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Tiny Piano? Funny Zither?
November 9, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

In the early years of the 20th century, a pair of ex-piano retailers invented an instrument that looked something like a miniature piano. Manufactured by the Toledo Symphony Company it was called a Dolceola. But why read about a musical instrument, when you can hear one? A Dolceola demonstration by Andy Cohen. Ray Skjelbred playing "Dolceola Blues".

More information
Gregg Miner's Dolceola Pages.
Photos from a restoration.
A 2nd restoration.
A review from 1908.
posted by fings (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I learned about Dolceola after hearing that Cole Porter took along what was described as a zither with a piano keyboard when he travelled to France in 1917. I went googling and found the Dolceola, and while I'm not certain that is what he had, I thought it worth sharing.
posted by fings at 1:55 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds oddly like a cash register, and not in a good way.
posted by unSane at 2:10 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds excellent to me. Purity is an over-rated virtue in almost everything--music, wine, women...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is awesome, and I would like one.
posted by koeselitz at 2:43 PM on November 9, 2012


...presidents...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:51 PM on November 9, 2012


Washington Phillips used to play a similar instrument. Ray Skjelbred seems to bang about a fair bit on these sorts of keyed zither instruments.
posted by The White Hat at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is going to be the new ukulele, isn't it?
posted by Wolfdog at 3:28 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I found someone playing Bach on that I would rap their knuckles with a stick. And then I would be an Old Grouch forever.

This instrument seems dangerous.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:30 PM on November 9, 2012


Washington Phillips used to play a similar instrument.

Here's a post I made on him a coupla years back. Happily (and somewhat unusually) all but one of the YT links in the post are still good.

I love Washington Phillips.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:01 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is going to be the new ukulele, isn't it?

You'll know for sure when you see someone start a kickstarter to do a manufacturing run. Hmm, the patents are all long expired...
posted by fings at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you for including Ray in this post, one of my favorite living jazz/swing pianists!
posted by snowymorninblues at 8:07 PM on November 9, 2012


Classify under "I thought it was a good idea at the time" inventions. A simple cross between the autoharp and the harpsichord. An keyboard that did not respond to touch, as the organ and the harpsichord, are beautiful instruments. All instruments are beautiful.

But once the pianoforte, the piano, was developed, with it's incredible ability to be a machine but yet to still respond to the touch of an artist, well, there was no going back.

But the Dolceola is a step back. Have fun...but aren't there some better outcomes to the imaginations of musical instrument inventors? Harry Partch comes to mind, but I know his instruments are not exactly easily mass-produced and easy to play by bluegrass musicians.
posted by kozad at 8:19 PM on November 9, 2012


I'm not so sure about "respond to touch", I think it is closer to piano than harpsichord in feel (though not in sound).

The Dolceola Pages author states
What sets the Dolceola apart is its ability to mimic piano action – depending on the player's keystroke, the string can automatically dampen or be allowed to ring.
posted by fings at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2012


The theme song of "The Third Man", anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFz79SBnuk8 (slyt)
posted by stthspl at 5:46 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I quite like it. Sounds like the movie background music for a Wild West saloon.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:11 AM on November 10, 2012


But once the pianoforte, the piano, was developed, with it's incredible ability to be a machine but yet to still respond to the touch of an artist, well, there was no going back.

It actually looks to me like one of the least wacky implementations of a zither novelty. Unlike a piano, it would offer easy portability.

It's not clear how much of a step back it was. Maybe ahead of its time. The concept would be revisited with the advance of the electric pickup to create now classic sounds that are also not the piano.

What sets the Dolceola apart is its ability to mimic piano action – depending on the player's keystroke, the string can automatically dampen or be allowed to ring.

Maybe I missed it, but it wasn't clear to me if the dolceola offered much in the way of dynamic control, beyond press-pluck(?)(hammer?)/lift-damp.

To me, it had a mix between a 60s pseudo harpsichord/tack piano sound. I think it'd be a fun novelty to use in a studio setting.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:54 AM on November 10, 2012


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