Pocket Music Monday – The Stylophone

the original stylophoneI’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for little music gadgets and toys. Each time I see one I have to seriously fight the dreaded “gear acquisition syndrome” (GAS). Then usually it is just a matter of time until I break down and find some excuse to buy the item. Needless to say I have quite a lot of musical toys now. Most of these are small and somewhat portable for some music/noise making on the go, which is quite fun. So to share some of these musical toys, this will be the first in a series of posts on musical items that are small enough to fit in your pocket. Enjoy.

The (in)famous Stylophone is probably one of my first, if not THE first of my music gadget acquisitions. It is a little on the big side of “pocketable,” but I couldn’t not include it. It was most recently made famous online by Brett Domino. (Be warned that the video below is entirely tongue in cheek.)

It was first released in 1968 and was sold mostly as a children’s toy. The Stylophone did end up seeing some use by some notable acts like David Bowie and Kraftwerk, but remained largely obscure, with production stopping in 1975. It was rereleased in 2007 featuring a volume control and two extra sounds.

The stylophone is played by using a metal stylus that is moved up and down a metal keybed to close a circuit and give different pitches to a VCO (voltage controlled oscillator.) The stylophone has a very unique and some would argue, harsh sound. It is a whole lot of fun to play, and you can slide around to various pitches quite quickly with the stylus for a very recognizable style. It has a built in speaker and headphone output, as well as an input jack so you can play along with some other sound source from the Stylphone’s speaker. The speaker itself is terrible, but that appeals to the lo-fi junkie in me, and makes for a great portable instrument.

What I like the most about an instrument like the Stylophone is that it really becomes whatever you make it. It’s limitations become your chance to use some creativity. You can use it as is with its tinny sound, or double it up, sample it, make it into a bassline, and a lot more. See my Stylophone in the Vine video below. Click the icon in upper left for sound.

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Ben

Ben lives in California and has far too many gadgets and hobbies. His solo recording project is called backward binoculars and he has a website exploring more musical things called Cut the Noise. He dabbles in synthesis, songwriting, and sound exploration with an emphasis on all things cheap and lo-fi.

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