Human ingenuity seems never in short supply, as witnessed here in 11 weird instruments. Some clever and others downright bizarre, these unique inventions stray a long way from tradition.
1. Marble Machine
Swedish folktronica group Wintergatan are no strangers to unconventional instruments. They’ve used a typewriter as percussion and a handmade punch-card music box. Over the course of two years between 2014 and 2016, the band’s own Martin Molin built the incredibly elaborate Marble Machine.
The hand-cranked music box is a mechanical marvel. It works by collecting and carefully hoisting hundreds of marbles up through the machine, where they can then be released to strike various instruments built into the device. You probably won’t see these mass-produced on Sweetwater any time soon, but the one-of-a-kind Marble Machine is truly genius.
The toha, or totem harp, was inspired by nature. Weaver birds of southern Africa build round, communal nests. In a similar sense, the toha is a circular harp with 44 strings made to be played by two musicians at once.
The totem harp is the brainchild of Victor Gama, and one of five experimental instruments. It’s also part of an interactive musical exhibit, where visitors are encouraged to play multi-person instruments as a group.
The patent for the marxophone dates all the way back to 1912, and the instrument was manufactured by various companies between the ’20s and ’50s. A marxophone is a “fretless zither,” or a stringed instrument that generates sound by metal hammers plucking the strings. Its sound is somewhat similar to a mandolin or a hammered dulcimer.
4. HAPI Drum
The HAPI steel drum is an intuitive percussion instrument made to be picked up and played by anyone. It creates sound via eight tuned vibrating tongues of steel that, when struck, produce a pleasant sound. The drum’s note arrangement makes it easy to create music right away, even without an instrumental background.
5. Chapman Stick
Chapman produces 8-, 10-, and 12-string tapping instruments for use in a variety of genres. While not an everyday instrument, the Chapman Stick does feature in popular genres and has been heard in music by King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Steven Wilson, and others. The design itself isn’t terribly foreign, as it’s essentially a 36-inch scale fretboard that players tap with both hands.
A hydraulophone is an atypical acoustic instrument where sound is generated by restricting or releasing the flow of water through multiple sound holes. The timbre is tranquil in and of itself, and the gentle rushing of water further enhances the overall experience. Hydraulophones have been used as sensory exploration devices for people with low vision.
The wheelharp has an antiquated look and uses old technology, but it’s every bit a modern instrument since it debuted in 2013. It’s a keyboard-operated string instrument with 61 actual strings; some descriptions have said it’s almost like having a chamber string orchestra at the player’s disposal.
Yaybahar is another unique acoustic instrument designed by Turkish musician Gorkem Sen. The sounds it makes are truly bizarre, and the instrument is played by striking, bowing, or otherwise manipulating two long strings centered between a pair of drum heads. This one is definitely best seen and heard than described!
Zeusaphone is a high-performance musical Tesla coil, and if that doesn’t sound both terrifying and intriguing, we’re not sure what will. The concept behind musical Tesla coils is to essentially harness and control electricity to create pressure waves for making audible pitches. The Zeusaphone is both an audio/visual experience unlike anything else, and easily one of the weirdest instruments out there.
10. Pikasso Guitar
Master luthier Linda Manzer designed and built the Pikasso for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny in 1984. Metheny requested a guitar with as many strings as possible, and the Pikasso is what she developed. It consists of 42 strings in four different sections, all arranged in a recognizable, oversized acoustic guitar body.
Last but not least in this collection of weird instruments is the sharpsichord—a 46-string harp played by a pin-cylinder. The two and a half ton monstrosity is the creation of English composer Henry Dagg, who’s played the sharpsichord with Björk. It took him roughly five years to complete
Conclusion: Weird Instruments
Most definitely not your run-of-the-mill musical tools, these weird instruments make unusual sounds in some very unconventional ways. Which one is your favorite?