The Stylophone started life as a kitschy electronic toy instrument—the digital version of the kazoo, if you will—but over the years has slowly developed new sounds and features making it more than just a novelty. The new Stylophone Gen R-8 is an evolutionary leap compared to previous versions of the instrument, and one that might finally have musicians taking the Stylophone seriously.
Invented by Brian Jarvis way back in 1967, the original Stylophone sounds like an instrument that pre-dates the complex electronic synthesisers of the ‘70s, producing harsh, oscillating tones when a stylus is pressed to a series of metal contacts that serve as its keyboard. Experimental musicians like David Bowie still managed to find a way to work the Stylophone’s unique sound into their music, but by 1975 the novelty had worn off, and production was stopped on the toy. In 2007 Ben Jarvis, the original inventor’s son, revived the Stylophone for a generation that was starting to get a taste for all things retro, and since then, several versions have been released, improving the instrument’s sound, and functionality.
But while the revived Stylophone S1 still sells for around $30 (£23), and a more capable model, the Stylophone Gen X-1, doubled the price to $70 (£54), the Gen R-8 will cost a staggering $350 (£272) when it’s available starting late next month. Dubreq promises it’s turned the Stylophone into a fully-capable analog desktop synthesiser, swapping the tethered stylus for a touch-friendly keyboard that’s much easier to play, and introducing a host of other features that eclipse the original’s capabilities.
Musicians can now choose different wave patterns for the GenR-8's main oscillator, changing the overall sound of the device, while additional sub oscillators, and subsub oscillators, can be used to generate underlying low-frequency beats. The original Stylophone limited musicians to tapping out crude beats, but the GenR-8's touch-sensitive keyboard can be modified using glide and modulation keys for more expressive and nuanced performances, while a built-in, eight-bank, 16-step sequencer allows for complete songs to be produced right on the device. It’s even fully MIDI-capable now, for triggering the GenR-8's unique sounds from another instrument, or expanding its use as a performance piece.
The Stylophone GenR-8 is an interesting move by Dubreq, as it’s not considerably cheaper than analog synthesisers still being produced by more recognisable brands like Roland. But it builds on a very unique sound, and while we no longer have David Bowie to embrace the Stylophone’s unique capabilities, this upgrade might encourage a new generation to experiment with it.