13 Biggest Musical Instruments You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Music is something that most of us enjoy daily. And while we appreciate its sound, we rarely think much about the instruments behind those sounds. 

Musical instruments come in all shapes and sizes, and size often plays a role in the types of sounds an instrument produces. For example, a small fiddle plays higher notes than a large cello, and a piccolo is much softer than a saxophone. 

Today, we want to focus on the big instruments – we’re talking about the most ginormous musical instruments in the world. 

Sound exciting? Just wait until you see what we found! 

1. Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Pipe Organ

Not many of the instruments we talk about today will have names quite as direct as this one, but we thought it’d be fun to start with something renowned, famous, and – quite frankly – impressive.

The pipe organ in the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium is the largest instrument in the history of the world. When it was built in Atlantic City, NJ, it surpassed the previous owner of this title: the Grand Organ at Sydney Town Hall in Australia. 

This pipe organ has 33,112 pipes and took three years to construct. Upon completion in December 1932, the cots totaled around $600,000 at today’s monetary value. 

New Jersey may not have a prominent place in the music industry, but it can sure boast this musical claim to fame. 

2. The World’s Largest Violin 

Violins come in various shapes and sizes. In fact, there are plenty of stringed instruments that are similar in playing styles but different in size, such as the violin, double bass, and cello. 

But one of the hugest instruments in the world is the famous three-person violin. This musical tool is so big that it requires three people to play it. 

The violin looks like any other standard violin, except that it stands 14 feet tall. Two musicians must work together to operate the bow, while the third stands on a platform to control the strings. 

The 290-pound string instrument plays loud and low sounds that reverberate much further than your average fiddle. 

3. The Earth Harp 

Harps are considerably large instruments – so big that owners of such a stringed device must cart them around in large vans or even trucks. 

But the average harp seems as tiny as a triangle when compared to the Earth Harp.

This magnificent instrument is the longest stringed instrument on the planet, displaying working strings as long as 1,000 feet. 

While musicians play the traditional harp using their fingers, they must play the Earth Harp while wearing sturdy cotton gloves. 

The music of the Earth Harp is still impressive and sweet, but it rings out much lower tones than the average harp and is quite a sight to behold. 

4. Double Contrabass Flute 

It’s certainly fun to take a closer look at some of the famously large instruments in the world, but some more standard instruments exist with surprisingly large stature.

The double contrabass flute is one such instrument. You may have heard of the flute and its smaller counterpart, the piccolo, but the double contrabass flute is a bit more obscure.

This massive wind instrument has a range that dives three octaves below a standard flute. The large instrument is over 16 feet long and weighs more than 26 pounds. In fact, it’s so long that musicians can’t hold it to the side like a regular flute.

Instead, the body loops around with the keys running downwards like a clarinet. 

5. Subcontrabass Saxophone

There are nine different types of saxophones in the wind family. The average individual would likely recognize the baritone sax as the largest of the group, but this person would be mistaken.

Actually, the larger instrument in the sax group is the subcontrabass saxophone. And if we’re going to be completely honest here, this instrument is a bit of a cheater to appear on our list.

After its construction in the 1960s, no one could really ever play it. Not only was the instrument too large for one person to play, but it was never appropriately tuned. So, no one ever actually played it. 

But today, you can find the subcontrabass tubax, which is the closest successful comparison.

6. Hydraulophone 

It seems that musicians over the years have had quite a grand time creating larger, better, and more unique types of organs, which brings us to the hydraulophone. 

In the 1980s, an engineering professor created this unique instrument after drawing inspiration from trucks filling tanks with liquid. He then made the hydraulophone.

This particular organ is not only large but different, as it runs on water power. The hydraulophone is a dual-purpose creation. When someone is not playing it, it doubles as a beautiful water fountain.

The intricate musical system works by redirecting water through jets to create musical sounds. It’s fun to play, listen to, and watch – all at the same time. 

7. The Korean Five Meters Wide Drum 

If you want to talk about famously large instruments, you have to mention this Guinness Book of World Records winner. 

The Korean Five Meters Wide Drum not only makes the list of the world’s largest instruments, but it’s also the most expansive drum in the entire world.

As its name suggests, this drum is five meters, or 18 feet, wide. The drum is so large that during its construction in 2011, the creators used 40 cowhides to make it. 

