Cool Music Instrument rare unusual selected and beautiful instruments

Windband Incantations: What are bull roarers and Wind-Bands? A simple yet haunting music instrument

Hello, Priscilla Hernandez (singer-songwriter) again... I wanted to share this article about these simple and haunting instruments.
I'm sharing  this improvised "Wind incantation" I recorded in Samhain, 1st October 2015. Wind has always been an inspiration and a personal "obsession". I even wrote a song called "The Wind song" in one of my albums.  As I mentioned in my introduction post, I love to collect and play rare and folk instruments to layer the sounds in my work, so here is a "Capella" improvisation just with a "wind-band".

What are wind-bands and bull roarers?

Wind bands are in fact instruments inspired in the "bull roarers", an ancient music instrument  consisting in a piece of wood attached to a cord that you just spin to make it buzz. There are archaeological evidence of their existence since the Paleolithic period in several continents. From Scandinavia, to Ancient Greece to Australia, it  is found in many cultures with different names. It was used to communicate over distance (the low frequency can travel and be heard several miles away) and also in rituals to keep "evil spirits" at bay and summon good forces.

Wind bands are a modern type of "bull roarers" and  belong too to the same category of music instruments called "aerophones" as the sounds depend on the vibration caused by air against the surface of the instrument.  They are very easy to build  and the sound it produces is somehow a mix of  the didgeridoo and the classic bull roarer. They are usually constructed of wood with a rubber band resonator. It doesn't require any special technique except twirling it with the handle, depending on the speed it can create a variety of sounds and is tune-able to different pitches.

When you spin it it produces a drone sound,  kind of eerie and ghostly, the pitch can be changed adjusting the distance of the "dividing piece", if you place such piece in an angle it can create harmonics too.  Some stores sell "double wind bands" to mix two tones. As you can see the building plan is rather simple.  I love to bring it with me when I hike and  I just  improvise along with the drone.  I love rare instruments, fantasy, myths, legends and music.







Hevia Electronic Bagpipes: Midi, versatile and portable bagpipes

MIDI bagpipe

Hevia is a world wide known bagpipe performer (Celtic Folk)  from Asturias, Spain. He has launched his own trademark electronic MIDI bagpipes. The cool of thing of them! they're portable and easy to travel with (fitting as aircraft hand luggage so you don't have to risk it) and also they have all the versatile functions of the MIDI so you can make it sound virtually as anything you could imagine. You can read more at the official website of  this bagpipes at:

Hevia electronic bagpipes logo

Right now they come with custom software with ready to go sounds (including samples of several European bagpipes as well as other instruments) that works in MAC computers but they're developing it for the use in PC and Windows systems shortly. Bagpipes have a midi controller and  can work via USB or bluetooth autonomous up to 25 meters, and will sound through the speakers of your computer system. What does it mean? that if you're a happy piper that likes to perform all day but your neighbors hate you and menace to kick you out of the building... yay, you can do cool things like lowering the volume of your instrument and of course make it sound like a completely different thing with VST (virtual instruments) or any sound from your sampler.  Below you can see a demonstration and also how small it is packaged and folded to travel with. Cute huh?

Provided by capacitive sensors. the instrument allows hyper-realistic interpretation. Also the fingering fully customizable by user.

The price of the new Hevia Electronic Bagpipes MBS 300 is 1.999 euros + 18% VAT (depending on the country) + shipping expenses. If you are interested in purchasing a set you can write directly to their email and ask them for more information or how proceed with the payment.

My only complaint remark is that the trademark is printed a bit too big in the instrument, a more subtle trademark would have made it a bit more elegant, still I'd not mind to have one, snif! :)


The Air piano: an innovative instrument with a wealth of possibilities for live performers

air piano

The air piano was invented by Omer Yosha in Germany . First prototypes came out in 2008 Yes it's called a "piano" but it has no keys neither you need to play "keys" to make it work. Yes, it looks like magic while your hands move in the air.  Somehow I feel (as piano player myself) that maybe "air piano" was not the right name for it as I'd say it's more a "digital controller" but I guess that as it looks similar to a keyboard this came to mind to  his creator. It looks in fact like magic and offers so many possibilities!

