Chwe Lithophones


Our family started making lithophones in the summer of 2011.  A lithophone is a keyboard percussion instrument, like a xylophone, in which the bars are made out of stone.  In the spring of 2013, we had the honor of being asked by Daumas Percussion to build a lithophone to be played by the Orchestre National de Lyon on May 25, 2013, in their performance of Unsuk Chin's Concerto for Piano.  To see video of these lithophones being played, please click here.

The first lithophone we made (pictured below) had a range of 4.3 octaves, going from A3 to C8, essentially the top half of the piano.  Details about its construction are available here.  We used "Black Galaxy" granite for the bars, and mounted them on arches of paper (card stock).  The paper arches do a very nice job of supporting the bars without deadening the sound, but they tend to collapse over time, especially for the more heavy bars.  We keep this instrument in our home.  The total cost of materials was around $300. 

First lithophone

We made the second lithophone (pictured below) in the fall of 2012.  This one had a range of 2.5 octaves, from F5 to C8.  This lithophone was intended to be simple and "portable."  We used "Absolute Black" granite, which had a denser "grain" than "Black Galaxy" and produces a more bell-like sound.  We also used inexpensive stroboscopic tuning software to tune the bars, which works much better than the Korg OT-12 we used to tune the first lithophone.  We used cork as "feet" for the bars (placed on the nodes of the bars), so they can be played on a tabletop.  The total cost of materials was around $60–a 12 inch by 12 inch granite tile costs around $10, and each square foot can be carved into around five bars.  We donated this instrument to the Santa Monica High School choral program for their yearly fundraiser.


We made the third and fourth lithophones (pictured below) in March 2013, for Daumas Percussion.  The third (numbered 2013.1) had a range of three octaves, from C5 to C8, and the fourth (numbered 2013.2) had a range of two octaves, from C6 to C8.  Video of me playing these instruments (not very well) is available here.  These bars are tuned to the A=442 European standard (my earlier ones were tuned to A=440).  I used rubber foam (weatherstripping material) for the "feet" of these bars.  It took around twelve granite tiles (12 inch by 12 inch) to make these bars.  Bars below F5 are longer than 12 inches long and thus must be cut diagonally from a single tile. 


I encourage you to try making a lithophone!  You can get all the materials and tools at a store like Home Depot.  The main tool is a tile saw, which is not expensive (around $100) and not difficult to use (make sure to use full safety gear, including a face mask, respirator, and ear protection).  Making a lithophone is not more difficult than many home improvement projects.  You just need patience tuning the bars, and stroboscopic tuning software helps immensely.  In my experience, it is possible to tune the bars to an accuracy of 2 cents, where 100 cents = 1 half step.  The bars must be tuned by hand, because the thickness of the tile greatly influences the pitch, and there can be significant variation in tile thickness.  I have used granite mainly, but many materials are possible.  For more information about lithophones, please visit  We were personally inspired by the band Sigur Ros playing a lithophone in their movie Heima.

If you are interested in us making a lithophone for you, please contact Michael Chwe at