The Phrontistery




Unusual Musical Instruments

Musical instruments are diverse in form and function, and over the centuries, there have probably been thousands of different instruments and variants within the basic categories of wind, string, and percussion, not to mention more recent electronic inventions. The following list of over 150 weird and obscure musical instruments includes a wide range of ancient, folk, and traditional musical instruments, as well as medieval, classical, jazz, and contemporary instruments, but excluding extremely well-known instruments like the violin, trumpet, and piano. Inevitably, this list will grow - I welcome additional information from readers. As with the other glossaries on the Phrontistery, only words that appear in at least one major English dictionary are included.


Word Definition
abengJamaican bugle made from cow horn
aerophonemusical instrument like a concertina
angelotmusical instrument resembling a lute
arpeggionestringed instrument like the cello
bandorebass cittern
banjolincombination of banjo and mandolin
banjulelecombination of banjo and ukulele
barbitonlute or lyre with many strings
bellonionmechanical instrument combining trumpets and drums
bombardinstrument like the bassoon
bombardonlarge keyless bass trumpet
buccinaRoman curved trumpet
carillonset of bells of different sizes
cavaquinhofour-stringed Brazilian ukulele
celestakeyboard instrument with hammers that strike on steel plates
cervelatshort bassoon-like instrument
chitarronelong double-necked lute
citharaancient Greek musical instrument like a lyre
clavichordold keyboard stringed instrument
clavicylindersquare keyboard instrument whose sound produced from a glass cylinder
clavicymbalold name for a harpsichord
claviolekeyed string instrument
concertinaaccordion-like instrument with two sets of keys
crwthWelsh six-stringed instrument played with a bow
curtalkind of archaic bassoon
diaulosancient Greek double flute
dichordmusical instrument with two strings
didgeridooAustralian aboriginal instrument consisting of a long wood or bamboo tube
dilrubaIndian stringed instrument like a small sitar
dyphonedouble lute with fifty strings
esrajIndian stringed instrument with sympathetic strings, played with a bow
euphononkeyboard instrument resembling the organ in sound
flageoletsmall flute or recorder with two thumb holes
flautinosmall flute or piccolo
gaitaSpanish bagpipes
glockenspielsmall bells or bars struck by hammer or keyed levers
gorahbow-and-string instrument of Khoekhoe people
guetwo-stringed violin from the Shetland Islands
guiroserrated gourd scraped with stick to produce music
gusliRussian zither
harmoniphonekeyboard instrument with reeds
heliconbass tuba
humpenscrumpcrude musical instrument like a hurdy-gurdy
idiophonepercussion instrument made of naturally resonant material
jazzophonemusical instrument like a kazoo with a trumpet bell
kakakiWest African ceremonial trumpet
kalimbaAfrican musical instrument made of metal strips along a hollow wooden tube
kanteleFinnish zither
kent-buglean obsolete keybugle
keybuglebugle with keys
kita small pocket violin
koramusical instrument similar to a harp
kotoobnoxious-sounding Japanese stringed instrument
lagerphonepercussion instrument with bottlecaps loosely nailed to pole
lautenclavicymbellute harpsichord with gut strings
lituuslong curved trumpet
lurancient Scandinavian trumpet
lyrichordkind of obsolete harpsichord
lyriconelectronic wind instrument like a large obverse flute
lysardenold wind instrument like a cornett or serpent
magadisancient bridged stringed instrument
manzellovariant form of soprano saxophone
marimbaphonemarimba with steel keys
melodikonkeyboard instrument that brings tuning forks in contact with rotating cone
metallophoneinstrument like the xylophone but with metal bars
mirlitonreed pipe
molimowooden trumpet used by Mbuti pygmies
molotwo or three-stringed lute of West Africa
monochordmusical instrument having only one string
nyatitieight-stringed lyre used by Luo people
obeophonemechanical keyboard instrument used to imitate woodwind instruments
