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Signature Instrument

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This trope is about the one (or two, or several) musical instrument/s a character loves to play and keep around. Maybe it was given to them by someone they love, maybe they've had it since they were small or since they got into music, or maybe they just think it looks/sounds cool, but nevertheless, it's significantly theirs.

Quite often, the instrument looks unique to set it apart (maybe its colour matches the person's clothes or has their initials on it or something), but not always.

It may also be a #1 Dime or an Instrument of Murder. If characters have Signature Instruments, it's a good bet they'll play them in an Autobots, Rock Out! scene. See also Quirky Ukulele, Triangles Are the Worst Instrument and Iconic Item. Sometimes Truth in Television as many bands have their own customised drums and/or guitar.

Weapon Specialization is the weapon version of this trope, and the two can overlap into Instrument of Murder or Instrumental Weapon. Compare Signature Device.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba:
    • The tsuzumi drums on Kyogai's body are directly related to his powers, hence his nickname "The Drum Demon".
    • Nakime is always seen playing the biwa to control the Dimensional Infinity Fortress, hence her nickname "The Biwa Demon".
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Akira Otoishi, Red Hot Chili Pepper's user, has a custom-built guitar which he plays throughout his fight against Josuke. The manga even has a whole page dedicated to describing its build in detail.
  • Moriarty the Patriot: Sherlock Holmes has his beloved Stradivarius violin which he plays at emotional moments or when lost in thought, and which is so signature to his character it was one of the first things William noted about him. It's also featured alongside lab equipment during an omake to indicate a desk belongs to him, and once he returns to 221B after three years in New York City, it's waiting for him alongside the lab equipment to show that his home has been left waiting for him to return to it.
  • In Tamagotchi, Melodytchi takes her Melody Violin everywhere she goes and plays it at all her concerts. She also treats it as a Companion Cube, going as far as to call it "My Friend" (though to her credit, it actually does turn out to be sentient).

    Comic Books 
  • During The Golden Age of Comic Books, Wonder Woman's gal pal and fellow Nazi hunter Etta Candy played a sousaphone, which she used on at least two occasions to seem beneath notice before pouncing on and attacking Nazi spies.
  • In The Umbrella Academy, Vanya's instrument of choice changes to reflect her age. When she was younger and angrier, she played guitar; now that she's more solemn and honest about her feelings of alienation, she plays the violin. To cement her status as a Tragic Villain, it is a violin with which she plays the Apocalypse Suite — her sadness that ends the world, not her rage. Newspapers call Vanya "the White Violin". She actually feels more comfortable playing her Signature Instrument than talking, a trait which frustrates her siblings.

    Comic Strips 
  • Hägar the Horrible has the wandering minstrel Lute, who routinely has a lute on hand. Lute likes to serenade Hagar's daughter Honi with it; Hagar thinks Lute is too effeminate for a Viking warrior's daughter.

