Recommended Reading

Here are some of the most astoundingly useful reference books on the subject of musical instruments. Many are out of print, but may be available used or through your local library. Following the vendor links will usually provide more information about content.
Search Now:

General Reference (Dictionaries, encyclopedias)

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Musical Instruments
by Bozhidar Abrahev, Konemann Inc. Staff (Editor)

  • Hardcover: 320 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.99 x 11.19 x 8.41
  • Publisher: Konemann; ISBN: 3829060793; (January 2001)
  • Buy from Amazon

Musical Instruments of the World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia
by Diagram Group Editors

  • Over 4000 original illustrations of instruments from around the world, arranged by Hornbostel/Sachs classifications.
  • Paperback: 320 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.11 x 10.96 x 8.45 
  • Publisher: Sterling Publications; ISBN: 0806998474; Reprint edition (June 30, 1997) 
  • Buy from:

European and American Musical Instruments
by Anthony Baines

  • Baines' classic illustrated encyclopedia of Western instruments. Profusely illustrated with 830+ b&w photos. 
  • Out of print. Used copies may be available.
  • Hardcover: 174 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 1 x 9 x 12
  • Publisher: Viking Press; ISBN: 0670299413; (November 1966) 
  • Buy from:    

The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments
by Anthony Baines

  • Out of print. Used copies may be available.
  • Hardcover: 404 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.36 x 9.53 x 6.58 
  • Publisher: Unknown; ISBN: 0193113341; (October 1992) 
  • Buy from:    

Music: Music Eyewitness Book
by Neil Ardley, Dave King (Photographer), Philip Dowell (Photographer)

  • In the spirit of the Dorling Kindersley publications, this is a beautifully illustrated book that is perhaps a bit short on substance. Worth getting for the gorgeous color pictures.
  • Hardcover: 63 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.50 x 11.33 x 8.74 
    Publisher: Dorling Kindersley; ISBN: 0394822595; (April 1989) 
  • Buy from:

The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments

  • A definitive guide to the history, construction and performing practice of over 12,000 musical instruments from every culture, past and present. It is the most comprehensive and authoritative study of instruments, and includes over 1,600 illustrations of individual instruments. Very expensive and difficult to find. N.B. There is currently under way a massive project to produce a new edition. This will likely be available by online subscription (i.e., primarily to libraries), but promises to be the most comprehensive collection of authoritative articles on musical instruments ever assembled.
  • Hardcover:  3 volumes
  • Publisher: Oxford (1984, out of print); ISBN: 0333378784 
  • Buy from Amazon (Note: Be careful that what is being sold includes all three volumes!)

Everything You Should Know About Musical Instruments but Don't Have Time to Learn
by Michael J. Pagliaro

  • A handy guide intended for leaders of school music programs, but includes lots of nuts and bolts info (literally -- describes the nomenclature of each small part of each instrument).
  • Paperback: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Ardsley Musical Instrument Ser; ISBN: 0945864493; (September 1992) 
  • Buy from:

Woodwind Instruments and Their History
by Anthony Baines

  • Paperback: 384 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.82 x 8.49 x 5.39 
  • Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486268853; (November 1991) 
  • Buy from:

Pierce Piano Atlas

Includes serial number lists for many manufacturers.

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Larry E. Ashley; 12th edition (Dec 2008)
  • ISBN: 0911138064

Instrument Making and Experimenting

Musical Instrument Design : Practical Information for Instrument Making, by Bart Hopkin

  • Paperback: Dimensions (in inches): 0.48 x 10.94 x 8.46 
  • Publisher: See Sharp Press; ISBN: 1884365086; (September 1996) 
  • Buy from:

Making Simple Musical Instruments: A Melodious Collection of Strings, Winds, Drums & More, by Bart Hopkin  

  • Paperback: Out of Print. Used copies may be available.
  • Publisher: Lark Books; ISBN: 1579900488; (February 1999) 
  • Buy from:

Making Stringed Instruments: A Workshop Guide
by George Buchanan

  • Paperback: 205 Pages; Dimensions (in inches): 7.35 x 9.75
  • Publisher: Sterling Publications; ISBN: 0806974648; (November 1990) 
  • Buy from:

Circuit-Bending : Build Your Own Alien Instruments (ExtremeTech)
by Reed Ghazala

  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (August 22, 2005)
  • ISBN: 0764588877

Making Early Stringed Instruments
by R. Zachary Taylor

  • Out of print. Used copies may be available.
  • Paperback:  111 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 9 x 12
  • Publisher: Bold Strummer Ltd; ISBN: 0854420517; reprint edition (June 1991)
  • Buy from:

Making Musical Instruments
by Irving Sloane

  • Out of print. Used copies may be available.
  • Paperback: 
  • Publisher: Bold Strummer Ltd; ISBN: 0933224605; (January 1992) 
  • Buy from: 

Great Folk Instruments to Make & Play
by Dennis Waring

  • Paperback: 128 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.47 x 10.02 x 8.52
  • Publisher: Sterling Publications; ISBN: 1895569435; (October 1999) 
  • Buy from:

