The Stylophone is a miniature analog stylus-operated synthesizer invented in 1967 by Brian Jarvis and going into production in 1968. It consists of a metal keyboard played by touching it with a stylus — each note being connected to a voltage-controlled oscillator via a different-value resistor - thus closing a circuit. The only other controls were a power switch and a vibrato control on the front panel beside the keyboard, and a tuning control on the rear. Some three million Stylophones were sold, mostly as children's toys.
The Stylophone was available in three variants: standard, bass and treble, the standard one being by far the most common. There was also a larger version called the 350S with more notes on the keyboard, various voices, a novel 'wah-wah' effect that was controlled by moving one's hand over a photo-sensor, and two styluses.
In the mid-70s a new model appeared which featured pseudo-wood on the speaker panel and a volume control. (Previous Stylophones had been notorious for being too loud in quiet situations.) This was shortly before the Stylophone ceased production altogether in 1975.
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The earliest known recording of the Stylophone was on Rolf Harris's 1969 live concert album released only in the UK called "Rolf Harris Live at the Talk of the Town", a London nightclub. After he demonstrates it for the audience, it's used on two songs, "Moon River" and "Let the Rest of the World Go By".
The Stylophone also appears on a few better-known commercial recordings, most notably David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and "Slip Away" and the commercial rave single "Stylophonia" by Two Little Boys in 1992. Irish experimental folk group Dr. Strangely Strange used the instrument on their 1969 debut album Kip of the Serenes. Kraftwerk used the Stylophone on the track "Pocket Calculator" from their album Computer World in their middle era. The British duo Erasure also employed it on the single "Don't Say Your Love Is Killing Me" (from the album Cowboy in 1997) as well as on their 2000 album Loveboat. In a lesser-known instance, the Stylophone is used for the bulk of Orbital's 1999 single, "Style". Marilyn Manson made use of it for "You and Me and the Devil Makes 3". The American band They Might Be Giants played the Stylophone in several of their songs, including "The Cap'm" and "Bee of the Bird of the Moth" on their 2007 album, The Else. Jon Spencer has used the Stylophone extensively on recordings with his band Blues Explosion, and has famously had problems bringing the device — described as "the world's most annoying musical instrument" — through airport security. Korn used the instrument on their seventh studio album, 2005's See You on the Other Side, during the introduction of its thirteenth track, "Seen It All". Umphrey's McGee guitarist Jake Cinninger has used the instrument during live performances. Swedish producer Mattias Olsson (Roth Händle studios) uses the Stylophone and the 350s prominently in his productions of Pineforest Crunch, Vijaya and Andreas & Jag. UK punk/reggae band SLC Black Ops use stylophones heavily in their recordings, notably "Nat Turner", "Let Me Go (Nazi Pigs)", "Stalwart Curmudgeons (There's No I-talism in Capitalism)" and "The Real Survival Horror".
The Stylophone is also listed as being played by Jack White on the 2008 album Consolers of the Lonely by the American band The Raconteurs. While on tour in 2008, The Raconteurs' merchandise booths included Stylophones as something to be purchased by concert-goers. In addition to this, in 2009 they held a contest through their website in which people would cover their songs, via YouTube videos, using a Stylophone. More recently, British band Los Campesinos! used the Stylophone in the song "Ways to Make It Through the Wall" on their latest album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, as well as Flight of the Conchords on the song "Demon Woman" off their 2nd album I Told You I Was Freaky.
The more versatile 350s version of the instrument was used by UK experimentalists Camberwell Now, and appeared on their album All's Well. The 350s dual-stylus version was also extensively used as a lead instrument by British band Pulp from 1992 to 1994. Its glacial tones are particularly evident on their breakthrough album His 'n' Hers (most notably the songs "Happy Endings" and "Pink Glove") whilst the 1993 album, Intro – The Gift Recordings, features a track called "Styloroc (Nites of Surburbia)" which revolves around a riff played on the first model. Pop/rocker Richard Barone features the 350s prominently on his 2010 album "Glow" (Bar/None Records), particularly on the title track, its instrumental reprise, and cover of T.Rex's "Girl," on which it is played by producer Tony Visconti.
British electro artist Little Boots uses the Stylophone in many of her songs, often during live performances. The Stylophone has also been used by Mira Aroyo of Ladytron during live performances. Also Roger Taylor's single The Unblinking Eye features a brief Stylophone solo and Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker played stylophone on Seven Seas Of Rhye from Queen II. The 1998 Moloko album I Am Not A Doctor features the instrument in the song 'Stylophone Pet.'
In October 2007 toy company Re:creation, in conjunction with Dubreq Ltd (re-formed in 2003 by Ben Jarvis, the son of the original inventor), re-launched the Stylophone, 32 years after the original had ceased to be manufactured. The new model, officially called the S1, is a digital copy that closely resembles the 1960s original but has a volume control and features an audio throughput function, as well as sporting two new sounds.
The dubreq.co.uk website also lists an upcoming product codenamed S2. The page features a silhouette of the product which looks somewhat like the existing Stylophones, along with the text "The product that dübreq Ltd have been working on since 2002 and which is getting ever closer to fruition. The S2 will be the ultimate incarnation of the pocket synth and will take Stylophonic music to another level". Although there was some speculation that this product might be the forthcoming Stylophone BeatBox, a Dubreq director recently explained that this is not the case; the S2 will be an advanced version of the S1 with added sounds and extended keyboard range.
In popular culture
In the Doctor Who audio drama Horror of Glam Rock, a glam rocker in 1974 is contacted by aliens through his Stylophone, and playing a certain tune on the instrument summons the aliens to Earth. The play includes an original song (composed by Tim Sutton and performed by Stephen Gately and Clare Buckfield) which heavily features the Stylophone.
Renowned musician Jean Michel Jarre used one in his 2010 world tour.
Musician Charlie McDonnell uses the Stylophone in a lot of his music.
Stylophonia is a track from Amadeus Mozart and Guy Garrett who together were known as Two Little Boys. This is a electronic music project from the 90s. The Track called Stylophonia only features around 7 seconds of the instrument and does include the Rolf Harris picture in the sleeve cover of the vinyl release with a Stylophone in his hand.
At approximately the 35-minute mark in the cult film Repo Man the character Otto (played by Emilio Estévez) can be seen playing a Stylophone while leaning against a phone booth in which the character Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) is engaged in a phone conversation.
In September 2009, Re:creation released a new model of the Stylophone called the Stylophone Beatbox. This new Stylophone model "focuses on the unique key benefits and features of the original whilst offering new technology and more up to date sound". It has a circular keyboard with 13 metal sound pads that will play a different percussion sound. These sounds were created by human beatboxer MC Zani, the winner of the 2008 Vauxhall UK Beatbox championships. The Stylophone is currently available in the United States through Rhythm Band Instruments of Fort Worth.
- Edison, Mike (January 26, 2007). "Jon Spencer and the North Mississippi All-Stars: Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". Yep Roc Records. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
- Elliott, Amy-Mae (14 September 2007). ""Iconic" Seventies Stylophone to be revived by HMV". Pocket-Lint Ltd. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
- Kermode and Mayo's Film Reviews, 8 January 2010
- http://www.discogs.com/Two-Little-Boys-Stylophonia/master/216441 Two Little Boys - Stylophonia (1991)
- http://www.stylophone2.com Stylophone S2 website