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Bizarre Instrument

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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. Also not unusual for a Trash-Can Band or for kazoos to be depicted this way.


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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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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).
    • A miniature version was made by fans, which Gaston played on a desk. A nearby miniature model for an upcoming office building collapsed as a result.
  • 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.
  • Perky: When Perky visits the Land Of Dreams, The Sandman shows off his "Snorgan"- a pipe organ that makes snoring sounds when you play it.
  • In The Smurfs, Harmony Smurf once got tricked by Gargamel into giving a Turlusiphon (the Animated Adaptation of the story refers to it as a shazalakazoo) 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • In For Better or for Worse, Uncle Phil, explaining to April how a trumpet worked, demonstrated the principle by putting a mouthpiece and funnel on either end of a length of hosepipe, which he called the Hose-O-Phonium.

    Film — 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.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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...
  • Some of the instruments played by the band in the cantina at Mos Eisley in Star Wars: A New Hope. Solo also mentions something called a valachord, which Tobias Beckett keeps talking about playing.

  • Discworld:
    • The pipe organs created by Bloody Stupid Johnson and situated in Unseen University (as seen in Men at Arms, Soul Music and Hogfather) and the Ankh-Morpork Opera House (seen in Maskerade) are so complicated and laden with special effects that only the Librarian can properly play them, with all four limbs. The UU one also happens to be crosslinked with the pipes in the Archchancellor's bathroom, unbeknownst to anyone. Carpe Jugulum has another Johnson in the vampire castle, this one dedicated to horror-movie sound effects.
    • 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.
    • The Discworld Alamnack describes "hog ringing". The illustration shows four people with xylophone hammers behind eight hogs of decreasing size, presumably each sounding a different note. The text laments that this practice has largely died out.
  • Many examples in the Dr. Seuss books, to the point that Seussaphone might be a good alternate title.
  • In E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, various plants grown on the Green Planet are used as musical instruments, such as a band in the Micro Tech Club: Fluteroots are the wind instruments, Timpanums are the drums, and Trompayds are the trumpets.
  • 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 Life, the Universe and Everything, Slartibartfast was planning on spending his retirement learning to play the octravental heebiephone, despite not having enough mouths.
  • 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.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Mule": Introduced here is a musical instrument, called the visi-sonor, that creates illusionary lights and colours along with the sounds. It also helps to amplify mental powers. The invention of the visi-sonor is described in his novel The Stars, Like Dust (published later, but much earlier by internal chronology).
  • the secret lives of Princesses: The Cuckoo Horn. Has around a dozen switches, a cuckoo coming out the opening, a bandaid, and at least five holes. No practice necessary.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek Novel Verse:
  • 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 the The Unorthodox Engineers short story The Subways of Tazoo, one of the categories of archaeological finds on Tazoo is an electric harp whose strings vibrate when power is supplied through a cord. For some reason, there are vast fields of them in a nearby desert with the strings worn away from exposure but otherwise functional. It transpires that they were the alien equivalent of a wind turbine, and by restringing some of them with more wear-resistant strings, the engineers generate enough power to restart the subway and a clue to why the city was abandoned in the first place.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Minbari, of Babylon 5, use a triangular wooden frame with symmetrical rows of hanging bells (Like a Skrabalai) in their religious rituals. The sound it makes cannot accurately be described without sounding like you're on acid.
  • On The Banana Splits, Fleagle had the Calliopasaxaviatrumparimbaclaribasotrombaphone.
  • Doctor Who: In "Dalek", the Doctor is trying to persuade his captor not to hold an unidentified alien artifact the way he is doing. When somebody finally pays attention to what he is saying and asks whether the artifact is dangerous, he replies, "No, it just looks silly like that," and reveals it to be a Xenophone.
  • Earth: Final Conflict has "tubes", a Taelon musical instrument which also has something of a holographic visual accompaniment.
  • In the Fraggle Rock episode "Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk", the Doc story had him messing about with party noisemakers, first attaching several of them together to produce something a little like a panpipe, and then creating a larger steam organ version.
    Doc: From this moment forth, the piano is obsolete!
  • In The Goon Show spinoff short film The Case of the Mukkinese Battlehorn, the eponymous MacGuffin is a large and ridiculously convoluted antique horn.
  • The Human Cello from the 8th episode of Hannibal consisted of a human corpse in a chair with his neck slit open to reveal the vocal chords, and a cello handle jammed down the throat so that the murderer could play him.
  • Subverted in the M*A*S*H episode "The Smell of Music". After Major Winchester's obnoxious French horn playing has annoyed the rest of the camp into running it over with a jeep, Charles tries to get the last laugh by paying a local Korean craftsman to fix his horn. What he gets back is a huge, awkward, Frankenstein-esque maze of brass cobbled together from the parts of various other horns... but with no mouthpiece, meaning it doesn't technically qualify as an "instrument" anymore.
  • The instrument in the Munchausen movie may have been inspired, if that's the word, by the mouse organ from Monty Python's Flying Circus, which consisted of mice strapped to a rack which (supposedly) squeaked musical notes when struck with hammers.
  • The Muppet Show:
    • In an episode, Crazy Harry plays the explodaphone.
    • A recurring Muppet, Marvin Suggs, plays the Muppaphone.
    • The Fazoobs are a Koozbanian band who play each other.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 brings us the porkarina, which is supposed to re-create the incidental music in The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction that sounded like a pig grunting.
  • Phil of the Future:
    Keely: I don't know why I thought I could play the flute. You ever play an instrument?
    Phil: Yeah, phyble.
    Keely: Did you blow in it? Are there strings? Did you hit it?
    Phil: Exactly. All those things.
  • Invoked in a first season episode of Red Dwarf, in which Holly the senile ship's computer claims to have come up with a way to revolutionize music by decimalizing it and adding the notes H and J, which will in turn necessitate the redesign of all instruments to play them.
  • On Sesame Street, there's the "Shpritzer Honker Splasher Sprinkler Tweeter Squirt", which looks like a cross between a synthesizer and a sprinkler system. It takes four people to operate it, and it's played on a giant foot-operated keyboard, a series of buttons, a set of foot pedals, and a panel of electronic drum pads.
  • Star Trek has bunches of them:
    • The Vulcan Lyre. It is used in The Original Series, Voyager, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine. The same type of instrument is also used by the Bajorans and the Risians in Deep Space Nine. Considering it's just a regular lyre with some non-functional bits added, it has the added benefit of actually working.
    • The Aldean Musical Instrument from The Next Generation. It's played essentially by telepathy, touching pads on the instrument and thinking of the note you want.
    • The Agolian chimes: a ceremonial instrument that resembles overgrown wind chimes but played with small hammers, like a xylophone. The Next Generation.
    • Bajoran instruments: three of them, the Cabasa, the Bajoran gong and the Bajoran rattle are used during the birth of a child to relax the mother. Other, more performance-oriented instruments are the the Bajoran drum, the Bajoran harp, and the Belaklavion. All were used in Deep Space Nine.
    • The Enaran whatsit is another telepathic instrument. Instead of a touch pad, it has a hemispherical crystal contact ball. You think at it and it plays. It shows up only in Voyager.
    • Several Klingon instruments: the Klingon concertina (which can also be used as a weapon), the Klingon drum and the Klingon guitar. All of these show up only on Deep Space Nine.
    • The Kriosian whatsit: a cross between a big xylophone and and a really big set of marimbas. Picard learns to play one in The Next Generation.
    • Mavig's Harp, a stringed thingy that looks sort of like a steering wheel, played by one of the hippie-analogues from the episode "The Way to Eden" in The Original Series. It is used only once.
    • The Trill piano comes in portable and standard models. The portable ones look like small synthesizers, the big ones look more like a couple of old-style chord organs mooshed together.
    • That stack of slate some alien was playing in the first episode of Deep Space Nine.
    • Despite looking realistic, Picard's Ressikan flute from "The Inner Light" was a non-playable prop. The actual melody was provided by a much skinnier pennywhistle.

