July 10, 2010 5:28 AM   Subscribe

What's a weird musical instrument that would make a great gift for a composer?

I'm looking for an offbeat gift for a composer who writes at the intersection of classical and electronica. Maybe a rare acoustic instrument, or an unusual electronic instrument, or some combination.

I saw this thread which has some great suggestions, but nothing really right. Traditional percussion instruments like a rattle or a gourd stick are a bit too simple. I'm looking for something more like a Stylophone (which he has) or an electric kalimba (he has a normal kalimba already) or some kind of unusual wind or water instrument.
posted by dontjumplarry to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Theremin all the way. Moog Etherwave's are around $350... might be a little dear. There are definitely cheaper options, though, especially if your friend is into DIY. Lots of build-yer-own theremin kits floating around. Any budget?
posted by AAAAAThatsFiveAs at 5:35 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Gahoon! If there's ever been an unusual wind instrument, that's one.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:37 AM on July 10, 2010

Response by poster: The theremin is cool! I don't think I could stretch to $350, my budget is probably about half that at max. I found one for about £100 here, but it seems a bit tatty.
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:54 AM on July 10, 2010

I think you should consider the Korg kaossilator, which was recommended in the thread that you linked. Its tons of fun, features a novel interface, and can be used as both a toy and a 'serious' musical instrument. Amazon has it for $124.
posted by googly at 6:07 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:08 AM on July 10, 2010

Build a tromboon out of a used trombone and bassoon parts.
posted by mkb at 6:19 AM on July 10, 2010

Composer here. I've always dreamed of getting a Waterphone or water harp. Beautiful design plus a really interesting sound, so, good gift stuff.
posted by supernaturelle at 6:22 AM on July 10, 2010

Ocean drums are neat too.
posted by mkb at 6:31 AM on July 10, 2010

posted by fourcheesemac at 6:53 AM on July 10, 2010

Oh, here -- this guy (a composer) named Jeff Snyder makes beautiful esoteric electronic instruments, now featuring his Manta 2.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:55 AM on July 10, 2010

A Stroh violin might be cool- and they were sort of the vanguard of violin amplification, before electronic amplification was a possibility. That might appeal to a classical/electronic composer. They are usually not too crazy expensive either.
posted by Polyhymnia at 7:16 AM on July 10, 2010

Mbira = kalimba.
posted by copperykeen at 7:52 AM on July 10, 2010

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:06 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hurdy gurdy seems to be out of your price range. An autoharp (seems to bottom out at about $260)? A glockenspiel?
posted by Gilbert at 8:20 AM on July 10, 2010

Melodica is good for adding that classic 'dub' vibe.
posted by ovvl at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2010

I’ve been in your position many times, and while it’s neither electronic nor unusual, a ukulele has gone over marvelously every single time I’ve given one. They’re cheap, easy to play, and very distinctive in sound.
posted by ericc at 8:53 AM on July 10, 2010

Something from Bleep Labs. The Thingamagoop 2 makes a great gift. If they're handy with a soldering iron, the Nebulophone is loads of fun too. They're both smart, fun and kind of chaotic, as any good gift should be.
posted by eschatfische at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2010

The Bazantar.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:46 AM on July 10, 2010

Accordion - preferably a small used piano keyboard accordion with full bass button side. Simple, retro, analog, and they fit into all kinds of ensembles.

For somebody with keyboard background, having a portable and rugged little noise box that can actually play so many different kinds of music is a revelation. If the giftee comes to like it they can get themselves a bigger and better one. Just make sure all the keys/reeds work (no broken reeds, no rusted out of tune reeds, no holes in the bellows.)
posted by zaelic at 9:49 AM on July 10, 2010

A friend of a friend here in Chicago makes fun, ~affordable~, and unique electronic instruments. One of them is an optical theremin called "Beep It", which is pretty cool, and flexible in terms of how it can be used in a musical setting. I've seen OK-Go (a rock band) use one on stage, and it could definitely be used in weird electronic music. :)

His online store has videos of the instruments in action.

Also, more information on his blog.
posted by baxter_ilion at 10:03 AM on July 10, 2010

Best answer: At times like this, you wish you lived close enough to Musideum - Toronto's emporium of deeply strange instruments.

I have an electric kalimba from Hugh Tracey. It's basically a regular one with a piezo glued inside. It's massively microphonic, but when played through my Twin clone with full reverb, vibe and delay, it sounds like electric death.

Personally, I'd recommend a musical saw from Mussehl & Westphal: not too expensive, and a real test of tone sensitivity and dexterity. I've never managed to get much more than comedy ghost noises out of it.
posted by scruss at 12:57 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

It could be a bit tricky to find one that's both in good shape and affordable, but I'm entranced by the Marxophone [videos] They sell on ebay for $100-250 and most will need cleaning and tuning.
posted by moonmilk at 5:59 PM on July 10, 2010

The Glass Armonica would be a great gift, but it would probably be hard to find one in the $200 range.
posted by mincus at 6:03 AM on July 11, 2010

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