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Optigans Anonymous

***For those of you who’d like a brief intro to the Optigan without having to do all that cumbersome reading, click here for an interview (in streaming RealAudio format) that Pea did with Irwin Chusid of WFMU on Sept. 10, 1997.***

(NOTICE- I wrote this article several years ago, and as such it has not been updated with all the copious wonderful information found on the rest of this site. The article is still a good intro to Opti-Mania, though, and is worth the read if you’ve never encountered an Optigan before.)

About ten years ago I first became aware of the existence of the Optigan. It was in the tenth anniversary edition of Keyboard Magazine (in fact, the first issue of Keyboard I had ever bought). In an article on the past and future of keyboards and synthesizers, there was a brief reference to the Optigan, and it stuck in my mind for years as it was the first time I had ever seen the word “cheesy” used to describe a musical instrument. Over the next few years I came across a couple of other references to this machine. An article about Devo contained a glowing endorsement from Mark Mothersbaugh, and the liner notes from Tom Waits’ “Frank’s Wild Years” indicated sporadic use. Aside from this, though, I don’t recall ever hearing anything else about the Optigan. I had always wanted to find one myself, but given the odd nature of the instrument I just assumed that very few were made and by now they had all been collected by collectors (or dutifully carted off to the dump by non-post-modernists). So I never bothered to make an active search- I just figured that if I ever found one it would probably be in some thrift store somewhere waiting to be revived.

The Optigan was a kind of home organ made by the Optigan Corporation (a subsidiary of Mattel) in the early 70′s. It was set up like most home organs of the period- a small keyboard with buttons on the left for various chords, accompaniments and rhythms. At the time, all organs produced their sounds electrically or electronically with tubes or transistors. The Optigan was different in that its sounds were read off of LP sized celluloid discs which contained the graphic waveforms of real instruments. These recordings were encoded in concentric looping rings using the same technology as film soundtracks. (Remember that sequence in Fantasia where the Soundtrack makes a cameo? Those squiggly lines are actually pretty close to what the real thing looks like.) As the film runs, a light is projected through the soundtrack and is picked up on the other side by a photoreceptor. The voltage is varied depending on how much light reaches the receptor, and after being amplified this voltage is converted into audible sound by the speakers. The word “Optigan” stands for “Optical Organ.”

Optigan Console

Optigan discs have 57 rings of soundtrack- these provide recordings of real musicians playing riffs, chord patterns and other effects. (37 of the tracks are reserved for the keyboard sound itself- a different recording for each note.) So when you want to play a bossa nova, you don’t get those wimpy little pop-pop-chink-chink electronic sounds- you actually hear a live combo backing you up! The problem is that you only have a limited number of chords to choose from- C, D, E, F, G, A and Bb major, plus their parallel minor and diminished counterparts. (Actually, E and A major don’t really count, because for economic reasons (or maybe avant-garde musical reasons, depending on how optimistic you are) they decided to recycle the D diminished chord for E major and the G diminished chord for A major. I guess they felt that most of the notes matched anyway, so why waste the extra disc space? Consequently, playing anything in A or E major sounds really questionable at best.)

Playing back recorded instruments was a pretty unique concept for the early 70′s. Technically speaking, the Optigan was a primitive sampler. Sort of. I tend to think of it more like a poor-man’s Mellotron or Chamberlin. These are two famous keyboards from the sixties which played back recordings of instruments on lengths of magnetic tape. They became very popular despite some huge drawbacks. For one thing, the tapes only lasted a few seconds and, in the case of the Mellotron, could not loop. If you wanted your flute to keep playing, you would have to re-press the key after eight seconds. This also involved waiting for the tape to rewind, so up-tempo playing was generally not possible. Also, the racks of tapes themselves were pretty huge and unwieldy- changing from a choir to an oboe could take quite some time. Not surprisingly, these instruments were quite expensive to buy and maintain. But the sounds they made were worth it- and apparently still are, seeing as the current street value can easily exceed $2000.

Mattel marketed the Optigan as something of an adult toy- the sound quality was simply not good enough for professional use. They sold mostly through stores like Sears and JC Penny and were relatively inexpensive- about $200 to $400 depending on which model you chose. They came with a “Starter Set” of four discs, and extra discs were marketed like record albums. Official Optigan music books were also available to help you make the most out of the minimal talent you probably had if you had bought an Optigan in the first place. One of these books even has a spiffy arrangement of “Spanish Flea” (“for advanced players only”) that includes all of the lyrics!

