instruments with names

Autumn (Fómhar)

My octave mandolin–who, like her smaller sister Summer, demanded to be named in Gaelic, and it seemed appropriate to call her Autumn as a general use-name when I don’t feel like being Gaelic about it. Autumn might be very easily mistaken for a bouzouki, as the line between octave mands and bouzoukis is very blurry indeed, but unlike several zouks of my acquaintance she does not have octave stringing on her lower courses. She was, at any rate, made by Trinity College–and I own her because of the good fortune of discovering that a bunch of paperback books I decided to sell to a friend for the used bookstore she has opened were valuable! So I often tell people that Autumn is sponsored by Bothell Books–even though my friend had to close that store of hers.


Chirp is a Sweetheart Renaissance fife made in applewood, picked up from Dusty Strings at the tail end of 2011 along with Norouet! Chirp’s in D and I whip him out for playing some of the lighter, jauntier tunes at session.


Fidlet is my newest non-winds instrument: a 3/4-sized fiddle sold to me by Kenmore Violins. This is the instrument I’m taking lessons on, and it’s a pretty decent student-grade violin!


My tiniest Romy Benton bamboo flute, an itty bitty thing in E flat major. Romy told me at the time he’d done it as sort of a knockoff piece to use up a tiny bit of leftover bamboo, as I recall.


The newest of my Romy Benton bamboo flutes, in D minor. My friend Cyn claims that Flame is the male mate of Jade; me, I know that Flame has a rougher sort of voice than Jade, so she might be right.

General Taylor

The General is my second and most bad-assed guitar, a Taylor 210, purchased for a Solstice present in December of 2010 thanks to a surprise bonus at work! I love Ragamuffin to bits, but I felt ready for a more serious instrument–and the General is that in spades. It’s really kind of amazing how much more of a voice he’s got on him, enough that when I got him into the house, Dara kept miming her bouzouki Kohaku going “GRR”. Muahaha.

This guitar is, of course, named for “General Taylor”, one of my all-time favorite Great Big Sea songs. I got the name from Paul, and despite the fact that the song actually has no instrumental accompaniment, it seemed pretty much obligatory. (Especially given that Paul also has guitars called The Colonel and Captain Jack. The guitars in our household are surprisingly military!)


One of my early attempts at making a bamboo flute myself, Hwesta is an A major flute and was named for the Tolkien Quenya letter of the same name, which translates to ‘breeze’.


The best of my Romy Benton bamboo flutes, a lovely lady in E minor who has a finish like glass, an ebony mouthpiece, and a green color that has turned dappled and muted with time.


Norouet is my most recent wooden flute, a Casey Burns Folk Flute made out of mopane wood, in D. I got this one because I wanted a Real Irish Flute(TM), and the irony of a flute made out of an African hardwood demanding a French name of me does not elude me! (“Norouet” is Quebecois slang for a northwesterly gale, and not at all coincidentally, the name of one of the bands of one of my favorite Quebecois musicians!)

This flute has been superseded at sessions by my carbon fiber winds. But I still like to play her for gentler tunes like “Foggy Dew” or “Da Slockit Light” or “Si Bheag Si Mhor”.


Rags is my first guitar–an instrument which came to my home courtesy of my aforementioned friend Cyn, who took it in from a coworker who wanted to get rid of it. It was in pitiful condition, because it had been rated for nylon or gut strings and someone had put metal strings on it, and that had caused the bridge to be ripped right off the body and busted into four pieces. We were all fairly sure it was a poor guitar to begin with, but after my mate went to work on it, restoring its bridge into one piece and reattaching it, it cleaned up not too badly at all. Ragamuffin seemed like a most appropriate name, as it’s a small student model guitar and the smallest guitar in the house, and sort of the urchin cousin of all the rest of them. Rags was made by a company called Harmony U.S.A.–who went out of business some time ago, but who had their wares described as “the best you could buy for the money you would spend!”


Rossignolet is an A flute in carbon fiber, made by Carbony Celtic Winds, and I bought it at Folklife in 2013! This flute’s named after one of my favorite Le Vent du Nord songs, and it’s got an amazing little voice. It’s become one of my secondary session flute, for whenever the session kicks over into A or B minor–for things I can’t easily play on my D flutes and whistles.


A Romy bamboo flute in A minor–and a good backpack flute.


My piccolo, and my usual instrument of the flute family when I’m jamming (as opposed to playing in actual session). I’ve had this piccolo since I was in middle school, but only when I started playing music again in 2001 did it finally pick up a name–more or less due to the Great Big Sea song “Everything Shines”. I note that Shine’s actual full name is “Shine the Window-Shatterer”, also partially due to Great Big Sea, and in particular due to the difficulty of hitting high G on a piccolo when you’re trying to play “Salmon Tails Up The Water”.

(The rest of that name is from my Tolkien geekery. Thorin had Orcrist the Goblin-Cleaver. Gandalf had Glamdring the Foe-hammer. I have Shine the Window-Shatterer!)

Shine’s case says “Armstrong” on the side.

