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A Player's Guide to Musical Instrument Alterations

This document outlines the musical instrument alteration guidelines for Gemstone IV. It is offered in the hope that it will be useful for players planning musical alterations.

A few short, IMPORTANT rules:

The noun of an instrument can never change. A tambourine cannot become a drum, a tabla or a tabor. A tambourine is always a tambourine.

Musical instruments can never be altered to be worn. In some instances special straps, sold by merchants, can be added to an instrument to be made wearable, but a merchant cannot change an instrument so you can sling it over your shoulder.

Some adjectives change the entire nature of an instrument. A “concert harp” is large, cannot be easily carried, and has foot pedals; it is not readily portable. Uillean bagpipes are not constructed like our highland-based pipes. The messaging associated with them would not make sense transferred to Uillean pipes. The same applies to panpipe flutes. A GM must refuse to add any wording to an instrument that will make the instrument inconsistent with the messaging.

Materials must make sense. Strings must be gut or metal, most instruments are made of wood. Exceptions are noted below. In some instances, merchants will deem a magical wood too rare or its properties too dangerous to allow it to be made into a musical instrument.

Ornamentation must be logical. Detailed paintings and elaborately fine ornamentation should be put in a shown description. Ask yourself if someone could notice what you are describing in a room with poor lighting in the middle of a battle.

Following is a short physical description of each instrument as it exists in Elanthia.

Necked String Instruments Stringed Instruments
Horns Harps
Percussion Woodwinds


Elanthian horns cover two distinct classes of instruments: double-reeds (crumhorns and shawms) and aerophones (cornetts and lysards). They are made of wood. The wood of the horn may very authentically be covered with leathers, hides and skins. Rings, geometric patterns, tassels and streamers, simple inlays, paint, lacquer, filigree or carved work that suits the elongated, tube-like nature of the instrument and miniature work is fine. There is no room on these instruments for large-scale painting.


The Crumhorn is a capped double REED instrument. The player causes the reed to vibrate by blowing into the top of the CAP. Caps may be metal, ivory or bone. Notes are formed by use of six FINGER HOLES.

The instrument is made by steaming a wooden tube and bending it into a "J" shape (think of a large umbrella handle). The reed goes into the top of the "J", finger holes are drilled along the length of the tube so the musician can form various notes. The end of the instrument may have a slight outward flare, but does not have a shawm-like bell.

SHAWM The shawm, like the crumhorn, is a double reed instrument. Unlike the crumhorn, the reed on the shawm is placed directly in the musician's mouth. The body of the crumhorn is made from a single piece of wood, ivory or bone. It is straight and contains finger holes. The instrument terminates in a BELL. These instruments are approximately the size of a clarinet, or slightly larger.
CORNETT The body of the cornett (named from the Latin for "little horn" it is said to have been originally made from a cow's horn) is a made from a single piece of wood, ivory or horn. It was frequently covered with leather, hide or skin to reinforce any weak places in the wood. The instrument has a cupped, trumpet-like, MOUTHPIECE made of wood, bone, ivory or metal. The body of the instrument may be straight or curved. The cornett flares out slightly before terminating, but does not possess a true bell. It has six finger holes on the top of the body and one for the thumb underneath.
LYSARD The lysard is a larger sibling to the cornett. Its elongated S shape enables it to be longer in length and deeper in tone, but still compact enough to be carried.

The enshai is an aerophonic instrument which is thought to bring good luck, and as a result, it is widely used by Erithians during wedding ceremonies and festive occasions.

The enshai employs two sets of double reeds, making it a quadruple reed woodwind. By controlling the breath, one can play various tunes on it. The term "quadruple reed" comes from the fact that there are four pieces of dried palm leaf vibrating against each other, in pairs.

The enshai is created from a wooden tube that gradually widens towards the lower end. It usually has eight holes. The instrument is made of wood, and it has a brass or copper bell fixed to the end and tied together internally with string. The length of the instrument is one and a half to two feet.

The reed mounts in the mouth piece, the upper end, on the outside.

