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Benjamin Franklin’s Bizarre and Beautiful Glass Armonica Could be the First American Instrument

Benjamin Franklin’s Bizarre and Beautiful Glass Armonica Could be the First American Instrument

Benjamin Franklin accomplished quite a lot in his time. Invent the lightning rod? You bet. Create bifocals? You know it. Bathe nude in the air? Hell yeah. Share his strong opinions on who to sleep with? You betcha. And among all his accomplishments, ol’ Benji Franks even created one of the weirdest and most beautiful musical instruments we’ve ever seen.

The mechanical glass armonica (no typo there) was created in 1761 by Franklin after he attended a show where water filled glasses were played — basically the same trick you’ve tried when handed a fancy wine glass. He rearranged tuned glass onto a spinning shaft, attached a pedal and flywheel to it, and voilà; the first American instrument was born. Well, probably. One would first have to ignore all the Native American instruments that existed long before it and the fact Franklin likely constructed the first one in London, but our pal B-Franks just oozes so much founding-fatherdom that, sure, first American instrument.

The armonica has a hauntingly beautiful sound and, from what we can tell, requires a great deal of practice to produce something worth listening to. Not to mention clean hands. Bringing music to life on it seems to involve being in touch with how the instrument feels rather than a technical knowledge of notes.

The bad news about these glass instruments? They’re pretty rare and quite expensive. A search for armonicas for sale returned a fairly old website showing them with a starting price of $7,880. However, you could head to Rutgers University where — for whatever reason — you can major in the armonica and simultaneously make your parents cry about what you’re spending tuition on.

What do you think of these instruments? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Image: Great Big Story

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