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Optigan

Optigan Timeline

This is an evolving timeline of the events in the Optigan’s short life. Basically I’m going to put here just about anything that has a date and seems remotely pertinent. Some of the individual details may be mundane, but when you add them all together you get a better overall picture of what was happening with the Optigan over specific periods of time. I’ll be adding more details as they surface (I’m trying to keep guesswork out of this, so there will be very little “probable” dates), and eventually I’ll turn the whole history into more of a formal historical article.


1968-70

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1971

    Johnny Largo at NAMM

  • 1/11/71 Patent application: “Cabinet for Keyboard Instrument or the like.”
  • 1/11/71 Patent application: “Keyboard for Musical Instrument or the like.”
  • 1/12/71 Patent application: “Radiation Sensitive Readout Head with Circuit Board Construction.”
  • 1/22/71 Patent application: “Organ Keyboard Switching System.”
  • 1/27/71 The World Premiere Presentation of the Optigan in the Los Angeles Room of the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. Johnny Largo is brought onboard as Optigan’s Musical Director.
  • 2/71 A short, exclusive article about the Optigan, written by organist Bill Irwin, appears in Modern Keyboard Review Magazine.
  • 6/71 The Optigan is exhibited at NAMM in Chicago.
  • 7/71 The Optigan is exhibited at CES in Chicago.
  • 9/71 Johnny Largo gives presentations for a variety of magazine editors for the purpose of encouraging press about the Optigan.
  • 9/22/71 Idea of Automatic Beat Counter system is proposed as a sheet music format to make Optigan’s music books easier to read by non-musicians.
  • 10/5/71 Johnny Largo demonstrates the Optigan for the merchandising department of Montgomery Ward.
  • 12/71 Promotional cassette of Christmas music played on the Optigan by Johnny Largo is recorded and distributed.
    Listen:

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1972

    Johnny Largo on the Snowball Special

  • 1/1/72 Johnny Largo plays the Optigan on the City of Compton float in the Pasadena Rose Parade.
  • 1/20/72 Johnny Largo gives training seminar for Sears Music Schools instructors on how to teach their customers how to play the Optigan.
  • 2/72 Johnny Largo gives a presentation for new Optigan owners at the first Sears Optigan Class.
  • 3/7/72 Patent granted: “Electronic Organ wherein Musical Sounds and a Tremolo Effect are provided by Electro-Optical Apparatus.”
  • 3/11/72 Johnny Largo demonstrates the Optigan for snowbunnies traveling on the Amtrak Snowball Special bound for Sun Valley.
  • 4/18/72 Patent granted: “Music Instrument with Variable Amplitude.”
  • 4/18/72 Patent granted: “Organ Keyboard Switching System.”
  • 5/15/72 Results are tabulated from the musical preferences questionnaire issued with the “New Highlight 6″ packs. These results directly influenced future disc-making plans.
  • 6/17/72 Optigan is exhibited at NAMM.
  • 7/11/72 Patent granted: “Cabinet for Keyboard Instrument or the like.”
  • 7/25/72 Patent granted: “Keyboard for Musical Instrument or the like.”
  • 9/72 Optigan launches a highly visual point-of-purchase promotional display campaign, designed by the Selig J.Smith Company.
  • 9/72 Optigan launches the largest TV ad campaign ever for a musical instrument, produced by Carson/Roberts. The 30 second “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” commercial ran for 10 weeks.
  • 9/26/72 Patent granted: “Radiation Sensitive Readout Head with Circuit Board Construction.”
  • 10/72 Optigan names Art Fromader Midwest Sales Manager.
  • 11/72 Johnny Largo demonstrates the Optigan on the “Newsday” show on KBFI-TV in Dallas, Texas.
  • 11/72 Optigan enters the holiday season by releasing the “Joyous Sounds Of Christmas” Folio.
  • 11/72 The Optigan “1972 Total Merchandising Program” wins the Best-Of-Class award at the Point-Of-Purchase Annual Merchandising Awards Contest.
  • 11/72 A national newspaper article/ad campaign is run to advertise the Optigan for the holiday season.

