collection history ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

guitars early
guitars modern
Europe West
Europe East
Europe South
Middle East
Central Asia
Far East
S.E. Asia
America N
America C
America S
This page is only for those of you interested
in my personal history of music and travelling


I am a Dutchman and live in a beautiful old town in the centre of the Netherlands.
My collection of plucked stringed instruments started already more than 40 years ago, when in 1966 (with my brother) I made a simple guitar out of wood and card board. A few months later I bought my first (cheap Spanish) guitar, and learned to play the instrument from a teach-yourself course.
A year later I started a group with some friends. This band, called SUNNY SIDE, lasted about 7 years. We played all kinds of music, but in the end mainly Country and Western. As I was the leadguitar player, and - for some reason - the others did not allow me to sing, I concentrated on the instruments.

To get a variety of different C&W sounds I started playing 5-string banjo, (lap) steel guitar, mandolin and in the end also pedal-steelguitar. As there was nobody around to teach me, I had to learn all these instruments from just a few books, but mainly from listening to records. With SUNNYSIDE we played quite regularly: about 30-40 times a year. Often as a band for dance music, but also a couple of times for live recordings for Dutch radio, usually with presentor Gerard de Vries in the "TrossCountryShow". Although we also recorded some songs in a studio, only a few were actually released. In 1972 we were invited for a TV show, which was recorded in the studio and broadcast a year later.

In 1976, after a break of a year (for me to go on an exciting world trip, from Europe up and down to Australia, both ways overland), I joined another Dutch group : COLT 45. They had just made a LP record and been on a tour to Nashville, USA.

I played with them until they gave up 2 years later. With them I mainly played the leadguitar and the pedalsteelguitar. COLT45 was voted 2nd best C&W band in Holland for several years. Quite often we played for live concerts on Dutch radio, and made several recordings, none of which was ever released. For a few months two sister singers joined us - after they left they became later known as duo "Maywood". After the breakup of the band I was sometimes invited to join some other group when they had some important show or radio recording. In 1978 I stopped altogether with playing in bands.

I started playing at home on my own again, mainly classical guitar music. Part of that is from the huge reservoir of lute music of the 16th and 17th century. That raised an interest in playing that kind of music on "authentic" instruments (from original tablature sheet music), and as you could not buy those in a normal music shop, I had some instruments custom built. Many came from makers in the UK.

Starting with a renaissance lute, then an orpharion, a liuto attiorbato, a vihuela, a baroque guitar, etc. When I joined the new Dutch Lute Society (Nederlandse Luitvereniging), I certainly was the only member who was also a member of the Dutch Pedalsteelguitar Association ! Many years later I had some more "old" instruments built for me in the Netherlands. Some were first designed by me in close colaboration with the maker, before they were actually built - like the chitarra battente and the citole.

Meanwhile from my worldwide (tourist) travels (now with my UK wife) I started bringing home small instruments, like charangos from Peru. Over the years the instruments became larger and we carried them home in ever greater numbers.
The main interest was plucked stringed instruments, like guitars and lutes (not really harps or zithers). Any special local instrument would be of interest. And not a fancy decorated one, but usually a cheap plain version, that would be in general use. Sometimes it was a problem to find the particular instrument from that region in the short shopping time available. So often the first thing on arrival was to start searching. This resulted in some instruments being bought only a couple of hours after landing; and that meant they had to travel all around the country with us. Fortunately we never damaged any instrument on our trips. Good hunts were Pakistan (see picture), Turkey, Peru, Mali and Indonesia.

On our travels I always carried a small (cassette) recorder with me. Originally intended to make recordings of music that we would encounter on the way. But besides many folk songs and instruments (on the picture a fiddle player in Tanzania), I also recorded many other very interesting sound samples.

Like the chanting of Buddhist monks in Tibet, the morning calls of the Indris (lemurs) in Madagascar, tree-frogs in Costa Rica, Gregorian songs in an Armenian church, mewing frogs in the Pantanal in Brazil, the echo of a single handclap inside the Taj Mahal (India), a similar echo inside the big mosque of Isfahan (Iran), howling lions in the Serengetti (Tanzania), markets in the Middle East, etc. And of course a huge variety of birdsongs - from buzzards and woodpeckers to toucans and macaws.
For the last couple of years with Internet (and specially with eBay), searching for new instruments is different, and in many ways certainly much easier. Although it means paying a lot for the shipping cost. However I found out that it is not really necessary to ship by expensive couriers like UPS or FedEx; the normal airmail postman is often just as good for a fraction of the price. It is quite fun finding a selling person halfway the globe and have a friendly contact with him/her via email to work out the details of the deal. And in the end to recieve big parcels from Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Borneo, China, Vietnam, Japan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Canada or USA. In fact my main supplier is a friendly guy in a shop in São Paulo in Brazil, who sold me five different instruments....

All instruments were put together in one room, almost all of them hanging side by side, with the face front, so you could have a proper look at them (I did not like the idea of a storage room). However, the open spaces between the instruments were becoming very small, so now I am using a second room, with special guitar racks to stand the guitars sideways - safe and compact, but unfortunately you can now only see the sides.
I do not use special temperature or moisturing devices, just keep the central heating down - which means the room is quite cold in winter. The only damage I have had in al those years is a broken skin of my shamisen (later repaired in Japan) and the front coming loose from my orpharion (I repaired it with advice from the maker). Both happened during hot dry summers, while we were on holiday.

The collection also includes any book I can find on the subject of guitars, banjos, ethnic instruments and music - no matter what language (although working out Chinese characters takes up lots of time...). I have now more than 500 books about musical instruments.
Of course I am also trying to have at least one music example of each instrument on numerous CD's, LP's, and cassettes. Keeping an eye open during my travels and nowadays checking out far away book- and music shops on Internet is a great help.

As the instrument collection is not intended for just the beauty of the woodwork (as are many museum collections) but to show playable musical instruments, I always try to find out the tuning and buy some sheetmusic with "how-to-play-it". Almost all instruments are in playing condition and I can let you hear more or less how they should sound.

As the Collection cannot be visited, I intent to use the collective gathered information of the Collection as basis for a book about all plucked stringed instruments of the world (like a bird-book) : with a picture and a description and some background information about playing techniques and type of music. But that book will have to wait a few more years until after I retire....

So for the time being here is this ATLAS website for you to use, for checking out some strange looking instruments.

I hope you enjoy it !

Henny de Bruin





Alright then, just a few travel pictures of your webmaster..... with another collection - of heads and hats !

(move your mouse over the picture to see place and year - this however does not work with all browsers)