Last updated by Abby | 31st July 2018
We love random holidays and the 31st of July is uncommon musical instrument day. To celebrate we put together a list of our top 10 favourite weird musical instruments. From musical vegetables to instruments that harness the power of fire, electricity and nature, keep reading to discover the weird and wonderful in the world of music.
This instrument is weird because it requires no touch to be played, instead one produces sound by moving their hands in proximity to two “antennas”. Invented in 1920 by Russian physicist Lev Termen, the Theremin was originally intended for use in classical music. It never caught on as an orchestral instrument, although its popularity got a boost in 1994 when the film 'Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey' was released.
9. The Great Stalacpipe Organ
There are many strange organs out there which use all sorts of materials to produce sound, but one of the best is the great stalacpipe organ. Located in Luray Caverns in the United States, it strikes stalactites tuned to various pitches with rubber mallets. In order to find these perfect pitches, the inventor, Leland W. Sprinkle, tested and shaved the stalactites in this cavern and wired them to the central keyboard. The entire process took three years, and the organ stretches across 14,000 square metres!
As the name suggest, these instruments produces sound hydraulically. The term actually classifies an entire category of instruments just like strings, woodwinds or percussion. It provides a sensory experience as music is played by covering different water jets to produce different pitches. You can think of the hydrolauphone as a hybrid, an underwater flute meets a pipe organ. Some hydrolauphones use reeds much in the same way woodwind instruments do and our absolute favourite in this category is the H2Oboe.
7. The Vegetable Orchestra
It may sound funny, but these musicians are serious about playing with their food. The group was founded in 1998 in Vienna, Austria. They play a wide range of music on fresh vegetables using everything from bass drum pumpkins to carrot flutes. Some instruments are ready as is, but some require some sculpting. They don’t waste anything however, they use the remaining pieces of vegetable to make a soup which they serve to their audience after a performance.
6. The Glass Harmonica
Invented by Benjamin Franklin, this instruments uses the same principal as playing wine glasses, but turns it on its side. A series of glass bowls rotates while the player simply touches the bowls with wet fingers to create the desired notes. Because of its unique design, multiple notes can be played at once creating some hauntingly beautiful sounds. It was quite popular in its day, in fact, some of the great composers such as Mozart and Beethoven arranged pieces to include the glass harmonica, but sadly its popularity has dwindled over time.
Image credit: Open Exhitbits
5. Double Contrabass Flute
The flute brings to mind gentle soprano sounds with a silvery finish, but did you know that there are more, bigger members to the flute family? The entire range of a piano can be covered by flutes ranging from the piccolo to the double contrabass flute. This 8-foot tall monster consists of 5.5 meters of tubing, sounds much like a fog horn, and is super rare. There are only 4 in the entire world!
Image credit: Maria Ramey
4. Zadar Sea Organ
There are a few sea organs in the world, and the Zadar organ is incredible. It’s built under marble stairs in Zadar, Croatia, and is a musical experiment. The sea plays it. As waves crash over a series of tubes, harmonious sounds are created and echo over the steps.
Image credit: Ben Snooks
3. Singing Ringing Tree
This work of art is constructed from varying lengths of pipe. As the winds pass over the pipes, it creates an eerie sound. The original towers 3 metres over the East Lancashire landscape in England. In March 2017 a sister singing ringing tree was constructed outside of Austin, Texas in the United States.
Image credit: Childzy
Yet another great and strange organ is the pyrophone, also known as the fire organ or the explosion organ. It is quite literally that, an organ that is powered by gasoline and propane; he sound are produced by combustion and explosion. In order to be payed, at least some part of the organ needs to be on fire. Talk about a true rockstar instrument!
Image credit: Edelseider
1. Zeusaphone a.k.a. The Thoramin
Don’t let the punny name fool you into thinking this is a tame instrument. The appropriately named Zeusaphone or Thoramin actually plays music with lightning. It’s essentially a plasma speaker that works by modulating the spark output of a Tesla coil, creating a shocking effect. This instrument easily wins in the categories of best name and most terrifying listening experience.
Image credit: Peretz Partensky
If you’re inspired by these out-of-this-world instruments, you can continue the fun at our weekly Musical Instruments auctions where you're sure to find a wide array of more conventional instruments. If you want to join the excitement of the auction from the seller’s side, this is also possible. You can register to become a seller here and start offering up your own musical instrument or other special objects right away.
"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo
Discover more musical instruments