Instruments allow us to make music: one of the most uniquely human creations. From the trumpet to the piano to the bass guitar, they have allowed us to create elaborate symphonies, hardcore rock ballads, and kitsch pop songs. But, in this list, we tackle some of the more bizarre and estranged musical instruments in our world, some of the “why does this even exist?!” instruments. The 25 we have included are truly weird musical instruments – in sound, design, or oftentimes both.
Have you heard of the organ which produces sound by fire? (Sadly, it wasn’t created for Twisted Sister as a rock god instrument in the 1980’s.) How about an entire house which doubles as a 6,200 square foot (575 square meter) natural instrument? Or, maybe you’ll be surprised by the instrument which presumably made sounds in a truly horrifying way (see #23). The weird instruments on this list are nearly all on the avant-garde fringe of music production and will likely expand your view of what music is – they seem to be doing so to the industry already. See if you can find one you’d like to play and let us know which it is from our list of the 25 Weird Musical Instruments You’ll Want to Play.
Formed almost 20 years ago by a group of friends interested in experimental music, the Vegetable Orchestra in Vienna has become one of the strangest grouping of musical instruments on the planet. The group makes their instruments before every performance – entirely out of vegetables like carrots, eggplant, and leeks – to create an entirely bizarre experience to watch and hear.
The Music Box
Construction equipment is often noisy and audibly annoying, much in contrast to a small music box. But one massive music box has been created which merges the two. This 2,000 pound vibratory compactor has been refitted to spin just like a traditional music box and is able to play one famous tune: The Star Spangled Banner.
We really hope the cat piano never became a real invention. Published in a book detailing weird and fantastical musical instruments, the Katzenklavier (AKA cat piano) arranged an octave full of cats by their tone. Their tails would then be stretched out between them and a keyboard set with nails. When a key was played, the nail would gruesomely come down on one of the cats which would then provide the appropriate sound.
12 Neck Guitar
It was pretty cool when Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page played a double-necked guitar on stage, but by the law of more necks = more awesome, how wild would it have been if he played this 12 neck guitar?
Imagine making music by affecting arcs of electricity. The zeusaphone does just that. Known as the “Singing Tesla Coil”, the instrument creates sound by varying visible sparks of electricity to create a futuristic-sounding instrument with electronic qualities.
The yaybahar is one of the most bizarre instruments to come out of the Middle East in centuries. The acoustic instrument has strings connected to coiled springs which plug into the center of frame drums. When the strings are played, the vibrations echo in the room just like the echo in a cave or metal sphere, creating a funkadelic sound.
Two large sea organs exist in the world – one in Zadar, Croatia, and another in San Francisco, USA. Both work similarly with a series of pipes absorbing and amplifying the sound of waves, making the sea and its whims the main performer. The sounds have been compared to water sloshing in your ears and a didgeridoo.
The chrysalis is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments on our list of bizarre musical instruments. Built on the design of a massive, round, stone Aztec calendar, the instrument’s wheel spins in a circle with strings for spokes and sounds like a beautifully-tuned zither.
The Janko keyboard looks like a long, error-ridden checkerboard. Designed by Paul von Jankó, this alternative piano key layout makes it possible for pianists to play pieces which may otherwise be impossible on a standard keyboard. Though it looks harder to play, it makes the same number of sounds as a traditional keyboard and is easier to learn as changing octaves only requires the player to shift her hands up or down rather than having to learn new fingerings.
Most instruments are handheld, but the Symphonic House is a bit big for that. At 6,200 square feet (575 sq m), the entire Michigan house is an instrument. From the opposing windows which let in the sounds of nearby crashing waves or forest winds to the breeze blowing through the wind harps just outside the house, the house resonates with sound. The biggest instrument in the house is the pair of 40-foot long horizontal beams encased in anigre wood with brass strings stretching along them. When the strings are played, the entire room vibrates, giving listeners the eerie sense they are standing in the middle of a giant cello.
The theremin is one of the earliest electronic instruments created, patented in 1928 by its name sake. Two metal antennas detect the position of the performer’s hands to vary frequency and volume which are both converted from electrical signals into sounds.