Omer yosha

Above: Omer Yosha (inventor of the Air piano)

The hardware (which by the way is built in an elegant walnut wood and dark red acrylic glass) makes no sounds on its own and it needs to work connected with a computer  (MAC or PC) via an USB port and works like a MIDI  and OSC (open sound control) controller, so how does the airpiano sound? It does sound however you want it to... considering you can link it to any VST (virtual instrument) of your library,  with the eye catchy fact that you don't need (like the theremin) to touch in order to make it sound but they are in fact completely different instruments both in concept and way of being played..Still the fact that you seem to play the "invisible" air in both of this instruments sure you'll catch the curiosity of your audience as performer. The air piano has a layout The airpiano comes with its own software to control it and it has a matrix of 24 discrete keys and 8 faders which are not on the screen but above  arranged in a  touch-free interface. each assigned with MIDI messages ready to be triggered. The length of a triggered note is equivalent to the time a hand is placed on the corresponding virtual key, which is also confirmed by LED feedback.

The airpiano software allows setting the device in numerous ways and since there are no “rules” of how to play an airpiano, new creative ideas and playing techniques will come to life!. Good thing is that is rather small ( 960 x 160 x 26 mm) and lightweight (less than 3 Kg) making it rather portable. 

More info at the official site of the airpiano. They offer a downladable zip brochure with the specifications.

Price  in europe is 1099 Eur including shipping, so a bit pricy, but looks intuitive and really versatile specially for performers in electronica music and solo acts

Below you can see a demonstration of the air piano made by  Jo Hamilton. A british artist that has become  one of the most reknown performers of this instrument and first artist using regularly on tour.

Longer version with more details in this other video.


Balalaika: the strings of Russian Folk



The Balalaika with origins in the XVI century (sometimes wrongly referred as "russian guitars") is one of the major Russian musical instruments, along with the Domra, the Accordion and the Guitar.The Balalaika most likely evolved from the Oriental Dombra, which is still played in present-day Kazakhstan.  It is said that the Balalaika embodies the Russian people's character, with its ability to switch from happiness to sadness with ease. It was common for the peasant ballads, composed for the Balalaika, to irreverently poke fun at the authority of the times. For this reason there were times when the Balalaika was banned by both the Orthodox Church and the State. The instrument enjoyed its greatest folk popularity in the early 18th century. It was also carried by the common people when they fled Russia at times of war.

This instrument is characterized by the  triangular body (a trait that it acquired in the XIX century)  and three strings (or six, in three double courses).The Balalaika is a member of the Lute family and is made in a number of sizes; Piccolo, Soprano, Prima, Secunda, Alto, Bass, Contra-Bass and Sub-Contrabass. The lower pitched the bigger the instrument is.All have three-sided triangular  bodies, spruce or fir tops and backs made of from three to nine wooden sections, and usually have three strings. The prima balalaika is played with the fingers, the sekunda and alto either with the fingers or a plectrum depending on the music being played, and the bass and contrabass (equipped with extension legs which rest on the floor) are played with leather plectrums. It was in the XIX when it started to be featured in orchestras aside from the folk music.

The Balalaika strings are tuned above middle C to: A, E, E (1st-3rd). The 1st string is the thinnest, and lays over more frets than the 2nd & 3rd strings.

Read more at Wikipedia article

You can find some deluxe nice looking Balalaikas from Ethnic Musical Instruments store.

If you're intending to buy a balalaika online we recommend you to read this review article "buying and selling balalaikas in ebay" with some tips and advice.

Beware because some balalaikas offered for cheap price are more a souvenir than a professional instrument. A professional balalaika can cost up to 1000 dollars, though you can find some decent working ones for around 300$. Anyway you can find balalaikas in ebay for reasonable price and quality out of different stores, some vintage and second hand but in good playing condition.

If you're based in Europe you can purchase rather affordable Balalaikas  from the german hyperstore Thomann like the following.

Balalaika thomann

Above: Balalaika listed in Thomann Music Store.

You can find also in FOLKFRIENDS store (based also in germany) this Alto Balalaika

If in the states you can also find balalaikas and strings in yourworldinstrument store or fromt he ethnical music instrument store. Both have cases, instructional material and several models of affordable balalaikas

To teach yourself to play balalaika we´ll spotlight Mel Bay's Balalaika book  by author Bibs Ekkel as instructional material. It has 160 pages and features a CD. It features a nice section about the history of this traditional instrument.

