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Top 10 Bizarre Musical Instruments

Since the advent of electronic instruments and the need by composers to produce unique and new sounds, many unusual instruments have been invented or restored to life. This is a list of the ten most bizarre instruments.

10. Aeolian Harp

The Aeolian Harp is a musical instrument that is “played” by the wind. It is named for Aeolus, the ancient Greek god of the wind. Aeolian harps were very popular as household instruments during the Romantic Era, and are still hand-crafted today. Some are now made in the form of monumental metal sound sculptures located on the roof of a building or a windy hilltop. The clip is a contemporary version – with a wind turbine provided the rhythm. The constant unchanging sound in the background is the Aeolian harp.

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9. Ondes Martenot

The Ondes Martenot is an early electronic musical instrument with a keyboard and slide, invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot and originally very similar in sound to the Theremin. The sonic capabilities of the instrument were subsequently expanded by the addition of filter banks and switchable loudspeakers. The instrument is especially known for its eerie wavering notes produced by the thermionic valves that produce oscillating frequencies. The ondes Martenot has been used by many composers, most notably Olivier Messiaen.

8. Theremin

The Theremin is one of the earliest fully electronic musical instruments. It was invented by Russian inventor Léon Theremin in 1919, and it is unique in that it was the first musical instrument designed to be played without being touched. It consists of two radio frequency oscillators and two metal antennas. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

7. The Glass Armonica

The glass harmonica, also known as glass armonica, ‘”hydrocrystalophone” or simply armonica (derived from “armonia”, the Italian word for harmony) is a type of musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls or goblets graduated in size to produce musical tones by means of friction, making it both a crystallophone and a friction idiophone). This mechanical version was invented by Benjamin Franklin.

6. Gravikord

The gravikord is an electric double harp invented and patented by Robert Grawi in 1986. It is modeled after the 21 string West African kora. It is made of welded stainless steel tubing, with 24 nylon strings but no resonating gourd or skin. The bridge is a synthetic material designed very differently from the kora and the range of pitches is greater. While the hands are in a more ergonomic and natural position to the strings, the playing technique is similar to that of the kora: the player plucks the strings with the thumb and index finger of each hand.

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5. Kaisatsuko

The Kaisatsuko was invented by Yuichi Onoue of Tokyo, Japan. The Kaisatsuko does not use a bow to vibrate its two strings, usually employed with fiddle-like instruments. Instead, a small hand crank spins a nylon wheel, which vibrates the two steel strings, producing a sustained drone sound of both strings. The rotating wheel acts like a mechanical bow, a technique similar to the the Hurdy Gurdy, invented before the 11th century.

4. Musical Saw

A musical saw, also called a singing saw, is the application of a hand saw as a musical instrument. The sound created is an ethereal tone, very similar to the theremin, or a woman’s clear voice. The musical saw is classified as an idiophone under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification. Alfred Schnittke used the musical saw in a number of his works.

3. Bazantar

The bazantar is a five string double bass with 29 sympathetic and 4 drone strings and has a melodic range of five octaves. It is designed as a separate housing for sympathetic strings (to deal with the increased string tension) mountable on a double bass or cello, modified to hold drone strings.

2. Cymbalom

The cymbalum, cymbalom, cimbalom (most common spelling), ?ambal, tsymbaly, tsimbl, santouri, or santur is a type of hammered dulcimer found mainly in the music of Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Greece and Iran. In Czechoslovakia it was also known as a cimbal. One composer who made use of the cimbalom was Zoltán Kodály. His orchestral suite, Háry János, made extensive use of the instrument and helped make it well known outside Eastern Europe. Igor Stravinsky was also an enthusiast, and he owned one, and included one in his ballet Renard.

1. Stalacpipe Organ

Located deep in the Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is the Great Stalacpipe Organ, the worlds largest musical instrument. Stalactites covering 3 1/2 acres of the surrounding caverns produce tones of symphonic quality when electronically tapped by rubber-tipped mallets. This most unique, one-of-a-kind instrument was invented in 1954 by Mr. LeIand W. Sprinkle of Springfield, Virginia, a mathematician and electronic scientist at the Pentagon.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Odd Music

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Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • jongleur

    Not even an honorable mention for the Didgeridoo?

  • jongleur: Where I come from they are not unusual :)

  • Vanna

    There’s no sound to the last one? :(

  • conni

    I love the sounds of the armonica! Wish I had one. I have a digeridoo =). Looking to buy a balalaika next. Cool list!

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  • ImplosiveFire

    What about the Continuum? http://www.hakenaudio.com/Continuum/
    Although I’m not quite sure if it can be considered an instrument since it’s technically a midi controller… a very weird midi controller though.

