10 Crazy Instruments You Never Heard Of

 

Glass Harmonica

The Glass Harmonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. He was inspired after he saw a musician playing water filled glasses by rubbing the rims with his fingers. This type of music is called “crystallophone”, where tones are made from glass and friction. People have been playing this kind of music since the Renaissance times so it was nothing new when Franklin saw it played. Franklin, being the inventor that he was, knew he could engineer a better way to play the glasses and he succeeded. Also known as the “armonica” and the “bowl organ”, the glass harmonica is made of 37 glass bowls mounted horizontally on an iron spindle. The spindle rotates the bowls and is controlled by a foot pedal. The musician then touches his/her’s water-moistened finger tips to the rim of the bowls to make music. The bowl’s were painted different colors for different notes. You could play ten notes at once on a glass harmonica. The Glass Harmonica actually became quite a popular instrument until about the 1820’s. Mozart even wrote some music for it. The problem was the Glass Harmonica wasn’t very loud, so it couldn’t be played a theater full of people. 


Pyrophone Organ 

The Pryrophone Organ, or the “flame thrower organ”, is an organ that makes its sounds by controlling very small and rapid explosions inside its pipes. The first Pyrophone was invented around 1870 by Georges Frederic Eugene Kastner, who was a musician and a physicist. The science behind the sound making from a tube and combustion were already noted in the 18th century. Kastner was the first to make it into an instrument and patent it. Pyrophones now are usually powered by propane, however past models have featured hydrogen and even gasoline. That must have been one hell of a show. 


Hornucopian Dronepipe

The Hornucopian Dronepipe is a all 3D-printed instrument designed by MONAD Studio, Veronica Zalcberg and Eric Goldemberg with musician/luthier Scott F. Hall. It is described as a sculpture that can be played. It’s one of a five-set of entirely 3d printed instruments, which when fitted together form an art piece. The other instruments are; a two-string piezoelectric violin, a one-string electric bass guitar, a one-string piezoelectric monovioloncello and a small didgeridoo. 


Octobass

The Octobass is a giant bowed stringed instrument. It was invented by the famous French violin maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume in 1850. Only 7 have been made to date. Essentially, it’s the larger brother of the bass, which in modern symphonies is the largest and lowest pitched bowed stringed instrument. It has three strings and stands at 11.4 ft tall. To play it, the musician must pull levers and use foot pedals. The Octobass has such low pitch, that its lowest C note can’t be heard by human ears. 


Fluba

The Fluba is the cross between a tuba and a flugelhorn. It’s a tuba sized flugelhorn. The legendary tuba player Jim Self, who plays on Hollywood soundtracks like for John Williams, gave the idea to brass instrument maker, Robb Stewart and asked him to make it. The finished product is too big to hold in frnt of your face like a traditional flugelhorn, so its mounted on a tripod or a monopod. The Fluba’s sound is very mellow, a bit higher pitched than the tuba, and a bit lower pitched than the contra-bass trumpet. 



The Great Stalacpipe Organ

The Great Stalacpipe Organ was built over 3 years inside the Luray Caverns, located in Virginia. The Luray Caverns have many ancient stalactites inside them and when they are tapped, they each produce musical tones. A man named Leland W. Sprinkle received permission to build a musical instrument using the stalactites as its notes. Each stalactite is struck softly by a rubber mallet that is controlled by an organ keyboard and that is how the music is produced. The instrument covers 3.5 acres of stalactites making it the largest musical instrument in the world. The organ can be heard throughout the caverns without using a speaker system though it does have one. 


Double Contrabass Flute

The Double Contrabass Flute is the largest and low pitched in the flute family. It stands 8 feet stall and has more than 18 feet of tubing. It is very rarely seen outside of flute ensembles. There are only three in the world, one in the Netherlands, one in Washington DC and one in Florida. It costs tens of thousands of dollars, though it can be made out of pic to keep the price down. 


The Manzer Medusa Guitar

The Medusa guitar was created out of an idea from musician Henrik Andersen, when he asked custom guitar maker Linda Manzer to “make a guitar with a lot of strings on it.” He then sent her a cartoon of what that might look like. She looked at the cartoon and pretty much built the same multi necked guitar from the picture. It has 52 strings and is completely one of a kind. The name “Medusa” comes from Greek mythology about a monster with a female head and  many live venomous snakes for hair. It appears to be a fitting name. 


Eigenharp

The Eigenharp is a very unique and futuristic looking electronic instrument. It was created by the web entrepreneur John Lambert, who thought that electric instruments were not as “emotive and expressive” as normal guitars or human voices. This instrument is very versatile. It has keys, ribbon controllers, percussion pads and a wind controller to play music. You can strum it, stroke it or drum it. The company makes 3 models; Alpha, Tau and Pico. To be honest, it kind of looks like it came out of that famous Star Wars Cantina scene, where the weird looking aliens played weird looking instruments.  


Theremin

The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played without the player even touching it. The inventor, John Theremin, filed the patent for it in 1928 and originally called it the etherphone. How it's played, is the musician moves his/hers hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. One antenna will determine the pitch of the note, whether your hand is closer to it or further away. While the other antenna determines the volume of the note, again whether your hand is closer or further away. The right hand usually controls the pitch while the left hand controls the volume. So, higher notes are played by moving the right hand closer to the pitch antenna and louder notes are played by moving the left hand away from the volume antenna. It all works because of how the principals of electricity works, which I won’t get into here. The Theremin is known for its very eerie sound and often that is why some composers want to use it. It has been used in movie soundtracks (especially sci-fi) like The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Ten Commandments. It sure is a sight to see when someone plays this thing. It almost looks fake. Like someone is just moving their hands while music plays in the background. 


Peter O'Melia