    Fan Works 
  • Elementals of Harmony: Pithisis is Magic: Incantessa Octavia Pie, a cellist, whose cello bow is made using her love's hair, and uses cellos as a blunt Instrument of Murder and that bow as basically a monomolecular bladed weapon.
  • Sharktavia I Sharktavia Evolved: Octavia and her cello, which is her reason for existing.
  • Story Shuffle: In "Coda", about Octavia, a cellist who starts the story as a full-grown mare, went to the big city as a "naive filly [...] with little more than a cello on her back." She uses her cello playing to perform music that and uses that to do what's implied to be Magic Music that enchants wineglasses whose wine alters a griffin's thoughts.
    Octavia stood at attention. "The ambassador drank four glasses of wine after I applied the appropriate resonance to the glasses. Between that and the performance, his desire for war was thoroughly terminated. He will very likely revise his assessment of our military capabilities before sending it to Gryphheim."
    The princess nodded. "[...] you're one of my best when it comes to ending ideas."
  • Discworld-set fic Strandpiel sees Wizard Ponder Stibbons settling down into married life with an Assassin wife. In the fullness of time they have three daughters. Bekki, the eldest, is a seriously-minded girl who picks up the bass because her sisters and boyfriend are musical, she wants to join in, and this seems like a straightforward thing to learn. Ruth, the youngest, is a tech-minded creative innovator who is drawn to keyboards of all sorts. And Famke, a student Assassin, has been sent on the last-resort route for Assassins who must be able to display a musical proficiency of some sort. Otherwise an excellent prospect for the profession with a natural flair for violence and destruction, Famke is a percussionist. All three girls are attached to their instruments. A bass and bow travel with Bekki to her Witch steading; she accepts the size makes it awkward. Ruth makes the equivalent of a Blanket Fort using six different kinds of keyboard set out in a square; and Famke makes do with her personal drumsticks, which she keeps in the armoury with her other permitted weapons.
  • Vow of Nudity: Haara can play the handflute, which involves curling one's fingers to blow wind through them and give off a whistling tune similar to a bird call. Its lack of a physical instrument ties in with her disinterest in material possessions and her closeness to nature.
    • Petrichor, a bard scheming to beguile a sea monster, casts his magic with a pungi, an instrument famously used for snake charming.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Barbie & The Diamond Castle, the baddie, Lydia, plays a flute to mesmerise people. She always had the flute before she turned evil and it was connected to a status as a "muse" (basically, a magical band member), but when she turned evil she gave it the mind-control powers.
  • In Coco, Ernesto de la Cruz has his guitar that is white and has a skull shape for a head. Such iconic of him that it remains in his tomb after his death. Turns out that it was actually the guitar of his old friend, Hector. He just took it for himself, as well as his songs, after poisoning Hector.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: Exactly What It Says on the Tin; The Protagonist Kubo and his shamisen, which also overlaps as his weapon.
  • In Legend Of The Guardians The Owls Of Ga Hoole, Twilight the poet/warrior carries a lute (which Digger hates the sound of), but he's an owl so it's unknown where he got one from.
  • The Little Mermaid: The first time that Ariel sets eyes on Prince Eric, he's playing a festive tune on a flute while the seamen dance and cavort. Later, Eric plays Ariel's theme in the longshot hope that his dream girl will return. When at last Prince Eric heeds Grimsby's advice to pursue the lovely on-hand Ariel, he pitches his flute into the sea, allegorical to discarding his pursuit of someone unobtainable.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks features the eponymous girls forming a rock band called the Rainbooms. Five of the prequel shorts show them picking their favorite instruments through moment of Magic Music:
    • "Guitar Centered": An electric guitar for Rainbow Dash, which gets an instant makeover of shiny sapphire-blue and lightning bolts when she starts playing.
    • "Hamstocalypse Now": Fluttershy picks the tambourine and uses it to sooth rowdy hamsters.
    • "Pinkie on the One": Pinkie Pie can't help drumming with whatever at hand, making her a perfect pick as a drummer for the group.
    • "Player Piano": Rarity gives up on playing the grand piano when a keytar is suggested instead and she digs it.
    • "A Case for the Bass": Applejack recovers her bass guitar from the Flim-Flam brothers, and playing covers it with her apple cutie marks.
    • The movie itself shows Sunset Shimmer and Trixie Lulamoon playing "Flying V" guitars; fitting for Trixie's Cute Witch theme as it somewhat looks like a Flying Broomstick.
  • Peter Pan: The titular character is often seen playing panpipes as a Stealth Pun.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Bayou native Louis the alligator is never seen without his trumpet. His dream is to play with the greats in the riverboats, but the species divide is an obvious problem.
  • In Turning Red, Mei is introduced carrying her flute case which she has decorated with stickers that reflect her personality. Her Leitmotif is characterized by two different flutes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The titular Doctor Zhivago has a balalaika inherited from his mother that he's very attached to. He refuses to let the looters take it, carries it with him to Varykino, and near the end of the film passes it to Lara. The fact that the orphan Tanya also has one confirms in Yevgraf's mind that she's Zhivago's daughter.
  • In Nanny McPhee, Aggie the baby is always seen with a rattle that's very special because her now-dead mother gave it to her. At one point, the evil would-be stepmother Mrs. Quickly breaks it, but then it falls from the sky intact.
  • The Phantom of the Opera has an Ominous Pipe Organ as his signature instrument.