This instrument has a sealed air chamber. When playing, the lips are placedon the upper end of the mouthpiece, which places the reed inside the mouth.The mouth is now part of the instrument and acts as an air chamber. Prior to playing, the reed must be soaked to soften it. The fingers of the right hand cover the four bottom holes. The fingers of the left hand play the upper four holes. Some players adjust the instrument's sound by partially or completely filling some holes with wax.

The enshai is a very sensitive instrument, and it requires a great deal of skill on a musician's part. It is actually the way in which the lips and tongue play upon the reed mouthpiece and the manner in which the holes are opened and closed with the fingers that render the semitones and quarter tones effectively and attractively. The enshai is considered one of the most difficult instruments to play.

The body of the enshai is always made of a dark hard wood, most commonly ebonwood, rosewood, black ash, and black willow. The bell is always made of either brass or copper. As the enshai is most commonly used during festive occasions and weddings, it is often highly decorated. The bells are often etched and polished, while the wood of the body is often carved and adorned with jewels.


The following instruments are part of the NECKED STRING Family. They contain the same elements as a modern guitar. Specific instruments carry specific requirements; please look at these when planning alterations.

All of the instruments in this family may be played with Picks, or Plectrums, in the opposite hand.

The Parts of a Generic Neck Stringed Instrument:

The hollow box over which the strings are stretched is referred to as the BODY of the instrument. The body consists of the wooden SOUNDBOX [the back and sides] and the wooden SOUNDBOARD, the part of the instrument facing away from the musician containing the SOUNDHOLE. Alternate names for the Soundboard are Face and Belly.

The STRINGS on these instruments are counted in COURSES. A course can be a single string, or, more normally a group of two or three. Instruments rarely had more than one single string course. Thus an 8 course instrument would have 16 to 25 strings. Strings are attached to the BRIDGE [wood, bone, ivory, metals] of the instrument below the soundhole. Strings progress from the bridge, crossing the soundhole and rise over the NECK, which in some instruments contains FRETS, arriving at the HEAD or PEGBOX [wood] of the instrument where there are TUNING PEGS.

The neck is appropriate for FRETS [wood, bone, metal gut or shapeable minerals (onyx, lapis or nacre, not diamonds or emeralds)]. Necks are made of wood and may have wood, bone and ivory veneers and inlays of wood, bone, ivory and gems.

The head is an excellent place for carving as long as there is room for the PEGS [wood, bone, ivory, metals].


The ayr is a small, pear-shaped, stringed instrument. Unlike many other plucked stringed instruments, it does not have a fretted neck.

The ayr features a pear-shaped sound box, a peg box which is bent back at a 45-90 degree angle from the neck, five pairs of strings which are paired in courses of two (except the lowest string which is usually just a single string), a shorter neck, at least one sound hole, a bridge, and keys for tuning the strings.

Each pair of strings is tuned by the same key, creating a distinctive sound. The pairs of strings are tuned in unison, like the pairs of strings on a mandolin. The bridge and the strings are attached to the instrument in a similar fashion to the classical guitar, i.e. knotted at the bridge.

The strings of the ayr are always made of gut and the bridge and neck of the instrument are often inlaid with small pieces of ivory or bone. Otherwise, the ayr is usually void of ornamentation or decoration. The ayr is never to be painted, carved or the wood otherwise disturbed for fear of changing the faint, haunting sound it produces.

The ayr is famous for its easy improvisation, unlike other instruments which either require accompaniment or are too complex to play.


The strings are always metal with six to eighteen strings [three to six double or triple courses]. The neck of a cittern may be longer than the body of the instrument, but not greatly. It is always fretted. The pegbox or head may be bent back, relative to the neck, but the angle is slight, especially when compared to the lute. A cittern always has a flat back and soundboard and a slightly elliptical or pear-shaped silhouette.


A lute always has a round soundbox and a flat soundboard. The shape of the body of the lute is like a teardrop or pearl or pear cut in half. The curved nature of the soundbox means that the lute does not contain defined "sides". The soundbox is made by bent narrow strips of wood, bone or ivory. These bent strips are called RIBS and multiple types of material are often used for elaborate effects. These ribs are wide at the bottom of the lute's body and taper to points, joining behind the neck of the lute. The soundhole of a lute is frequently carved in an elaborate, decorative grid and is called the ROSE. The NECK of the instrument is shorter than the body of the instrument and fretted.

