Harry Partch is a huge figure in experimental music and instrument invention. He was a prolific instrument maker, building instruments to play his unique style of microtonal music. He is one of the most widely known experimental musical instrument builders.


Here is a breakdown of the major locations Partch lived and stayed while building his instruments.

1925 Los angels, Partch began making microtonal marked paper covers for violin and viola fingerboards and began drafting a new music theory in 1928.
1930 moved to New Orleans and burned all of his prior scores as part of his efforts to break from the European tradition. Built the Adapted Viola while in New Orleans in 1932.
1932 Moved back to Los Angeles, performed in San Francisco
1933 Traveled to to New York and received a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York to study in England
1934 Traveled England studying speech patterns, a copy of a Greek Kithara, ancient Greek music theory
1935 Returned to United States, lived as a Hobo intermittently for 9 years during the Great Depression.
1938 Partch is in Big Sur where he takes woodworking lessons and builds the first Kithara
1942 He is in Chicago, where he builds the first Chromelodeon
1943 Living on East Coast of US when he receives a Guggenheim grant
1944 Partch moved to the University Of Wisconsin where he put together his first ensemble, lectured and finished Genesis of Music in 1947
1949 Moved to Blue Mounds, Wisconsin and worked out of a converted forge at the Gunnar Johansen ranch where he composed and recorded works.
1951 Moved to Oakland and worked at Mills college
1953 Moved to Sausalito, California and founded his studio Gate 5 at an abandoned ship yard where he built more instruments and staged performances.
1957 University of Illinois, staged a number of large scale works and was in teaching staff.
1962 Moved to Petaluma, California and made a studio an an former chick hatchery
1964 Left Petaluma moved to various places
1965 Moved to Venice Beach, California at an abandoned laundromat at 1110 West Washington Blvd.
1967 Left Venice Beach moved to various places
1973 Moved to San Diego until his death in 1974


List of instruments on Wikipedia, which also features some great photos of each instrument 1)
I have presented Partch's instruments in chronological order in order to better understand the ways his ensemble and interests shifted over time.
There are multiple replica sets of the instruments needed to play various compositions by Partch. The original instruments are mostly located at Montclair State University 2). There is another set located in Los Angeles.

Adapted Viola, Adapted Guitar I, Adapted Guitar II, Adapted Guitar III

Adapted Viola (also called a Monophone) 1930-1933
Made from a cello neck attached to a viola and built by violin maker Edwin Bentin in New Orleans in 1930. Had 29 notes per octave marked with small dots.

Adapted Guitar I 1934-1942
In just intonation, the guitar has high stainless steel frets that were attached to a brass plate that sits on the fretboard.

Adapted Guitar II 1945
This version had small pin added to the fretboard that were smoothed down to make the instrument nearly fretless. The instrument has additional strings added and the fingerboard widened to fit a total of 10 strings. Had an embedded microphone to allow the instrument to be amplified.

Adapted Guitar III~1945
Same instrument as Adapted Guitar 1 but the frets were removed and marking made instead and the instrument was played using a stainless steel rod that was slide to different positions, similar to the Kithara.

Chromatic Organ (Ptolemy)

Built in 1934, considered a failure by Partch due to insufficient building skills and technical skills to make the instrument work. Was a reed organ like the Chromelodeon but used a typewriter style keyboard. Diagrams and description are in only early editions of Genesis of a Music.

Kithara I & II

Kithara I was built 1938 and continuously modified until 1959. The instrument has 72 string divided into 12 series of 6 strings. The instrument is large, harp shaped and is played using pyrex glass rods that are moved against the strings to shift their pitch. Only the top halves of each string are exposed and the string continue vertically into the bass of the instrument where they connect to the soundboard. The design is inspired by the ancient Greek Kithara, which is also harp shaped and has vertical strings, in this case each string has been replaced with a bank of strings.

New Kithara I is a duplicate of Kithara I built in Encinitas, CA in 1972 but with some minor improvements in the frame and structure of the instrument. Strings sections that were previously inside the resonating chamber are now exposed to allow further percussive use of the strings. Partch considers the sound profile of this instrument to be superior to the prior one and essential for newer parts he wrote that require the strings exposed for the percussive elements.

Kithara II was built 1954 in Sausalito, CA after Partch attempted to retune the Kithara I and found the new tuning to be lacking in bass. He constructed Kithara II to accommodate the new bass heavy tuning and returned Kithara I to its original tuning. The Kithara instrument are very large and place players on a riser where they can easily be seen. Partch considers the choreography of players moving while playing to be a kind of embodied dance.


Chromelodeon I was built in 1942-1945 from a 73-key pump organ. All 159 reeds were re tuned. A sub bass keyboard was built for the Old Chromelodeon II in 1945, removed and than added to Chromelodeon I in 1949. Later in 1963 the bellows on the instrument were rebuilt with far more spring pressure to fully power the sub bass reeds.

Old Chromelodeon II, built in 1946 at the University of Wisconsin and abandoned in 1949. The reeds and sub bass section from this instrument were removed and installed in Chromelodeon I in 1949

Chromelodeon II was built in 1959 from an 88-key pump organ that Partch was gifted in 1950. All 244 reeds were retuned to various degrees. The instrument retained its 5 stops which were renamed to Z, A-Left, 12, X, A-Right. Each of the stops have fractured ranges that only partially overlap but allow for the instrument to play a much larger overall range than the Chromelodeon I.