Melbay balalaika book

Ektara and gopichand: one string percussive instrument from India


ektara one string instrument


The ektara  is simple yet cool  rhythmic/percussive  folk instrument and  has one single  bowstring used mostly by wandering bards and minstrels from India and Bangladesh (called Baul), and when striked by the hand,the scale/pitch is changed too like in the african talking drum. The name Ektara comes from the Hindi and Bengali and means  "Ek" means one, "tar"  string. It is also known as "Gopichand" (or gopiyantra)

There are different variations in the construction. Pressing the two halves of the neck together pushes the peghead away from the body, thereby tightening the string and raising its pitch. The modulation of the tone with each slight flexing of the neck gives the Gopichand its distinctive sound. There are no markings or measurements to indicate what pressure will produce what note, so the pressure is adjusted by ear. This one stringed instrument provides a range of deep sounds, in one long slur.


The length differes being  2-3 feet i the most common measure and consists of bamboo that is split through most of the length.  The two ends are pried apart and attached to a resonator made of coconut, gourd, a metal container or a hollowed out cylindrical section of wood.  The open end of the resonator is covered with taught skin and a string penetrates the centre.  This string is attached to a reinforced section in the centre.  This string then passes through the hollow of the resonator and attaches to a tuning peg located in the bamboo.

The sound of the gopichand is most distinctive.  There is a peculiar bending of the pitch as the two legs of the bamboo are squeezed together by the left hand while the right hand plucks the string.

Below you can see a video showing how it's played and its overall sound.



Where to buy one:


In this store you can find soprano, tenor and Bass Gopichand. You can also buy there gopichand replacement strings.

- is a store placed in Spain that specializes in world instruments and have gopichands in several sizes. Page can be also loaded in english and other languages.

-n ebay there are some stores that list several models of gopichands at different prices like the one in the picture below

Some other useful links about this instrument:

-Read Wikipedia article about the Ektara

-Article about the Gopichand



AUERGLASS: Experimental Organ by Tauba Auerbach and Cameron Mesirow


The "Auerglass" is an experimental and  self designed  two person pumped organ out of the mind of two  artists Tauba Auerbach and Cameron Mesirow (singer-songwriter also known as Glasser). It's one of those delightful cases of "music meets art". The instrument needs of two person playing simultaneously so it cannot be played by one person alone.

Being the creators best friends they conceived it as a "tandem" instrument so each  of the two players has a keyboard with alternating notes of a four octave scale and must pump to supply the wind to the other player's notes.

auerglass diagram

Above: Auerglass diagram 49 pipe. 4 bellows. 2 keyboards
White pine, plum, maple, southern yellow pine, blood wood, white oak, walnut, acrylic, steel, copper, leather, felt – L=15’-10 ½”; W= 2’-7 ½”; H= 9’-8”

The way it is played renders a final melody that is never quite the same and thus it has a great component of improvisation in it yet not so, as they have scored special melodies to be played this way. It sounds very "vintage" and "dreamy"

This gorgeous and insane looking Auerglass organ was constructed by Parsons Pipe Organ Builders in Canandaigua, New York and it was part of Tauba´s show "Here And Now/And Nowhere" at Deitch Projects

Below you can see some videos of the AUERGLASS  and these two talented ladies in action.

Above: Official Auerglass project video with Tauba Auerbach and Cameron Mesirow
Performance outfits created for Tauba Auerbach and Cameron Mesirow by Ida Falck Øien.

The Hang: No it's not an UFO it's one of the most cool percussion instruments ever!

Hang drum

No, it is not a wok, and it is not an UFO out of the 50´s scifi movies...It resembles  an inverted steel drum, and it sound is somehow similar yet more tribal and hypnotic, relaxing and serene. The instrument has a soft, sorrowful, melancholic tone  a perfect companion for emotional  and ambient music.Despite its rarity (and price) it's been embraced by many hippy communities and musicians on the street (sure a great inversion) and it's quickly become an sensation  and new hottest trend among hand drum players.