At any rate, my involvement with the instrument began in February of ’95 while I was visiting my friend Jay Lesser in San Francisco. I make it a habit whenever I run across an organ in a thrift store to at least have a glance at it. The one at the main Salvation Army store in Oakland was pretty ugly- plain brown with not very many buttons on it. But then I noticed the little “Optigan” insignia above the keyboard. I had always imagined the Optigan to be a small, portable keyboard more like a Casiotone – after all, it was made by a toy company. My first impression was that maybe this was just one specific model aimed at people who preffered an ugly console-type thing sitting in their living room. I turned it on and instantly fell in love with the scratchy organ sound that came out. The chord buttons played repetitive little riffs with a piano and bass, and the drum buttons played grungy loops tailor-made for your next hip-hop record. The tempo control seemed pretty ludicrous to me, because speeding up the tempo also caused the pitch to go up- after all, it was just a recording being sped up, just like playing a record on the wrong RPM setting! At this point, I didn’t realize that you could change the disc- I didn’t see any slot to put them in. I just assumed that this was a version of the Optigan that had only one disc permanently installed. I didn’t mind that, though- I loved what I heard! The price was $75, which I would have paid immediately, but I didn’t think that it would fit in my car for the return trip to San Diego. (I had come with two friends and all of our bags and stuff.) So I decided to sleep on it.

I eventually made it home, though, and wrestled the thing into the house myself. The first thing you notice about the Optigan (if you have any imagination at all, that is) is how malleable this technology was. You can do all sorts of things with the discs to sabotage the sound- put them in upside down, put several in at once, manually stop and start them with your hands for record scratch effects, press all the buttons at once, and so on. Most of the sounds that were recorded for the keyboard section are different kinds of sustained organs. Since the disc spins constantly, the sounds just keep looping around and around. So the keyboard sounds can’t have a beginning and end per se. (Something like a piano sound wouldn’t work because a piano has a percussive attack transient followed by a slow decay. On the Optigan, you would just get a piano note striking over and over.) The drums and accompaniments keep looping as well- if you want to start on the downbeat, you have to keep watching this little flashing metronome that blinks red at the beginning of each bar. Otherwise you can cut in and out of each loop whenever you want- the buttons just turn the sound on and off.

Since any sound could be encoded on these discs, the organs are actually pretty nice- big Hammond B3‘s and Mighty Wurlitzers. The drums are often pretty beefy sounding, though “lo-fi” is definitely the phrase that comes to mind. The rest of the accompanimental instruments usually sound kind of claustrophobic, but again that’s part of the sick charm of the instrument. Some of the discs even have non-musical sound effects (such as applause) on them.

You would think that, since the discs are not played by physical contact, there would be no pops or scratches such as on vinyl records. But this is not the case- tiny scratches on the discs cause irregular defractions of light which in turn end up sounding exactly like record scratches! Most of the time, though, this actually improves the sound. You get the weird feeling that you’re listening to a cheesy old Enoch Light record but that you’re actually controlling where the music goes!

After settling down with my Optigan, I immediately began thinking of how I might be able to find more discs. I called the Mattel customer service line, but they had no record of the machine in their computer at all. I wrote to Mark Vail, the vintage keyboard columnist at Keyboard Magazine, but he never responded. I called a few old music stores around town to see if they had anything sitting around their storage room, but to no avail. I put a want ad in the San Diego Reader. I even wrote to several of the people profiled in RE/Search’s Incredibly Strange Music books, but got no responses. I eventually concluded that if I ever ran across any more discs it would be purely by chance. This proved to be true sooner than I thought. While perusing the record section of a small thrift store in Poway, I came across two more discs, in their original packaging- “Big Band Beat” and “Organ Sing-Along.” Now, I’ve been scouring thrift store record bins for years but I had never run across any Optigan discs. This was quite a coincidence. I paid 50 cents apiece for them and went on my merry way. As a bonus, on the back of the jackets were lists of some of the other discs.

