Louisiana Musical Instruments

Louisiana Musical Instrument Makers and Repairers: The Online Exhibit


This online version of the traveling exhibit explores the traditions of Louisiana's musical instrument makers and repairers. For information about booking the traveling exhibit, click here.


The diversity of Louisiana music is reflected in the people who build and repair musical instruments throughout the state. These artisans keep tradition alive through innovation. Many are self-taught, some began as apprentices, and others received formal training.

Adapting and Improving

Some are musicians themselves, some are not. But they are all artists who pursue a calling that combines the love of sound and the rewards of craftsmanship.

Louisiana artists maintain the old ways in the face of change but innovate upon them to better maintain the aesthetics of tradition, as their communities themselves define it. Longevity and repurposing existing materials is essential in building and repairing today's instruments.


These artisans bring the musician's tools to life: animal-skin drums, fiddles and accordions,analog amplifiers, and more. Some rely on the aesthetics and work processes of the classical European traditions. A central theme is longevity: in the face of technological development, modern-day makers and trusted repairers devote themselves to creating instruments that are built to last.

First Nation traditional drum maker Raymond Reyes uses elk skin and repurposed feathers to create his instrument. He passes on the drum making craft to children in the area and at pow-wows. Photo: Holly Hobbs.

Older Is Better

Artists remain hopeful for the continuation and cultural maintenance of traditional music instruments. With instrument materials, older is usually better.

"Dealing with reeds, the older they are, the better they sound ... because as everything matures together, it just makes a better sound." -- Dexter Ardoin


Two factors—the increasing rarity of traditional materials and the influence of the Internet—have brought change to Louisiana's music traditions. Artisans utilize alternative materials and often modify (or create) the tools they need to continue their work. And although music stores can no longer compete on price, they fulfill a central role as gathering places for the musical community.

Personal Service

By offering lessons, instrument rentals, and excellent personalized customer service, the small music store continues to be central to the careers of many independent instrument makers and repairers.

The role of the music store now is more of a personal thing, a social thing. ... The music store is a more visceral experience than online retailers and people appreciate the ability to go in and actually talk to somebody. That's important in New Orleans.

The online and traveling exhibit is based on the work of Dr. Holly Hobbs, an ethnomusicologist and cultural anthropologist based in New Orleans. Her article was prepared in 2018 as part of the Louisiana Musical Instrument Makers and Repairers Project.