Plants for musical instruments making

Last update: December 5, 2023

Several types of plant are used in instrument making in Cambodia: different species of white and red wood, bamboo, rattan and calabash.


One can distinguish the white woods ឈើ used for monoxyle instruments (drums, harp), the red woods and precious black woods for some drums (skor daey), the xylophone blades (roneat) and the structure of the fiddles (tro, tro Khmer). Let's not forget bamboo, or rather bamboos, of which various species are used in the making of instruments by both Khmers and ethnic minorities, and calabashes khlok ឃ្លោក.

  • anhchéy អន្ជ័យ: or, more correctly lêang céy; this name covers two species: Buchanania reticulata Hance and Buchanania siamense Mig. (Anacardiaceae)
  • beng បេង: Afzelia xylocarpa Craib (Caesalpiniaceae).

  • chankiri ចាន់គីរី : ?
  • chhlik ឈ្លីក : Shorea obtusa (Dipterocarpaceae)
  • khnor ខ្នុរ nang: Artocarpus integra (Thunb.) Merr. 1917. This jackfruit tree is the variety bearing fruit with firm flesh.
  • khnor prei ខ្នុរព្រៃ, wild  jackfruit tree. 
  • koki  គគីរ: Hopea odorata Pierre.
  • kranhung ក្រញុង: Several species of the genus Dalbergia are used, particularly: Dalbergia cochinchinensis Pierre
, Dalbergia cambodiana Pierre (Papilionaceae), whose wood was formerly reserved for the needs of the king.

  • krakahSindora maritima Pierre or 
Sindora cochinchinensis Baill.
  • krasang: Feroniella lucida (Scheff.) Swingle. (Caesalpiniaceae).
  • neang nuon នាងនួន: four species of equal quality can be used: Dalbergia lanceolaria L., Dalbergia dongnaiensis Pierre, Dalbergis mammosa Pierre, Dalbergia bariensis Pierre.
  • roluoh រលួស: Erulhrina orientalis (L.) Merl'. (Papilionaceae).

  • samrong សំរោង: There are several samrong in Cambodia but only one is used seems to be used for musical instruments: Sterculia foetida L. (Sterculiaceae).
  • thnong ធ្នង់: Pterocarpus macrocarpus
  • trayoeung  ត្រយ៉ង: Diospyros pilosanthera Blanco var. helferi (C. B. Clarke) Bakh. 


russey ឬស្សី: large bamboo growing in bunches (roneat ek/thong xylophone blades, jew's harp).

pok: fine bamboo notably used for the khloy flute of the Khmers.


As part of the reconstruction of the Angkorian instruments, we used phtaw ផ្តៅ rattan to make the two frames on which the timila hourglass drum heads are glued. This material is also used in contemporary construction for the gong chime frames of the kong skor (kantoam ming) ensemble and those of the pin peat ensemble.

Another very fine plant, called ropeak រពាក់ Calamus salicifolius, was used to attach the long bells to the support of timila hourglass drums dedicated to war. This bushy plant is considered a form of rattan. It has a stem 2 to 4 m long. It is found at the edge of monsoon flood zones.


Two types of calabash (khlok ឃ្លោក), of the genus Lagenaria, are used in instrument manufacture. The Khmers don't seem to distinguish them by differentiated terms. The first, robust, is used by ethnic minorities to make the resonators of their zithers (stick zithertube zither with metal strings). The second, fragile, is used as a sounding board for the Khmer kse diev zither. Both are also consumed.


The calabash featured in this video is the most fragile. According to ethnomusicologist Jacques Brunet, it grew wild in the Cardamom Mountains (information from the 1960s). Today, it is mainly cultivated to make the sounding board for kse diev zithers. Musicians need thin walls for good resonance, which rules out other utilitarian uses, such as containers, as is the case for the calabashes grown by the mountain populations of the Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces.