List of musical instruments by Hornbostel-Sachs number: 321.31

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This is a list of instruments by Hornbostel-Sachs number, covering those instruments that are classified under 321.31 under that system. These instruments are also known as spike lutes. These instruments are made of a resonator and string bearer that are physically united, with strings in parallel to the sound table and a handle which is also the string bearer and which passes diametrically through the resonator. The shape of the resonator divides the instrument into one of three subcategories: spike bowl lutes, spike box lutes and spike tube lutes.[1]

The spike in the name spike lute refers to the fact that the handle passes through the resonator, often forming a spike after it emerges from it. In instruments like the Chinese erhu, the spike is vestigial, but in many instruments, like the rebab, it acts as support during performances.[2]

West African griot and spike lutes[edit]

Spike lutes are common in West Africa, as are tanged lutes, instruments in which the handle does not extend all the way through the resonator. A hereditary class of West African musicians, griots, play only tanged lutes; but non-griot performers in West Africa play a mixture of both spike lutes and tanged lutes.[3]

The resonator of these West African lutes may be made of wood, metal (such as a discarded can), hide, or a half-calabash gourd.[3] Non-griot lutes are not restricted by heredity, and are used for many social purposes, most commonly hunting.[3] It likely that one or more of these instruments is the ancestor of the African American banjo.[4]


3: Instruments in which sound is produced by one or more vibrating strings (chordophones, string instruments).
32: Instruments in which the resonator and string bearer are physically united and can not be separated without destroying the instrument
321: Instruments in which the strings run in a plane parallel to the sound table (lutes)
321.3: Instruments in which the string bearer is a plain handle (handle lutes)
321.31: Instruments in which the handle passes diametrically through the resonator (spike lutes)
321.311: Instrument with a resonator made from a bowl, either natural or carved (spike bowl lutes)
321.312: Instruments in which the resonator is built up from wood (spike box lutes, spike guitars)
321.313: Instrument in which the handle passes diametrically through the walls of a tube (spike tube lutes)

These instruments may be classified with a suffix, based on how the strings are caused to vibrate.

  • 4: Hammers or beaters
  • 5: Bare hands and fingers
  • 6: Plectrum
  • 7: Bowing
    • 71: Using a bow
    • 72: Using a wheel
    • 73: Using a ribbon
  • 8: Keyboard
  • 9: Using a mechanical drive



  1. ^ Sachs and von Hornbostel, pg. 6-25
  2. ^ Stock, Jonathan (March 1993). "A Historical Account of the Chinese Two-Stringed Fiddle Erhu". The Galpin Society Journal. Galpin Society. 46: 83–113. doi:10.2307/842349. JSTOR 842349. 
  3. ^ a b c Charry, Eric (March 1996). "Plucked Lutes in West Africa: An Historical Overview". The Galpin Society Journal. Galpin Society. 49: 3–37. doi:10.2307/842390. JSTOR 842390. 
  4. ^ Coelho, pg. 45