Yes, it's a musical instrument. Sort of.
Weird and wacky musical instruments, that can show up in comedy, fantasy or SF, which came straight out of the author's head and look, well, weird—and probably wouldn't work in real life
. The ones that do
work in real life are mostly based on an existing musical principle, but explored in a new way with novel materials and some bits stuck on. Maybe they aren't even actually intended to make music. Some are really more like noisy Rube Goldberg Devices
Compare Everything Is an Instrument
, where things not designed or intended to make music do
Often, but not always, played by a Dreadful Musician
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Anime & Manga
- The Detragan from Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, which appears to combine a pipe organ, a harp, an accordion, tubular bells, numerous brass instruments, and an entire drumset. The whole thing is played using a single keyboard.
- Gaston Lagaffe
- The Gaffophone (see picture), a homemade string/horn instrument whose use invariably results in massive damage. The sound the Gaffophone makes is the result of the overlap between Brown Note with Loud of War. Psychological and collateral damage all rolled up into one. It causes plants to commit suicide...
- He once made an electric version which was even worse: it caused a city-wide blackout, busted the plumbing of the entire building and blew out the front wall onto the street below.
- And even unamplified, it causes severe structural damage to buildings: on three separate occasions, he collapsed a factory chimney, a balcony, and the sixth floor of a building, had it carried by truck only for the truck to fall apart, and accidentally turned it into an anti-air weapon (the plane started shaking so badly it almost crashed whenever passing directly above him).
- After he tuned a violin for a friend, it emitted a shrieking sound that could paralyze people.
- The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra mostly takes real instruments and depicts them this way. A few instruments are original, such as the String Tuba and the Yo-Bow.
- Harmony Smurf once got tricked by Gargamel into giving a Turlusiphon recital to the smurfs, the instrument's dark power plunging them into an irreversible magical coma. Upon reading into the evil sorceror's tome of the permanent effect, he gives them one last trumpet sendoff, his horrible playing proving stronger than the curse and waking them all up. "Your music is bad enough to wake up the dead!" Indeed it was.
- A Star Trek comic introduced the Elisiar, a device with three horseshoe-shaped keyboards and a mobius-strip of xylophone bars.
Films — Animation
- The traveling merchant who sells musical instruments in The Smurfs and the Magic Flute produces one while showing of his wares. He even admits that he doesn't know what it is but says it sure makes a lot of noise.
Films — Live-Action
- Some of the instruments played by the band in the cantina at Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope.
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen has one of the more twisted examples: prisoners are in a cage, and you press the keys to make sticks jab them in various places, with the music being their cries of pain. (You kind of have to hear it to understand how this could sound like music, but it does.)
- There are rumors of real life instruments like that, but usually with cats instead of humans.
- Barbarella: The Excessive Machine, although music-wise it's quite similar to a pipe organ. But making music was never its primary purpose, anyway...
- Futurama's holophonor (below) is based on Isaac Asimov's visi-sonor from The Foundation Trilogy.
- Many examples in the Dr. Seuss books, to the point that Seussaphone might be a good alternate title.
- In Michael Moorcock's novels, the decadent and cruel Melniboneens have certain slaves surgically modified so they can utter only a single tone each. They only make an instrument when a large group of them is assembled into a chorus.
- The Star Trek Novel Verse novel A Singular Destiny features most of the instruments mentioned in the TV series (and the Elisar from the comics) played either by the folk group The A. C. Walden Medicine Show, or the jam sessions on the USS Aventine. The book also introduces the jirvik and Saar string, sadly without defining them.
- In Maskerade, a pipe organ created by Bloody Stupid Johnson is so complicated and laden with special effects that only the Librarian can properly play it, with all four limbs. It also happens to be crosslinked with a fancy bath in another building, unbeknownst to anyone.
- In Soul Music, Cliff the troll drums on rocks, carefully selected and chipped to produce desired notes. Glod the dwarf plays a battle horn, and Imp plays a sort of Ur-guitar with a solid body that's actually the instrument that produced the notes which started the universe.
- Walter Moers' The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear features Qwerty, a gelatinous blob prince from another dimension, who relates that in his home dimension there music instruments are made from milk.
- In Tanith Lee's Kill The Dead, Myal's instrument is a bizarre contraption resembling a lute with two fretboards, each one hollow and holed, with a flute's mouthpiece attached to it. Pressing the strings also covers up the flute-holes, changing the pitch of both at once and making it virtually impossible to play. Turns out it wasn't designed to be played at all, but was cobbled together from some broken pieces by a con man. Myal only learned to play the thing because his guardian, outraged at having been suckered into buying the thing, beat the boy black and blue until he found a way.
- In the Spellsinger novels, Jon-Tom's duar is a double-necked guitar in which the two sets of strings cross over one another. When used for spellsinging, some of its strings start fading in and out, as if crossing into another dimension.
- Animusic creates a wide variety of fantastic (in both senses of the word) instruments for their music videos, ranging from balls being shot out of pipes, to lasers, to odd and automated machines, to some gigantic, Frankensteinian conglomeration of string instruments.
- The Silverodeon from Girl Genius: part organ, part anything-you-can-fit-in-there. Also, the musical notation used in the series is quite otherworldly.
- In Homestuck, Jade plays the eclectic bass. It resembles an electric bass guitar, but with multiple necks and built-in keyboard synths. Only Jade's dream self can play it properly, because only her dream self can grow the necessary extra arms.
- The holophonor from Futurama, which creates its own visual accompaniment. It's so difficult that only a few humans can play it, and most of them aren't that good at it.
- Dave the Barbarian plays the Garglepipes, mostly to annoy Candy.
