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The stylophone has been around synth the 1960's.  I was fortunate enough to recently get one as a Christmas present (thanks to my wife!) and it is a really neat little gadget.  Basically, it is a hand-held synthesizer with a metallic keyboard.  It has a built-in speaker, but it also has a headphone out jack.  Apparently, the older versions only had one sound, but the newer ones offer three sounds, as well as vibrato.  My new one also has an MP3 in jack, so you can play along to your favorite song.  You play the notes with a stylus that is connected via a wire to the front of the unit.  There is also a tuning knob on the back of the Stylophone.  This little keyboard has been used by many famous acts, most notably David Bowie (who used it in his immortal classic "Space Oddity") and bands like Kraftwerk.  My Stylophone was purchased at an Urban Outfitters store in Toronto, for less than $30.  It operates on 3 "AA" batteries.


The above pictured oddity was recently brought to my attention by my good friend James N. Dawson. Neither of us had any idea what it was, or how it would have been used, but as James put it, it looked very much like a retro piece of forgotten technology. After doing some seeking on the net, sure enough I did find out some information about this little gadget. Apparently it was quite popular with the kiddies back in 1981:

An important milestone for the company came in 1981, when U.S. department store giant Sears commissioned the company to develop an electronic children's educational toy. VTech responded with the Lesson One, designed to teach basic reading and math skills. The toy was a big success for Sears, and established the VTech name as a pioneer in the children's electronics sector.


I was pretty surprised when I found this odd little beast at a local second-hand electronics store.  There it was sitting in a glass display case, along with some guitar effects pedals and harmonicas.  I paid about $20 for it.
I had never seen this machine before, nor had I even heard about it.  It's called the Philips PMC 100.  After doing a little research on the internet, it seems like this thing was manufactured in the mid 80s, and it was intended to be a sort of "micro composer" (although it is nowhere near the quality of the famous Roland microcomposers).
It has some very thin, laughable beats.  There are 100 voices, but to my ears they all sound the same.  It's FM synthesis, which I was never a big fan of, and to my ears many of the sounds are the same.  There is a built in tape deck so you can record your compositions.  There are no actual keys, just pressure sensitive "pads".  There are different accompaniment styles, much like those offered by many of the Casio home keyboards of the time.  You can also do different things to your compositions such as pitch shift.  It runs on 9V DC power, either through adapter or AA batteries.
From what I understand, this thing was a flop in terms of sales, and after listening to it I can understand why.  Even by mid 80s standards, this thing is comical.  However, it is still a great curio to add to the collection if you are the least bit interested in archaic synth technology.  Plus, I've used it as a "sling on" keyboard at some of my live gigs, which has gotten some very surprised looks.
Do you have an odd, rare or just plain strange piece of musical gear?  Tell us about it!


Please click on the above picture for a fascinating story concerning the refurbishment of one of the earliest synthesizers known to man! And be sure to listen to the sound bites near the bottom of the page (and be prepared to get chills!).