It was David Bowie’s enthusiasm that kick-started the Stylophone’s revival and reinvigoration, says Ben Jarvis, son of the original inventor Brian Jarvis. Not only did Bowie use the synth on Space Oddity in 1969, but he carried on using it, and a TV show appearance in 2002 inspired the Jarvis family to give the synth - long out of production - another go.
He was on the Jonathan Ross TV show and played Heathen just with a stylophone. Then he talked about it for five minutes and said it was the only instrument he took on holiday for composing songs with. My dad and I just looked at each other and thought, we’d better get on with it!
Mini keyboard joy
Ben reformed the original Stylophone company Dubreq and relaunched the Stylophone, which has been hugely popular and is used by musicians such as Jack White. Then Ben, an Industrial Designer, set about making a new version - bigger and with more features, but still no keys. His Dad’s design principles were always in his mind.
Tara Busch of Analog Suicide demo’d the new synth at The NAMM Show, and showed off some fat bass sounds. It really packs a punch.
The new analog S2 is bigger than the original Stylophone but still compact, and Ben says he wanted to take it to its end level and make it a full spec synth that is really portable. It is battery powered and can be payed with a stylus or finger.
Its features include a ring modulator, and an aux input so it can be used as a filter box. There are low pass and high pass filters, and controls for pitch, mix, LFO speed and depth, envelope attack and decay and more. Touch controls let you change octaves.
It’s designed primarily for performance but also has control voltage input and can be used in the studio, and is built in the UK.
Ben told us more about how his Dad designed the original synth in the 1960s.
My dad wanted to play keyboards but was rubbish. Keyboards were very expensive and he wanted access to a cheap keyboard so that he could learn himself. Price is the father of invention - and he made something simple that was a lot cheaper than anything else at the time. He took a keyboard apart to see how it was made, and realised the keys were expensive, so he got rid of keys. He used a printed circuit board and halved the price of a keyboard.
Between 1968 and 1975 three and a half million Stylophones were sold, and the family think it as the biggest selling keyboard there has been. It is popular in developing countries too as an entry level instrument.