In the 1970's in the wake of electronic organs a guitar-shaped synthesizer was developed. It is also called digital guitar, or midi-guitar.

Although a digital guitar has more or less the look and feel of a real (electric) guitar, the sound is not at all produced by the strings, or with pickups. In fact by putting the finger on the string/fret position and plucking the string give the electric sensors the signal which pitch you want it to sound. This sound is then electronically produced. Usually you can choose (like on an electronic organ) between far ranging tone colours as "acoustic guitar", "banjo", "sitar", "clarinet", or even "hammond organ".

The body (and neck) is usually made of some plastic material. The strings are not normal guitar strings, but plastic ropes - just stretched and not tuned at all. On some digital guitars, there are no strings, but string-like thin buttons in a row to press. And on some digital guitars these buttons light up for a selected song - as aid for beginners to learn that song.

Most guitar synthesizers include a percussion section, and some (like the popular Casio DG) even have a build-in amplifier and speaker.

You can play the instrument like a normal guitar : with a plectrum or fingerpicking. However effects like string-bending do not work.

Guitar synthesizers have never been very popular, but are still available.

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nano guitar
example : from website cornelltechnology
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
nano guitar

The world's smallest guitar is 10 micrometers long (about the size of a single human blood cell) with six strings, each about 50 nanometers (or 100 atoms) wide.

Researchers made this nano guitar in 1997 for fun at the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, where they carved it out of crystalline silicon, to illustrate the new technology for nanosized electromechanical devices.

The nano guitar has six strings; each string is about 50 nanometers wide, the width of about 100 atoms. If plucked (by an atomic force microscope, for example) the strings would resonate, but at inaudible frequencies.

See for more information : Cornell.

 

 

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air guitar
example :
hand made for ATLAS
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale ~00mm
You Tube
air guitar

The early history of the air guitar is still shrouded in mystery, but apparently similar instruments can be found all over the world, also in many non-western societies.

Air guitars are made with imagination and come in any size, shape and colour, with amateurs sometimes using umbrellas, rulers and hockey sticks as a substitute for the real thing. Fretted versions are rare. Although the air guitar could be acoustic, the electric models are the ones most widely used, mainly because Rock&Roll and Heavy Metal are the most popular music styles.

Air guitars are quite cheap and nowadays there is even a trade in second hand instruments on eBay. A lucky bidder may get a very rare instrument, "as good as new, used only for 20 minutes during the Rolling Stones London Concert of 1998".

Playing the air guitar is usually based more on imitating and exaggerating the movements of the intended guitar hero than of their musical abilities.
A peculiar feature of the air guitar is the fact that - despite the often quite vigorous playing techniques - the breaking of strings is a very rare occasion.
Another special feature is the ability of experienced players to change instruments in a split second.

First played only in the privacy of the bedroom - or at most at late night (drinking) parties - now players are more in the open and may be found performing during festivals. Since a couple of years there are even official competitions, with a real World Championship.

More information can be found on Airguitarusa.

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upright bass
example : from internet
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
upright bass

Although almost every bowed stringed instrument can also be played by plucking the strings, here is only one example : the upright bass (large violin). Also called standing bass, string bass or plucked bass or something, it is the main bass instrument in many music bands, like rock&roll, jazz, and popmusic.

The upright bass is slowly on replaced by the electric bass guitar, which is easier to amplify (and to transport....).

 

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stoessel lute
example :
bought via eBay, 2005
L=450 B=250 H=65mm
scale 400-345mm
You Tube
stoessel lute

This interesting instrument (also called Stössel laute) is invented in the early 1900 by Mr. Stoessel in Germany, who made them in a small factory till about 1940.

This instrument is very peculiar as the way of playing is not in the normal way of fingering around the neck, but by pressing down the strings from the top / back.

Many different models were made, also with different numbers of strings. As you could not "move up the neck" there were only 5 frets (plus zero fret). Some instruments (like the example) have slanting frets and bridge. The back is slightly rounded.

The stoessel lute is not a very loud instrument.