  • Kip

    What about the Waterphone? I played one once and have allways felt sad I did’nt buy one at the time!

  • Fe

    I think I’ve been to too many Ren Faires. :) Glass harmonicas and aeolian harps strike me as perfectly normal. Nearly every faire I’ve ever been too has at least one armonica player and my fave faire has a crafter who makes aeolian harps, including little ones that can be sat on a window sill.

  • Vanna: did you try again? I have sound from it.

    Conni: I would like to learn the balalaika – it has a very nice sound to it I think,

    ImplosiveFire and Kip: good addition!

    Fe: I would say yes – you have :)

  • Reea

    The Cymbalom is not unusual at all where I come from….tho I always found it a bit odd :)

  • evan

    a local band here uses a Theremin.

    They’re a surf/punk alien band called the Amino Acids :)

  • evan: are they able to play it as well as the guy in the video above? :)

  • tjgrs

    no jew’s harp either?

  • tjgrs: considered it but it is too well known

  • Wendy!

    Simon and Garfunkel used a Theremin on the Old Friends tour…

  • Wowzer

    The only weird(ish) istrument I’ve ever had any enduring contact with is the ukelin. It’s a strange-sounding hybrid of ukelele and violin. Somehow my great grandfather picked one up, and it’s been in the family ever since.

  • Wendyl: really? That is great – I always love to hear about it being used in the mainstream.

    Wowzer: Did you learn to play it?

  • shmoe

    jfrater [2]: Where I come from, the cymbal isn’t unusual… :)

  • shmoe: is it common?

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  • The cymbalon is not unusual in eastern Europe, what is unusual about that video is Michael Masley, and his 10 finger “BowHammer” Technique, were he not only hammers, but also plucks and bows.
    After 2500 years of the history of the instrument he is the first one to change it drastically.
    more info at
    http://www.artistgeneral.com
    http://www.aofthemovie.com

  • Sean

    The Theremin has been used in many popular recordings, most notably by the Beach Boys. Matthew Sweet has also used it on many tracks. Check out his epic “Thunderstorm” from the album “In reverse” to hear a wide range of instruments and arrangements including theremin, and harpsichord along with the more usuall collection of aucoustic, electric and twelve string guitars, even a twelve string played back “In Reverse”.

  • Ordaco and sean: thanks for the heads up – I will check them out.

  • Here is a more bizarre instrument than most in your list.

    My friction harp:
    http://www.tinkertunes.com/files/harp2.mov

    • Ema

      JosheMejor es mi Trujillo, con su mneiarra y sus playas, la huaca del sol y la luna, chan chan, lo deja chico a aqp

  • Ross McNeillie

    the stactpipe organ is far from being the largest instrument in the world, actuall it pretty small compared to most pipe organ.
    The stactpipe organ uses around 600 stalactpipes at most.
    The worlds largest musical instrument, and loudest, is the Atlantic City Convention Hall Organ. It has over 33,000 pipes and over 1,200 stops. It fills a room 137ft high, 488ft long, 350ft long with 120-130dB of sound at most.
    It took 4 years to build at a cost of over $500,000 at the time of the great depression, it is now worth over $100 million.
    It is the largest musical instrument ever created.
    Visit http://www.acchos.org for further info on the musical giant.
    Pipe organs are the largest musical instruments, there are none bigger.

  • Sean the pyro

    Ross, I get the impression that they are too busy restoring that monster to actualy play it. I go to AC a couple times a year to play poker and would love to hear that sucker in person.

  • Ross McNeillie

    They have a fulltime caretaker for it now, who is working on it. The organ does work, but not enough notes play to be able to play a peice on it. One of the ranks of pipes (64ft Dulzian) is working perfectly, and they hope to have the organs right stage chamber (10,000 pipes) up and running by early next year. From there on it should be well under way to restore the rest of the instrument. The problem is politics get tied up in things this size, and the restoration society would have gotten things done alot quicker if the politics hadnt stepped in and told them to do thing (like putting a sprinkler system in it, so if it goes of the whole organ is ruined).

  • Sean the pyro

    Hopefully they can get it all straight. I would really love to hear a Bach fugue played on that sucker live.

  • Ross McNeillie

    I`ve never heard it in person, but those who have say its the best thing they have ever heard. Its actually ahead of sourround sound, as it has pipes in the ceiling, the sides of the buiding and the front, so it really is surround sound.
    I have the CD`s of the organ and the speakers struggle to handle the bass (no speakers go down to 8Hz). The amount of sounds from a pipe organ is very complex, you have the possition of teh pipe which are playing, the pipes in front of it and the room its in and then the room its speaking into, then what the pipes are made of, what the buildings made of, how many people are in teh room , theres so many factors which come into it.
    The CDs have two or three Bach Fugues, and they are all amazing, especially the Robert Elmore ones.

