Unusual Microtonal Instruments, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I received a surprising email. It was from a TV show in Britain. I was asked if I would be willing to be consulted about an upcoming segment on unusual musical instruments. Apparently, a researcher discovered my ancient instrument blog through an Internet search and concluded that I was some sort of expert on the subject. (I'm just an amateur collector and connoisseur of musical instruments.)

I replied that I would be delighted to share whatever knowledge I had. I then waited to be contacted. I began to think about some of my favorite unusual instruments like the bazantar, stalacpipe organ, sarrusophone, LEGO harpsichord and even the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra.

I thought I should also do some more research on instruments that are specifically designed to make microtonal music. Of course, many unusual instruments are microtonal, but this isn't always intentional. I posted a request for assistance at a few microtonal music groups. I received a good number of emails describing some great instruments, many of which I wasn't familiar with. I never was contacted again by the TV show, but I am pleased to offer these microtonal instruments some modest publicity here.

Kraig Grady is a well known microtonal composer who has found it necessary to make his own microtonal instruments.

His Lake Aloe is a vibraphone-like instrument that is tuned to a type of extended just intonation. It has a dreamy otherworldly sound. You have to hear it. See this page for an mp3 sample and for more detailed information on his instruments and tunings.

There are several varieties of microtonal guitars. The following picture compares the fret layout of a normal guitar with a guitar that uses Lucytuning, a tuning system based on pi.

This fret layout allows for slightly different tunings of sharp and flat notes. See this site for more information on Lucytuning.

Ethan Tripp, the author of one of my favorite blogs, Of Sound Mind frequently chronicles sonic experiments that sometimes involves homemade instruments.

This instrument is loosely modeled on a Thai phin. It also represents the beginnings of his microtonal explorations. The frets are made from "zip-ties". This simple, but elegant, solution allows him to easily move the frets and thereby change the tuning. This project is described here.

See also:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


Anonymous said...

thanks for including me dan! i'm loving the freedom that instrument gives me. i have a really great tuning on there now that is an adaptation of the original thai tuning. it's got a really great melancholy sound.

Daniel Thompson said...

Cool. I hope you record it and post it to your blog.