I drooled over such titles as “Polynesian Village” and “Singing Rhythm-” a program which featured actual human voices! Around this time I started searching the library for any references to the Optigan I could find. I only turned up a handful of small blurbs and advertisements from some early 70′s issues of Music Trades Magazine. These informed me that Mattel only produced the machines (at a factory in Compton, nonetheless) for a couple of years. Initially they sold quite well because they were the first musical instrument to be advertised on TV. (Can you think of any others?) But sales soon tapered off because of several design flaws which made them amazingly unreliable and prone to breaking down. Eventually Mattel sold the whole works to Miner Industries of New York (an organ manufacturer). They continued production of the Optigan under the subsidiary company name of Opsonar and also produced several new discs. But the design remained the same, and its inherent problems forced the Miner company to drop the machine as well. Later, the technology was bought by a company called Vako which made an instrument called the Orchestron. This was designed for professional use, but the sound quality still sucked. They made a modest amount of these machines before they folded. After all this research I still had no contacts for finding discs.

Then one day I was driving on El Cajon Boulevard and I passed by The Organ Stop. I had always been amazed that such a store could survive in this day and age, but had never actually gone in. So on a whim I pulled over and went searching through their shelves of aging books for anything Optigan related. As I was about to leave, the manager, George Butterfield, asked me what I was looking for. I apologetically told him about the Optigan, not expecting him to have ever heard of it. But he of course had heard of it and said that he even remembered the TV commercials! He had never played one, though, and I had to brief him on how the thing works. He then told me that he knew where I could find one- Acme Piano Company on Adams Avenue. He said that the owner had one sitting around his warehouse. Now, I was really only looking for the discs, but hey- if the price was right, why not buy a spare Optigan as well? I took the number down, but before I could leave I ended up sitting through and hour-long lecture on the modern organ business, problems in our country’s education system, and the life story of George Butterfield. A very eccentric man- I highly recommend a visit to his little shop. Organs these days seem to be quite a fringe business- mostly senior citizens. They join organ clubs, take organ classes, learn how to play “Moon River,” and go on organ cruises. Sounds like yet another hip segment of the San Diego music scene.

I drove over to Acme piano, and they were closed with a sign saying “On Vacation.” I was crushed, especially after peering in the window and seeing that Optigan sitting there collecting dust! So I called several times over the next few days. My call was eventually returned by the owner’s son, Wayne Van Mourick. I told him that I was interested in his Optigan and he seemed a bit mystified. As far as he was concerned, it was a piece of junk that they never should have taken as a trade-in. We settled on a price of $40 and I went down to pick it up. (As it turns out, Wayne was a guy who I took music theory classes with about four years ago at Mesa College. We didn’t know each other too well, but we ended up talking about Mesa and also about trains. He was about to go off to railroad engineering school and I had just returned from my second hike to see the Goat Canyon Trestle on the famous Carrizo Gorge segment of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern line. As he was a part-time employee of the Campo Railroad Museum, we spent quite some time talking about the tracks out there. Funny how these things sync up.)

With this Optigan I got several new discs- “Nashville Country,” “Bossa Nova Style,” “The Blues- Sweet And Low,” “Folk And Other Moods- Guitar,” “Waltz Time,” and the one I had been waiting for, “Banjo Sing-Along.” Several years ago Devo put out their “EZ Listening Disc-” a collection of self-produced muzak version of their best songs. I had long been mystified by the rendition of “Beautiful World” on that album- it had what sounded like sampled loops from an old banjo record, but the way the loops were organized sounded like they had never been a part of an arrangement of any other song. After I got the Optigan I put two and two together and realized that this had to have been the answer. Sure enough, there were those same riffs on the “Banjo Sing-Along” disc. At any rate, this batch of stuff was actually a combination of several different people’s Optigan debris, so I got multiple copies of most discs. I also got a few copies of the owner’s manual- a typically dorky affair complete with wannabe Yellow Submarine-style illustrations. All in all it was a really cool score, but I guess I would have to wait patiently for “Polynesian Village.”

Now, instead of using a record-player style turntable, Optigans spin their discs with a hard rubber idler wheel. Optigan #2 had a worn-down idler wheel. Afterplaying it for a few minutes, the wheel would lose traction and the disc would wind down to a stop. This was the beginning of my delving into the rather esoteric field of Optigan repair. This machine suffers from an ambitious but ultimately horrible design. The inside is a kind of Rube Goldberg device with all sorts of weird mechanical parts trying to do what electronics could have done much more reliably- even early 70′s electronics. To make matters worse, the chassis is like a fortress, literally requiring you to break parts open with sheer brute force. Trying to fix the problem only resulted in more problems and wild goose chases trying to find people who could help me fix parts that ended up having nothing to do with the original problem. I stayed up many nights trying to fix that machine, but I eventually gave up on it.

