The Legacy of the Omnichord

 The Omnichord, an electronic musical instrument, has a unique place in music history. Developed by engineers at Japan's Suzuki Corporation in 1980, the Omnichord has undergone significant evolution over the years, impacting various music genres and artists.

The Omnichord started as a twin, with the PC-27 Portachord/Tronichord and the OM-27 Omnichord. Both instruments had 27 buttons, each triggering a Major, Minor, or 7th chord. The Omnichord's standout feature was a playable touch-plate on the device's surface, enabling users to "strum" through chords without extensive music knowledge or finger dexterity.

The OM-27 also had a preset rhythm section, similar to a Casio keyboard. Users could select a preset rhythm pattern, volume, and tempo. The only sound built into the OM-27 was a "harp" sound, but a dedicated knob allowed users to increase or decrease sustain.

In 1984, Suzuki released two expanded models of the Omnichord—the OM36 and the OM84. These models offered more chord shapes and featured an improved strum plate that increased dynamic response and range.

The OM-100, the next generation of the Omnichord, changed the design ergonomics, angling the strum plate for more comfortable playing. It also increased the number of sounds from just the harp sound on the earlier models to a choice of ten sounds.

In 1989, the OM-250 introduced a MIDI out port, allowing the Omnichord's chord mode to be used for external gear. This feature enabled the Omnichord to interface with other electronic gear, attracting electronic producers to use it in the studio.

Despite not being a commercial hit, the Omnichord found its niche. It was particularly popular in Japan, where it became a cultural icon of the 1980s. It was often used in pop and electronic music and featured in advertisements for popular products such as Coca-Cola and Sony Walkman.

The Omnichord also made its way into pop songs of the 80's and 90's. Bands like The Human League, The Talking Heads, and Devo used its unique tones. David Bowie used an Omnichord in his cover of Simon and Garfunkel's classic "America" at his 2001 Benefit for New York City show.

Notable Omnichord fans include Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Joni Mitchell. Damon Albarn, however, is perhaps the most famous Omnichord fan, having used one of the Omnichord rhythms on the Gorillaz track "Clint Eastwood".

Source: Rogelio Rodriguez

In recent years, the Omnichord has seen a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the renewed interest in vintage electronic instruments and the rise of electronic and experimental music genres. Many contemporary musicians and producers have embraced the Omnichord's distinctive sound and versatility, incorporating it into their music.

American musician and producer Jim James, for example, has used the Omnichord extensively in his solo work and collaborations. James has praised the Omnichord for its unique sound and its ability to create a sense of timelessness in his music.

In response to the Omnichord's increased popularity, Suzuki recently announced that they would be resurrecting the instrument for its 70th anniversary in 2023.

The Omnichord has played a unique role in the history of electronic music. Its ease of use, regardless of your playing ability or knowledge of musical theory, meant it appealed to a wide range of people. Despite falling out of fashion in the digital age, it has remained a beloved instrument among enthusiasts and collectors, and it has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

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