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The Earliest Synthesizer
December 12, 2008 7:53 AM   Subscribe

The Hammond Novachord: Introduced in 1939, it was the world's first subtractive synthesis synthesizer and built with all the cutting edge technology of the time: 169 vacuum tubes, 12 oscillators, 60 frequency dividers, 60 band pass filters, 72 VCA's, and weighing in at 500 pounds. You've likely heard it in dozens of films and TV shows from the 1940's to 1960's. Crazy enough to restore one? If it sounds like this, why not?
posted by Paid In Full (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
At 1:40 in the "this" video, Billy Mayerl claims that he composed the song "Marigold" in 1865, but wikipedia says he was born in 1902... does not compute
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:08 AM on December 12, 2008


169 vacuum tubes? I can't even imagine what the power draw on that thing would be like.

The plaque from that 'restore' link is interesting: "Licensed only for amateur and experimental use". So no public Novachord performances, then?
posted by dunkadunc at 8:10 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


That thing makes the B2 look downright portable!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2008


I'll stick to chopping tonewheel organs, thanks.
posted by waxboy at 8:25 AM on December 12, 2008


FWIW: "Marigold" was published a few years following Mayerl's stint playing incidental music for movie theaters. His quip was likely a nod to his formal training (and subsequent music schools), well as a nod to the possibility of his replacement by an electronic device.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


someone crazier than me removed the caps, carefully cut one end open, and removed the guts. A poly cap was then carefully placed in the can.

Wow. I wonder at just what point it would become easier to build a robot that could restore it for you.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2008


Slack. Look into the Teleharmonium. It makes the Novochord look downright portable.
posted by JBennett at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


someone crazier than me removed the caps, carefully cut one end open, and removed the guts. A poly cap was then carefully placed in the can.

This is a very common practice among the early television set restoration community, as well. Looks original, is more reliable. Though, the sheer numbers required for the Novachord would mean you need the patience of a true believer, which this guy has in spades. Hats off to him.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2008


The discretesynthesizers restoration link is amazing. 1000 components to replace. Wow.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:46 AM on December 12, 2008


According to an article cited in the Teleharmonium article, one version of that instrument weighed 200 tons. That can't be right, can it?
posted by swift at 8:55 AM on December 12, 2008


Am I the only one who thinks Marigold sounds like something that Luke Vibert or Mike Paradinas needs to remix (or sounds like something that they wrote themselves?)
posted by symbioid at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2008


What an amazing piece of machinery - and built 70 freakin' years ago. That's truly incredible. And I thought the band Clinic were hardcore for using a Philips Philicorda from the early 1970s.
posted by kcds at 9:17 AM on December 12, 2008


Awesome. Thanks for posting this.
posted by monospace at 9:43 AM on December 12, 2008


Mmmmm. Now that is what the future sounds like. Er, used to sound like.
posted by eritain at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2008


For further clarity on the Marigold question: by many accounts, Mayerl was frustrated that Marigold was so popular while the rest of his work was overlooked. As a result, he began to joke about it, playing it ridiculously fast, making fun of it, etc. You can see a similar joke in this video, around 2:15.

He's definitely joking.
posted by cacophony at 10:29 AM on December 12, 2008


Yes, there really was a 200 ton telharmonium. Much more information here.
posted by pombe at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2008


If you can't get yourself committed to something this epic, you can always consider the Omnichord.
posted by davejay at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2008


If you can't get yourself committed to something this epic, you can always consider the Omnichord.

Word to that. My grandma has an omnichord. I used to play it as a young beast and was always intrigued by it's otherworldliness.
posted by fuq at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2008


I was reading through the links thinking "Ooh, what a beautiful piece of engineering, what pretty valves, what dedication on the part of the restorers, &c.", then I listened to the 'sounds' MP3 and thought, "WOW!&^&(SGbOMG!s1ظxʌɥ@*<2>11¡ɥɐǝʎ*&SjhsgCRIKEY!".

Un-fucking-believable.
posted by jack_mo at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2008


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