Many kinds of musical instruments can be used to play microtonal music, ranging from non-microtonal instruments (i.e. designed to be played in 12edo) to custom-designed xenharmonic instruments.
Fixed pitch instruments make it easier for musicians to play notes accurately and reliably, although they give access to a limited set of pitches. Many non-microtonal instruments can be played microtonally without any modification to the instrument by using extended techniques, such as microtonal fingerings on woodwinds. Non-microtonal instruments can also be modified, either temporarily or permanently; this includes notably nonstandard (open) tunings on string instruments and guitar refretting. Finally, new instruments can be created from scratch; many such custom-designed instruments can be found in the list of xenharmonic fixed pitch instruments.
Continuous pitch instruments give access to a wider range of pitches, but often require more skill to be played accurately and reliably. The human voice falls in this category, along with other standard instruments such as bowed strings and trombones. Some extended techniques allow for continuous pitch adjustments, even on fixed pitch instruments, such as string bending on guitars and lip bending on wind instruments like trumpets and saxophones. Several custom instruments also fall in this category, including the udderbot and the Infinitone.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of instruments which can be used to play xenharmonic music. You can find additional information by following the links to each instrument's dedicated page.
- Electric bass
- Pedal steel guitar
- Others: banjo, mandolin, balalaika, viol, sitar, moodswinger, etc.
- Fretless bass
- Others: oud, harp, zither, hammer dulcimer, đàn bầu, etc.
- Bowed strings (violin, viola, cello, bass, etc.)
- Others: huqin, etc.
- Mallet keyboards:
- Others: vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, crotales, lithophone, etc.
- Tuned drums: timpani, rototoms, pat waing, etc.
- Conic bellophone
- Sound tower/sound cube
- Others: carillon, amglocken, handbells, etc.
- Kalimba (mbira), marimbula
- Friction idiophones:
- Others: musical saw, wine glasses, nail violin, etc.
- Keyboards: piano, harpsichord, organ, clavichord
- Others: see Keyboard#List of generalized keyboards
- Web browser-based on-screen keyboards:
- Software, DAWs, plugins
These instruments can play in any microtonal scale out-of-the-box, because 12edo is not a part of their manufacture:
- Fretless string instruments
- Fretless bass
- Fretless guitar
- Violin, viola, cello, double bass (the string quartet is a whole tuning-agnostic ensemble)
- String instruments with one pitch per string
- Hammered dulcimer
- Wind instruments with a slide or other continuous pitch control
- Musical saw