The daxophone is a continuous-pitch instrument of the friction idiophone category. In the most common form consists of a long thin wooden piece called a tongue clamped to a soundboard with piezoelectric microphones inside for amplification, and standing on a tripod. The tongue is bowed (or plucked) and the vibrations are stopped using a rounded block of wood called the dax, changing the frequency and timbre, similarly to pressing an oud string against the fretboard. Bowing in different regions of the tongue allows for different timbres and frequency ranges to be explored, and different tongues will have different timbres, frequency ranges, and playing feel depending on the type of wood and the shape. One side of the dax is usually fretted in an arbitrary logarithmic succession. Tuning of the dax's frets is nigh impossible because the frequency ranges of each tongue are different, instead the frets serve to create interesting, often xenharmonic jumps in pitch similar to a yodel sound. The unfretted side of the dax is continuous in pitch.
This enables it to play, in theory, any frequency interval in the octave. In practice, it is more difficult to produce an audibly accurate pitch than something like a cello. This is for many reasons, including:
- The pitch control by the dax is more coarse than most string instruments, which allows it to play fifths nearly as fast as a cellist might by switching strings. However, it means the player must have a strong, steady hand to produce sustained notes with good vibrato and intonation.
- There are no resonant strings on a daxophone. A string player can judge a note's frequency by the way neighbouring strings resonate, which can't be done on daxophone without a tuner. Instead the player must use an internal pitch reference, or judge pitch based on other instruments in an ensemble.
- Occasionally, there are slight "jumps" in the pitch of a tongue, usually less than a quarter tone in size, which nonetheless disturb the playing of notes. These are rare, though, and can be alleviated by using a different tongue or transposing the tune slightly up or down.
With practice, it is altogether possible to play almost any kind of musical tonality, as long as the musician's ear is able to identify the correct tones. It perhaps lends itself more to xenharmony than even string instruments and retuned midi keyboards; unlike those, which both surreptitiously back up a certain set of notes, (a series of fifths and 12edo respectively) the daxophone is totally free of any tuning tradition and therefore equally applicable to all.