Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly uninspired, or like the world around me is too intensely ordinary, I like to dive headfirst into a familiar internet rabbit hole–the handmade instruments of Etsy. The labyrinth of strange and noisy tunnels spits me out a few hours later, 20 Youtube tabs open on my browser and a ringing in my ears.
The handmade instruments you can find on the site vary widely, from cigar box banjos to analog synthesizers. They run a wide spectrum of practicality, some as functional as a guitar or piano and others seeming soley existing to make one weird noise as loudly as possible. Some of them would be at home on a stage during a live performance, while others would only drive away even the most loyal fans. Functionality is not the always the point, though.
Let them remind you of your childhood, when you would bang on pots and pans and yell for the sheer joy of making a lot of noise. Let them remind you that creativity and imagination starts with having a lot of messy, loud fun.
This square angled neck guitar features a spruce top decorated with ink designs. Celentano Woodworks is an instrument making company based out of North Carolina that specializes in designing guitars, ukeleles, mandolins, basses, and other stringed instruments in all manner of unique shapes. Some notable models include a cupcake (featured photo), a pickle jar, and an avocado. They also do custom orders, so if you have long sought an ukelele in the shape of your own head, look no further.
You may not be familiar with theremins, but you’ve probably heard them played before. They’re responsible for that wailing alien noise from old movies–most famously The Day the Earth Stood Still. If you have an Iphone, the alarm sound labeled “Sci-Fi” mimics the instrument’s sound. It’s the quintessential weird instrument, played waving one’s hands near two antennae. Here’s a video of Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” played on a theremin.
An optical theremin is a variation on the traditional design that uses a light sensor instead of antennae. In the demo video from Chris Lody, you can watch all the crazy noises produced by his Sentry Gun design. It’s especially cool when mixed with other effects like reverb. His store is full of great little electronic noise makers that would not be out of place in the lab of a mad scientist from a black and white movie.
Take a moment to appreciate this unique instrument, a 5-string banjo made from a 50’s bedpan. There’s a lot of “cigar box” style stringed instruments on the site (instruments made using miscellaneous hollow objects–like a cigar box–for the body). This one takes the cake, though. The sound is surprisingly beautiful. The different body produces a sharper, clear tone than the traditional banjo. A Youtube demo can be found here.
There’s a lot of really cool guitar effect pedals for sale on Etsy. One that stuck out in terms of design and sound was this Arcade Pedal from NoiseMakerEffects. When activated, it unleashes a fuzzy, 8-bit guitar sound that recalls vintage video game soundtracks. Here’s a demo of the sound. Noisemaker has a great selection of handmade boutique pedals for guitar geeks to nerd over.
“The Sonic Forest is dense and full of possibilities.” reads the product description of this odd little percussive noise box from ElectroLobotomy. Fitting words for this post, no?
The “trees” are made from various gauges of strings. When plucked, they make a hollow, eerie percussive thunking noise. When bowed, they make an even more unearthly noise. Watch The Sonic Forest in action on Youtube.
This instrument design was inspired by the Fibonacci shape (also called The Golden Spiral). It can be bowed or plucked, and produces a hypnotic, vaguely Eastern sound. These instruments are superb example of craftsmanship from RaysRootworks. Watch a demo video here.
It’s tempting to put everything from ErrorInstruments on this list, but I went with the Ototo. It’s a circuit board can turn any object into an instrument through a combination of sensors, inputs, and touchpads. “We designed it so anyone could use it….the only limit is your imagination,” says the demo video, and proceeds to show users jamming on two by fours, fruits and vegetables, and bowls of water. Watch here.