Most aspiring musicians pick up traditional instruments, like the piano or guitar. Others are attracted to less mainstream instruments, like the accordion or the harpsichord. Still others take things to an even more extreme level by seeking out the weirdest instruments they can get their hands on. While you won’t see the octobass or the the cat piano played in a symphony or orchestra, they deserve a place on our list of the weirdest instruments you probably never knew about. Without further ado, here are a few instruments that will leave you scratching your head.
The Pyrophone Organ
Also known as the fire organ, the Pyrophone Organ is powered purely by combustion. To actually play it, a certain part of it needs to be on fire. Of course, it’s perfectly safe (if you want it to be!), as the organ itself can be powered by propane and gasoline, and the explosions that force exhaust down the pipes to produce sound can be regulated. Either way, it’s essentially an explosion organ so we recommend staying far, far away unless you’re a professional. Oh, and good luck finding a Pyrophone Organ teacher to show you the ins and outs of playing this instrument….
The Cat Piano
The cat piano, or the Katzenklavier, was never actually built (and for that we are really thankful!) Intended to “shock” psychiatric patients into changing their behavior, the cat piano was a normal keyboard placed in front of a row of cages with cats trapped inside. Whenever a key was pressed, a nail was driven into the tails of one of the cats, causing them to screech. Besides the fact that this is animal abuse, who would really want to listen to a song made up of screeching cats?
The Glass Armonica
The Glass Armonica is straight from the mind of Benjamin Franklin, who also brought you the lightning rod and bifocals. You know the sound a glass makes when you run your finger around the rim? Ben Franklin wanted to replicate that sound and invented the glass armonica to do so. By attaching glass bowls of varying sizes to a central rotating axle, all a player had to do was dampen their fingers and place them in the right spot. His invention was a huge success, with Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss all composing pieces for the armonica. Its popularity eventually faded as it was replaced by the piano.
The Vegetable Orchestra
The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra uses, you guessed it, vegetables to create music–including carrot flutes, pumpkin drums, and pepper horns. Founded in 1998, the orchestra uses instruments designed from veggies to create unique sounds. The variety of vegetables combined with the fact that they create all their own instruments means the orchestra has complete control over their work. And what do they do with the leftovers? They throw them into a pot and create a hearty vegetable soup, which they hand out to the audience at the end of each performance. Puts a new twist on the phrase “dinner and a show”, doesn’t it?
The Great Stalacpipe Organ
Believe it or not, the largest instrument in the world is in Virginia and its spread across 3.5 acres of an underground cavern system. It uses stalactites struck by hammers to produce its sound. (In case you aren’t familiar, stalactites are the things that look like icicles that hang from the roof of a cave; they’re made of calcium salts that are deposited by dripping water.) The instrument was designed in the 1950s by Leland W. Sprinkle, who spent over three years filing the stalactites down until they produced the sound he was looking for. The Stalacpipe Organ can be found in Luray Caverns, where visitors can actually hear it played live.
For the Great Fences of Australia Project, two violinists traveled thousands of miles across Australia, playing the fences that span the continent. How does one “play” on fences, you may ask? By running their violin bows across the wires, which produces a screeching and startling sound (not unlike what we imagine the cat piano would sound like.) Drumsticks can also be used on the fences for percussion. Since then, the project has been taken worldwide, with the musicians playing concerts for audiences on specially designed fences. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just Australia that benefitted from their work–they’ve played on nearly every continent since their debut.
Head to Music & Arts for “Normal” Instruments
If you’re looking for more traditional instruments, head to Music & Arts. With hundreds of stores across 26 states and thousands of products online, you’ll find one of the largest selections of gear, accessories, and instruments on our website. From the saxophone and drums to the flute and cello, we have one of the largest product offerings in the world, including educator-approved instruments and accessories from some of the most trusted brands in the industry. Find your local store today!