We hear music in just about anything and everything we come across daily. From the silent hum of cars passing by to the rustling of a tree’s leaves, nature appears to have its own orchestra continuously playing music for us.
We humans seem to take this to heart. In our entire history, we have developed some of the weirdest musical instruments that produce the strangest of sounds. Today, we’re going to pay homage to a few of them.
The Weirdest Musical Instruments
Music comes in all sorts of sounds, or in today’s case, in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We’re going to take a trip to some of the most unusual musical instruments the world has ever seen. From a 1,500-year-old harp to a three-meter tall structure, this list will certainly blow your mind.
First up on our list is called the theremin. Some musical instruments require you to strum, pluck, tap, blow into, or even kick them. However, the theremin is played by not touching it. The theremin has been around since 1928, and it’s the first-ever electronic musical instrument.
It is equipped with two antennas for controlling the volume and pitch. The closer your hands are to the first antenna, the higher the pitch will go. The closer your hands are to the second antenna, the lower the volume is.
It produces the spookiest, almost otherworldly sounds you will ever hear, but don’t mistake it as a joke. The theremin has been used by musical legends such as Led Zeppelin and even the band Rolling Stones.
2. Pyrophone Organ
If you ever think that internal combustion is only for automotive engines, think again. For those of you who wish to experience a fiery, blazing performance, quite literally, you need to learn about the pyrophone organ.
As the name suggests, it’s powered by fire or combustion, which comes from gasoline or propane. The exhaust from the explosion is forced down the instrument’s pipes, creating mesmerizing sounds and… well, lights.
Don’t worry. It’s all perfectly safe. However, you may not see a pyrophone organ in Coachella or Woodstock anytime soon.
If a fire-powered organ didn’t impress you, let’s switch to another element, shall we? If you can play an instrument using air or fire, who’s to say you can’t do the same with water? Yes, the hydraulophone is the first and perhaps the only musical instrument in the world powered by water.
The sound is created by flowing water that passes through a plastic tube with a series of holes in it. Electronic pickups attached to the pipes amplify the sound, which the player modifies and attenuates using his/her fingers.
They say you just can’t resist good music that flows, and the hydraulophone certainly agrees.
4. The Great Stalacpipe Organ
We mentioned that nature continuously creates music, but what if nature itself is our musical instrument? The Great Stalacpipe Organ puts that to fruition. You can find this instrument in an underground cave located in Virginia.
The main console is somewhat identical to a traditional organ. By pressing the keys, rubber mallets would tap ancient stalactites in the cave and produce vibrations, thus creating all sorts of sound.
It is believed that the creator of the instrument, Leland W. Sprinkle, encountered the lightbulb moment through his son, who accidentally bumped his head on one of the underground stalactites. Upon hitting it, it made a low-frequency hum that resonated within the cave, and the rest is history.
5. Cello Horn
Are you unsure whether you prefer a string or a wind instrument? Why not have both? The cello horn is exactly what the name sounds like; a cello with a horn. It’s been around as early as 1936, and it’s sort of like a cello with an acoustic amplifier.
Instead of resonating within the wooden body, the sound created by bowing the strings is amplified by the horn connected to the back of the cello with its large exit point near the foot of the instrument or on the body itself.
It’s still a string instrument. However, instead of an acoustic, wooden sound, the cello horn gives your music a brassier touch.
6. Pikasso Guitar
A ukulele has four strings. A bass guitar can reach up to five strings. A traditional guitar has six strings. The bandurria from the Philippines have as many as 14 strings, but why stop there? Why put a limit to the strings you can play? Why not go for, say, 42 strings?
We might be wrong, but this is perhaps what went through the mind of luthier Linda Manzer, the creator of the Pikasso Guitar. It looks like a traditional guitar that grew additional limbs. However, one key difference, aside from the number of string sections and strings themselves, of course, is that the body is wedge-shaped.
This allows the player to get a bird’s-eye view of all the 42 strings. Don’t worry. Two of the four string sections are only meant to be strummed, so they don’t have fretboards. We’re sorry to burst the bubble of those looking to play a string instrument with their hands and feet.
The handpan is slowly gaining popularity in different parts of the globe. While it does appear unusual, we can’t deny that this weird-looking instrument produces the most magical sounds you could ever make.
This semi-sphere, convex-shaped instrument is made out of steel with a series of dents strategically located in different parts of its surface. By placing the handpan on your lap and striking the dents with your fingers or palms, you create various tone zones with sonic sounds.
Anyone who is crazy about meditation should definitely try this musical instrument.
8. Sea Organ
Among the list of the world’s most famous organists, you will often see the names Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Pachelbel, and many others. However, here’s one organist that might just be at par with all these legends; the sea.
Situated in Zadar, Croatia, the sea organ is a reimagined seafront with multiple pipes underneath. As the waves from the sea crash into the promenade, they create harmonious sounds, providing tourists with a unique experience.
The best part is that the sea organ probably plays a new musical composition every day. So, you’re definitely never going to get the same concert twice. It’s always a different experience!
9. Singing Ringing Tree
The Singing Ringing Tree is a sound sculpture designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu and was completed in 2006. It resembles a tree, which is where it got its name and has numerous pipes facing in every direction.
The pipes vary in lengths, allowing the sculpture to produce sounds in different octaves as the wind passes through them. Just like the sea organ, the Singing Ringing Tree’s player is nature itself. So, you might just hear a different symphony each time you visit this sculpture slash musical instrument.
10. Indian Jaw Harp
Otherwise known as morchang , the Indian jaw harp is a 1500-year old instrument popular in India and Pakistan. The body of this instrument can either be made out of metal or bamboo, with a steel reed running through the middle.
The morchang is placed on the lips, and the player plucks the steel reed rapidly to create vibrations. This means that even without a hollow body, the sound would still resonate using the player’s mouth.
Don’t mistake the morchang as just an ancient instrument meant to be displayed in museums. Despite its age, the Indian jaw harp can create groovy techno sounds and make you dance.
The weirdest thing about music is that it always finds its way into our soul, whatever instrument you’re playing or holding on to. Allow us to leave you with a loose modification of one popular idiom; great music is in the ears of the beholder. These weird musical instruments are proof of that.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.