  • In Arrows of the Queen, the primary comfort of disabled Herald Jadus is his harp, which he calls "My Lady". Talia first meets Jadus because she hears the music coming from his room, and the harp lessons he gives her teach her as much about his personality as the instrument. After Jadus dies, he wills "My Lady" to Talia, who eventually overcomes her grief enough that she can use it again. She discovers much later that Dirk has a harp almost completely identical to "My Lady", which symbolizes that he's her perfect soulmate. Since so many characters in Arrows play harps, it could be considered the Signature Instrument of the trilogy itself.
  • In Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant owns a harp that plays itself on command and lulls him to sleep. A plot point involves Jack stealing it.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle: Among his many talents, Kvothe is an acclaimed lutist. His only memento of his murdered family was his father's lute, which he learned to play with incredible skill, even with multiple broken strings. The Adem mercenaries use his lute as his most meaningful personal possession during his Ultimate Final Exam, which annoys him more than the test's very real threat to his life.
  • In The Moomins, Snufkin has his harmonica. As a vagabond, it's one of his only personal possessions (along with his hat).
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Flora has a magical lute as a gift from her Uncle. In a First-Episode Twist, it turns into a spiked club, with a trigger phrase. This is also a Shout-Out to Quick Draw McGraw, using "El Kabong!" as the trigger phrase, a.k.a By the Power of Grayskull!.
  • Sherlock Holmes is famous for playing the violin. This is one of his more innocuous eccentricities.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Rhaegar Targaryen, the deceased crown prince of the deposed Targaryen dynasty, was by all accounts an extremely handsome and accomplished man. Nearly every time the subject of Rhaegar is discussed at length, the harp will be mentioned. Ser Barristan Selmy, Cersei Lannister, and Jon Connington, disparate characters who all romanticize him to various degrees, all explicitly remember Rhaegar as a very skilled harpist who would play his signature silver-stringed harp at various tourneys and halls, which adds to the character's mystery and melancholia.
      Barristan: [about Rhaegar] When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.
    • Tales of Dunk and Egg introduces Lord Pearse Carson. House Carson is already strongly associated with music, as their seat is Nightsong, their sigil is the nightingale, and their house words are No Song so Sweet. Lord Pearse, however, goes above and beyond this by being a renowned harpist, to the point that his personal coat of arms is a silver harp on yellow.
    • Mance Rayder is rarely seen without his lute, which also helps him masquerade as a harmless bard when he undertakes lone spying missions south of the Wall.
  • In The Legendsong Saga, travelling musicians on Keltor are known as songmakers and are heavily associated with their instruments, to the point that letting another person play them is deeply taboo. Ember is a highly skilled musician from Earth who becomes a songmaker as part of a disguise, and swiftly becomes strongly associated with the a'luwtha, the Keltan equivalent of a guitar. Her a'luwtha in particular has a long history, having previously belonged to the soulweaver Alene and the legendary maiden Shenavyre, and is considered particularly sacred to the Keltans—many of whom are shocked or even offended to see her carrying it.
  • In The Silmarillion, this occurs on the level of tribes. All the musicians among the Noldor are associated with the harp. Maglor is said to play it, Finrod plays a harp when he first meets the Edain, and Fingon plays a harp when searching for Maedhros. All the musicians among the Sindar however, are associated with the flute.
  • Fujimi Orchestra: Yuuki breaks his beloved violin in one volume, believing others to be making fun of him when they compliment his playing as it does not live up to his own standards, until Kei gives him a much better one that matches his skill level.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Second Doctor always carried a recorder. Besides playing tunes on it, he also used it as an all-purpose tool, the way later regenerations used the sonic screwdriver.
    • The Twelfth Doctor was revealed to play guitar, including using it in an "axe battle".
  • Tracy is the titular mother from How I Met Your Mother and she is strongly associated with both a bass guitar and a ukulele. She plays the bass in a band and Ted specifically said he wanted to date a bassist, and her guitar case was used a lot to tease viewers before the reveal. Her second signature instrument is a ukulele as almost any manic-pixie dream girl from the New Tens is playing this quirky instrument. Tracy has one and plays it a lot; it's her Tragic Keepsake which she got from her First Love just before he died.
  • Will Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation is sometimes seen playing a trombone, as he is a jazz afficionado.
  • The Witcher: Jaskier is a traveling/aspiring bard and carries a lute with him at all times. It's rarely not in his hands and he's either composing music or performing songs in most of his scenes.

