As far as musical instruments go, the Omnichord is actually one of the most modern (and unusual) in the world today. Back in 1980, the idea for the Omnichord was born by some clever inventors at musical instrument company, Suzuki, but no one knew where this instrument would go. Would it become a hit or was it a flop? Let’s take a look at the history of the Omnichord, along with some of the world’s most famous players of this kooky instrument.
The history of the Omnichord
The Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation was founded back in 1953, where it specialized in creating harmonicas. Over the years, they expanded their range to include pianos, band instruments and a range of electronic instruments. In the mid-1950s, they developed the Melodion which was then taken on by the Ministry of Education in Japan for use in schools. Then, in the early 1980s, Suzuki released two rather futuristic looking musical instruments. The first prototype was called the PC-27 Portachord (or Tronichord), and the other was named the OM-27 Omnichord. While both were quite similar in most respects, the Tronichord had fewer features than the Omnichord, and it was a short-lived instrument. The Omnichord, however, has stood the test of time and is played by musicians around the world today.
What is it?
Before we look at some of the most notable players of the Omnichord, let’s take a look at what it actually is (and how it works). This instrument has a touch plate which can be played with a finger or guitar pick, along with buttons for major, minor and 7th chords. The OM-27 had 27 buttons for chords, but there have been versions since that have more features and is now better known as the Q-chord. To play the Omnichord, you simply strum as if it were a guitar while pressing the buttons for the chords. There are also preset tracks that can be used as a base, along with the ability to record voices and other sounds and play those too. Over the years, more features have been added to what is now called the Q-chord, and it has become a kitsch instrument that musicians love to play in their own unique styles.
Who plays it?
So, we know how the Omnichord was made and how to play it, but does anyone actually play this kooky instrument? Perhaps surprisingly, there are quite a lot of notable users of the Omnichord, from bands past and present. David Bowie, Vanessa Carlton, Damon Albarn from Gorillaz, Natalie Maines from Dixie Chicks, John Mayer, Joni Mitchell, Stefan Olsdal from Placebo and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran all play (or have played) the Omnichord. And that is just a small selection from the very long list of notable players! It seems as though this instrument, while not as popular as something like the guitar, has its own fan base around the world.
If you ever wanted to learn a unique instrument, then the Omnichord may definitely be the one for you. There are YouTube tutorials online that will teach you how to play, so all you need to do is start strumming and see how it goes. Who knows, you could become the next David Bowie or Joni Mitchell?