Also:       hūn      ankuoc       angkuoch      

Title: Music of Northeast Thailand--Hun solo; Thongkham Thaikla, hūn. Format: CD. Label: King Record Co. Catalogue #: KICC5159. Track: 2.

Contextual Associations

The hūn is a mouth-resonated idioglot lamellaphone idiophone (jew’s harp) of the Lao people of Northeast Thailand. It is very similar in design and size to the ankuoc of the Khmer people of Kampuchea (formerly Cambodia), and both the hūn and the ankuoc are distinct from the many types of idioglot jew’s harps found amongst the hilltribe peoples of mainland Southeast Asia due to their particularly long and narrow shape. While some Asian idioglot jew’s harps are used for spirit communication, the hūn (as well as the ankuoc) is played for self entertainment and, at least historically, for courtship, played by young males and females to mask their amorous utterances. For another example of a Southeast Asian bamboo idioglot jew’s harp see the entry for the southern Philippines kubing; metal heteroglot jew’s harps are described in the jew's harp and morsing entries.


The hūn are made from a single length of stiff but flexible material, in this instance from a long, tapering, and narrow segment of bamboo wall with one face shaven flat, the other rounded. It is with two closely situated parallel incisions (about 1/8 inch apart) starting near one end of the frame that the base of the tongue (lamella) is articulated. 2.5 inches further up the tongue these incisions converge until there remains a 1/16-inch wide gap through which the final 1.5 inches of the tongue passes. The thickness of the lamella for most of its length is about 1/32 inch, but just below the point where it tapers it is ¼ inch thick over a length of about 3/8 of an inch. The thickness of the frame also varies over the length of the articulated tongue, from 1/32 inch for the first two inches of the tongue, to ¼ inch for the final 2-1/4 inches; in this later segment there is a deep slot gouged out of the frame’s rounded face that is slightly wider than the end segment of the tongue (see detail image). All this delicate shaping of the frame and the tongue that is freed from it must be accomplished with delicate and sharp blades and chisels. The very straight grain of the bamboo is conducive to making the necessary cuts to fashion this instrument.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the thick, tapering end of the frame of the hūn (the left-side section in the gallery image) roughly horizontal in front of his/her mouth. The frame’s flat surface faces the performer and is pressed against the slightly opened lips so that the tip of the lamella (the lighter-colored middle section in the image), when activated, can freely pass through the gap between the player’s lips. The lamella is activated by the thumb or index finger of the free hand, which plucks the end of the frame that has been shaven thin (the right end of the instrument in the gallery image). This action produces a primary sound--a fixed pitch of approximately B-flat2 for the instrument pictured here--rich in overtones. By changing the mouth cavity’s size and shape through movement of the tongue and larynx, a player may sound different overtones of the fundamental pitch and affect timbre. The simplicity of the hūn’s appearance belies the complexity of its acoustic mechanisms, for while it acts primarily as a lamellaphone it is also to some extent an aerophone. If the musician exhales during sounding, this amplifies the sound and changes the instrument's timbre. Spoken words and phrases can be simulated with this instrument. 


No Thailand-specific information on the origins of the hūn was found. Mouth-resonated idioglot jew's harps on which the tongue/lamella is incised into the material (usually bamboo or wood, also bone or metal) that constitutes its stiff but elastic frame are found widely distributed throughout North, East and Southeast Asia and Oceania and go by several hundred local names (see “Nomenclature”). The vast majority of these Asian/Oceanic jew’s harps differ from their European heteroglot counterparts in that their frames, rather than their lamellae, are plucked, and the tips of their lamellae are inward facing (towards the handle end of the frame) rather than outward pointing (away from the handle end of their frames). It is impossible to state when and where the idioglot jew’s harp came into existence, and in all likelihood it had multiple points of origin throughout its vast region of distribution. Because of the perishable nature of the materials from which most idioglot jew’s harps are made, they seldom last long and are not found at archeological sites. It is known that, starting in the 18th century, European metal heteroglot jew’s harps were introduced to the bamboo idioglot jew’s harp region by Europeans as items of trade. As a consequence of this introduction, traditionally made idioglot jew’s harps have come to be replaced in many parts of Asia and Oceania by their European counterpart. 

Bibliographic Citations

Missin, Pat. "Guimbardes." Website accessed online 8/6/2015:

“Nomenclature.” Foundation Anthropodium website, accessed online 8/6/2015:

Sentoku Miho. 1992. Music of Northeast Thailand. CD and liner notes. King Record Co. KICC 5159.

Wright, John, and Mervyn McLean. 1984. "Jew’s [jaw’s] harp [trump]." NGDMI v.2: 326-328.

Wright, John. "Jew’s [jaw’s] harp [gewgaw, gumbard, jew’s trump, trump]." In Groves Music Online, accessed 8/6/2015:

Wright, Michael. “Search for the Origins of the Jew’s Harp.” The Silkroad Foundation Newsletter, accessed online 8/6/2015:


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Thailand

Formation: Lao

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

121.21 idiophone--lamellaphone (or plucked idiophone; lamellae, i.e. elastic plaques, fixed at one end, are flexed and then released to return to their position of rest) in the form of a frame: idioglot guimbarde (trump, also known as jew's harps) that depends on the player's mouth cavity for resonance; the lamella is carved in the frame itself, its base remaining joined to the frame

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: tongue - idioglot

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: mouth cavity

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: flexing - direct

Sound exciting agent: fingertip/s, fingernail/s, finger-mounted pick/s

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: changing shape of mouth cavity to amplify partials of the fundamental sound


11.6 in. total length 4.4 in length of lamella 0.5 in. greatest width of frame

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter