Pianos have been designed and redesigned for hundreds of years. In this article, I will walk you through 15 of my favorite Weirdest Pianos instruments. So grab a cup of tea, and come along for the ride!
A little more-so cute than bizarre, the Kalimba is a hand-held thumb piano. This tiny idiophone comes from ancient Africa. Players use their thumbs to strike the keys, which resonate through a wooden soundboard. The result is a mellow, chime-like tone.
Even though the kalimba is a very old instrument, it isn’t actually a predecessor to the piano. It’s unique in that its scale ascends both to the left and to the right of the center note. The kalimba was originally made out of wood, however, modern versions of the instrument typically have metal keys, and wood, glass, or plastic base. Give it a listen here!
The compactable Ship’s piano was also known as the Yacht piano, because it could be commonly found on boats. The keyboard was designed to sit on a small table.
This upright-style piano is actually able to fold in its keys…Wait, what? Yep, you read that right. And if you wanted to use the damper pedal, you had to use your knee. In fact, some Ship’s Weirdest pianos did not have dampers at all, so they were extremely ringy, and, in some cases, muddy sounding.
According to Cbc.ca “When the instrument is closed, you could mistake it for a fashionable mid-century modern TV case!”
The Piano Car
Engineers have been putting Weirdest pianos into cars for quite some time now. A piano car is piano shaped like a car, or a piano that has been built into a car. A quick Google search will yield a plethora of entertaining examples. From the fire-engine red Rolls Royce pianos (which were not built into a car, but rather, designed to be the Rolls Royce of pianos) to the Helenski piano car, there is clearly some sort of fascination when it comes blending the two objects.
We also can’t forget about the Ferrari that was turned into a piano. Unfortunately, that one is out of my budget. Another famous example is from the The Hollywood Piano Company, who created a piano shaped like a red truck. It now resides in a casino in LA.
Floor Weirdest pianos are not all that uncommon, but they are quite fun! From American science museums to Japanese classrooms, you can find floor Weirdest pianos in lots of places meant for kids.
. According to its maker, Remo Saraceni, it is technically an oversized synthesizer (Walking Piano).
The floor piano is also known as the Walking Piano, or the Big Piano. To play it, one simply walks on the keys! This fun instrument was first created in 1982 in Philidelphia Pennsylvania’s Bicentennial celebration called “Design for Fun”. (Walking Piano)
As the floor piano progressed, they got bigger. The original was actually only one octave. The three-octave model didn’t come around until Tom Hanks requested one for the fantasy-comedy film ‘Big’ (Walking Piano). Speaking of big, the floor piano went from one to three octaves for the movie itself! The above picture is the piano that was actually on the set of ‘Big’.
Floor pianos are now a relatively common prop and toy!
Borgato’s Double Piano
Also known as the Doppio Borgato, the Borgato Double Piano is a pedal piano that was first created in 2000 by Luigi Borgato (Doppio_Borgato).
Pedal pianos are built like normal grand pianos except there is a second piano fused to it, which can then be operated by a pedal board. The pedal board has 37 pedals total. (Doppio_Borgato).
Quite a few pieces have been composed for the organ-like pedal piano, such as Carrara’s “Magnificat, Meditation” and Palestine’s “Compositions for Pedal Piano”.
Piano stairs are life-sized instruments that play ascending notes as you walk up them! The grown-up version of floor pianos are very entertaining and were designed for an admirable purpose. The following video shows piano stairs that are in Odenplan, Stockholm, Sweden. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipMib6ejGuo
According to the video, piano stairs were made in an attempt to have people take the stairs more often, citing a 66% increase in stair-taking after the new installation. (Demon Taste) There are also piano stairs installed in Brussels, Belgium.
Interestingly enough, this project was spearheaded by the car company Volkswagon. They intend to change the world for the better by installing fun designs around the world. (Volkswagon). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SByymar3bds
The Bed Piano
The bed piano was first invented in England in the 1930s. Back in this time period, tuberculosis was still rampant, and many musicians were bedridden. It is believed that this is what led to its invention.
