10 strange musical instruments you've never heard about
Because I’m Argentinean, let me begin by mentioning a great comic-musical group from my country called Les Luthiers. They are famous for their family-friendly humor routines, their puns (that being in Spanish will inevitably get lost in translation), and some of the funniest, strangest musical instruments made from garbage materials, such as old cans, a toilet seat, etc. Well, those instruments are parodies of actual instruments, but they really sound amazing. And so do the ones on the following list. Last time we discussed the reasons why the piano and the guitar are such popular instruments. Well, the instruments we’ll see today are anything but popular!
Despite here in Nabi Music we have hundreds of tutors available and, when you sign up your kid for music lessons, you’ll find more than 60 instruments you can choose; it’s unlikely someone will teach you how to play these ten! Here are some of the strangest instruments I bumped into while searching the web.
1) The Pikasso Guitar
Tired of playing acoustic or electric guitars? Well, if you are feeling experimental, you may try this bizarre instrument, designed not by the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso but truly inspired by his art! It is a harp guitar that resembles cubist paintings: it has four different necks, 42 strings, and two sound holes. The designer, Linda Manzer, created the instrument in 1984 for a real guitar legend, Pat Metheny. You can listen to him performing the guitar here, and it sounds amazing!
2) The theremin
Did you know that the first electronic instrument is already 100 years old? We are talking about the theremin, which was invented in the Soviet Union by Lev Termen. It is a dual-radio transmitter made by two metal antennae that generate an electromagnetic field which the players can manipulate with their hands –and here’s the weirdest part- without touching the instrument! It creates quite a spooky effect, and that is why this instrument was used in so many science fiction movie soundtracks. Here you can listen to a cool Nirvana cover and see for yourself.
3) The glass harmonica
Perhaps the instrument is not well-known, but its creator sure is! No other than Benjamin Franklin himself! You’ve probably heard how a crystal cup plays a nice pitch when you rub it with a wet finger, and the principle of this instrument is the same: it consists on a set of glass bowls of different sizes that rotate while the player simply puts their fingers on the right note to elicit the desired note. Here you can hear a beautiful sample: Tchaikowsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
4) The Hydrolauphone
Hydro means ‘water’ in Greek. With this fact, you may already have figured out that this instrument uses water to produce sounds. Composed by a complex of water pipes, the player produces sounds when covering certain holes, the same way woodwind instruments use air to produce notes. Here you can check an amazing H2Organ playing Pachelbel’s Canon. And speaking of water and music…
5) The Sea Organ
No one can teach you how to play this instrument because, well, no one actually plays it! More than an instrument, we should talk about permanent sonic art. There are three wave organs in the world, located in San Francisco, Blackpool (England), and Zadar (Croatia), the last one being the most famous. The “music” they produce depends on the strength of the waves hitting a series of tubes under stairs. Check it out here!
6) The Great Stalacpipe Organ
Another example of Mother Nature as a performer is this amazing instrument in Luray Caverns (Virginia). It was invented by Leland W. Sprinkle, who spent three years testing and giving the right shape to the stalactites, and later wired them to a central keyboard. Here you can check out the results! It is not only one of the strangest, but also one of the largest musical instruments ever, with 14,000 square meters. So, in case you are wondering, it won’t probably fit your parents’ basement…
7) The Chrysalis
Created by Cris Forster, who became inspired by the large stone Aztec calendar, this is a string instrument shaped like a wheel. The player spins it so the spokes pluck the sounds. Here is a sample of how it sounds. It also looks amazing!
8) The Hurdy-gurdy
It is a string instrument, but instead of plucking the strings, the player turns a wheel that, when rubbing against the strings, produces a powerful, timeless sound. The left hand of the player presses wooden keys to change the pitch, which turns it into a hybrid with a percussion instrument as well. If you are looking for medieval sounds to bring the next Renaissance Fair (or your Dungeons & Dragons parties) to life, check out this funny-named instrument.
9) The Hornucopian dronepipe
One of the most modern instruments on this list, it was designed by MONAD Studios and entirely created using a 3D printer. This instrument is part of a set of futuristic instruments that resemble futuristic sets of sci-fi movies. And, as any dystopian future depicted by books or films, it’s kind of spooky, don’t you think?
10) The Zeusaphone
With a name that resembles a mighty Greek god and the aspect of something straight out from Frankenstein’s lab, this instrument surely is a bit scary! Don’t you agree? Just look at it! It works by using high-power transistors that pulse electricity through a primary coil. The vibrations produce lightning and musical frequencies when making the air vibrate. Although their functions are electronically controlled, we warn you: you shouldn’t try this at home!
Those are ten of the strangest, most fascinating musical instruments you can listen to, but not the only ones! You can see even more in the sources mentioned below. Did you know any of them? And, if given the chance to sign up for online music lessons, which one would you rather play? Please, tell us in the comments below!