See more about the instrument on this interesting website: Miner Stoessel Lute.

from his website:
Gregg Miner with his Stoessel harplute
For even more info see Museum
(in German).
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cigar box guitar
example :
bought via eBay from Weeklyhouse, 2011
L=880 B=175 H=45mm
scale 650mm
You Tube
cigar box guitar
You Tube
diddley bow
oil can ukulele
example : bought from Ukulelebidon, France, 2010
L=510 B=170 H=65mm
scale 350mm
You Tube

cigar box guitar

Poor people who wanted to make music, used available scrap materials to make their own home-made imitations of the expensive luthier-made proper instruments. Their main problem was/is usually making the soundbox – often ending up with a kind of square box. At the end of the 19th century nice wooden cigar boxes of different sizes became available. This gave people an easy start to use them as body for their home-made instruments. By just adding a piece of wood (as neck) to the box and putting some strings on it, everyone could quite easily make their own instrument : violins, mandolins, ukuleles, banjos, dulcimers or guitars.
Quite a few famous guitar players have made and played a cigar box guitar in their youth. Since around 1990 there is a “revival” of this type of instrument, with many people making these funny looking, but creative and with due attention good playable, Cigar Box Guitars. They call them affectionately : “CBG’s”, and there is even a museum dedicated to them.

Besides wooden cigar boxes, also metal boxes (for candy or biscuits) and even oil cans are used in a similar fashion for making a body. Worldwide similar constructions can be found : in Africa – where lots of articles are made from scrap materials - the ramkie is a guitar made from an old oil can (see Africa). In Japan just after the War the sanshin was made using empty milk tins as body (kankara sanshin – see Japan). In other countries a calabash, a coconut or even the back of a tortoise or an armadillo would be used as a base for the soundbox.

As the sides of a cigar box (or candy box) are too thin and too weak for the large forces of the strings at the neck join, the neck often goes through the entire body, so the end of the wood sticks out of the other end of the box. Electric instruments will even have the entire box filled with wood, for sustain. The neck itself will be home-made, or scavenced from a real instrument - to get a good playable instrument. It can be left without frets (to play bottle-neck or slide-guitar), or fretted like a dulcimer or like a guitar.
The number of strings is depending on the maker (he is normally also the player) : from 1 to 6 strings; it seems 3 or 4 strings being most often used, and in open tuning. With one string it is known as a Diddley Bow.
Although originally a few pieces of wood would act as friction tuning pegs, nowadays machine tuners are used, to keep the strings in tune for at least the entire song.... The nut and the bridge can be made from wood, but often a bolt of the right size will be used. The strings are usually fixed to the end of the body, at the end of the neck stick.

Tuning and playing depends of course on the instrument type and on the player : often a kind of Delta Blues with a bottle neck or picking/strumming folky music.

For more information about cigar box guitars and other similar instruments, see : CigarBoxGuitars, or CigarBoxNation.

 

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tea chest bass
example : from internet
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
tea chest bass

The tea chest bass is a home made bass used in acoustic skiffle and folk music. Traditionally made from a (empty) wooden tea chest, a broomstick and a suitable piece of rope. The rope (with a knot underneath) goes through a hole in the top of the chest and is tightly fixed to the top of the broomstick. By gripping the rope on the appropriate places you can more or less play a very "dark" bass line.

One reason why the tea chest bass is not so popular anymore, is because the tea trade has already long ago replaced the wooden chests by plastic crates and boxes. Instead of a tea chest some people use a metal washtub.

 

 

 

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strumstick
example :
bought via internet from ShorelineMusic 2009
L=740 B=100 H=25mm
scale 570mm
You Tube
strumstick

This is a quite recent designed folk instrument (by Bob McNally), as a combination of a simple guitar-like instrument and a dulcimer. It vaguely resembles a Turkish saz. Some people call it a stick dulcimer. With a banjo-body it will be called a dulcijo (see the banjo page)

The neck is the main part of the strumstick, and has frets in a diatonic scale, so only a very limited number of modes can be played on it.

The body is carved from the same piece of wood as the neck, and is quite small. The front and back are covered with a thin piece of wood. Three holes are drilled in the top of the neck (from the front) in which the strings run to tuning machines (on the left side).

