Virtuosos of obscure or unpopular instruments?

There are many well known virtuosos (virtuosi?) of popular solo instruments such as the guitar, violin, trumpet, piano, harmonica, even the drums.

But are there known virtuosos of more obscure or unpopular instruments, or instruments generally not considered “solo” instruments?

Who is the John Popper of the didgeridoo? The Joe Satriani of the mouth harp? The Dizzy Gillespie of the tuba? The Sergei Rachmaninov of the marimba? I think you probably get the idea.

Know of any? Links to audio or video would be very much appreciated.

Gheorghe Zamfir achieved some fame for his popularization of panpipes music.

Here is a particularly lovely sample.

A bloke named Steve Tyler got to be a hurdy-gurdy virtuoso.

Thomas Bloch became noted on the glass harmonica.

And Deborah Fox has a number of recordings of theorbo music.

Lovely stuff, all, although the hurdy-gurdy is comparable to the bagpipes in being a challenge for some listeners to enjoy, and some people suffer a terrible “fingernails on the chalkboard” effect from the glass harmonica.

If you find anyone who hates theorbo music, I would be quite astonished: it’s a very, very pleasant instrument.

Jake Shimabukuro, master of the ukulele.

Manu Delago, master of the hang drum (similar to steel drum)

I thought I’d be the only person in this thread who knew what a theorbo was. I once saw a quartet called the I-90 Collective which included a theorbo player.

Back in my college days, I hauled out a banjo and called it a “straight-necked demi-theorbo.”

Maestro Anton Karas plays the zither music from The Third Man.

For the tambourine, the man is Ray Cooper (jump ahead to the 1:00 mark of this Elton John clip). He’s all over the Rolling Stones track “Time Waits for No One” as well.

For percussion in classical music (which includes the marimba), Evelyn Glennie.

I’m not sure if he was the acknowledged master, but David Weiss was a virtuoso of the musical saw.

Red McKenzie was the virtuoso of comb and tissue paper.

Adrian Rollini was the master of three unusual instruments: bass sax, hot fountain pen (a kind of sopranino clarinet) and goofus. You can hear him on the bass sax and hot fountain pen here (the sax comes in at 0:17 and the hot fountain pen comes in at 2:11). The goofus is a sort of multi-reed instrument with a keyboard - you can hear it at 2:33 here.

Pascal Gallois is a virtuoso bassoonist who specializes in the thorniest contemporary pieces. Major avant-garde composers have written works for him notably Boulez, Rihm and Berio.

You can hear a sample of the latter’s Sequenza XII at the bottom of this page: The full work can be found on youtube.

Aussies Joseph Tawardros and James Tawardros are internationally famed players of the oud and the riq respectively.


Ah, but his video playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps from a decade ago was a significant contributor to the explosion of interest in the uke since then.

In reading the linked story above, it mentions Wu Man a master of the pipa, a Chinese lute. Wu Man’s (a woman, thankfully, given the English pronunciation of her name ;)) instrument was valued at $50,000 and the artist was going to play with the Kronos Quartet, one of the most respected groups focused on playing new music by classical composers.

So clearly a master with a superior instrument - and treated like nobody as they shoved her instrument into the overhead and dropped it.

Toumani Diabaté of Mali is a virtuoso on the kora, a harp-like instrument. I got to see him perform several years ago with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. Here they are doing a version of Dueling Banjos that ends too soon.

This gentleman, Leonid Bruk, is an expert on the bass and contra-bass balalaika. These are much like the triangular shaped instrument you may know, only much larger, and of course deeper in tone.

Clara Rockmore was perhaps the greatest theremin player the world will ever know.