  • Brian Moo

    I want to get me a Kaisatsuko now!

  • hinjew

    there was a band called Sinch that had a guy that played something called an Ocular Noise Machine. it basically (i think) synched up video playing on a screen to the sound it produced. pretty crazy instrument that would light up as he played it.

  • hinjew: I would love to see a clip of that – it sounds very intriguing.

  • peter
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  • ShawnL
  • ShawnL: I don’t know what practical use that has – but it’s funny :)

  • Charles

    I don’t know if your still looking at these but I came across a weird instrument.

    Les Claypool and Oysterhead, Shadow of a Man live performance.

    You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it, they call it the Matterhorn.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izHh9h1h6c8

  • The musical saw is AWESOME lol and i love the name of it

  • Galactic_Coffee

    I love playing the theremin

    It’s unique and so cool, my computer thinks i’m mispelling it when I type it in

    Look up Clara Rockmore, she truley makes it an instrument instead of just something weird

  • Sophia

    I wondered if you were aware of this quirky little show called The Top Weirdest Instruments?
    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/shownews.cfm?newsid=5866
    It kind of mixes interesting documentaries with humor and it’s really quite good?

  • I won’t disagree with the choice for number one, but the hydraulophone makes everything else look tame. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgU0OZkGhGI

  • Polly Odyssey

    You should have included a keytar, if it counts as being strange.

  • Kris

    everyone needs to check out hang (pronounced hung) drums:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXn5ba0aT8

    and the reactable!!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h-RhyopUmc

  • EXE

    Wow!
    And I thought the spoons were weird!
    The hydraulophone was cool but the sound of the water drowned out the tune somewhat (pardon the pun).
    I play the piano and now I want to learn how the play the Ondes Martenot. How does the theremin work?

  • EXE

    When I first saw the guy playing the cymbals, I thought, Oh my gosh look at those dirty, curved uncut nails!

  • Taran

    The Bazantar’s awesome, but it looks like it’d be a pain in the arse to tune though ().()

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  • matchless

    Probably not bizarre in the true sense of the word. However, they are the only musical instruments of their kind on the planet. Check them out here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=w2VNdDV6Vzo

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  • Lemon

    The Reactable should be on this list.

  • bob

    i play guitar it powns this is a some what a good list but i like guitar go kurt cobain

  • achmed the dead terrorist

    the beer organ should be on here

  • the sea captain

    Where is Thurston Moore’s guitar?

    it’s a harp & 12-string guitar combo with a bi-head

  • NeilM

    The Cristal Baschet should have been included in this list, imho.

  • Mango

    erm…..synthaxedrumitar anyone????? bella fleck and the flecktones…..wooten

  • Baisclef

    I’ve seen the Bazantaar in person and met the guy who invented it. It was an ethereal experience to say the least. I highly recommend you all take a listen to a fantastic, unique, well-made new instrument.
    Also, I’ve played the Hary Janos cymbalom piece when I was in college. Way cool experience. Just wanted to brag.

  • Alex46

    While this is what would expect from a Gaussian or normal distribution, the distribution of stock prices does not follow a normal distribution. ,

  • nicoleredz3

    The Steel pan! Very odd, maybe not bizarre enough, though. Indigenious to Trinidad and Tobago.

  • Moris

    Please google the 'daxophone', it's amazing!

  • webo

    What about the mouth harp?

  • Michelle

    The musical saw has its own annual festival in NYC: http://www.musicalsawfestival.org

    This is a Youtube video from their website, of the 2010 festival: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPYmcLZjFIw

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  • kunde

    Lots of good reading here, thank you! I was browsing on yahoo when I discovered your publish, I’m going to add your feed to Google Reader, I look forward to far more from you.

  • Vicky

    The Stalacpipe Organ sounds absolutely divine. It’s really pleasant to find compositional pieces like this one that can help you relax and disconnect.

    I used to have a friend that played harp, Cate Von Smith-Bauder, and I’d always go over to her place and “persuaded” her to play the harp for me. :D The songs were so soothing and awesome!

  • Amber

    Had to read this post when I saw the title lol. Liked the look of the Cymbalom as my ‘bizarre instrument’! And yes the balloon bass was quite an interesting addition too. Amber, author win back your man

  • James

    What about the Motograter from the metal band Motograter?

  • bucketbot

    where’s “That1Guy” and his magic pipe?

  • GD

    Sea organ in Zadar, Croatia could make into the list also:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myV3E9uREuI

    This is probly the largest man-made instrument played by nature. :)

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  • Du-On

    It looks like Bazantar could either be the instrument or the musician’s name.

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