The Gizmo

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The Gizmo, also called Gizmotron,[1] is an effects device for the electric guitar and bass guitar, invented ca. 1973 by the English rock musicians Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, whilst they were members of the British rock group 10cc. Clamped onto the bridge of a guitar, the Gizmo uses small, keyed plastic wheels inside which press down on the strings, yielding resonant, synthesizer-like sounds from each string. However, obtaining the desired sounds generally takes considerable practice and patience on top of advanced guitar skills.

In addition to 10cc, Godley and Creme themselves continued to use the Gizmo after they had left the band, and it was also famously used by Jimmy Page on parts of the Led Zeppelin album In Through the Out Door. The company originally licensed to manufacture the commercial version of the Gizmotron released the product to the public in 1979. Poorly engineered, unreliable, and suffering from various manufacturing problems, the Gizmotron did not live up to expectations and became an infamous commercial failure. The original manufacturer of the Gizmotron filed for bankruptcy shortly after its disastrous release. Three decades later, in 2013, Aaron Kipness of Gizmotron LLC assembled a small team of engineers to restore, reverse engineer, and ultimately design a new and improved version of the Gizmotron using modern materials and manufacturing methods.

Origins[edit]

10cc[edit]

The Gizmo was first featured on 10cc's instrumental "Gizmo My Way", a song arranged as a type of laid back beach music, where it appears as a slide guitar effect and sustained background effect. "Gizmo My Way" was the B-side to "The Wall Street Shuffle", and appeared on 10cc's second album, Sheet Music (1974), which included more uses of The Gizmo, most notably on the track "Old Wild Men". Its presence is heard throughout most of the track as a unique shimmering background guitar effect. The Gizmo was also used on the Sheet Music track "Baron Samedi".

The Gizmo continued to be used on 10cc's subsequent albums The Original Soundtrack (1975) and How Dare You! (1976) on the tracks "Brand New Day", "Iceberg", and "Don't Hang Up".

Godley & Creme[edit]

The Gizmo's ability to create a wide range of sounds was central to the production of Godley and Creme's first post-10cc project, the 1977 triple concept album, Consequences. Godley and Creme left 10cc to create Consequences which was intended to be a promotional album to market the "Gizmo". According to Paul Gambaccini's sleeve notes for Consequences,[2] 10cc were unable to afford an orchestra for their early albums, so Creme and Godley imagined an effects unit that would enable a guitar to produce violin-like sounds (this was some years before the introduction of the polyphonic synthesiser and long before the development of digital sampling).

Other Godley & Creme albums featuring the Gizmo include L and Freeze Frame.

Mechanism[edit]

The device, a small box which was attached to the bridge of the guitar, consisted of six small motor-driven wheels with serrated edges to match the size of each string. The continuous bowing action was activated by pressing one or all of keys located on the top of the unit. Pressing a key would allow the wheel to descend against a motor-driven shaft and bow the corresponding string, while the other hand remained free to fret single notes or full chords. An extremely powerful sound could be created that changed dynamically depending on how hard or soft the wheels were pressed against the strings. The sound was also affected by the type of guitar strings (round-wound or flat-wound).

Two versions were planned: one for guitar and one for bass. Ultimately few Gizmotrons were made; bass versions were produced in a much larger quantity than guitar versions. Only the guitar version was used by Godley and Creme and 10cc in recordings.

John McConnell, then a senior lecturer in physics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) assisted Godley and Creme in the development of the prototype. He considered it critical that the instrument retain the natural decay of a note rather than the sharp cut-off often experienced with an electronic synthesizer.

Use by other artists[edit]

The Gizmo can also be heard on:

Problems[edit]

One of the faults with The Gizmo was that it was very temperamental, and affected by conditions such as humidity and temperature. The design of the device used small serrated wheels to indefinitely sustain each string through friction. An inherent design limitation was that either the wheel had to have either small teeth, which could also produce harmonics of their own that varied with the speed of the wheel, or a smooth surface, which acted as a secondary bridge for each string, thereby making the pitch of each string completely unpredictable.

Conversely, the severity of these problems were minimized based on proper and precise proximity of the wheels to the guitar strings. This task was a very time-consuming one where each wheel (and arm) had to be moved closer or farther to a string to achieve the purest tone. Doing this in a quiet or isolated room yielded the best results.

This also required that guitarists modify their playing techniques to use only a very light touch when pressing Gizmotron keys down. Specific and repeated instructions in the Gizmotron owner's manual stressed this application.

Improper set-up of these wheels meant either a lack of tone, or—usually in the case of over-eager amateur or impatient guitarists—too harsh a tone caused by wheels being forced too tightly against the strings. This improper set-up resulted in a quick wearing down of the wheels for which there were no replacements—the wheels were not removable from the arm attachments. This was true of both guitar and bass units.

Gizmotron, an extension of Musitronics (the company set up to produce the Gizmo), was eventually driven bankrupt. Gizmo wheels were expensive and problematic to produce to begin with, as each wheel had to be customized to match each string. With money for research and development running out (due to Musitronics' investment in ARP synthesizers and effects pedals), the Gizmo device could never work as consistently as advertised, and by 1980 the project was abandoned.

The fact that the early '70s art rock genre had given way to both disco and punk in the late '70s had also discouraged further investment in a device that might be seen as an artifact of an outdated era.

Current status[edit]

Today, intact and working legacy Gizmotrons are virtually non-existent. The Gizmo wheels and arm attachments were made of a plastic (Delrin) that cracks and weakens over time. As a result, the wheels and arms of all Gizmotrons become brittle, fall apart, and disintegrate into smaller pieces all by themselves even in "like new" unopened boxes. Other guitar effects have since been used to create sustained tones, but because of the different mechanical nature and physics involved, none of them replicate the sound of the Gizmotron.

In October 2013, GIZMOTRON.ORG, The Gizmotron Restoration Project, began re-manufacturing new replacement parts for the few remaining original Gizmotron units. The website has also reported that a newly manufactured "Gizmotron 2.0" will be released in 2015.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The name "Gizmotron" comes from the idea that it was intended to be a non-electronic and non-synthetic competitor in the market of other "orchestral" instruments like the Mellotron, Orchestron, and Birotron.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Gambaccini, Paul: Liner notes to Consequences (Mercury Records, 1977)

External links[edit]