  • Laurie Anderson invented the tape bow violin, which is a violin that has a magnetic tape playback head instead of a bridge, and a violin bow that has a length of tape with pre-recorded sound on it instead of hair. By drawing the tape over the head, you can play whatever's on the tape, forwards or backwards and at whatever speed you like. She also designed a system where she could place a small speaker in her mouth and play instruments through it: by opening and closing her mouth she could turn herself into a human wah-wah pedal.
  • 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.
  • One of the interval acts of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 was a pastiche of previous entries under the guise of how to write the perfect Eurovision entry. One of the steps was to feature an ethnic but unknown instrument. The example was the "Swedish kvinnaböske". The host then advises viewers to "just make something up [as] no-one will know".
  • In-Universe, Fraktus had stuff like the Electric Bagpipe: an electric hair dryer blowing into a recorder. In reality, while it did work, they rarely used it because it would fall apart whenever played.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre somewhat subverts this trope at his concerts. However bizarre an instrument that he uses may seem, it actually makes music. This ranges from custom-made keytars with curved keybeds and other MIDI controllers to the Cristal Baschet to the laser harp to the Theremin (the man has meanwhile really learned to play it) to a barrel organ (which is bizarre for an electronic musician).
  • Rick Nielsen's quintuple-neck Hamer guitars.
  • Sailor's Nickelodeon started out as an upright piano. A fairground-style, but hand-playable pipe organ with percussion was attached to its rear side with a monophonic synthesizer mounted underneath the sole organ manual that served as the band's bass. Then, a wooden frame was built around it, not only to conceal the seams, but also to carry a bell from a ship and a hand-played bass drum. The Nickelodeon was played by the band's two keyboardists standing face-to-face. Nowadays, the Nickelodeon is just a big, colorful wooden keyboard stand for two run-of-the-mill ROMplers.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Coming Out of Their Shells Tour featured Leonardo playing a one-stringed bass. It was explained in behind the scenes Mockumentary footage that this was due to the difficulty of playing an instrument with their three-fingered hands.