Harmonic Canon I, II & III

Harmonic Canon I was built 1945 at the University of Wisconsin and heavily modified between 1953 and 1959 at the University of Illinois. The instrument originally had 44 strings and was doubled to have 88 divided into 5 and a half banks. 5 sets of 16 plus one of 8. The strings are tunable using tuners at the ends or by the additional of small bridges that can be positioned under the strings at any point.

New Harmonic Canon I was built as a copy of Harmonic Canon I in 1972 in Encinitas, CA to allow for an alternative tuning so that the original would not need to be retuned mid performance, this allows the Harmonic Canon I to be kept on its original tuning and the New harmonic Canon I to take on a new tuning. The instrument is nearly identical in construction to the original minus some minor changes in the angle of the tuning mechanisms.

Harmonic Canon II, also called “Castor & Pollux” was built 1953 in Sausalito, CA. Much like the original Harmonic Canon I each half of this set of two instruments has 44 strings, with the two banks separated so that two players can play them independently. This instrument is also readily returnable with the use of small bridges like the Harmonic Canon I.

Harmonic Canon III called “Blue Rainbow” was built 1965 in Venice, CA. Much like the prior instruments it has 44 strings divided into 5 and 1/2 banks. Again the necessity for the instrument was that retuning is needed between compositions, so this time the instrument consists of 3 banks of 44, each able to be tuned before a performance and switched out as needed.

Diamond Marimba

Built 1946

Bass Marimba

Built 1950

Spoils of War

Built 1950

Cloud Chamber Bowls

Built 1950, made from 12 cut Carboys (glass water tanks)

Surrogate Kithara

The Surrogate Kithara was built in Sausalito, CA in 1953 to aid in dividing up some Kithara parts that were too difficult to play. The instrument has two banks of 8 strings each (compared to the 12 banks of 6 strings on the Kitharas) and is played horizontally in a seated position.

Marimba Eroica

Originally Built 1954 as 3 tone bars that were played in a vertical position at Mills college, later it was expanded to four bars that were played horizontally.

Image of Chris Banta in front of the Marimba Eroica Copy that he built for the Partch Ensemble.

“Weighing in at 847lbs., the resulting instrument has four pitches: A-56Hz, E-42Hz, C-33Hz, and heaven forbid, an infrasonic super low F at 22Hz! The tone of this low F is not detectable by human hearing.” 3)

Chris Banta has detailed diagrams for how to construct his copy of the original instrument 4) 5)

Boo I & II (Bamboo Marimba)

Boo I was built in 1955 and updates 1963
Boo II was built in 1971


Built in 1959 by an unknown student of industrial design at the University of Illinois as part of a project on imaginative musical instruments. The instrument consists of a monochord string on a zither style box that is connected to a tension rod that is able to bend the pitch of the string. The box is mounted at an angle with the tension rod behind it so the player can manipulate the tension and pluck the chord at the same time.


Built 1963

Mazda Marimba

Built 1963 6)

Gourd Tree

Built 1964

Cone Gongs

Built 1964

Eucal Blossom

Built 1964

Quadrangularis Reversurn

Built 1965


A modified instrument that was originally given to Partch by Lou Harrison in 1966. Called a Psaltry by Harrison after modifications by Partch. The instrument is a 72 inch long Koto with 13 strings and was made by Morris Reynolds in Santa Cruz, CA. 7)

Garden of Eden

Built 1972

Bolivian Double Flute

The flute was given to Partch by Ervin Wilson


A “contraption” built in 1958 that gives the impression of a passing freight train. The instrument consists of a foot petal bellows that is connected to four exhaust car horns and three organ pipes.

Makers Influenced by Partch

Dean Drummond was Partch's assistant and later ran the Partch Ensemble after Partch's death. He also built his own microtonal ensemble called Newband.
Dylan Crismani- Is a builder working on a new Partch style ensemble in Australia. 8)


Partch has had a strong influence on me, and I have a tendency to be a contrarian about his lineage, as I have taken a very different interpretation of microtonal music in my work. I am a huge fan of his instruments and work, and because of encountering his instruments I leaned away from making string and percussion instruments and away from very large instruments (choosing instead primarily woodwinds and small scaled instruments with very simple interfaces). Something about the complexity of playing and performing his instruments and the monumental scale of his instruments leaves me uneasy about his music (in terms of taking influences that lead to making things like it, not in the critical of it sense). I would love to make huge instruments that are difficult to tune and to play, but the exercise is very against the kind of intuitive musical ecosystems I want to make. I hope one day I will at the very least start working larger with adequate space.
I do not plan to hash out Partch too much beyond his instruments on this wiki, information about him is much more widely available then most of the people featured on this wiki. I will focus on the people he influenced more then focusing on his own life and career.

Instruments of the Partch Ensemble in LA 9)
List of instruments on Wikipedia 10)
Obituary 11)
Harry Partch website 12)
Photographs of the instruments at Montclair state university 13)

harry_partch.txt · Last modified: 2022/12/30 02:49 by mete
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