In any event, after tracking down that Optigan so easily, I convinced myself that these things must be pretty common. Being primarily a synthesizer enthusiast, I had never spent much time browsing around organ warehouses, and apparently this is the domain of the Optigan. So I called every organ dealer left in the county. No luck. I then went to the library and copied down several phone numbers of places in LA and Riverside Counties. In my first ten calls I found a place in Redlands called Desi’s Music Center that said “yeah- we’ve got one!” I drove up there the next day and they of course thought I was crazy to make such a trip. They regarded the thing as a piece of junk, and had been planning on taking it to the Goodwill. This suggested to me that they probably would have just given it to me if I hadn’t offered them $20 for it. (They put the $20 straight into their coffee fund- no official sale had taken place.) I asked if they had the discs, and was told that they were at the other branch of the store in Hemet. So I made the trip down to Hemet, where I discovered that they not only had more discs, but the matching bench as well! I said “I get the bench too, right? I gotta have the bench!” and the guy said “actually, the bench was worth more to us than the Optigan- we were gonna keep it!” (I love irony.) But he let me have it anyway.

Most of the discs were duplicates of what I already had, but there were a couple of new ones- “Classic Guitar (4/4)” and “Guitar Boogie.” After I got this one home and cleaned it up, I realized that it was in better condition than the others. Still, it was in need of a few replacement parts. So I decided to dedicate Optigan #2 as a spare parts supply- that way I’d have two good ones complete with parts to fix them with should they ever break down again.

Now I was getting really ambitious about my search. This was turning out to be a pretty easy and inexpensive hobby. I had originally thought that these things must be collector’s items for sure, but it’s really the opposite that seems to be the case. Most of the people that know about the Optigan are people who have no sense for post modern humor and thus consider it to be a literal piece of junk- not a loveable piece of junk. And seeing as my library searches had turned up precious little documentation on the machine, I sort of concluded that it was my destiny to become the definitive vindicator of the Optigan.

At this time I hit a real slump. I collected literally hundreds of organ dealer phone numbers around the country and not one of them led to another Optigan. (Actually, that’s not exactly true- I tracked down about six of them this way. But they were all Optigans that had recently been taken to the dump by various people!) Most of the dealers that knew what the Optigan was were pretty incredulous as to why I would want one. Some were even insulted that I would think their store may have even had one! I always avoided telling them that I was a collector, though- if they didn’t already consider the Optigan a collector’s item, then I wouldn’t want to give them any bright ideas. I literally only contacted two people who actually liked the Optigan and had fond memories of it. But they hadn’t seen one in years either.

Then I simultaneously tracked down two interesting men – one in Portland and the other in Miami. The guy in Portland used to be the main West Coast Optigan repairman. He said that he still had a couple of boxes of old parts and discs. This man was suffering from delusions of grandeur, though. He offered to ship them down to me for $500! The man in Miami, Mr. Kasche, was more promising. He used to be the main Optigan dealer in the Eastern US, and he’s the only guy around who still advertises Optigan repair. I asked him which discs he had and it took him 3 weeks to get back to me. Turns out he only had about ten, all of which I already had. And he wanted $5.00 apiece for them. His repairs were reasonable enough, though. Assuming you really would like to have a working Optigan, $70 for an idler-wheel re-tread is not a bad deal. I couldn’t afford it at the time though.

After calling a million organ dealers, I thought I’d try my hand at thrift stores. Not only did I personally visit every thrift store in San Diego, but I called every thrift store in Southern California. I turned up lots of organs, but no Optigans.

Now, at this time my friend Bob Barley was running a want ad in the San Diego Union in an attempt to pick up some cheap old analog synthesizers. After getting some pretty good deals, he got a call from an organ repairman in Chula Vista who was going out of business and trying to unload all his old junk. Now, I had already called all the organ repairmen in the Yellow Pages, but this guy was not listed. Of course, it turns out he had two Optigans in his workshop. So I went down to have a look and those two machines were really beat to hell. They were mostly gutted and dismantled. One of them had been sawed in half in an apparent attempt to make a more portable instrument! But they both had lots of good parts and, most importantly, they each included a spring reverb- a feature which was included on the more expensive models So I gave him $100 for the whole works.