The drum is an idiophone instrument  that was invented by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer of PANart in 2000 in Switzerland. It was shown in 2001 at Musikmesse Frankfurt. It was the result of the investigation the result of many years of research on the steelpan and the study of the diverse collection of instruments from around the world, such as Gongs, Gamelan, Ghatam, drums, bells, etc The inventors were inspired to make the drum instrument from ethno musicological roots. They made it keeping in mind the Hijaz, the Aeolian and the Ake Bono. It takes its name from the Swiss German Bernese dialect word for "Hand" as the instrument is indeed played with the handd  typically resting on the player´s lap, though you can also use a stand.

The Hang is made from two hemispheres of chemically-strengthened steel joined together by aprocess called gas nitride and those two "dishes" together render an object that looks like  a flying saucer. The two sides are referred to as the Ding and Gu.

The Ding side contains seven to nine "tone fields" (the notes of the hang), which look like dents in the surface, arranged in a circle around the Ding itself, a smaller hemisphere in the center. The scale of the notes are chosen by the owner when the Hang is constructed and indeed can be customized to render different scales. The Ding can also be struck to create a deeper, gong-like note.

 panart hang drum 

Top side (Ding) and bottom (Gu)

The ding of the drum instrument when played produces a sound like steelpans tune like harmonica, harps and bells. The player can change the scale he is playing in by striking the tone fields that lay in cross pattern around the center. The Gu side of the drum instrument is resembles the sound made by ghatam.

The Gu side has a bass port that can be played by slapping your palm over the  hole (like an Udu) or used to bend the sound when playing the ding side. Udu like sounds can be produced with the air resonance within the clamped shallow shells, with the notes sounding like bells or harmonically tuned steel pans.The inner note on the bottom dome is the bass note, and when played in a dampened way allows change in pitch like a talking drum. Seven (in the bass version) or eight (treble version of the Hang) notes are tuned harmonically around a central deep note. The hemispheres are hardened by a process known as gas-nitriding.

The Hang is sometimes referred to as a Hang drum because it is often played by, and associated with, drummers. The 'drum' label is discouraged by PANArt and many players as simple drumming can limit the sonic complexity of the Hang.  In fact playing it as a drum  can be aggressive on the instrument  cause injury to the player and detuning of the Hang. There are many ways to produce sound out of a Hang that do not involve what many consider 'drumming'.

Metallurgical and acoustic research by the makers has led to significant changes and refinement in structure, design, and process over the years since the first Hang was offered. In the spring of 2006 the hangmakers presented a  new generation   with an a upper surface of annealed brass and a ring of brass around the circumference. Thus we can distinguish among first (those made from 2001-2005) and second generation hangs (afterwards).


The instrument is  often named HANG DRUM because it is associated with drums and drummers. Its creators, the PANart do not like their drum instrument to be labeled as ‘drum’. This is because simple drumming reduces the sonic complexity of the hang. If the their instrument is played only like a drum then the music gets detuned and it can also cause injury to the player.

Ok, .let´s see some action! :)

Above: Hang drum solo played by talented player  Manu Delago

How do we get a Hang Drum?

I'm sorry, not EASY, neither CHEAP.The inventors are the only two people in the world who make hang drum instruments. They have their workshop in Berne where they have created each and every piece. The official site of the hang drum made by Panart is no longer working, of course they may have a long queue of orders still, but sadly the process involving one implies a long wait, quite a lot of money and a visit to the inventors. Somehow you can find second hand hang drums on ebay but the price they can reach is very high. When knowing more about the official way I shall come and edit the article, feel free to comment and provide your own input.

There is a very similar instrument to the hang which is the so called Caisa (in fact there´s a generation of instruments "similar to the hang" related as "handpans"). The caisa made out of steel and wood  and played in a very similar way by Bill Brown in Germany. It's a bit more available and cheaper (yet not cheap (over 1000 Eur). You can find it on purchase for example in this store. Or you can try ebay for CAISA, there are often CAISAs in different tuning for less than 1000 Eur or even less if second hand.

