Casio digital horn

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The Casio DH-100, with packaging and user manual.

The Digital Horn was an instrument produced by Casio in the mid 1980s.


The original model was presented as either the DH-100 (silver) or DH-200 (black). The rare DH-500 was a slightly larger instrument with additional keys for semitone down and octave down, plus switches to enable or disable vibrato and reverb. A later model, DH-280, was the same instrument with an added "accompaniment module.' This module was carried into the DH-800: a cartridge insert provided four pre-recorded songs. These songs consisted of When the Saints go Marching In,Air on the (sic) G String,Chopin's Nocturne, and I Lost the DOH in my Clarinet, each of which could be played with or without melody. The module also provided sixteen standard rhythms.[1]

Each model has six built in synthesized sounds; saxophone, trumpet, synth-reed, oboe, clarinet, and flute. The tones produced are audibly more 'electronic' than the tones of the real instruments named. The Digital Horn looks like a clarinet/saxophone hybrid, and can be played with recorder-like fingerings over a two-and-a-half-octave range, or with the "Casio system" (similar to standard brass instrument fingering) which allows for up to 4 octaves to be played. Unlike any acoustic woodwind, there is a universal semitone-up key operated by the left pinky. The left thumb operates a sax-like octave-up key. A 'transpose' button permits the player to change to any chromatic key over a two-octave range. The DH-280 also has a tuning button. A key near the top of the instrument allows a portamento-like slide between notes. Finally, a switch permits the instrument to be played without blowing through it, making the keys operate like a digital keyboard.

These instruments were breath-sensitive for volume. Unlike other digital wind controllers, the breath actually flows through the instrument, making it feel similar to an acoustic woodwind instrument. Each came with a small built-in speaker, and also had an output cable for external amplification. MIDI OUT capability of the instrument means that it can be used to control sounds from other MIDI synthesizers that offered a MIDI IN connection. These features, as well as the low price (since it was initially marketed as a toy), increased its appeal to budget-minded musicians.

Power for the instruments came from five AA batteries, with provision for connecting an aftermarket 7.5 volt AC adaptor.

The instruments are prone to developing a squeal. This is because of a capacitor deteriorating; it can be fixed by replacing the capacitor. None of the instruments had a read-out display of any type, so transposing, changing tone, and other functions generally required counting button-clicks.

MIDI implementation[edit]

The Digital Horn transmits initial breath pressure as MIDI note-on velocity, subsequent breath pressure changes during a sustained note as channel after-touch, and portamento on/off as CC 65 with values of 0 and 127.

Use in recording[edit]

This instrument was most notably used by The Elephant 6 Recording Company based in Athens, Georgia and by Was (Not Was) in live performance of I Feel Better than James Brown. Also notable in the intro to album cut "I Blew Up the United States."

References in literature[edit]

The term "zanzithophone" is used to describe the Digital Horn inside the inlay for Elephant 6 band Neutral Milk Hotel's album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which featured the instrument, and in a footnote on page 66 of Kim Cooper's book with the same title about the album (New York: Continuum, 2005). Other than these two references, no one else calls the Casio DH Series horn a "Zanzithophone."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SPIN - Feb 1989 - Page 21 "He also has some great advice for anyone who's ever wanted to play a wind instrument: start with the Casio DH-100 Digital Horn. It's both easy to learn and fun to play. It comes with the built-in sounds of a saxophone, trumpet, "

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