As far as discs go, I still didn’t get “Polynesian Village,” but I did get “Romantic Strings in 3/4,” “Easy Does It With Vibes,” “Gay 90′s Waltz (In 3/4 Time),” “Bluegrass Banjo,” “Majestic Pipe Organ,” “Sleigh Ride”, “Dixieland Strut,” “Hear And Now,” “Big Top Marching Band” and “Singing Rhythm.” (This last one turned out to be quite special- one of the dippiest things you’ll ever hear in your life.) Along with tons of multiple copies of most discs, I also scored a technical service manual which included pictures of all five Optigan models. The differences were mostly in cabinet design. The two most expensive ones were made out of real wood (as opposed to Temperite) and were highly decorated with Baroque flourishes as if masquerading as a respectable musical instrument cum piece of furniture. I drooled.

The service manual answered some of my questions, but there were still many mysteries left unaddressed. For one thing, one of my Optigans was having this problem where the volume would severely drop when the tempo was increased to maximum. I eventually traced the cause of this problem, but could not figure out why it was only present in one machine. What happens is this- volume on the Optigan is controlled with a foot pedal which pulls a string which lifts a little plastic film with graded transparency. This film covers a little photoreceptor, and when the string pulls it up, more light gradually falls on the receptor, and the volume goes up accordingly. Now, the tempo control is a sad piece of machinery which involves a sliding motor assembly which spins a tapered metal rod which rests against the idler wheel. When you turn the tempo knob, the motor assembly gets dragged forward, which in turn decreases the gear ratio between the rod and the idler wheel, thus increasing the tempo. (Got that?) The problem is, the motor assembly lies between the light bulb and the volume photoreceptor such that when the motor is moved fully forward, it casts a shadow on the photoreceptor and the volume goes down.

The hilarity of this situation more than makes up for the annoying problem which results, but still I’m confused as to how the other machines avoid this problem. The dimensions are all equal, yet the shadows don’t fall in the same place. Kinda like the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.

Anyway, after removing all useful parts from my two new machines, I proceeded to try to install the spring reverb units into my other Optigans. (This was done successfully except for a ground loop problem which occurred as a result of my having ripped out some deteriorated foam insulation.) I didn’t even have to cut holes in the faceplates to accommodate the new reverb knob. The holes were cleverly hidden underneath a little aluminum plate that says “Stereophonic” on it and was glued to the plastic. All I had to do was remove the plates and stick them on elsewhere. (The reverb sounds like crap, by the way. I love it.)

After this I took a couple weeks off from Optigan work and was brought back into it suddenly when I walked into the Goodwill about a mile from my house and there it was- Optigan #6. Now, are you following this? I put in an amazing effort making phone calls which amounted to over $100 in long distance charges and yet basically all of these machines have practically just shown up on my doorstep! None of them required hard work to locate! Yet I did all the hard work just the same. Anyway they wanted a shocking $189 for this one so I just said “Look- I’m the only guy looking for this stuff. The most I’m gonna pay is $100. So call me if you want to make a deal.” They called me back a week later and we settled on $80 because the thing had a faulty tempo knob. This one came with a bunch of Optigan music books and also the most complete catalog of discs that I’ve seen yet. This was one of the Opsonar Optigans (manufactured by Miner) and they produced at least 12 new discs in addition to the 38 original Mattel discs. I only got two new ones though- “Rollin’ Easy” and “Champagne Music.” (This last one caters to the Lawrence Welk set, complete with cork-popping sound effects.) An address tag on one of the pieces of paper in this batch of stuff indicated that the person who donated this Optigan lives only a few blocks from me. This is pretty hilarious considering that I had previously pondered going door to door around the neighborhood saying “Excuse me, but you wouldn’t happen to have any Optigans in your garage, would you?” I knew there must be at least one in my neighborhood. Serra Mesa is a nice little 1960′s-era community with lots of older folks who used to work at General Dynamics and probably had some disposable income during the 70′s.

Polynesian Village discMeanwhile, further research at the library turned up an old Optigan product review in the San Diego Union. In it they described the much-sought-after “Polynesian Village” disc, which only served to whet my appetite more. From the article I learned that locally the Optigan was sold by Apex Music. So I called them up to see if they had anything left in their warehouse. They returned my call a month later and reported sightings of many mint condition Optigan discs and books in their storage space. But they wanted $5 apiece for them, and would not supply me with a list. I offered them $1.00 apiece for the whole pile, but they never called me back. They should know better than to try to sell these things at their original list price. They must think I’m a collector or something.

