An important aspect of Western music research over the last century has been the creation of classification systems for musical instruments. These systems have been useful for the purposes of cataloguing, especially for information retrieval systems and museum archives. They have also been seen as a means for gaining a conceptual handle on the great variety of musical instruments the world over. However, and just as importantly, instrument classification systems independent of Western scholarship have existed in most of the world's cultures for as long as there have been instruments to classify. By examining systems of classification and their justification, we can therefore learn something about the cultures that produce those systems.