Cool Cardboard Instruments to Make & Play
by Dennis Waring

Hardcover: 80 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.46 x 10.32 x 8.80 
Publisher: Tamos Books Inc; ISBN: 1895569621; (November 1, 2000) 

Buy from:

Making Musical Instruments by Hand
by Jay Havighurst 

  • Paperback: 108 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.32 x 9.25 x 9.21
  • Publisher: Rockport Publishers; ISBN: 1564963527; (December 1998) 
  • Buy from:

The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker
by Trevor Robinson

  • Paperback: 116 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.40 x 10.04 x 7.02
  • Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press; ISBN: 0870233122; Revised edition (March 1981) 
  • Buy from:

Sound Designs: A Handbook of Musical Instrument Building
by Reinhold Banek, Jon Scoville

  • This little book launched a lot of people on the road to experimental instrument building. Has a backyard approach to making real instruments. A classic.
  • Paperback: Currently out of print. Used  copies may be available.
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; ISBN: 0898157757; Reprint edition (November 1995) 
  • Buy from:

Guitarmaking : Tradition and Technology: A Complete Reference for the Design & Construction of the Steel-String Folk Guitar & the Classical Guitar
by William R. Cumpiano

  • Paperback: 388 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.00 x 10.73 x 8.28
  • Publisher: Music Sales Corp; ISBN: 0811806405; (March 1994) 
  • Buy from:

Useful Measurements for Violin Makers
by Henry A. Strobel

A useful reference of standard dimensions for all violin-family instruments.

  • Paperback: 46 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.25 x 11.25 x 8.75
  • Henry Strobel, Violin Maker and Publisher; 5th edition (July 1989); ISBN: 0962067326

Acoustics, Musical Physics

The Physics of Musical Instruments
by Neville H. Fletcher, Thomas D. Rossing

  • Hardcover: 756 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.63 x 9.57 x 6.35
  • Publisher: Springer Verlag; ISBN: 0387983740; 2nd edition (August 1998)
  • Buy from:

Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics by Arthur H. Benade

  • Paperback: 608 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.19 x 9.26 x 6.13
  • Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 048626484X; reprint edition (December 1990)
  • Buy from:

Music, Physics and Engineering by Harry Ferdinand Olson

  • Paperback: 460 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.91 x 8.42 x 5.35 
  • Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486217698; (June 1966) 
  • Buy from:

On the Sensations of Tone by Herman Helmholtz, et al

  • Paperback: 576 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.14 x 9.21 x 6.13
  • Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486607534; (December 1954) 
  • Buy from:

The Physics and Psychophysics of Music: An Introduction
by Juan G. Roederer

  • Paperback: Dimensions (in inches): 0.52 x 9.23 x 6.12 
  • Publisher: Springer Verlag; ISBN: 0387943668; 3rd edition (January 1995)
  • Buy from:

Science and Music by Sir James Hopwood Jeans

  • A classic in the physics of music. 
  • Paperback: 273 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.60 x 8.38 x 5.32 
  • Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486619648; (December 1968) 
  • Buy from:

Resources for Collectors

Musical Instrument Auction Price Guide: 2002 (Serial)

  • NOTE: As far as we are able to determine, 2002 is the latest (presumably last) edition of the Guide
  • Paperback: 250 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.55 x 9.00 x 6.04 
  • Publisher: String Letter Publishing; ISBN: 189049058X; (March 2002) 
  • Buy from:

The Care of Historic Musical Instruments

Provides thorough and expert guidance on the care of historic musical instrument collections, ethics and the use of instruments, materials, basic conservation treatments, maintenance strategies, and documentation. Written by seven international specialists in the care and preservation of musical instruments. A bibliography and resources list are also included.

  • 15.5 x 24.75 cm (6.125 x 9.75), paperback, 145 pp., illustrated

Available only from the Canadian Conservation Institute

Caring for Your Family Treasures:  
Heritage Preservation

  • A team of top professionals, assembled by the nonprofit group Heritage Preservation, provide practical advice and easy-to-use guidelines on preserving all kinds of objects, including musical instruments. 
  • Paperback: 162 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.53 x 9.03 x 7.79
  • Publisher: Harry N Abrams; ISBN: 0810929090; (September 1, 2000) 
  • Buy from:

Caring for Your Collections
by Arthur W. Schultz (Editor)

  • Esteemed conservation professionals share their expertise about caring for art and objects, concentrating on preventive maintenance, how to watch for damage, and when and how to obtain the help of a professional conservator when damage does occur. 
  • Hardcover: 216 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.99 x 11.28 x 8.92 
  • Publisher: Harry N Abrams; ISBN: 0810931745; (April 1992)
  • Buy from:
CAVEAT: The materials listed here can be purchased by following the links to, and other online vendors. Oriscus receives a small portion of your purchase price on some items to help support this website, but you are charged only the normal prices the vendor would charge if you went there directly. We are not responsible for any problems you may encounter with or any other site linked from this domain. Before doing business with or any other online entity, you should read and understand their user agreements and privacy policies.


Created on: June 7, 2002
Last updated: July 16, 2010