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There are more than a hundred different acoustic instruments, some of which are very loud. What is the loudest acoustic instrument?

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    This may depend on what we mean by 'acoustic' and what we mean by 'instrument' - but perhaps that could be examined in the answers rather requiring the question to pin it down.... Jan 23, 2017 at 22:24
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    How about guns?
    – isanae
    Jan 24, 2017 at 0:46
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    If you have had the misfortune to share a sports stadium with them, the obvious answer is the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vuvuzela - though it only plays one note.
    – user19146
    Jan 24, 2017 at 6:21
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    @CarlWitthoft Can't wait for Concert for string quartet and tectonic plates.
    – Crowley
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:06
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    @CarlWitthoft What about pair of black holes? They plucked (via gravitational waves) a string (of laser light) from over 1.4 billion light years away producing audible (32-256 Hz) frequencies for 0.2 seconds. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_observation_of_gravitational_waves Kinda like a giant slide whistle?
    – Nick T
    Jan 24, 2017 at 22:31

4 Answers 4

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Under a strict definition of "instrument": pipe organ -- they'll shake your bones like a rock concert.

The claim is that the Atlantic City Music Hall organ is the world's loudest instrument, with one of the stops being louder than a train whistle. Several articles, inluding the Wiki article, this one and the link above indicate that this is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records, though I haven't been able to confirm it directly.

Another contender, under looser interpretation of "instrument", would be church bells, though the audience usually is not right up with them when they are being struck.

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    Good answer. Most pipe organs aren't particularly loud though; a normal church organ is quickly overwhelmed when playing together with brass or drums. Church bells are much, much louder. Jan 24, 2017 at 0:22
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    Is a pipe organ an acoustic instrument? Jan 24, 2017 at 5:06
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    @SovereignSun What definition of "acoustic" would not include a pipe organ?
    – piet.t
    Jan 24, 2017 at 8:32
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    air blows down one end, noise comes out the other - that's a pretty fair definition of acoustic ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 24, 2017 at 8:33
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    @piet.t I can see how a pipe organ (with electrically powered blowers, not pedal-powered) might not be thought of as strictly acoustic. While the sound is not amplified after it is produced, its amplitude is unattainable without electricity. I tend to think of it as a bit of a hybrid, but of course it all depends on what exactly "acoustic" means...
    – elmer007
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:25
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Loudness is a subjective sensation, so I will talk about an objective measure, which is the acoustic power that different instruments can generate. In contrast to the pipe organ answer, this answer is restricted to instruments that derive all of their power from a single human performer.

This page indicates that drums easily produce more acoustic watts than other instruments, which seems to match experience.

It also indicates that the trombone has the greatest power output of the instruments that can play different notes (not counting tuned drums). Experience also agrees that brass instruments are pretty darn loud.

I've read other sources that are not easy to cite here that closely match the numbers listed on the cited page.

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    The brass sit at the back for good reason (other than to scare the bejeezus out of the woodwind) ;-) Jan 24, 2017 at 2:30
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    The air pressure level in a trombone is high enough to produce shock waves. Video: youtube.com/watch?v=TOhxr643YuA Published paper: physics.mcgill.ca/~guymoore/ph225/shock.pdf
    – user19146
    Jan 24, 2017 at 6:24
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    Is wattage output going to be the final answer though? That page says a kick drum puts out more power than a snare - yet have you ever known a good stamp on the kick to make the rest of the band blink in the way a well-placed rim-shot in an otherwise quiet room can? [used to be one of my favourite tricks, I'm bad that way ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 24, 2017 at 8:37
  • @Tetsujin Bass drum and kick drum are two different instruments. Jan 24, 2017 at 13:33
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    If the trombone is loud the alpenhorn is louder. Much.
    – user207421
    Jan 25, 2017 at 11:15
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Maybe the calliope?

From Wikipedia: A calliope (see below for pronunciation) is a musical instrument that produces sound by sending a gas, originally steam or more recently compressed air, through large whistles—originally locomotive whistles. A calliope is typically very loud. Even some small calliopes are audible for miles.

Another option could be the cannon, as used in the 1812 Overture.

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    That would be the big piece of military hardware that goes boom when it fires a cannonball. Used (optionally, thank God) in the 1812 overture.
    – JimM
    Jan 24, 2017 at 10:05
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    Just dropping by to suggest that, for the 1812 Overture, use of cannon is canon. //I'll let myself out Jan 24, 2017 at 12:30
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    Is a cannon an "acoustic instrument?" If that is, then anything that makes sound is.
    – Eric O
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:23
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    @CarlWitthoft Joined this community just to upvote your comment... :))))
    – user2121
    Jan 25, 2017 at 1:48
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    @CarlWitthoft Q: What do you load to play a cannon canon? A: A round round. (ducks) Nov 3, 2017 at 7:43
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As already said, there are many different ways how this could be judged. Acoustic power is certainly a good criterion, though it should be weighted with the ear's response: bass instruments require much more power to sound loud. That also allows their sound to reach further, though.

Subjectively, I'd name a couple of contenders. I'll not count church bells, these would actually win in all categories, nor instruments that can't be fully human-powered.

  • Most painful at close distance: piccolo, cowbell.
  • Biggest distance where it's still painfully loud: trombone or snare drum, some woodwinds (shawm, bagpipes).
  • Farthest to be heard: bass drums or horns.
  • Biggest efficiency (loudness achieved with little effort of human power): probably trumpet (but I've never played one), cymbals or tubular bells.
  • Physical efficiency (acoustic power achieved with little effort): timpani, tuba (again no idea how exhausting it is), else possibly double bass.
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    Bombard? Legendarily loud.
    – bmargulies
    Jan 24, 2017 at 21:07

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