I used Shine as a session instrument prior to getting Norouet. I don’t typically bring Shine to a session, but will often still default to playing it when I’m at home practicing and trying to figure out a tune.


Probably not the most creative name in the world for your basic ‘anybody can play one of these in school band’ concert C flute–but well hey, the name appears to have stuck. Its case says Artley on the side.


The one bamboo flute I own made by a gentleman named Peter Ross, and the only flute I have in E major.


Another of my Romys, this bamboo flute is in G major and was named for the two birds burned into the side.

Spring (Earrach)

My bouzouki! Spring was given me by joint gift of my partner Dara and our housemate Paul, and fulfilled my longstanding desire to own a zouk–a desire I’d nursed ever since I fell in love with Great Big Sea. Plus, I just love the word ‘bouzouki’. It sounds like something you scare out of somebody, or something you shout when you’re jumping off a cliff.

Spring is named in keeping with the seasonal theme for my mandolin-like instruments and was made by the Olympia Dulcimer Company, home of the Walkabout Dulcimer.

Summer (Samhradh)

My former mandolin, my little baby with strings, who demanded to be named in Gaelic! But Summer is her general use-name, because that’s rather easier to pronounce than Samhradh. She was made by the Mid-Missouri Mandolin Company.

I gave Summer to Dara, once I took harder to the guitar and the bouzouki than I did to the mandolin.

Tableleg (Yrchannon)

Tableleg was the very first bamboo flute I ever owned, and was given me by my former housemate Vicka Corey–which is why he also is named Yrchannon, which is a rough mutation from Tolkien’s Quenya and Sindarin Elvish dialects into something that means, at least, in my head, “orc’s gift”. Tableleg’s usual name, though, was because of being made from such a thick piece of bamboo, and he’s a D major instrument.


My latest guitar, bought in Victoria BC, is a tiny little Cort, a 3/4 size mini Dreadnought, with a surprisingly good voice for his size. Got him because of that size, which I’m hoping will make him a very good travel guitar. He’s named Ti-Jéan after Réjean Brunet of Le Vent du Nord!


My second attempt at making a bamboo flute in A major; this one’s name doesn’t mean anything in particular, but it just seemed like the thing to name her at the time. Someday maybe I’ll figure out what ‘Yarinnae’ actually means; for now, at least, I’m fairly sure it’s pronounced “yar-ih-nay-uh”.

additional carbon fiber winds

I’ve racked up a collection of winds from Carbony Celtic, as it happens. In addition to Rossignolet, I also have:

  • A big flute in low D
  • A small piccolo-sized flute in high D
  • A flute in G
  • A whistle in D
  • A whistle in C, purchased entirely because André Brunet wrote a tune in C that I wanted to learn, and have you ever tried to play a tune in C on a D whistle or flute? 😉

These, along with Rossignolet, are the majority of my current Bundle o’ Flutes that I like to bring to sessions or to music workshops. I am aware carbon fiber is not exactly a traditional material for instruments, but I’m tellin’ ya, when I’m on, the sound carries very nicely in a room full of fiddle players.

This pic is of the Bundle o’ Flutes, along with the blackwood whistle I talk about below!

blackwood whistle

One more wind goes into the Bundle o’ Flutes: a lovely Blackwoood Whistle I also picked up at Dusty Strings. (I wasn’t even there for a whistle, but picked up this one to noodle around with it, and it immediately said YOU’RE TAKING ME HOME. Dusty Strings is dangerous, you guys!)

This whistle is my favorite of the whistles I have now, and it’s got surprising clarity and depth for a whistle its size. It also carries itself nicely in a room full of fiddle players.

other instruments without names

In addition to the horde listed up above, I also have:

  • A cittern, which is basically a lot like a bouzouki only it has five courses instead of four. I babysat this instrument on behalf of friend and former housemate Ellen for the longest time, until I finally just bought it from her. I have yet to master playing it, though.
  • Two more small bamboos I made which weren’t done very well, but which I’ve never had the heart to get rid of.
  • A small pentatonic double whistle–drone on the left, fingerholes on the right. I picked it up on my very first visit to Portland, a long time ago, in their Saturday market. It’s not tuned very well, but as near as I can tell, it’s roughly in the key of B flat.
  • A tiny one-octave ocarina, which I like to wear on its cord around my neck; it’s a fun conversation piece (people constantly ask me ‘what IS that?’) as well as a fun way to entertain small children who think it’s incredibly cool that something you put in your mouth makes noises. It’s roughly in the key of C, and made by a company calling themselves Songstone Studios.
  • A (broken) shakuhachi I picked up at a yard sale once, and never have managed to figure out how to play.
  • A lovely little crystal piccolo in C, made by a company called Hall Flutes.
  • An ocarina app on my iPhone, Mnemosyne! Yes, I know, the iPhone is not a musical instrument, but this app turns it into one–you can blow in the mike and tap on the screen to simulate tapping holes, and it actually works, so it damn well counts!
  • A blue tin whistle in C bought in Victoria because I didn’t have a whistle yet!

and if you think that’s a lot of instruments…

… my house as a whole owns 69! Here is the full list in all its glory.