Unusual British folk instruments

By | April 4, 2021

Folk music in the British Isles – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – has a deep and rich history. Folk music is by definition passed between generations as an oral tradition and is rarely written down. British folk music has survived in some of its oldest forms until the beginning of the 21st century. A variety of unusual folk instruments have been used to make this music over the years. Some of these instruments are still popular today, while others have fallen into obscurity.


Crwth (pronounced to rhyme with ‘truth’) is a curved instrument with a violin screw attached to a box-shaped body. Originally in Wales, crwth has six gut strings that extend over an insecure fingerboard and traditionally fitted pairs of upper and lower octaves on notes G, C and D. Crwth was once popular throughout Europe but is now relatively rare and only played by folk instrument specialists.


Bones are a folk instrument made of chorubs that are held and rattled in the hand. This technique is similar to that used in the American tradition of ‘playing the spoons’ by rattling a couple of spoons together. Bones are traditional in both the UK and Ireland, and can consist of animal bones or an alternative material – such as wood – that emulates the bone’s complaining sound. When animal bones are used, large ribs and the bones of the lower leg are considered to be the best sound.

English Guitar

The English guitar note was also known as a citrate, and it was an instrument in drawing in the 19th century. This small string instrument is similar in construction to the lute, although its straight sides and flat back are features shared with the guitar family. The English guitar has a curved fingerboard and metal blades that are played with the musician’s fingertips. Originating in England, the English guitar was popular elsewhere, such as France and Virginia, and was also made in countries other than England, according to the Monticello Explorer. The construction of the Portuguese guitar is almost identical to that of the English guitar.