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Melodic Marvel: Unveiling the Enchanting World of Unusual Musical Instruments

Unusual Musical Instruments from Around the World

By Rick Henry Christopher Published 9 days ago 6 min read
Image designed by RHC using Google search, Photoshop, and Microsoft Word

I am a huge fan of music. Some people say my love for music teeters on obsession and they might quite be right.

I started collecting records (yes, the old vinyl ones with pops and scratches) in 1972. I was 12 years old. By 1997 I amassed a collection of more than 17,000 record albums and more than 12,000 seven inch singles. At my peak of record collecting I owned 30,000 pieces of vinyl.

This collection took up a lot of space and it was a major undertaking when I moved to a new residence. It was strenuous workout to move the non-stop amount of boxes full of records.

Just before I reached the peak of my vinyl records total I began collecting CDs. I loved those little shiny discs. Yes, I know what people were saying about the sound quality vs vinyl. But for me collecting never was about sound quality but simply about owning the product. The disc/record, the artwork and the satisfaction of saying I have that album in my collection. The CDs were much smaller and would take up less room, that was appealing to me.

By 2019, my peak period of CD ownership, I had more than 20,000.

But I am not here to talk about how large my music collection is. That was just to drive the point as to how obsessive my love for music is in one area.

Of course being a music aficionado I have my favorites. Since this article is about instruments I will briefly touch on my favorites before moving on to the feature.

I am a big fan of the bass. I can never get enough of that deep understated thump, thump, thump sound. My favorite bass players are Louis Johnson of The Brothers Johnson, Esperanza Spalding, and Jaco Pastorius. Each display jazz rudiments in their playing as well as adding a bit on the funk tip.

First and foremost I am a guitar fan, especially electric guitar. My favorite guitarists are Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez The Mars Volta).

Now, let's move onto these most unusual Instruments.

The World of Unusual Instruments

I am featuring four instruments and will start with the best known of the lot.


The kalimba is part of the family of instruments called Mbira. The instrument consists of a wooden board, often equipped with a resonator, featuring staggered metal tines. It is played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines primarily with the thumbs, the right forefinger in most cases, and occasionally the left forefinger.

Classified as an idiophone as the sound from the instrument is created without the use of air flow, strings, membranes, or electricity. The sound is created by plucking the tines which creates a vibration of the instrument. The vibration makes the sound and the melodies are created by the sequence in which the tines are plucked.

An early wood tined version of the instrument appeared in Africa sometime around 1,000 BC. The metal tined instruments appeared around the year 700 in Africa. The Mbira (Kalimba) is closely associated with the indigenous peoples of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Ethnomusicologist, Hugh Tracey. Tracey commercially produced and exported the instrument outside of Africa. By the late 1960s and early 1970s the kalimba reached acclaim mostly due to Maurice White with his band Earth, Wind and Fire.

Maurice White from Earth, Wind and Fire

Several renowned musicians have embraced the kalinda in their music. David Bowie featured it in tracks like "Space Oddity," "Starman," and "As The World Falls Down." Steve Hackett included it in the 1976 Genesis album "Wind and Wuthering," while Glenn Kotche, from Wilco, utilized the kalimba in his 2006 solo album "Mobile," alongside vibraphone and other exotic instruments. Jamie Muir played the kalimba on the iconic King Crimson album "Larks' Tongue in Aspic." However, the most prolific use of the kalimba can be attributed to Maurice White, who incorporated it into numerous Earth, Wind and Fire albums, primarily during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Jew's Harp

The Jew's Harp which is also known as the Jaw Harp, Juice Harp, and Mouth Harp was a popular instrument in the Michilimackinac area during the 1700s. The Michilimackinac is derived from an indigenous American name for the current day Mackinac Island and Mackinac County which is located in Northern Michigan. It is believed the Jew's Harp originated in Asia many decades earlier.

According to the Jew's Harp is a simple instrument, consisting of a brass or iron frame, similar in shape to a tuning fork, with a steel spring between the tines. By placing the frame against their front teeth and flicking the spring, players can create a distinctive twanging sound. Different notes can be played by altering the shape of the player’s mouth.

The Jew's Harp is still prevalent in modern music in 1973 Medicine Head used the Jew's Harp as a rhythmic instrument in their UK Top 3 hit "One and One is One."

In 1983 Dizzy Gillespie released an album called To a Finland Station with fellow trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Dizzy displayed his finesse on the hand sized instrument adding to the rhythm. He also did an amazing Jew's Harp solo with Jon Hendricks in 1980.


The vibraslap is one of my personal favorites.

The following description comes from Wikipedia:

The vibraslap is a percussion instrument consisting of a piece of stiff wire (bent into a U-shape) connecting a wooden ball to a hollow box of wood with metal “teeth” inside. The percussionist holds the metal wire in one hand and strikes the ball (usually against the palm of their other hand). The box acts as a resonating body for a metal mechanism placed inside with a number of loosely fastened pins or rivets that vibrate and rattle against the box. The instrument is a modern version of the jawbone.

The vibraslap is a relatively young instrument. It was invented in 1967 by inventor/engineer/entrepreneur Martin Cohen. Cohen was the founder of the Latin Percussion company for which he invented several other percussive instruments.


The Stylophone first appeared in 1967. It is a miniature electronic keyboard instrument played by touching the keys with a stylus.

They were mostly sold as children's toys but we're also used by innovative popular musicians such as Kraftwerk, David Bowie, and John Lennon.

A larger version, named the 350S, featured more notes on the keyboard, various voices, a wah-wah effect controlled by moving the hand over a photosensor, and two styluses.

In 2021 a limited edition was produced called the Bowie in tribute to the late David Bowie.

David Bowie played the stylophone on his 1969 song “Space Oddity” and his 2022 song “Heathen “

Kraftwerk features the instrument in their 1981 hit "Pocket Calculator," including a Stylophone solo.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that it has enriched you in some way.

With Love, RHC ❤️

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About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.

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Comments (8)

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  • Tiffany Gordon a day ago

    Very informative piece! Great job!

  • That was awesome! I love to play unusual instruments, and particularly enjoyed hearing the Gillespie piece. 🙏Pernoste

  • Novel Allen8 days ago

    Never heard of those. This is so great, weird looking but so much fun. We should form a Vibrastylokalijewsharp band. I can see a Rick Christopher Museum of old fashioned treasured music and fantastical musical instruments in the future.

  • Fun, fun, fun! Thanks for including the links so we could hear & identify them in action.

  • Not me thinking vibraslap was the sound when we slap someone's face so hard that they keep vibrating as an aftereffect 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Where did you even have the place for 30k vinyls and 20k CDs??? I'm baffled, lol!

  • Lamar Wiggins9 days ago

    Awesome l. I always wanted to know what made that sound in that “Cake” song. Great idea for an article, Rick. And my god on your collection. You must have some really priceless stuff that other collectors would kill for! I’m so jealous lol.

  • Hannah Moore9 days ago

    I just cant get over the sizes of your collections! Yup, I would say you are obsessed!

  • Mother Combs9 days ago

    very cool and informative piece. Thanks for sharing

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