- The "invented instrument" with no other name that Carlos created in an episode of The Magic School Bus. He adds all sorts of bells and whistles on it, leading to Mrs. Frizzle to give a lesson on sound, and why it doesn't work.
- Most of the instruments in Avatar: The Last Airbender are real Asian instruments, but then there's the tsungi horn, which has a funny name on top of being completely fictional.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas: Schroeder's toy piano, capable of imitating a grand piano and a pipe organ.
- Quite a few positively psychotic examples from Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.
- The assorted junk-assembled instruments played by the Junkyard Gang from Fat Albert.
- The Zeusaphone, a.k.a. the Thoremin. It's a Tesla coil that plays music. Loudly.
- The Bazooka, invented by radio comedian Bob Burns and popularized in the 1930's, lent its name to a World War II rocket launcher. Would be the Trope Namer if it wouldn't lead to too much confusion with the anti-tank weapon, the bubble gum, or one of many euphemisms for breasts.
- Benjamin Franklin invented the Glass Armonica, sort of a cross between a lathe and those guys who play wine glasses by running a moistened finger along their rims.
- The Theremin (aka termenvox) is a proximity detector turned into instrument and a trope of its own. A classical source of the creepy woo-woo music found in almost all classic Sci-Fi and Horror.
- And its counterpart for lots of Sci-Fi made a few years on either side of 1980, the Blaster Beam. Ironically, the Blaster Beam is less xeno than many of the items on this page, being little more than a very, very large lap steel guitar.
- Blue Man Group has put together many odd contraptions, most of them based on the principle of the bamboo xylophone, such as the drumbone.
- Apparently, the original "Brazen Bull" was an instrument of murder: a bound prisoner would be forced inside, the only supply of air linked to a horn. Then the outside would be roasted, and the prisoner's screams as he was being cooked alive would sound like the lows of a bull.
- The many invented musical instruments of P.D.Q Bach, as made up by Peter Schickele. The hardart, covered in little glass doors you put money in to get out percussion tools (in a concerto for horn and hardart, which is a shout-out to the automat chain of that name). The left-handed sewer flute. The double-reed slide music stand. The dill piccolo. The lasso de amore.
- The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach tells of the Pandemonium, described by its inventor, Ludwig Zahnstocker (P.D.Q Bach was his apprentice at the time), as "the loudest instrument ever created upon the earth." A cross-section diagram shows an organ pipe, two cannonballs, a percussion cap, a plate of glass, and a number of other noise-producing parts — the complete instrument would have 25 of each.
- Harry Partch made numerous instruments out of junk and scrap parts and composed pieces for them.
- To single out some of the more unusual examples, the Zymo-Xyl (made of tuned hubcaps and liquor bottles), the Blowboy (an exhaust pipe welded to a set of bellows), and the Spoils of War (an elaborate percussion setup whose components include a cloud chamber bowl, artillery shell casings, and a gourd).
- Louis "Moondog" Hardin composed for orchestra, but also for several instruments he built and played on street corners, when he wasn't busy writing poetry or sewing his own clothes. Oh, and he was blind most of his life.
- Les Luthiers is widely known for this, though it has decreased through years. Most memorable are a 4 ft. long trombone and a violin made out of Tuna cans.
- The hydraulophone and related instruments.
- Argentine comedian Hugo Varela is famous for his musical routines which involves lots of funny-looking musical instruments made entirely of scrap material or unusual things like a chamberpot. And they sound incredibly well, to boot.
- The "old school" of the Industrial genre was notorious for the use of these, most often as percussion; hence, the semi-derisive nickname "metal-bangers". See Einstürzende Neubauten, with Concerto For Voice And Machinery being particularly righteous.
- KMFDM hired laid-off steel workers to bang on steel support beams in the hall where they played their first concert.
- Neighborhood Texture Jam uses oil drums, hubcaps, corrugated metal, and and other found objects as auxiliary percussion.
- There is a student symphony orchestra in Göteborg, Sweden, that ends all their concertos with the same piece. It's called "Joke". Its most distinctive feature is that the percussion consists of a toilet being smashed to pieces.
- See also George Maciunas' "Piece For Piano"...
- The Sewerphone created by Eric Nagler, as seen on Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show. This thing used plumbing pipe, with a washing machine agitator as a bell.
- The experimental rock group Sleepytime Gorilla Museum loves this trope. Alongside conventional rock and orchestral instruments, a look through their album booklets reveals such custom-made wonders as: percussion guitar, lever-action lever, pancreas (electric), tangularium, Valhalla, Vatican, pedal-action wiggler, roach, sledgehammer-dulcimer/slide-piano log, thing, popping turtle, pressure-cap marimba, and spring-nail guitar.
- There are a couple of 1998 albums, Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones and its sequel, Orbitones, Bellowphones, and Spoonharps that are samples of these sorts of instruments. Great fun if you can find them.
- Bowed hand saws produce a theremin-like "woo woo" sound.
- The Bowed Piano Ensemble. Listen here.
- The Trautonium
- Tuvan throat singing uses the human voice to this effect.
- The Presidents of the United States of America are a Rock Trio, but only the drummer has a traditional instrument: one plays a basitar (a guitar with two bass strings) and another a guitbass (a guitar with only three strings).
- Parodic version: in his college years, Brazilian comedian Bussunda was added to a band "playing" Rubik's Cube (!), with the bandmembers stating he was "the Linda McCartney of the band". After Bussunda created a comedic group, and said group started musical operations, one of the members "played" the Rubik's Cube as well.
- The Kitara, no not Katara, is a synthesizer made for guitarists. It gained more attention when Muse used it for their song "Madness".