They were in every way superior to their ordinary counterparts. Their powers could only be effectively used by bards, and in fact any non-bard that attempted to use one of these instruments ran the risk of injury.
Bards wielding an Instrument of the Bards had their charming abilities greatly amplified by their magic.
All Instruments of the Bards had the capability of storing spells. Besides the specific spells that each individual instrument could hold, a bard playing any one such instrument could invoke the spells fly, invisibility, levitate, and protection from evil and good, once a day, until the next dawn.
The first of the Instruments of the Bards were created by a legendary bard in the Moonshae Isles named Falataer. He used the instruments to test and reward the students of each of the seven levels of his bardic college, which came to be regarded individually as legendary bard colleges in their own right.
These seven elder bardic colleges were all attended by an aspiring bard who wished to achieve the rank of master bard, traditionally in the following order: Fochlucan, Mac-Fuirmidh, Doss, Canaith, Cli, Anstruth, and Ollamh. This tradition was abandoned once these bardic colleges declined. However, starting from 1366 DR, some bards were attempting to restore this ancient tradition and the Colleges of Fochlucan and a revived New Olamn had been established and resumed their activities.
- Anstruth harp
- Magical harps capable of controlling elements and healing, among other magical powers.
- Canaith mandolin
- Magical mandolins that had healing powers and provided protection from lightning, among other magical powers.
- Cli lyre
- Magical lyres that held protective spells, as well as other magical powers.
- Doss lute
- Superior magical lutes, capable of channeling nature-based and healing spells when played.
- Fochlucan bandore
- Magical bandores that contained nature-based magic, as well as other magical powers.
- Mac-Fuirmidh cittern
- Magical citterns that had protecting and healing magic, as well as other magical powers.
- Ollamh harp
- These extremely powerful magical harps could control the weather and the minds of listeners, among other magical powers.
- Andy Collins, Eytan Bernstein, Frank Brunner, Owen K. C. Stephens, John Snead (March 2007). Magic Item Compendium. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 150, 153, 154, 156, 161, 163, 166–167. ISBN 978-0-7869-4345-6.
- Sean K. Reynolds, Duane Maxwell, Angel McCoy (August 2001). Magic of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-7869-1964-7.
- Richard Baker (November 2004). Complete Arcane. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 148–149. ISBN 0-7869-3435-2.
- Jeremy Crawford, Mike Mearls, James Wyatt (March 2009). Player's Handbook 2. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 210–211. ISBN 0-7869-5016-4.
- Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins, James Wyatt (2014). Dungeon Master's Guide 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 176. ISBN 978-0786965622.
- Steve Kenson, et al. (November 2015). Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Edited by Kim Mohan. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 123. ISBN 978-0-7869-6580-9.