    Video Games 
  • Dwarf Fortress version 0.42 introduced procedurally-generated instruments, many of which are bizarrely complicated and some of which are logically incapable of producing sound, like a bowl or a metal block which somehow works like a tambourine
    The etes is a large hand-held metal-stringed instrument with a metal body. The instrument rests flat as the musician plays the fifty-six main strings with a wooden bow. A drone string is occasionally plucked. Tuning is accomplished by pegs. The instrument has a five-and-a-half octave range going from a very low to a very high pitch. The instrument has a vibrating brittle strident timbre.
    The Thun is a small hand-held percussion instrument. It consists of a bowl. The musician shakes the bowl. The instrument has a single high pitch. The instrument has a noisy floating timber.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: The Silverodeon which Agatha (re)builds, part organ, part anything-you-can-fit-in-there. Also, in a throw-away homage/gag, it's shown that Master Payne plays a small Gaffophone.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: During the At the Opera Tonight scene, a musician is seen playing something that looks like a violin with a tuba coming out the back.
  • 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.
  • Dave the Barbarian plays the Garglepipes, mostly to annoy Candy.
  • The assorted junk-assembled instruments played by the Junkyard Gang from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
  • Futurama: The holophonor is essentially an alien clarinet 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, which is reflected in the holograms it produces: without the alien worm infestation that greatly enhanced his physical and mental capabilities, Fry is lucky to be able to produce kindergarten-grade stick figure scribbles with it. In The Simpsons crossover episode "Simpsorama", Lisa, being the genius that she is and thanks to her previous experience, can play a saxophone version of the holophonor just as well as she plays a regular saxophone and create realistic imagery with it which is then used to solve the current crisis.
  • Quite a few positively psychotic examples from Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
  • 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.
    Carlos: How about this? I wanted it to have the sound of a lion, so I gave it a mane!
    (He demonstrates - it sounds even worse.)
    Dorothy Ann: It's a kitten, Carlos.

    Real Life 
  • 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 1930s, lent its name to a World War II rocket launcher.
  • 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 pastaphone (a horn made out of two pieces of uncooked manicotti).
    • 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 (which was never finished) 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, and 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.
  • The Oomphalapompatronium.
  • 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: band leader Chris Ballew plays a basitar (a guitar with two bass strings) and the other frontman (currently Andrew McKeag), a guitbass (a guitar with only three strings).
  • Rob Scallon sometimes employs these, most notably a guitar built out of a shovel.
  • 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".
  • The pogo cello, a honking clattering percussion-thingy.
  • In this OK Go video, they play a number of instruments by lining them up along the side of the road and driving a car along past them. Some of the instruments are traditional (such as pianos), and some were built specially for this purpose. It can be argued that some items, like the tunnel they drive through, count as a single instrument.
  • Country Music guitarist Junior Brown is known for playing the "guit-steel", a custom-made double-neck guitar where one neck is actually a lap steel guitar.
  • Speaking of steel guitarists, session musician Paul Franklin is known for his variations on the instrument: the Pedabro (a resonator guitar fitted with a pedal), "The Box" (a 10-stringed, well, box with a "swampy" sound), and the baritone steel guitar (a pedal steel guitar tuned an octave lower than a normal one).
  • Merzbow uses a variety of weird instruments in his live performances.
  • The Marble Machine, built for 14 months by the Swedish band Wintergatan. To play it, one must first program the desired melody into its musicbox-like drum, then turn the crank to make it run, while simultaneously switching levers to change "instrument" on the fly (xylophone, bass, or drums) as the marbles fall into place and make the desired sound effect. Also doubles as a Rube Goldberg Device, and as Awesome, but Impractical due to its intractible complexity (they are building a third version because the first two were too fragile and mechanically unreliable).
  • The Motograter, used and invented by the Nu Metal band of the same name.
  • The so-called punk pipe, created by Vadim Kukushkin, definitely counts. The instrument itself is a modified snorkel, which Kukushkin briefly played in cult band Chaif and later his own projects.
  • The waterphone has a steel resonating chamber partially filled with water on a handle and a number of bronze rods attached to the rim of the chamber. The rods can be struck or bowed, and the chamber itself can be drummed. It tends to get used for horror soundtracks because the noises it makes are eerie as hell.
  • Lady A's "Long Stretch of Love" uses a Woodrow, a variant of the dulcimer which is only manufactured in Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Modular synthesizers can range from rather conventional keyboards, to gigantic arrays of cables and flashing lights able to play otherworldly music by themselves!
  • Gryphon uses the bassoon and the crumhorn in their music, instruments not normally found in rock music.
  • The Hadrophone, a home built instrument that mimics the sound of a Parasaurolophus.

Alternative Title(s): Xenophone


The Eggs (2004)

The Eggs play on unusual instruments.

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