The 3 metal strings run over a loose bridge to 3 pins at the bottom of the body. Tuning is usually something like g d' g'.

The strumstick is played by strumming all strings (like a guitar), and usually fingering only the first string. It is very easy to play songs on it.

 

For more information see Strumstick, or Smokeymountain.

 

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the Stick
example : from internet

L=1100mm B=0 H=0mm
scale 915mm
You Tube
the Stick

Emmett Chapman invented in the 1970s The Stick : a guitar without a body, just a wide flat neck/fingerboard with frets, and with 8 or 10 or 12 strings and (stereo) amplification.

Chapman had discovered you could play an (electric) guitar by tapping the strings with both hands simultaneously on the fingerboard, thereby being able to create separate bass-lines and harmony-lines. So he made a long fretboard (scale is 915mm !), with extra strings, which eventually became The Stick.

The Stick can only be played by tapping (hammering on) with both hands, resulting (if done by an expert) in chords, bass-lines and solo-lines, like you play on a keyboard.

The Stick never really has been very popular, partly thanks to the very special playing technique (which also limits the possible types of music to be played on it) and probably partly thanks to the high price.

Another similar played instrument is the "touch style guitar" produced by Warrguitar, which looks more like a normal electric guitar, although with 8 to 14 strings.

For much more information : see Stick, with the history, the many different instruments, the possible tunings and the pricelist.
left : Chapman with his Stick (from his website)
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Akkordolia
example : bought via eBay, 2008
L=585 B=210 H=35mm scale 450mm

Akkordolia

In Germany there is still a trade in this old dulcimer-type ""piano", which is called "Akkordolia".
It was made in the 1910's by Otto Teller in Klingenthal (see Vintageaudioberlin).

This small box-like instrument is related to similar instruments in India (bulbultarang), Pakistan (benju) and Japan (taishogoto).



The fretboard, and the underside of the push buttons

Basically an Akkordolia is a soundbox, with a number (2x4) of strings on top, which can be strummed on the right side. On top of the box is a complex apparatus with buttons which can be pressed down on the strings, to shorten them. Unlike the mentioned related instruments, the buttons on an Akkordolia do not press down the fret itself, but (as there is a real fretboard with frets) the push-buttons push the strings down on the frets.

The bottom row of buttons is numbered 1 to 18, which includes
all the notes for the first octave (nr 13) and then only the whole notes. These buttons only reach the 4 melody strings. The five buttons on the top are numbered A, B, C, D and E, and are used to shorten the 4 separate chord strings.
Tuning given by Teller : F A c f / f f f f.

 


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NOT INCLUDED

Instruments that maybe you had expected to be "plucked" (within de definitions of this website : that each string must be used for more pitches), but are not.
However, to help some of you that searched the ATLAS in vain (because they are really harps or zithers), here are some examples:


   
bandura
example : from eBay
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm

bandura

This is a kind of Ukrainian zither/harp. The long strings are the basses, plucked with the left hand, the rest are plucked with the right hand, so it looks like a guitar-like instrument, but it is not : it is a kind of harp.
See for other Ukrainian instruments also kobza (page Europe East) and torban (page lutes).

For more info about this type of instrument see Kutash.

 

Don't confuse the bandura with the bandurria from Spain, which is a kind of mandolin (see the page of West Europe).

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kora
example : from internet
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
kora

The most wellknown string instrument of Africa is the kora. However as it is played like a harp (with all open strings), it should not be included in this website.

The kora is played mainly in West Africa. It is made from a very large gourd, with a large stick (neck) through it.
From this stick run 21 nylon strings (fixed to leather rings around the neck) down to the side of a large vertical bridge, and then on to be fixed at the end of the gourd body. The strings can be tuned by sliding the leather rings up or down the neck. The strings are divided on the bridge, with notes in progressing order to the left and to the right side (a similar division is used on the tube-zither vahila from Madagascar).