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1973

    Country Style-Pak

  • 1/13/73 The Optigan is demonstrated at the IHE (Independent Home Entertainment) Show at the Conrad Hilton in Chicago.
  • 2/5/73 Mattel announces its plans to dispose of the Optigan subsidiary, citing “disappointing operating results.”
  • 3/1/73 Mike LeDoux announces near-completion of the “Country” Style-Pak and Entertainment Folio #3. Both of these products would not be released until after the Mattel/Miner switchover. Also, plans for generating a “Beatles” Style-Pak as well as a “50′s Rock” Style-Pak are announced. Both of these projects never got off the ground.
  • 3/13/73 Patent granted: “Disc Drive.”
  • 4/73 By this point, Roy Chilton has formed a business partnership with General Electro Music (the American wing of Galanti). Roy forms the Chilton Corporation to develop the Chilton Talentmaker (an improved version of the Optigan) to be produced by GEM.
  • The Chilton Talentmaker4/3/73 Patent granted: “Optical Disc Drive for Organ.”
  • 5/73 Full page ad for the Chilton Talentmaker appears in the Music Trades Magazine.
  • 6/73 Chilton introduces the Talentmaker at NAMM.
  • 6/8/73 Mattel sells Optigan to Miner Industries, which forms a new subsidiary called “Opsonar” to commence production. Mike LeDoux is the sole employee to remain with Optigan. Arrangements are made for his software lab to remain on the west coast, while the rest of the “factory” is moved to New Kensington, PA.
  • 6/17/73 Opsonar issues public warning in the NAMM Daily to Chilton Corp. for possible Optigan patent violations in regard to the Chilton Talentmaker.
  • 7/73 Optigan’s software division, headed by Mike LeDoux, is moved from the Compton plant to a vacant area inside the Circuit Drafting & Photography building (Optigan’s vendor for disc production).
  • 12/73 Mattel announces $13 million in losses due to the Optigan.

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1974

    Mike LeDoux at CES

  • 3/74 Miner announces record sales and earnings for the past nine months, due in part to Opsonar.
  • 6/5/74 Opsonar releases its newly revised Optigan merchandise price list.
  • 12/74 The Optigan is demonstrated at CES in Chicago. Several prototype cabinet designs are displayed, including the “baby grand” and the “space age” models.

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1975

  • 2/75 A possible merger is proposed between Chilton Corp. and Opsonar which would convert the existing Talentmakers into an “improved” version of the Optigan. (This merger never occurred.)
  • 3/75 Mike LeDoux becomes increasingly entangled in Miner’s process of shutting down their ill-managed Magnus Organ subsidiary on the west coast. Mike’s involvement with this process signals the beginning of the end for Optigan.
  • 6/17/75 Opsonar establishes a Disc Warranty Program, which is advertised on the Optigan dust jackets. Optigan owners could send in worn-out discs along with one dollar per disc to obtain brand new copies.
  • Songs of Praise Style Pak8/27/75 By this date, all existing Optigan discs have been produced, and software development effectively halts.
  • 10/75 Optigan “Songs Of Praise” Style-Pak is released.

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1976

  • 3/76 The Optigan disc-production facility officially moves out of the CDP building.
  • 5/76 Vako advertises the Orchestron

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29 Responses to “Optigan”

  1. Allen Says:

    I thought I saw a place on this site a while back for ordering a replacement motor. Can you send me a link?

    Thanks,

    Allen

  2. peahix Says:

    hi, i’ve never had motors listed on the site, but i MAY have one that will work. i’ll have to check and get back to you.

    pea

  3. Mark Says:

    HI,
    The special effects section doesn’t seem to work. I’ve taken it apart and cleaned it with electronic cleaner and a de-oxidizing
    solution. The chord buttons now all work but I noticed that the little copper lines (jumper connections?) between a couple of the
    pads in the EFX section seem to be worn away. Do you have any circuit boards for sale for a 35001? If not, is there a way to restore the connections? Let me know. Thanks.

    Mark

  4. Allen Says:

    Did you ever find any motors? Or, can one retrofit a quieter motor? I just can’t believe that Optigans were produced with such a loud sounding motor. When laying down tracks during recording the motor is not heard due to the signal just consisting of what’s going through the line. But for performing at small venues, the grinding noise just sounds awful.

  5. Denise Says:

    I have my grandparents Optigan Organ, which is in great shape. I’ve done some research but can’t seem to find much information about its’ value or selling it. Is there anywhere I can be directed to check? Thanks!

  6. peahix Says:

    hi denise, ebay’s the best place to check current prices on optigans. most typically sell in the $200-$400 range depending on a number of factors. you can also watch the forum here.

    pea

  7. michael beers Says:

    I was wondering if you could email me a scan or photo of the rollin’ easy cover. My aunt is the one on the cover and she died last weekend and I am trying to find this image or cover to display at her memorial this coming weekend. I just want to print a 8×10 so an emailed photo would work just fine . Please let me know ASAP.
    Thank you so much for your time.
    Michael

  8. Jack Dull Says:

    Hello
    Optigon , Miner Industries, New Kensington Pa brings back the memories, both Jim Rice and I worked in the service dept as supervisors, during that period I replaced Jack Smith which I has lost touch with a long time ago. I can still see these in my sleep

  9. Jack Dull Says:

    Hello
    I read all your articles, I do have fond memories of these instruments and I was in charge of training and setting up all the service centers in the USA. I worked in New Kensington Pa. from somewhere in 73 to 75
    when they moved to NY. I know the plant well it was the old Alcoa Plant, it is still there, I still see many ex employees who built them. I too was a musician and used the Optigan and a cheap mellatron, as Yes, King Crimson, and others were big at the time. I wish you luck in your endeavor, and it is suprizingly pleasant to see interest in this machine. Has anyone seen Jack Smith?
    thank
    jack

