The 9 Best Musical Instruments You've Never Heard Of

What do you do if you want to rock out, but you're looking for something a little different to play? If you you're really tired of your guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, or saxophone (and we know that you are), consider learning one of these lesser known but still awesome instruments. They may just be perfect for you. Who doesn't love a challenge? 

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A musician playing the Ondes-Martenot. The metal ring on their finger is used to move the wire. The drawer on the bottom left controls the volume. "Ondes-ruban" by User:30rKs56MaE - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The first successful electronic instrument was patented in 1928 and was called the Ondes-Martenot. The Ondes was basically a musical wire that a player could manipulate with their fingers to cause different types of sound. Later models allowed players to manipulate the wire with a keyboard.  

Perfect for: A musician who likes to talk a lot about his instrument. 

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The Oud
The Oud. tunart/E+/Getty Images

The oud is one of the oldest instruments and was the primary stringed instrument of the Classical world. Most modern Western stringed instruments (including the guitar and mandolin) are descendants of the oud. Ouds have eleven strings and are fretless, allowing players to bend those rockin' notes a little longer.

Perfect for: Rockin' out REALLY old school. 

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The glockenspiel. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

The glockenspiel sort of resembles a xylophone, and has tuned steel bars or tubes. These are played using two beaters, which may be made from metal, wood or rubber. It has a light sound, like bells.  

Perfect for: Finishing those ballads you've been working on to win "Pam" back. 

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The Zither

A man playing a zither. Cultura Travel/Tim E White Photolibrary/Getty Images

The zither is a stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a harp and a tiny piano.  In terms of how to play it,'s Music Education expert explains:

The player places the zither across his knees or on top of a table. The strings are plucked by a plectrum worn by the player on the right thumb. The right hand also plays the accompaniment while the left hand plays the melody.

More portable than a piano, way cooler than a guitar.

Perfect for: Getting back into that experimental bluegrass band you were in. 

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A dobro. Geoff Dann/Redferns/Getty Images

What do you get when you put a big, cool looking hunk of metal in an acoustic guitar? You get a dobro. This hunk of metal known as a resonator serves as an amplifier. Invented by John Dopyera in the early 1930s, Dopyera and his brother were looking for a way to create a louder guitar. They succeeded. 

Perfect for: Taking guitar solos to a whole other level. 

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A dynamophone, pictured in 1897.

It was also known by the even less obvious name "telharmonium". It was one the first electronic musical instruments. 

It was patented in 1897 and disappeared around World War II. This was probably for the best – they were extremely heavy too.

Perfect for: A musician who doesn't care about the roadies who have to transport his instruments.

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Castanets. C Squared Studios/Photodisc/Getty Images

The castanet is made up of a pair of flattened wooden clackers that are held together with a loop of string or thin leather. The leather is doubled and the thumb is placed through it. The castanets then hang freely from the thumb and are manipulated by the fingers and the palms. 

Perfect for: A musician who doesn't have roadies to transport his instruments.

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The Bodhran

The bodhran. Odile Noel/Redferns/Getty Images

The bodhran is a drum that consists of a wooden frame with skin or a hide stretched over it on one side. To play, the drummer holds the bodhran on one arm with their hand touching the skin, and the other hand holds a two-headed mallet (called a "tipper" or "cipin"). 

Perfect for: Drummers who couldn't get the Sister Christian solo right.

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The Nyckelharpa

A nyckelharpa. Odile Noel/Redferns/Getty Images

The nyckelharpa is the official National Musical Instrument of Sweden. A modern nyckelharpa has 16 total strings and 30-40 keys which press on the strings, like a fingered fret would on a guitar. It's like a blend of a violin, guitar, and harp. 

Perfect for: The musician who couldn't play just one instrument.