We all have our favourite instruments.
As a lover of instruments, I used to look longingly at a sparkling Gretsch White Falcon guitar on the wall of a guitar store, thinking [That’s a real piece of art!]
I used to picture myself bursting through the doors of the shop (with like… £2000!…) and shouting “I’ll take it!”.
I’ve chosen plenty of great instruments here, in this list, but the Gretsch White Falcon isn’t one of them.
In fact, No modern day guitar has made the list! I figured guitars are pretty typical… no so much underappreciated.
In No Particular Order…
10th: THE GLASS ARMONICA
Unbelievably, this instrument was designed by Benjamin Franklin and was first seen in action in 1762. Water-filled glasses were it’s ancestor. This design quite clearly resembles the look of a piano. There notes increase in pitch from left to right and the player can use both hands, with arms at an approximate 90 degree angle, just as a pianist would. The main difference is that the Glass Armonica is a stand-up instrument.
Listen to William Zeitler performing his rendition of “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy” on the Glass Armonica below:
9th: THE MBIRA
The Mbira, also known as the Kalimba in western societies, is an African percussion instrument. It is made using a wooden board (sometimes, a resonator) and metal strips of varied lengths, all held down in place. The music is performed by pushing down on the metal strips and gently releasing, causing a vibration through the strip and the wood. The length and the vibrations given off by each individual strip determines the pitch of its note.
Here you can listen to a Kalimba solo by SaReGaMa:
8th: THE SYNTHESISER
Synths / synthesisers / synthsizers are sometimes given a bad reputation. Of course, when the synthesiser was first invented, there was very little “soul” to be found through the playing of the instrument. It came across as lifeless and robotic, especially since the primary music genre to be utilising the instrument was “Dance”, a genre often seen as overly-produced and expressionless. We’re not here to change anyone’s opinion on musical genres but over the decades following the synthesiser’s awakening, it has proven to be a useful asset in more genres than it was first inducted into. Many rock and metal bands have utilised the electronic sounds that are only possible through these instruments. The keys are exactly like a piano, although the sounds generated though this electronic instrument enormously surpass those of the piano and in the modern production of these instruments, players are offered much more expressive capabilities.
For an example of what synthesisers are now capable of, watch Marco Parisi performing Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” here:
7th: THE MARIMBA
Although Marimbas come in varied sizes and materials, the original versions of the Marimba were wooden. The sound projected using a Marimba is commonly found in mobile ringtones! Although a small percentage of the world’s population would be able to identify this instrument by name, it is arguably one of the most underappreciated instruments out there, especially as it is so widely regularly heard across most of the world’s societies.
Below, you can hear a Marimba duet called “Insomnia”. A beautiful piece played by two terrific performers:
6th: THE BAGPIPES
Something of a Scottish image in the more modern era, though the bagpipes are used all over the world. The air is breathed into a blow stick which is collected in a bag. The bags were used from the skins of animals for centuries, although more recently, due to a threat of lung disease, there are some safer alternatives these days. There is a drone sound which is made to harmonise with the notes that the piper is playing. This drone is not produced by the piper’s fingers or breath, but is made with what is called a chanter. An open-ended melody pipe which makes it extremely difficult (almost impossible) to create pauses in bagpipe music. Therefore, bagpipe music tends to leave no gaps, no pauses, no stutters. Just a very tuneful constant.
Below is a rendition of the song “Going Home”:
5th: THE HANG DRUM
An instrument played on one’s lap. It is a metal construct with slight indentations around the sides of the outer hemisphere of the instruments. The player performs a Hang drum by simply tapping on the sides or the bell of the instruments. This will produce a ringing sound. There are two sides to the hang and the top is known as the “ding” and the bottom is known as the “gu”. The ding side is where the player strikes notes and the gu side can also assist in the variation of the notes available on the ding side.
Here you can listen to a Hang drum solo by Daniel Waples:
4th: THE KOTO
A Japanese instrument which traditionally has 13 strings, although some Kotos with more strings exist. The performer plucks the strings with their fingers or plectra (finger plectrums). Often expression can be added by bending the string on the opposite side of the bridge. Paulownia wood is generally the wood of choice when building a Koto and there are some necessary and decorative parts made from materials such as ivory, ebony or metal.
Below, you can hear a 25 stringed Koto solo by Kasumi Watanabe:
3rd: THE HARP
Elegance and beauty, rolled into an instrument. Knowing that iterations of this instrument dated back to at least 3500bc is amazing. The soundboard, which is the side of the harp closest to the player, is basically the foundation of the harp. The strings run at an angle to the soundboard across the neck, from the “head” to the “knee” of the instrument. The harp is never played with anything but bare fingers as the effect of a harp is meant to be soft and gentle.
Below is a cover version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D:
2nd: THE CITHARA
The word Cithara describes a Latin stringed instrument in the Lyre family and was derived from the Greek instrument named the Kithara. In modern English-speaking societies, the instrument that is most closely linked with these ancient instruments is the Guitar. The Cithara has been called the “professional version of the two-stringed Lyre”. It’s a magnificent instrument with one distinctive capability, an expressive pitch bending mechanism.
The instruments that you see in the video below are of course modern builds of the ancient instruments but none-the-less look incredible:
1st: THE PIANO
Obviously one of the most widely performed instruments in the world, the piano is an instrument that offers a much wider range of pitch than most other instruments. It is also one of very few to be deemed both a stringed instrument and a percussion instrument due to the fact that the performer must firstly push and block down (percussive) which then triggers a “hammer”, inside the piano, to hit a string (stringed). It is an instrument which caters to all levels of modern western society, the lower, middle and upper class. Many of our most beloved songwriters from the last 300 years have written and performed their music on a Piano. It is quite simply one of the most beautiful sounding instruments to have ever been created.
Below, you can hear music by one of the greatest modern composers Hans Zimmer. This piece was written for the film “Interstellar”:
And there it is… My list of the Top 10 Underappreciated Musical Instruments.
If you enjoyed that, then you might also like our Top 10 Underrated Guitar Brands, 2017 blog.
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