Playing the kora is by holding the instrument with the stick (bridge) with all the strings towards the player. While some fingers hold two vertical sticks on the top of the body, the thumb and forefingers of both hands are free to pluck the strings.

 

For more information about the kora, see Coraconnection or Kumbengo.

 

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gusle
example : bought 1998
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
gusle

On eBay this instrument is often described as "African" lute, because of the woodcarvings on the back of the body and on the top.

However it is not a plucked instrument, but bowed, as it is a Yugoslavian folk fiddle.

The gusle has just one (nylon) string, and a leather front. The top has usually a carving of an animal : a horse, a goat or something.

See more information at Guslee.

 

 

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tonkori
example : bought via internet from the Ainu Museum, Japan 2009
L=1040 B=90 H=45mm
scale 520mm
tonkori

The Ainu people in Japan use a very special instrument, called the tonkori. It looks like a slender guitar, but is in fact a kind of zither.

The tonkori is made from one large piece of pine wood, hollowed out with a thin soundboard on top. The tuning head is part of the body. It has large tuning pegs, with 3 on the right and 2 on the left side. The nylon strings run over two loose wooden bridges and are fixed to a piece of leather on the bottom end.

The tonkori is held vertically, and the open strings plucked with both hands, often playing arpeggios, but also strumming all the strings together.
It is nowadays getting popular again with some folk groups playing pop music.

 

 

 

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example : from website
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
zongorã

This instrument is only a special way of playing, not a special instrument.

Zongor is the name given to the guitar in the villages in northern Transylvania (Maramures, Oas). During Béla Bartók’s survey of the region in 1913, he discovered the zongorã in Maramures and noted that it had only two strings tuned at a perfect fifth apart (D - A). Since then, a number of strings have been added to the guitar- zongorã which now has four tuned in a major scale (D - F# - A or A - C# - E). Towards the 1960s, the guitar-zongorã also became the accompanying instrument in neighbouring Oas.

The zongorã is played by amateur musicians who only know how to strum the strings with a plectrum. The rhythm is dictated by the melody and to change the chord from time to time they move the index finger of the left hand up and down the neck, pressing all the strings down at the same time. Zongorã musicians buy their (cheap) instrument in stores, replace the strings and play it in an unusual position, with the curved side pressed against their left side and the face of the instrument turned slightly towards the face. Zongorã players are often singers as well and perform folk songs.

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autoharp
example : ChromAHarp, bought 1978
L=570 B=290 H=80mm
scale 470-200mm
autoharp

An autoharp (sometimes also called chromaharp) is a zither, with about 20 to 36 strings, tuned in chromatic order. On one side are bars (representing chords) that can be pressed down on the strings. On the bottom of each bar are pieces of felt that block off the sound of strings which are not part of that particular chord, so leaving only a few strings able to sound, when the strings are strummed.

The chords are C, F, G, G7, am, E7, em, etc. Bars of chords that usually are used together in a song, are grouped together.

The autoharp is played by holding the instrument up like a small child in the arms, pressing with the left hand the bars, and strumming with the right hand most of the strings just above the bars. It is possible to play some kind of tune on it by aiming for the right top note of the chord, while strumming.

As the strings are not shortened, but always played open, the autoharp falls not within the context of this website...

 

For more information about autoharps see Autoharp.com or Autoharpteacher.

For all kind of zithers see : Minermusic.

 

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example : octavina spinet, home made by me from kit sold by Early Music Shop, 1985
L=680 B=400 H=110mm
scale 0mm

spinet


Many of the keyboards of the 17th and 18th century (spinet, harpsichords) could be called "plucked" as the strings are plucked with a small plectrum that is (via a mechanical device) fixed to the playing key, so not with hammers as in the piano(-forte). However as the strings are always played open we can regard this instrument as a "mechanical zither".



A close-up of the small vertical docklets, with the red felt dampers and the movable device with the small white (plastic) plectrum.
The left one is seen on the back, the right one is ready to pick the string. When the key is pressed the docklet goes upwards (plectrum plus felt), and the string is plucked. After releasing the key the entire device falls by gravity, with the plectrum passing the string silently, while the felt stops the string from further sounding.

   
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