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The Gizmo, also called Gizmotron, was an effects device for the electric guitar, invented ca. 1973 by the English rock musicians Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, whilst they were members of the British rock group 10cc.
The Gizmo was first featured on 10cc's instrumental Gizmo My Way, where it appears as a slide guitar effect and sustained background effect with the song arranged as a type of laid back beach music. Later it appeared on 10cc's second album, Sheet Music (1974) 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 a second track from Sheet Music called 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.
According to Paul Gambaccini's sleeve notes for Consequences, 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).
Its 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". Other Godley & Creme albums featuring the Gizmo include L and Freeze Frame.
The actual 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 but 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.
The Gizmo can also be heard on:
- The Church's Violet Town where it is played by Marty Willson-Piper.
- The Siouxsie and the Banshees song Into the Light, played by John McGeoch.
- This Mortal Coil's recording It'll End in Tears (4AD), where it was played by Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins.
- Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door (1979) (where it appears on the intro of In The Evening as well as within the song Carouselambra).
- Paul McCartney's song I'm Carrying from London Town (1978).
- The Throbbing Gristle album 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial records,1979), played by Cosey Fanni Tutti.
- The Scaffold's recording of "Liverpool Lou" (1974).
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 owners 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 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 synthsizers 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 70's art rock genre had given way to both disco and punk in the late 70's had also discouraged further investment in a device that might be seen as an artifact of an outdated era.
Today, intact and working 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 has begun 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 2014.
- ARP Instruments, Inc. – the company bought Musitronics and renamed it to Gizmo Inc.
- Guitar harmonics#String_harmonics_driven_by_a_magnetic_field – list of similar guitar effects
- 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.
- Gambaccini, Paul: Liner notes to Consequences (Mercury Records, 1977)