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. Taped onto the body of the guitar, the Gizmo uses small, motor driven plastic wheels to make the strings vibrate, yielding resonant, synthesizer-like sounds from each string.

Godley and Creme continued to use the Gizmo after they had left 10cc. The device was used by Jimmy Page on parts of the Led Zeppelin album In Through the Out Door.

Musictronics, the company originally licensed to manufacture the commercial version of the Gizmotron, released the product to the public in 1979. Quality was inconsistent. According to Musitronics engineer Mike Beigel, "The product, though desired by many musicians at the time, simply could not be reliably manufactured and further – even at best – only worked on some notes of the instrument, guitar or bass."[2] In a bid to solve problems with the Gizmotron, Musictronics hired Bob Moog to design an electronic device to "mask the inadequacies of the still unperfected product”. Moog gave his opinion that he did not know how to “make it sound good enough” and advised that the project should be abandoned.[3]

Plagued with design and manufacturing problems, the Musictronics Gizmotron did not live up to expectations and was a commercial failure. Production of the Musictronics Gizmotron ended in 1981 when the manufacturer filed for bankruptcy.

In March of 2014, it was reported in Vintage Guitar Magazine that Aaron Kipness was working on plans to launch a new and improved Gizmotron 2.0[4] The Gizmotron 2.0 debuted at the summer NAMM show in 2015[5] and was released to the public in 2016.



The Gizmo was first used 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".[citation needed]

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,[6] 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.


The device, a small box attached to the bridge of the guitar, consists of six small motor-driven wheels with serrated edges to match the size of each string. The continuous bowing action is activated by pressing one or all of keys located on the top of the unit. Pressing a key allows the wheel to descend against a motor-driven shaft and bow the corresponding string, while the other hand remains free to fret single notes or full chords. An extremely powerful[according to whom?] sound can be created that changes dynamically depending on how hard or soft the wheels are pressed against the strings. The sound is 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.

Inherent difficulties[edit]

A fault with the Gizmotron — the original prototype as well as the Musictronics device — was that it was easily affected by conditions such as humidity and temperature. The design uses small serrated wheels to indefinitely sustain each string through friction. A design conundrum is that 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 was minimized based on proper and precise proximity of the wheels to the guitar strings. Adjustment was 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.

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

Improper set-up of these wheels meant either a lack of tone, or — usually in the case of over-eager amateur or impatient guitarists — an undesirably harsh 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. Gizmo wheels were expensive and problematic to produce to begin with, as each wheel had to be customized to match each string.

Musitronics created a separate division, Gizmotron Incorporated, to produce the Gizmo devices. With money for research and development running out, due largely to a failed Musitronics marketing deal with ARP Instruments, the Gizmotron was never able to work as consistently as customers expected, and by 1980 the project was abandoned.

Current status[edit]

Today, intact and working Musictronics Gizmotrons are virtually non-existent. The 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 Musictronics Gizmotrons become brittle and disintegrate even in "like new" unopened boxes. Other guitar effects have since been used to create sustained tones, but because of the Gizmotron's mechanical nature and physics involved, electronics alone have not been able to replicate the sound.

In 2013, Aaron Kipness, a vintage keyboard specialist and restoration parts manufacturer, assembled a small team of engineers to design a new and improved version of the Gizmotron using modern materials and manufacturing methods. Gizmotron LLC was subsequently formed and on February 3rd, 2016, the Gizmotron 2.0 was released.

Use by other artists[edit]

The Gizmo can also be heard on:

See also[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. ^ Dregni, Michael, "Gizmotron Most Bizarre Guitar Effect of All Time?", in Vintage Guitar Magazine, pp. 44–47, March 2014
  3. ^ Provoost, Bart, "What the heck is that?! Behind the scenes of the weirdly wonderful gizmotron, in Gearphoria pp 24-25, SEP/OCT 2014 Vol 3 No 1
  4. ^ Dregni, Michael, "Gizmotron Most Bizarre Guitar Effect of All Time?", in Vintage Guitar Magazine, pp. 44–47, March 2014
  5. ^
  6. ^ Gambaccini, Paul: Liner notes to Consequences (Mercury Records, 1977)

External links[edit]