Honestly, I think that we should bring back this funny contraption for days when it’s a lazy ‘No bones’ day.
This weird piano is both comical, and dark. Like the Yacht piano, this instrument was foldable. You can sometimes find one of these rare instruments for sale today.
The Brain Piano
Lady Gaga commission a brain-shaped piano. The brain piano is quite the statement. And while we aren’t really sure what that statement is (Is it an extension of the theme of the meat dress? A peek inside her musical mind, quite literally?!) it sure is strange.
This piano looks eerily fleshy, just like the album art on Chromatica.
Gaga performed on this odd piano at the MTV VMA’s in 2020. You can watch her here.
Of course, the French also have something weird to contribute. Sebastien Erard was known for creating Weirdest pianos and harps. Erard instruments have been owned by important historical figures such as Liszt, Queen Victoria, and Beethoven. Erard pianos are unique because of their pedals. The pedals are actually harp pedals and are arranged in a different order than traditional piano pedals. Another notable fact about the Erard piano is that Sebastian Erard’s innovative new key mechanism allowed for faster note repetition (Sebastien-Erard)
The Giant “Circle Piano”
This piano is made to look like a giant circle, and the player stays in the center. I have two questions….1. How do you get in and out of the instrument? 2. Where is middle C?!
I’m going to ‘circle’ back to Lady Gaga just one more time. According to the makers “We designed and built the world’s first circular keyboard controller, the “Brockettship”, used by Brockett Parsons on the Lady Gaga Born This Way 2012-2013 and the 2013-2014 ArtPop tours.” (Piano Arc)
The company PianoArc still makes these weird wonky pianos. They call it a ‘circular keyboard controller’. You can learn more about it on their site here: https://pianoarc.com/about/
The Photo Player
This is one of my absolute favorite Weirdest pianos. Before there was the photo player, accompanists were hired to play piano along with silent films. But filmmakers needed a better way to pair music to their movies. The old way was getting tedious. So piano rolls were invented… But they still needed sound effects. So, in the early 1900s, the photo player was created to be the best of both worlds.
According to GVRS, “After some time, some of these pianos were extended in size with pipe organs and sound effects inserted into large cabinets connected to the sides of the piano. The user of this new contraption, which became known as the photoplayer, could then create multiple sounds to match the actions on screen.” (GVRS)
The photo player is more of a mechanical orchestra than it is a true piano, however, it is a keyboard instrument.
You can see this chaotic keyboard in action here. Pulleys and keys, bells and whistles…oh my!
There are two unique Bosendorfers of note. One is the original Bosendorfer, which has 97, instead of 88 keys. The second is the Bodendorfer ‘Klimt’ which had a copy of the famous art work, ‘The Woman in Gold’. Whether it is adding art to the lid, or adding more keys, Bodesndorfer piano creations are also odd in the best way.
The Spider Piano
Here we go with Lady Gaga again…She also had a spider piano with very long legs, custom built for her. But this is no small spider. This piano measures about 10 feet tall.
It was made for Lady Gaga’s Royal Variety performance in 2009. Let’s not forget the red latex dress to go with it! She had to use an elevator seat to get up to the keyboard
This performances of Speechless really does leave us at a loss for words.
The Boganyi is a full grand piano with an extremely unique redesign. It was created by Hungarian pianist Gergely Bogányi. According to the official Boganyi website, Mr. Gergely Bogányi “had a burning desire to add a new beauty to the way the piano looks and sounds. So he introduced modern innovation to the last 200 years of almost unchanged piano tradition” (Boganyi-Piano)
You can learn more about these pianos on their site here.
The Janko Piano
Hungary seems to be a place where piano redesigns flourish. The Janko piano, designed by Hungarian pianist Paul von Janko, is a 4-row keyboard. Janko was both a musician and a mathemetician (Paul_von_Jank).
The above picture is the layout/ blueprint for the Janko piano. You can see the instrument in action here in this demonstration.
Weird Pianos: Conclusion
Which of the Weirdest pianos do you like best? Let us know in the comments. Oh, and we also do piano reviews and buying guides, by the way! You can check them out here: