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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.
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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Earth: Final Conflict has "tubes", a Taelon musical instrument which also has something of a holographic visual accompaniment.
- 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.
- The instrument in Munchausen 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.
- In the Doctor Who episode "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.
- In The Goon Show spinoff short film The Case of the Mukkinese Battlehorn, the eponymous MacGuffin is a large and ridiculously convoluted antique horn.
- 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.
- 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.
- Minbari, of Babylon 5, uses 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.
- 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 Muppet Show
- In an episode, Crazy Harry plays the explodaphone.
- A recurring Muppet, Marvin Suggs, plays the Muppaphone.
- On The Banana Splits, Fleagle had the Calliopasaxaviatrumparimbaclaribasotrombaphone.
- 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 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 Two 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 reason it fell out of style was because it was noted long time players got sick. Turned out glass back then contained lead.
- 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.
- Many odd contraptions put together by Blue Man Group, mostly based on the principle of the bamboo xylophone as realized in PVC pipe.
- Apparently, the original "Golden 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 PDQ 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 (PDQ 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) and the Blowboy (an exhaust pipe welded to a set of bellows).
- 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.
- 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.
- Grounds for Sculpture, an immense sculpture garden outside of Trenton, NJ, includes among its permanent installations a stainless steel frame supporting several dozen tuned pieces of metal in various odd shapes; attached to the frame is a cup holding what amounts to mallets for banging on them. The musical sounds generated by visitors can be heard through most of the park.