Strings – six to ten courses, sometimes with a single string course at the highest note. A lute will usually have 11 to 20 strings. A lute should usually have gut strings. Metal strings are rare, but possible.

The PEG BOX is bent AWAY from the neck of the instrument at an angle often approaching 90 degrees.

MANDOLIN A mandolin is A SMALL LUTE with 4 to 6 courses of gut strings (7 - 12 strings). Its peg box, though bent backwards, does not have as extreme an angle relative to the neck as a lute. A 20 - 60 degree angle (rather than approaching 90 degrees) is the norm. In other respects the mandolin is a small lute.

The theorbo is unlike the other stringed instruments in Elanthia. It is a large archlute. It has a long neck and many strings. The easiest way to picture a theorbo is to imagine a lute with a pegbox that does not bend back, but is on the same plane of the neck, much as a modern guitar.

This pegbox is home to standard lute strings and pegs. A second neck is carved with its beginning at the top of the first pegbox. At the top if this added neck is a second pegbox, offset, for a second group of 6 to 9 strings. Because these additional strings are longer than the set entering the lower pegbox, this second set of strings play bass. They do not travel over the soundhold, or neck of the instrument. Instead they rise from the bridge and run parallel to the neck. These free-hanging, unstopped strings are played with an open tuning, and are called DIAPASONS. A theorbo may have up to 40 strings.

A modified lute, the theorbo is identical in constructions as far as the body, neck material and ornamentation and soundhole.


A tambourine consists of a wooden HOOP or SHELL covered with a skin or hide HEAD. Metal JINGLES are inset into the sides of the shell.
Paint shell and head liberally. Hoop decorated as any wood, jingles of any allowed metal with decorations fitting to their smallish nature. Streamers, ribbons, tassels or other dangly ornaments may be attached to the instrument.


Cymbals are small and metal, with a leather, cord or fabric loop attaching them. General rules for metals and leather/fabric apply. Remember it's a small instrument. You can't engrave the pictorial history of the Elven Empire on them.


The bagpipe is played by blowing air into the BLOWSTICK or BLOWPIPE where it fills a BAG made from leather or hide. Please note the bag can be covered with fabric and so may appear plaid, canvas, etc.

The CHANTER is placed at the front of the bagpipe, and is the pipe with finger holes that allow the musician to form notes. The blowpipe is directly behind the chanter in the array of pipes.

Behind the CHANTER are the DRONES. Most pipes have a minimum of one drone. Three drones on a pipe are not uncommon. The Chanter and drones have reeds at their ends. The air forced through the blowpipe, into the bag, up the drones or chanter and through the reeds is what gives a bagpipe that buzzing sound. All of these parts are referred to as the PIPES and are attached to the bag with STOCKS made from wood.

Bag - Hide or skin, may be fabric covered to become plaid; must be soft.

Pipes - Wood, bone, ivory, may carve, paint or decorate with rings; must be hard and shapeable.

Tassels, Streamers, Feathers, amulets, etc, may be hung from pipes.


All of the instruments in this family may be played picks and plectrums.


This is the family name for all instruments which have STRINGS set across a wooden box. This box may also be called a SOUNDBOARD and is suitable for paint, stain, and inlays of gems, bone, wood or metal and filigree. The carving on the margins of the soundboard can be quite elaborate. The body of the instrument, logically, is square or rectangular. It is a fairly large surface and can support elaborate paintings.

The strings are set at one side of the soundboard with PINS [metal, bone, ivory, horn], stretch over the soundboard, which may include a soundhole, and are fastened to TUNING PEGS. .
Some zithers are fretted. The FRETS appear perpendicular to the strings along the side of the instrument.

PSALTERY A psaltery is NEVER fretted. A psaltery consists of a raised wooden board or box with a soundhole. Strings are stretched parallel to the soundboard and attached at either side by pegs or metal pins. Aside from the 100% prohibition on frets, it may be treated as a zither.
DULCIMER Dulcimers in Elanthia are not hammered dulcimers, which must be placed on a stand and struck with mallets, but rather the "mountain" dulcimer which is plucked. This instrument evolved from the northern European scheitholt. The soundbox of a large dulcimer is typically narrow and hourglass-shaped; smaller dulcimers may have only one bulge, producing an elongated teardrop-shape. The four strings of a dulcimer run close together on a raised FINGERBOARD (aka FRETBOARD) with FRETS running perpendicular to the strings. The strings are tuned with four TUNING PEGS mounted in a SCROLL, similar to a modern violin’s. There are typically one or two pairs of SOUNDHOLES or TONEHOLES on either side of the strings. Dulcimers are always fretted.