    Video Games 
  • Goodbye Volcano High: Fang has an electric guitar with the body of a precision bass guitar, and is often paired with a midi controller, allowing Fang to play both electric and bass guitar. It represents not only Fang's proficiency in music, but also their nonbinary gender identity.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel: Elliot Craig has a lot of proficiency playing with various instruments, but the one instrument he plays the most and is commonly associated with his image is the violin, and he would frequently play it at the Wind Orchestra in Thors Military Academy. It also manifests itself whenever Elliot performs his S-Crafts, transforming his Magic Staff into a form of a violin complete with playing a sonata. As it turns out, the reason the violin became so much a part of his life is because he originally wanted to become just an ordinary musician following in his long-deceased mother's footsteps, but his military father Olaf objected to it and wanted his son to join the army instead, so he forced Elliot into Thors without him having much of a say.
  • Alex from Lunar: The Silver Star has a harp in the original Sega CD game and an ocarina in the Playstation remake and all subsequent remakes and ports. The ocarina itself serves as an item that functions as a sound test and even serves as Chekhov's Gun near the end of the game.
  • NiGHTS into Dreams…: Played with, but especially in the sequel, the titular protagonist can play the series main theme, "Dreams Dreams", using an invisible flute. It's not really known if it's a power.
  • Outer Wilds: This is the signature theme of the primary members of Outer Wilds Ventures, with each playing their own instrument that gives them an identity. Riebeck plays the banjo, Chert plays the drums, Gabbro plays the flute, Feldspar plays the harmonica, and, while Esker doesn't have an instrument of their own, they make up for it with their whistling. Solanum, the last Nomai you encounter on the Quantum Moon, is represented by the piano, which she plays on her scepter-like device. In the finale, all these characters play the iconic "Travelers" song to remake the universe.
    • The DLC, Echoes of the Eye, adds a sort of two-stringed cello, once played by the denizens of The Stranger. When the Prisoner plays his in the finale, the sound is rendered as theremin music. The resulting mix can be found here.
  • In Puyo Puyo, Panotty is never seen without his favorite flute and will often berate others for not appreciatiing his music.
  • Remnants of Isolation: Celesta's starting spell is creating a keyboard out of magic.
  • Touhou Project has a few notable characters who are identified with their instruments, and like with the other characters in the series, will utilize them in danmaku combat.
    • Touhou Youyoumu ~ Perfect Cherry Blossom introduces the Prismriver Sisters; a trio of poltergeist musicians who show up as the bosses of Stage 4. Lunasa plays the violin, Merlin plays the trumpet, and Lyrica plays the keyboard.
    • Touhou Kishinjou ~ Double Dealing Character introduces three more instrument-based characters. The first two are the Tsukumo Sisters; Benben and Yatsuhashi, who are tsukumogami yokai based on the Japanese biwa and koto instruments respectively. Both show up as the bosses of Stage 4. Finally, there's Raiko Horikawa; the Extra Stage boss, who is also a tsukumogami based on the taiko drum.
  • Yandere Simulator: All members of the Light Music Club have Punny Names, and most have Meaningful Name, related to their prefered instrument:
    • Miyuji Shan: Guitarist. "Miyuji Shan" is a Japanese-style pronunciation for "Musician".
    • Gita Yamahato: "Gita" is a Japanese-style pronunciation for "guitar"
    • Dora Tamamoto: "Dora" would be short for "Doramu", Japanese pronunciation for "drum", and "Tamamoto" refers to Tama drumkit brand.
    • Kiba Kawaito: "Kiba" is a modified "Kiboodo", which is "Keyboard" pronounced as Japanese people would do, and "Kawaito" is derived from Kawai keyboard instruments brand.
    • Beshi Takamine: Subversion of Meaningful Name, Punny Name Bassist, and the Odd Name Out. "Beshi" is "Bass" pronounced in a Japanese way, and Takamine is a brand of musical instruments that releases guitars and basses. A jack-of-all-trades, she can play almost any instrument, but none of them to a professional level, except for the bass but that's not a huge character focus. Leaves complicated stuff to her bandmates. Willing to play back-up instruments (such as the maracas) when the song calls for it.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa has Ibuki Mioda the Ultimate Musician and her Guitar and Kaede Akamatsu the Ultimate Pianist with her Piano.
  • Fleuret Blanc: Florentine Blanc's prized possession is her flute.
  • The title character of Melody has an acoustic guitar that she got from her mother. Even though she struggles in early lessons with her new guitar (that Amy bought from the protagonist to give to her), she can effortlessly play her keepsake guitar.