There are other that are made out of propane tanks with tongues in the steel that are also tuned and played in a similar way to the hang.  Here's a site with a selection of instruments similar to the HANG. But the site doesn't include my favorite (similar but also lovely in its unique way and previously featured in CMI  Tribal Thunder Oscar


VSTS (HANG as Virtual Instrument)

For those of you that cannot afford to have a hang, or an instrument similar to a hang, or simply you just need the sound for your composition, you still have the option to purchase it as VST (Virtual instrument). I'll highlight Sonic Couture and Tonehammer as two reliable resources for the matter. I don´t own them  myself to compare the samples  (I wish!) in fact I make most of my "hang drum" sounds out of a Oscar Drum from Tribal Thunder that I conveniently sampled myself, but both companies have rare and amazing libraries and thus here you can find the links:

hang drum vst at sonic couture


alien drum hang drum vst


I've also find this other source for hang drum VST but reading user reviews it seems not to be up to the quality library standard compared with the soniccouture one, still here's the link if you want to listen to some demos It looslike the 1.0 version was free or donationware but the newer version is not for free can can be found here HANG VSTI 2.0

And if only for fun you can buy an apps hang drum emulator for your iphone  and have fun ;-) for just 0.99$

Other useful links to know more about the HANG



Ken Moore´s wii and kinetic homemade theremin

I've always loved theremin... one of the first electronic instruments and with one of the most eerie sounds so close to the human voice and still so difficult to tune and play. One day for sure, it's in "I must have" list.I've felt tempted to buy a theremin several times, though price for a decent one rounds 450 dollars and up.Thus I ended up surfing the net looking for several home-made theremin like gadgets just investigating and I ended up finding the blog of this talented man Ken Moore, that has managed not only to make affordable home-made thermins but also add a very cool and visual aspect to the playing.

In his site he explains to us the basics and some examples of his Wii Theremin (controlled by a Wii remote) and the Kinetic Theremin. It really worth to watch the videos, because in this case "to see" explains much more than words. Not that I would not recommend a real theremin for serious playing but it resulted that Ken's experiments opened brand new possibilities both in sound and in visuals that rendered a mention for its own merit. so here we go:


Above: Homemade Wiimote-powered Theremin made by Ken Moore. The technology links a Wiimote controller, infrared LED gloves and a Roland JV-1080 synthesizer to create Theremin-like sounds (sine wave) or a nearly endless world of bizarre sounds. And the overall cost was 35$ to have your own MIDI theremin. I may say I already collected the materials... so feeling tempted to try this one soon and adapt it to my show. :) There are specific guidelines and instructions at his site.

Recently Ken surpised us with a new idea... his kinect theremin with a visual representation of the intensity and pitch by brightness and different hues for the notes. Well see yourself... and everything explained as the other example in his blog.


The Reverie Harp: soothing and relaxing musicotherapy

The Reverie Harp is not an Harp itself, it's a kantele or gusli like instrument (more than an harp should be related to zithers or psaltery) but it is itself  a groundbreaking new instrument invented and designed by Music Makers in Minessota (USA) along with australian music thanatologist Peter Roberts. An instrument  that's opening doors to musicians and non-musicians alike, providing soothing music therapy with little or no practice or training because of being tuned to pentatonic (five-tone) scale all notes are in harmony to create pleasant melodies when strumming its . With no wrong notes it i's very simple to  play  it and render a heavenly enchanting  penetrating and in words of many healing sound wether plucking individual or multiple strings, strumming or even hammering with  dulcimer hammers and other tools. Thus the Reverie Harp® is quickly being embraced in children's hospitals, chemotherapy units, maternity wards, surgery recovery, hospice centers and by music therapists as a music therapy tool to calm and comfort patients to soothe stress becoming a must-have a must-have tool for music therapists, visitation ministers/chaplains, activity directors, and nursing homes care-givers.

reverie harp

The instrument comes with a tuning template (standard tuning is pentatonic scale C but others are available) and a tuning wench  (you may need to buy or have an electronic tuner to assist you in this task).  They also provide padded gig bags, instructional materials and other accessories you may need for your instrument.  The official site is from the instrument creators Music Makers but is commercialized worldwide by Harp kit


If you're lucky you can find it often reverie harps in ebay too, sometimes with slightly cheaper auctions or second hand.