One way to envision a lyre is as a zither with a harp stacked on top of it.

The base of the lyre is known as the SOUNDBOX. It is always made from a resonating, hollow material, traditionally wood or a turtle shell. The soundbox of the lyre is never to be made from metal, glass, crystal or stone. If the base of the lyre is made of wood it may be flat-backed like a zither or arched like the back of a lute. The face of the instrument must always be flat. The soundbox may be painted, inlaid with decorative material, and generally embellished in the ways permissible to the soundboxes of lutes and zithers. Soundboxes may possess SOUNDHOLES.

At the top, two ARMS rise from opposite sides of the soundbox, perpendicular to the base of the instrument. These arms are always made from a strong, rigid material - wood, bone, horn, and metals should all be permitted. The arms may be carved, asymmetrically proportioned, wrapped with other material, etc.

The entire purpose of the arms is to supply a support for the YOLK. The yolk lies across the top of the arms, parallel to the base of the instrument. (Obviously if the arms are different lengths, i.e. asymmetrical, the yolk will be at an angle to the base, but still roughly parallel.) The yolk must be made from a strong and rigid material to support the tension from the strings.

The STRINGS, made of metal or gut, are wrapped around the yolk of the instrument and descend between the arms and across the face of the soundbox to the base of the instrument where they are fastened by PEGS or PINS. The pegs/pins may be made of bone, shell, horn or metal. Strings are never made of crystal, glass, emerald, diamond-dust, etc. A simple lyre may have only three strings; a normal, professional quality lyre would possess twelve strings. The soundbox of a lyre may have a BRIDGE, made out of bone, horn, metal or shell, near the pegs/pins to provide proper placement of the strings as they begin their rise across the face of the instrument.


Harps are always made of wood. The parts of a harp are consistent, though the size of the instrument may vary. The major support of the harp is the PILLAR or COLUMN. This pillar is vertical part of the instrument which supports the rest. The Pillar or column is an excellent place for carving, medallions, paint, inlays, etc. A decorative cap may be placed upon the pillar, if desired, this is called a CAP. The bottom of the pillar is called the FOOT.

The piece of the harp that moves, in a graceful curve, from the top of the pillar to the player's shoulder, is called the NECK. The top line of the neck is an excellent place for elaborate carving. The STRINGS are attached to TUNING PINS, which are found along the length of the neck. Strings may be made of GUT or METAL, but as a side note, Scottish and Irish harps had strings made from brass wire, not gut. Tuning Pins are made of bone, metal, ivory or other hard, carvable material.

The point where the neck curves and rests against the player's shoulder is called the SHOULDER, KNEE or KNEE BLOCK. This is simply the small curve that allows the harp to make the transition from the neck to the BODY or SOUND BOARD.

The Body or Soundboard of the harp begins at the shoulder and proceeds downwards away from the musician to the bottom (FOOT) of the pillar.

Pedals are for concert later period concert harps and, since our harp messages do not make any mention of them, should be avoided. Harps must be described as small enough to be held and played simultaneously.


When planning your alterations, please remember these are small instruments.


The flute should be made of wood, metal, bone or ivory. Crystal and glass are Not Allowed. The flute is played by blowing, sideways, into the MOUTH HOLE or EMBOUCHURE found in the HEAD of the flute. The BODY of the flute contains finger holes. As early as 1430 a single KEY appeared in the foot of the flute. Flutes were generally constructed from a single piece of wood, bone or metal before the 1600's when flutes with three joints and three keys became popular. An Elanthian flute should not have more than three keys and three joints.

PICCOLO The piccolo is a small flute. Not much difference between early piccolos and early fifes.
FIFE A small flute. It has six finger holes with a cork or plug in the head above the embouchure.


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