  • The four main kids of Homestuck each have an instrument they play which is associated with them through their leitmotifs and Lands. These associations also apply to their post-Scratch counterparts, with the apparent exception of Jake.
    • John plays the piano. A piano version of his leitmotif is played in-comic and his land features a massive pipe organ, which he must play as part of his quest.
    • Rose, an elegant yet fiercely rebellious goth, plays the violin. Violin music dominates her leitmotifs and battle theme. Her quest involves her learning to "play the rain", which is likened to instrument strings.
    • Dave uses mixing equipment such as turntables. His time powers make use of turntable-based equipment, his leitmotifs and battle themes feature turntable-like effects, and the device he must activate to begin the Scratch is a massive record turntable.
    • Jade plays bass guitar, which is featured in her leitmotif.

    Western Animation 
  • Alphablocks: B and N both have guitars: a bass guitar for B and an invisible guitar (which he calls his no-guitar) for N. They're often seen playing their instruments while Scatting with their letter sounds to the point of it being a Character Tic.
  • Bob's Burgers:
    • Gene has a small blue keyboard capable of recording sounds to which he is deeply attached to and is often seen playing (though he plays less and less with each season).
    • In-Universe, Bob and Gene share a love for a series of western movies called "Banjo" about a man whose banjo also doubles as a gun and is his signature item, even featuring it in the DVD case of the collection of movies.
  • The Flumps: Grandfather often plays the flumpet, an instrument that vaguely resembles a cross between a tuba and a trumpet.
  • Grojband: Each of the four members of Grojband have a particular instrument they use in most songs and matches their role and characterization. Corey, The Leader of the band and a major Keet, has a red-and-yellow electric guitar with a red strap; Laney, the voice of reason, token female, and closest friend of Corey, uses a bluish-green electric bass guitar; Gadgeteer Ditzy Genius Kin uses a blue keyboard (sometimes a keytar); and Cloud Cuckoolander Big Guy Kon uses a red drumset with the band's skull symbol visible on the bass drum.
  • The Loud House: Luna Loud loves to play music, but her most commonly-seen instruments are her Flying V guitar and her bass drum, both of which are purple like her clothes.
  • My Dad the Rock Star: Rock Zilla is often accompanied with a guitar, while his son Willy plays the trumpet as he's more interested in jazz. Interestingly Rock's father is a world famous cellist and keeps one by his side for impromptu performances, so it runs in the family.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Lyra Heartstrings' lyre, reflected in her name and Cutie Mark, a combination Power Tattoo and Distinguishing Mark, given by personal growth, that would, by implication, mean that her lyre is very important to her, and is a core part of her unique magic.
  • Peg + Cat: Peg has a uke which she pulls out of nowhere to strum whenever a song needs to be sung.
  • Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja has a character who is only ever referred to as Flute Girl. Unsurprisingly, she's known for playing the flute.
  • Ready Jet Go!:
    • In the band, Jet's the lead singer, and utilizes a microphone when performing. The microphone represents his passion for music, as well as his leadership since a microphone amplifies your voice.
    • While Sunspot plays a multitude of instruments, he most often plays the electric guitar, especially in "Potatoes on Mars". This fits him because of his skill, eccentric personality, and friendliness.
    • Sean plays the drums.
    • Sydney plays the piano. A piano can be mellow and can represent contentment, fitting Sydney's easy-going personality.
    • Mindy plays the flugelhorn, a brass instrument, in Jet's band and elsewhere. Brass instruments represent excitement and energy, both of which are traits that Mindy possesses.
  • The Simpsons: Lisa owns a saxophone which she plays a lot, including in the intro, and is a major plot point in some episodes including "Lisa's Sax" which tells about the origins of it, and "Moaning Lisa" where she plays the saxophone while writing a song about her bad mood.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, one of Squidward's main hobbies is playing the clarinet, although he (usually) isn't very good at it.
  • Work It Out Wombats!: JunJun is frequently shown playing the acoustic guitar.