ocarinaegg-shaped flute-like wind instrument
ophicleidekeyed bass brass musical instrument
organistrumearly musical instrument resembling the hurdy-gurdy
orguinettemechanical instrument with reeds and bellows, playing music from a paper roll
orpharionlarge lute with six to nine pairs of strings
oudwooden Middle Eastern lute
pandoramusical instrument like a lute
panharmoniconmechanical musical instrument operated by a cylinder
pantaleonlarge dulcimer
phorminxseven-stringed Greek lyre
pianettesmall upright piano
pibcornold Welsh instrument like a hornpipe
pipaChinese lute
pluriarcWest African stringed instrument like a zither
polyphonemany-stringed instrument like a lute
posaunearchaic trombone
psalteryancient stringed musical instrument
quenavertical bamboo flute used in the Andes
quinticlaveupright brass-wind instrument like a keyed bugle
quintonfive-stringed tenor viol
ravanastronancient Hindu stringed instrument played with a bow
rebecmedieval musical instrument like a mandolin or viol
regala small portable organ
riqqMiddle Eastern tambourine
sackbutearly wind instrument resembling the trombone
salpinxancient Greek trumpet
sansaset of small cymbals played with the thumbs
sarangiIndian fiddle
sarindastringed instrument of India played with a bow
sarodbowed or plucked South Asian string instrument
saronIndonesian instrument with seven bronze bars struck with mallet
sarrusophonedouble-reeded musical instrument resembling the bassoon
saxhornbrass instrument like a trumpet
schryariold and very loud double-reed wind instrument
setwenty-five-stringed Chinese zither
seraphinereed keyboard instrument
serpentcleidemusical instrument like an ophicleide with a wooden body
shakuhachiend-blown bamboo Japanese flute
shawmdouble-reeded wind instrument
shofarram's horn trumpet used in Jewish ceremonies
sistrumthin oval Egyptian percussion instrument shaken in the hand
sitarlong-necked Indian plucked string instrument
sourdinemuted trumpet
spinetkeyed instrument like the harpsichord
stritchstraightened alto saxophone
symphoniaold name for the hurdy-gurdy or other musical instruments
syrinxrock-cut tunnel; pan pipes
taborlight medieval drum buckled onto the player's chest
tamburitzaguitar or mandolin of the Balkan region
terpodionpiano-like instrument whose sound is made from wooden blocks
theorbolarge double-necked lute
thereminelectronic instrument with tones created by placing hands near oscillators
tibiaancient Roman flute
timbalkettle drum
timbreltambourine-like percussion instrument
tintinnabulumpercussion instrument of many bells in succession
tonitruonemusical instrument that imitates sound of thunder
trautoniumelectronic musical instrument like a theramin
trigonancient Greek triangular harp
ukekeHawaiian mouth harp with two or three strings
valihabamboo tubular zither used in Madagascar
vandolastringed lute-like Spanish instrument
veenaIndian seven-stringed lyre
vibraslapmodern percussion instrument with rod and ball
viellefour-stringed instrument played with a small wheel
vihuelaearly Spanish guitar
virginalsmall keyed instrument like a harpsichord
vocalionsmall organ whose reeds produce tone like a human voice
waldhornFrench valveless hunting horn
xylorimbacombination of xylophone and marimba
yang-chinChinese hammered dulcimer
zambombaSpanish percussion instrument
zampognaItalian bagpipe
zanzeAfrican musical instrument like castanets
zelform of Oriental cymbal
zezestringed instrument resembling a zither
zillfinger cymbals used in belly dancing
zinkeold wind instrument resembling the cornet
zithermusical instrument with strings laid over horizontal board
zufolosmall flute used to train songbirds
zugtrompeteslide trumpet
zurlaYugoslavian shawm
zurnaTurkish bagpipe or shawm


I hope you have found this site to be useful. If you have any corrections, additions, or comments, please contact me. Please note that I am not able to respond to all requests. Please consult a major dictionary before e-mailing your query. All material on this page © 1996-2014 Stephen Chrisomalis. Links to this page may be made without permission.

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