It exists today at a traditional music center in South Korea and boasts a loud and low rumbling of a note with the hit of a large mallet. 

8. The Zadar Sea Organ

And while we’re back on the topic of famously large instruments, we can sprinkle in a hint of ocean air with the Zadar Sea Organ. 

Some may not view the sea organ as a valid instrument, as no human can play it. In fact, the only thing that can control this instrument is the sea itself.

However, the music this sea organ produces is unique and beautiful, which classifies this as an instrument, in our opinion.

The Zadar Sea organ resides in Croatia and includes several enormous marble steps that go into the Adriatic Sea. The staircase is 230 feet and contains a wide range of channels that connect to 35 organ pipes.

Are you confused yet? The pipes are all tuned to various chords. Then, the patterns of both the sea and the wind control the pipes, forcing air through them.

As you can imagine, the result is beautiful, random chords – all delivered by Mother Nature herself. 

9. Octobass 

We’ve already covered extraordinarily large violins on this list, so we may as well add another of the most colossal stringed instruments in the world: the octobass.

This instrument closely resembles a massive double bass, but it’s actually a type of fiddle. While a typical fiddle sits against your chin, the octobass stands upright on the floor at a tall height of 12 feet. 

It takes two people to play this large instrument: one to control the strings and the other to maneuver the bow.

Its three strings run taller than the average man and produce very, very deep notes. Bass doesn’t even begin to describe this instrument’s range. 

10. World’s Largest Tuba 

Only a handful of parents will ever know the sinking feeling one gets when they see their child come home from school one day with a tuba in hand.

Standard tubas are pretty large. Traditional concert tubas, the biggest members of the brass family, usually weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. That’s a giant instrument, but not bigger than Big Carl. 

Big Carl is the loving nickname given to the world’s most enormous tuba. This instrument is three times larger than the average tuba mentioned above and takes two people to hold and play properly. 

Luckily, Big Carl resides in a music store in New York, so parents needn’t worry about their child bringing this sucker home. 

11. Contrabass Saxophone

Earlier, we discussed the possibility of the existence of the subcontrabass saxophone.

While some prop pictures make it look playable, it seems that a better option might be the contrabass saxophone. 

This sax is the largest woodwind instrument.

If you were to uncoil it from end to end, it would be twice as long as the baritone saxophone.

And not only that, but its tubing is double the width. 

The contrabass saxophone produces very low, bold, and harsh notes.

It reaches a whole octave below what a bass clarinet can hit.

So now that you have to have a very talented ear to hear the minute differences between its lowest notes. 

12. Zeusaphone

What do you get when you combine a Tesla Coil with some vamped-up electricity?

Easy: a zeusaphone. 

These days, we can make all kinds of musical sounds using electronic devices. But the zeusaphone takes a larger-than-life approach to these efforts. 

The instrument uses Tesla coils on electricity conducting stands to create some cool and unique sounds.

This instrument falls under the umbrella of large instruments because it can send arcs of electricity as far as 12 feet between two sets of coils. 

Not only are these performances interesting to hear, but they are quite the sight to see as well. In some cases, people will even dress in special suits that allow them to become conductors of electricity.

It’s a light and sound show like none other. 

13. The Great Stalacpipe Organ

At this point, no one should be surprised by the number of organs on our list. Pipe organs are impressive instruments, and the most famous ones are made more notable by the sheer number of pipes built-in. 

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is another instrument that makes good use of its surrounding scenery. Much like the sea organ, it uses nature to create stunning sounds.

This organ sits in the Shenandoah Valley in the depths of ancient caverns. Leland W. Sprinkle built it, working hard to find naturally occurring stalactites that matched the musical scale.

Sprinkle’s hard work paid off as he wired electronic mallets throughout the caverns – all of which connect to a large organ console.

The console, wires, and mallets together allow one person to create music across 3.5 acres of caverns. 

Final Thoughts

When most of us think of large instruments, we often picture common varieties like tubas, saxophones, and grand pianos.

The list we offered you today takes a more expanded view of the world’s biggest instruments to introduce you to things you may never have seen before.

And for all of you music enthusiasts out there, who knows, maybe you’ll get the opportunity to see one of these grand instruments up close and personal someday. 

For now, we invite you to continue learning more about music and the endless world of knowledge there is waiting for you out there.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.