Some Instruments of Note


If you have ever been to a medieval or renaissance faire, you know that they are sensory treats for patrons. I suppose that they have to be, or else no one would go to them.

I have frequented a few, and I find them highly entertaining. My belief is that they are best experienced in period garb even if I am not a part of the cast. So, I tend to show up in peasant clothing, carrying the accouterments of a scribe or some bardic troubadour. I have taken the time to set up a scribe booth in the past, but the amount of dust in the air at these events often makes any meaningful scribe work a bit of a mess. Instruments, however, don't suffer as much from a bit of dust on the wind.

Pictured above are the following instruments: Acoustic Bass Guitar, Autoharp, Djembe (large and small), Mandolin, Octave Mandolin, Guitar, Lap dulcimer, Tambourines (with cymbals and without), Multi Tone Wood Block, Guiro, Clave, Rain Stick, Nose Flute, Kalimba, and a Frog. These are the sorts of Instruments that I have used on a couple of CDs that I have produced.


AutoharpAutoharp: This is a chromatically strung instrument with many strings covering its face. There is a series of levers set over these strings with felt dampeners on them that each stop certain strings from vibrating when they are depressed. depressing a button and strumming the strings produces predefined chords.

Bass Guitar: This is a hollow body bass acoustic guitar. The low sound tends to round out the sound of some pieces, and lends a slightly more modern aesthetic to some music.

ClavesClave: These instruments are basically two hard wood sticks that are clicked together. They produce a brief sound that is a particularly high note for percussion.

DjembeDjembe: the djembe is an African drum similar to many other ethnic drums around the world. The drum head is made from stretched goat hide which produces a low note when struck in the center, and a higher note when struck along the edge.

DulcimerDulcimer: The lap dulcimer is generally only played on one melody string, with two drones, sounding a bit like a stringed bagpipe. The drones can be fretted as well, but since it has diatonic frets, there are some note combinations that are just impossible. Medieval harmonies would most likely sound primitive by our modern standards, and the droning sound of a dulcimer is appropriate for a faire setting even if the sound of metal strings may not be.

FrogFrog: This is a wood block with ridges. There is a stick that is run over the ridges on the back to make a croaking noise - or you can just whack it with a mallet for a simple block sound.

Guiro: This is a hollow gourd instrument with ridges cut into one side. By running a stick or comb over the ridged side, a rhythmic scraping sound is produced.

Lute GuitarGuitar: I purchased a lute style guitar on ebay. It is of a style that was being made at the end of the 19th century. I was led to believe that it is about a hundred years old, but I cannot prove it. This is not really what musicians would have used during the renaissance or earlier, but the average patron of such fairs would not know an authentic instrument of the time if it stepped up and bit them. I have had some major repair work done on it, including patching a hole in the back, regluing the slats on the bowl, replacing some frets on the body, and reattaching the rosette. With folk guitar strings, it does have a nice sound to it. It is also quite light.

KalimbaKalimba: The Kalimba is also called an African thumb piano. Each of the metal tines can be plucked individually or in combinations to play chords. Normally this sort of instrument is tuned diatonically to the key of C.

Mandolin: A standard mandolin has eight strings that are chromatically fretted. These strings are doubled and tuned like a violin GDAE from Low to high.

Nose FluteNose Flute: The nose flute shown here is a sort of musical toy that makes one's entire head into a ocarina. The fipple is placed over the mouth and the blow hole under the nose. The note is controlled by changing the shape of the mouth cavity while exhaling through the nose.

Octave MandolinOctave Mandolin: While a mandolin has the range of a violin, the octave mandolin has a larger body and longer neck for tuning one octave lower - like a viola.

RainstickRainstick: This rainstick is made from some sort of cactus. Others are made from gourds. When properly dried it produces a sound like rain when it is upended, allowing the dried contents to pour down inside.

TambourineTambourine: This is a stretched drumhead with little cymbals set into the frame. It can be shaken to produce a bright shimmering sound, or it can be struck to add more depth.

Wood BlockWood Block: This is a multi tonal wood block. It's sort of like a wooden xylophone set in a circle. By striking the different tines with a mallet, different wood block tones are produced.