Interested to learn about more bizarre instruments? Check out 25 Bizarre And Unique Musical Instruments.
Looking more like a Copernican model of the universe, the uncello is the combination of wood, pegs, strings, and a remarkably unconventional resonator. Rather than the traditional cello body which resonates sound, the uncello uses a fish bowl to produce sounds played by a bow on the strings.
The hydraulophone is a new-age instrument created by Steve Mann to emphasize the importance of water and to serve as a sensory exploration device for people with reduced vision. It’s basically a massive water organ and is played by the artist plugging the tiny holes where water is slowly flowing out of, hydraulically creating a traditional organ-like sound.
The bikelophone was built in 1995 as a project in sound exploration. Using a bicycle frame as its base, the instrument uses a loop-based recording system to make fully layered sounds. So far, it is equipped with bass strings, scrap wood, and metal telephone bells, among other things. The sound it produces can’t really be compared to anything else as it produces a wide variety of sounds from harmonious melodies to sci-fi program intros.
With similar traits to #16, the Earth Harp is the world’s longest stringed instrument. With strings stretching up to 1,000 feet (300 m) long, the instrument works similar to a cello. The performer, wearing cotton gloves with violin resin, weaves his hands along the strings to create an audible compression wave.
Great Stalacpipe Organ
Nature is full of sounds which are pleasing to the ears. Combining human ingenuity and design with natural acoustics, Leland W. Sprinkle installed a custom-produced lithophone in Virginia’s Luray Caverns (USA). The organ produces sound by tapping the tens of thousands of years old stalactites with rubber mallets to produce a variety of tones.
A bass wind instrument, the serpent is named because of its unusually slinky design. With a brass instrument mouthpiece but a woodwind’s finger holes, the serpent’s twisted cone-shape gives it a unique sound, a mix between a tuba and a trumpet.
Sweden’s Ice Hotel, built entirely out of ice during the winter, is one of the most famous boutique hotels in the world. In 2004, American ice sculptor Tim Linhart was commissioned to build a musical instrument to match the hotel’s theme. Linhart ended up creating the first ice organ in the world, an instrument with pipes cut entirely from ice. Sadly, it didn’t last past the winter.
Looking like an instrument modeled off a bad hair day for Tina Turner, the aeolus is a giant, tube-ridden arc which picks up the passing wind and makes it audible, often in rather eerie tones resembling a UFO landing.
If #7 was representative of Tina Turner’s hair, the nellophone would represent Medusa’s hair (on a good day). Constructed entirely of curved tubes, the nellophone places the performer in the middle and produces sound by air resonating in its tubes after being hit by special paddles.
One of the most complicated and weird instruments on this list, the sharpsichord has 11,520 holes where pins can be inserted, similar to a music box. The cylinder then turns, powered by solar energy, to lift a lever and thus pluck a string. The energy is then transferred to a bridge which amplifies the sound with a large horn.
We’ve covered many different kinds of weird organ redesigns on this list, and this one may just be the best. The pyrophone organ works, in contrast to using stalactites or being made of ice, by creating a mini-explosion every time a key is pressed. Powered by propane and gasoline, the striking of a key forces exhaust up the pipe, similar to a car’s engine, to create sound.
The fence, any fence
Few people in the world can claim to be a fencologist; in fact, there may be only one. Aussie Jon Rose (it already sounds like a rockstar name) makes music on fences. From barbed wire to straight-laced, Rose uses a violin bow to create resonant sounds on tightly strung, sonic fences. Some of his most provocative works includes playing the border fence between Mexico and the United States and the one between Syria and Israel.
Marrying humanity’s love of music and cheese, the cheese drums are a truly remarkable and weird grouping of instruments. Its designers took a traditional drum kit and replaced all the drums with massive wheels of cheese, setting microphones next to each to pick up the more delicate sounds. To us, they sound more like an amateur drummer’s chopsticks played on a table at the local Vietnamese restaurant. You be the judge.
A small tuba-like instrument played in marching brass bands, the euphonium is not such a weird instrument. That is, until the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Fritz Spiegl created the loophonium: the completely functional merger of a euphonium and a nicely-painted toilet bowl.
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