Eventually I got contacted by a couple of the people from the Incredibly Strange Music books. Ken Sitz reported that he got an Optigan for $5 but it was in pretty bad shape and only had four discs. I told him I’d help him out next time I was in the Bay Area. Candi Strecker didn’t really have much info for me either, but was encouraging nonetheless. She sent me a nice article on Ralph Carney- a Bay Area musician who has used the Optigan from time to time.

Then I got a tip from Jason Soares about a tiny Optigan site on the Internet! (This turned out to be my introduction to the net.) It’s part of a larger site run by Robert Schmeltzer in Seattle. I used my brother’s computer to contact the site, which was mainly just some scanned images from the owner’s manual, a brief description of the Optigan, and an incomplete list of discs. So I sent him some information, and he said I was the first person to actually send him some new info as opposed to the usual inquiry about “where can I get more discs?”. I knew there had to be more Optigan enthusiasts out there! From him I learned about an album by Steve Fisk that features lots of Optigan stuff. He also told me that the “Polynesian Village” disc had howling monkeys on it. I wanted one more than ever.

One of the highlights in my odyssey came when I tried to track down some of the original designers of the beast. The technical manual had a couple of names in it, and I managed to contact one Max Applebaum in Washington who was a technician at the factory in Compton. He was pretty old, though, and didn’t remember much. All he could say was “Call Gus Wylde- he has a real good memory.” Luckily these names are fairly unique, and it wasn’t much trouble finding their owners (by trial and error) in the library listings.

Gus Wylde was glad to hear from me. He was in his 80′s and still very sharp. Gus was one of the designers who really only worked on the amplifiers, but nevertheless had a few interesting things to say. He invited me to his house in Northridge and he and his wife entertained me for about four hours with all sorts of stories, some about the Optigan, some not. They were an old Jewish couple from Germany who spent the war in Israel before coming to America. At any rate, his Optigan was one of the fancy deluxe wooden models (actually it turned out to be just wood paneling glued to particle board) with custom amplifiers and some other doodads. And it still sat very proudly in their living room. But when he turned it on it didn’t really work. He opened it up to poke around a bit and ended up shorting out the amp and nearly causing a fire! (This was especially scary considering that the house next door to theirs had gone up in flames just the day before!).

So we put the Optigan aside and over lunch I interviewed him. His basic take on the story was that the Optigan design team was mostly mechanically oriented people- there were only a few electronics experts on the project. So the mechanics always got their way. This, combined with tremendous pressure from Mattel to deliver the product, resulted in a very clumsy and unreliable design. When they displayed it at the NAMM show (a huge annual musical instrument trade show), the prototypes they had practically didn’t work at all. According to Gus, most of the mechanical parts should have been replaced with electronics. (He even gave me several suggestions for “how to build a better Optigan,” but I’m not much of a technician. Maybe I’ll be able to get him to help me out someday.) Gus had several unopened discs, two of which I didn’t have- “Cha Cha Cha!” and “Polynesian Village.” This last one was well worth the wait- I have trouble convincing myself that I’m not Martin Denny when I play it. He also gave me a test disc with sine waves on it for diagnosing tracking problems. (Played through the reverb unit, that one sounds pretty cool as well!)

Since I met Gus I haven’t had too many significant Optigan experiences, but I had at least one typical encounter. Rob Crow and I went out Thrift shopping one day and as we were sifting through the debris at a newly opened shop in the neighborhood, I came across a speaker from an Optigan. I recognized it immediately. I asked the clerk where it had come from and he said that it “came out of an organ we had lying around here. It didn’t work, so we took it to the dump about a week ago.” My heart sank. We tried several times to contact the man responisible for hauling their junk, but to no avail. Another precious Optigan down to tubes.

Rob and I have recently been working on material under the name “Optiganally Yours.” The songs we’ve recorded so far have been very warmly received, and we’ve played a few times at the Casbah. One question continues to elude me about Optigans. How many were made? Gus seemed to think there were only about 500 made, but this is clearly much to small a figure. Mark Vail’s Vintage Synthesizers Book claims that over 100,000 were made- this seems much too large to me. One things for sure, though- however many were made, there are only a handful left. Better find yours before the last ones go to the dump!