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date: 16 October 2019


  • Robert E. Eliason


The development of musical instruments in the United States through the early 20th century to a large degree reflected the history of European musical instruments. From that time and increasingly since the end of World War II, American practices in the design and manufacture of musical instruments can be said to have led, as much as followed, European practices. By the late 20th century, many American and European manufacturers had become subsidiaries of large international corporations and had moved their manufacturing operations to Japan, China, and Korea. The present article outlines the beginnings of musical instrument industries in the United States, their evolution, and their more important contributions. Within the chronological ordering—generally by 30-year periods—instruments are discussed broadly in the following groups: woodwinds, brass, percussion, bowed strings, plucked or hammered strings, keyboard strings, organs (pipe and reed), and automatic, electronic, and miscellaneous instruments.

The musical instruments of the early settlers in America were either brought with them or subsequently imported from the colonizing countries. Although some of the early explorers and traders came from Spain and France, the strongest cultural influences on what is now the United States were English and German. During the colonial period a wide variety of instruments were used in churches, theaters, and homes, as well as outdoors, for worship, amusement, dancing, or military purposes. The violin, flute, hautboy (oboe), recorders, viols, lute, guitar, cittern, dulcimer, virginal, and spinet were familiar instruments in wealthy and middle-class urban homes. Fifes, trumpets, bugles, horns, trombones, and drums were common outdoors and in concerts and theatrical events. Most concerts consisted of instrumental and vocal solos, duets, and chamber music, with one or two selections combining the evening’s instrumental resources. A ball often followed. The most popular form of classical music during the 50 years before the Revolution was that from theater productions of English ballad operas. Williamsburg, Virginia, had a theater by ...

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Galpin Society Journal
Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society