The Wildest Instruments in Eurovision History

Ah, the Eurovision Song Contest. Whether you became familiar with this next-level spectacle by way of the 2020 Will Ferrell film, or you’re like the person writing this article—a real weirdo who has been actively following it for most of their adult life—there’s no shortage of glitz and grandiosity at this bizarre, perfect annual competition.

For those new to the event, Eurovision is like the Olympics of pop music. Each qualifying nation (a total of 40 this year) selects one song to be performed live at the competition. Judges from all participating countries award points for their favorite song, and these points are supplemented by the votes of the global viewing audience to decide a winner.

Måneskin's winning 2021 Eurovision performance.

Eurovision has been blessing television screens across the globe each year since 1956 (excluding 2020), and has historically introduced the world to some of the biggest names in pop: ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Celine Dion, just to name a few.

This year—thanks to a triumphant 2021 performance by Roman rockers Måneskin—reigning champion Italy will be hosting the 2022 event, with the finals streaming live on Saturday, May 14th. But before we tune in and see what 2022 has in store, join us as we take a look back at some of the most iconic, interesting, and outrageous instruments that have graced the Eurovision stage.

Telex (Belgium, 1980)

Telex is probably best-known as an experimental synthpop group, but when their manager pushed them to enter Eurovision, they took the opportunity to low-key troll the contest with their song “Euro-Vision.”

The lyrics are purposefully trite, the "choreography" is purposefully wooden, but honestly, if it means we get to see a stage full of Moogs in action, that seems like a fine trade-off. To our eyes, it looks like they're working with a Moog Modular System 55, a pair of Polymoogs, a Minimoog, and a Multimoog. Though the group claimed to have been aiming for a last-place finish, their hopes were dashed—they got 17th place (of 19) that year.

Peter, Sue & Marc (Switzerland, 1976)

If you’re going to write a song about a down-and-out circus clown, you’re going to want some classic barrel organ energy on that stage.

Go_A (Ukraine, 2021)

If you follow Eurovision, you might remember the "Epic Flute Guy" meme from this 2021 banger where electro-folk group Go_A represented their native Ukraine. But the "flute" Ihor Didenchuk played is actually a sopilka—a traditional instrument similar to a recorder with ties to Carpathian Mountain folk music.

Didenchuk will be back at this year's final (as will the sopilka) representing Ukraine as a member of Kulash Orchestra, who are strongly favored to win in 2022.

Lordi (Finland, 2006)

Something we should note: Although all vocals are required to be performed live, in the early ‘00s, contest organizers opted to disallow live instrumentation (likely to simplify transitions and limit on-air technical issues.) But this has not stopped competing artists from bringing out their weirdest gear and faking it with extreme panache.

A perfect example of this? Melodic metal band Lordi and this souped-up custom Schecter axe (former) guitarist Jussi "Amen" Sydänmaa used in the Eurovision-winning classic "Hard Rock Hallelujah." Also spotted: a Yamaha Motif ES 6. Now, I’m not an expert on the matter, but if someone told me this was the national anthem of Finland, I would believe them.

Paula Seling + Ovi (Romania, 2010)

By the time Romania’s Paula Seling + Ovi took the stage in 2010 to perform "Playing With Fire," the inclusion of instruments at Eurovision was admittedly purely aesthetic. This light-up, transparent masterpiece is clearly (pun intended) not built to play… But imagine all the dueling piano bars that could benefit from a double-sided baby grand. Just saying—dare to dream, everybody.

Daði og Gagnamagnið (Iceland, 2020/'21)

Why limit yourself to a single keytar when you can have three? Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið’s "Think About Things" was a favorite going into Eurovision 2020. Sadly, because of the necessary cancellation of the competition that year, the performance never found its way to the Eurovision stage…but the group came back strong in 2021 with a brand-new song, some extra cool dance moves, and the same heroic triple-keytar lineup.

Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko (Albania, 2013)

Decades before he performed the fieriest shred in Eurovision history on his Yamaha SBG1820A, Albanian guitarist and songwriter Bledar Sejko was an underground music hero, having formed a clandestine pop group in the ‘80s at a time when producing and performing pop music in Communist-controlled Albania was illegal. Later, Sejko also founded the country's first rock band.

Hot Eyes (Denmark, 1988)

Okay, so obviously these "guitars" are props. But if anybody wants to build a cheesy Flying Velveeta machine like the one that shows up around 1:06, I would not be opposed to adding it to my rig.

Netta (Israel, 2018)

Although the rules prevented Netta from using her signature Boss RC-505 during her championship performance of "Toy," the Israeli pop star mimicked her usual set-up with this epic rave facsimile in her championship performance.

Secret Garden (Norway, 1995)

In 1995, Norway gave us a blast from the past when Secret Garden showed up with a nyckelharpa in the performance of their winning entry, "Nocturne." This traditional Scandinavian folk instrument dates back to the mid-1300s and is a type of bowed fiddle. It's structurally similar to a hurdy-gurdy in that the player uses keys instead of frets to control the pitch. Catch it in action, starting around 1:18.

ABBA (Sweden, 1974)

What kind of Eurovision fans would we be if we didn’t end this list with what is arguably the most iconic song that has won top honors? Though everything about ABBA’s performance of "Waterloo" is completely excellent, Björn Kristian Ulvaeus’s wild guitar is the silver star of the show.

While many originally believed that the instrument was a Hagstrom, the credit really goes to fellow Swede Goran Malmberg—a custom builder who crafted the six-string supernova, complete with a Tune-O-Matic bridge, two humbuckers, and that unforgettable silver finish. Catch a glimpse of it around the 1:03 mark.

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