reverie harp ebay

The instrument  has a solid cherry  timber frame and solid red wood mahogany soundboard providing a great quality to the sound but is small (50x32cm)l, lightweight (4 lbs/ 1.80 Kg) and easy to hold with no sharp edges and it features a lovely carved tree rosette making it also pretty to look at. It's smooth, egg-like shape is inviting and designed to be held on a lap or shared between two players, such as a music therapist and patient.   With 22 wire strings its unique design requires no skill to play, yet produces beautiful,   soothing harmonies with the stroke of a finger.  Easy to hold, easy to play. Small stringed instruments like the kantele, the lap harps (both of which we previously covered here in our Cool Music instrument blog), or the reverie harp are known worldwide because of its ability to calm and relax both the player and listener and convey really deep emotion in a very easy way.


The Reverie Harp® (reverie means a state of daydream or meditation)  is a universal instrument that requires no practice or musical training because it is tuned to a pentatonic (five-tone) scale in which all notes harmonize to create pleasing melodies. As a result, there are no wrong notes to play and people are captivated by this simple instrument. Care-givers from around the world are sharing stories of how this new instrument is helping people relax, restore, and relate.


Useful links:

-How to tune your Reverie Harp (video)

-Reverie Harp playing Techniches (video)

-Reverie harp kit (PDF): document explaining  how to assemble the kit if you purchase the kit instead of the built instrument. (which is cheaper if you're crafty it is a 10-15 hours project and requires some tools)

Erhu: The weeping and moving chinese violin

There are only a few instruments that in my opinion can be playd with such great beauty and sadness. The chinese violin or erhu have that distinct weeping sound, with those typically sliding notes that points it as one of the most reknown sounds of Asian music not only en ensembles and orchestras but also as a solo instrument with an everchanging haunting  and sometimes very similar to human voice sound able to convey a great variety of moods (from melancholic to merry)  being even more expressive and soulful than the occidental violin, from lavish low tones to clear high notes.

Erhu chinese violin

The Erhu is an ancient Asian instrument, brought to China during the Han dynasty (~140 B.C.) and member of the huqin family. Bowed instruments became popular in China during the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). The Erhu is one of the most widely used bowed instruments in China.

The Erhu is a bowed stringed instrument with two strings and the body consists of a long vertical stick-like hardwood neck, at the top of which are two large tuning pegs, and at the bottom is a small resonator body or sound box  covered with python snake skin like a drum with 6-8 sides that provides its distinct tone to the instrument. The strings are  The bow is traditionally made of horsehair tied to a bamboo stick and the horsehair run between the strings so you cannot take the bow out of the instrument unless one of the strings is broken.This  instrument is played with the bow between the strings in a push-pull manner.

erhu instrument parts

Above: parts of the instrument

Honestly I've not found much about instructional material out there, but there is a course for 99$ at Learnerhu that grants you to learn the very basics of the instrument in just three months, as I haven't tried it cannot tell how accurate it is but it worths to have a look to the description at their site.

Below another video of an erhu solo piece "River of Sorrows" performed by Song Fei  that shows some close ups so you can perceive the fingering technique as the traditional way of performing the instrument is indeed rich in ornamentation. Normally is played while seated holding the instrument vertically on the lap with the left hand while bowing with the right. There is no fingerboard; the player stops the strings by pressing their fingertips onto the strings without the strings touching the neck.


In Ebay you can find a wealth of erhus and accessories like strings ranging, going as cheap as 100 dollars. I do not recommend to go for the cheapest option, but still if you opt for an economic erhu be sure you pick one with professional size.

You can purchase a virtual instrument (VST) of erhu from Kong audio

 erhu vst 

Kong Audio  is a company specialized in sampling traditional chinese instruments. Recorded the sessions with a distinguished Erhu musician, Mr. YuSheng Liu(who has won in several national/provincial Erhu competitions), to capture the nuance and brilliance of various delicate Erhu playing techniques.
ChineeErhu contains extensive expressions of legato, vibrato, F-p-F, staccatos, pizzicato, tremolos, glide and trills, cleverly woven and programmed to be used with MIDI aftertouch/modwheel, along with the keyswitch feature provided by the plugin, to bring the users the most lively articulations as easily accessible as possible.


Other interesting links:

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In memory of Kira

 beloved friend

My other sites Priscilla Hernandez cantautora e ilustradora

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