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Recommended Reference Books

The Music Library

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.

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General Reference (Dictionaries, encyclopedias)

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

Most illustrations in this encyclopedia are nicely hand drawn in color. Also includes a number of photographs of people playing the instruments. Organized by geography, with European instruments further arranged by major eras (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, etc.). The accompanying text is spare, but clear.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.99 x 11.19 x 8.41
  • Publisher: Konemann; ISBN: 3829060793; (January 2001)
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Musical Instruments of the World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia
by Diagram Group Editors

Another encyclopedia of world instruments, arranged by Sachs-Hornbostel classification, plus sections on ancient, mechanical and ethnic instruments, and ensembles. A very useful pictorial reference with all illustrations in well-executed line art drawings. This book is in and out of print.

  • 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) 
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European and American Musical Instruments
by Anthony Baines

An outstanding encyclopedic photographic (b&w) reference by one of the great organologists. The concise text is highly informative and often includes typical tunings and pitch ranges. Originally published in 1966, it has long been out of print, but used copies in good condition do show up fairly often.

  • 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: European and American Musical Instruments 

The Oxford Companion to Musical Instruments
by Anthony Baines

A useful encyclopedic dictionary of instruments in alphabetical order. While it includes coverage of ethnic instruments, photos, drawings, musical examples, etc., articles are uneven and more or less Eurocentric. While we recommend this as a good basic reference, it seems overpriced at retail. There are second hand copies usually available.

  • 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)

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)

The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments

If you think $1700 is not too much to spend on a musical instrument dictionary, then by all means go for it. The Dictionary is an astounding monument of modern scholarship. Not merely extracted from the larger New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, this dictionary is significantly more comprehensive and in-depth. If you're luck, your local library has this.

  • 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.
  • Hardcover:  3 volumes
  • Publisher: Oxford (1984, out of print); ISBN: 0333378784

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

A really handy little technical reference aimed at school music directors, but useful to anyone interested in standard musical instruments. It describes the technical details of each instrument with diagrams, part names, basic technique, etc. Covers only standard band and orchestra instruments.

  • Paperback: 134 pages
  • Publisher: Ardsley Musical Instrument Services, Ltd.; ISBN: 0945864493; (September 1992)

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) 
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Pierce Piano Atlas

Includes serial number lists for many manufacturers.

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Larry E. Ashley; 11th edition (August 2003)
  • ISBN: 0911138048

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) 
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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) 
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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) 
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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)
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Making Musical Instruments
by Irving Sloane

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

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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) 
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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) 
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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) 
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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) 
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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)
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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)
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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) 
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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) 
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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)
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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) 
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Resources for Collectors

Musical Instrument Auction Price Guide: 2002 (Serial)

  • NOTE: As far as we are able to determine, 2002 is the latest edition of the Guide (as of May 2004)
  • Paperback: 250 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.55 x 9.00 x 6.04 
  • Publisher: String Letter Publishing; ISBN: 189049058X; (March 2002) 
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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) 
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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)
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