  10. Jack Dull Says:

    Hello
    I read all your articles, I do have fond memories of these instruments and I was in charge of training and setting up all the service centers in the USA. I worked in New Kensington Pa. from somewhere in 73 to 75 until they moved to NY. I know the plant well it was the old Alcoa Plant, it is still there, I still see many ex employees who built them. I too was a musician and used the Optigan as a cheap mellatron, although you had to adjust the head everytime you moved it,as Yes, King Crimson, and others were big at the time. I wish you luck in your endeavor, and it is suprizingly pleasant to see interest in this machine. Has anyone seen Jack Smith?
    thank
    jack

  11. optigan Says:

    Where is the Chrysler Swing It Video information? And what happened to the video demo of all this that was online the ???? The page just 404′s now????

    Where is the info on the chrysler ad???????

  12. peahix Says:

    i was getting alot of inexplicably annoying comments about that from people who thought they knew better than me, so i just pulled it all.

  13. Janie Girl Says:

    Janie Girl says

    Will someone please come up with another Optigan type organ. I had one and gave it
    away. Now my daughter does not know what happened to it. Also if someone could sell
    me a table top organ with the chords on the left.

    Thank you

  14. Bob Says:

    Pea Hicks. I saw your inquiry regarding the “Music & Electronics Magazine” tape. Not only do I have a copy of the magazine, I have an original swinkwraped package of the tape and magazine (not opened) as they were orizinally sold (premire addition). Somewhere along the way I lost a free standing copy of the tape so it was nice to hear the tape again…as recorded on the website. I would be interested in selling both the magazine and the swinkwraped copy. Let me know if you are interested and I will send you pictures of both. Bob

  15. Jan Girardot Says:

    Hello:

    I have recently started a Yahoo Group devoted to the history of the electronic organ and welcome any photos, links and writeups on the Optigan. The Group’s name is electronicorganhistory and you are welcome to join.

    Very nice website!

    . . . Jan

  16. Dorothy Kalson Says:

    I have an optigan, accompaniing ‘record’ and sheet music booklets given to me in the seventies. It has not been played alot and surely needs an electronic tune-up, but I am moving and would like to give it away to someone who might enjoy it. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

  17. michael lindner Says:

    i am trying to contact http://www.optigan.com as i just purchased a copy of the optigan manuel and am not able to down load it. the last time i tried ss i was tols i have now more down loads. please advise.
    thank you. i am a new optigan owner and have successfully been able revive a 1972 wooden console model.

  18. Warren Barlowe Says:

    Dorothy Kalson, where is your Optigan? I am interested.

  19. Dustin Says:

    Pea,
    I had heard the Optigan name but not the sounds themselves… until tonight. I am absolutely blow away. I am a hug Mellotron fan and have a few sample sets. I would venture to say though that the Optigan and Orchestron outdo the Tron in terms of haunting, spooky, technicolor beauty. When I listened to the sound samples of the Orchestron, I was immediately transported back to my childhood. This was how everything sounded. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood…. Sesame St…. 321 Contact… and countless other educational films had that sound that has colored my entire musical life. I am working on a record right now for a new music project I am doing and think that the Orchestron Vibes would be just perfect. Can you point me in the right direction in order to get the sample set? I’ve searched the site but am a little confused on how to purchase individual instruments. Thanks much, Dustin

  20. rob Says:

    have got an optigan and discs need to get rid of otherwise it may be trashed ..how sad.. does anyone need an optigan slightly marred by childrens daubings with nail polish, and of course not working very well..i bought it some time ago in this state and although charmed by this instrument, i cannot take it with me

  21. Warren Barlowe Says:

    Hi Rob

    What state are you in? I’m interested in your optigan.

    -Warren

  22. Eric Iwasaki Says:

    I am in the L.A. area and have a model 35011 Optigan and related discs and songbooks that I would like to sell in your “Swaptigan” forum, but have not been able to register. I wanted to list it here before posting it on EBay. Any chance the registration will get fixed in the next couple of days?

  23. gb Says:

    Pea, please delete my earlier message, my email was incorrect…

    Eric, I’m in los angeles and would love to buy your optigan if it’s working. Contact me at lickerush@gmail.com with the details.
    Thanks!

  24. Ed Smith Says:

    I have an Optigan 35002 Organ Everything works except the left speaker.
    The Organ has been in our family since bought new in the 70′s. I am looking
    for a left speaker. I also have the bench, several discs and books.

    Please call 206 930-1061 My name is Ed and I live in Stanton California

  25. keyboardkarl Says:

    Hello; just got introduced to the optigan . How much is one worth in working condition? I am trading an old keyboard for it and want to educate myself first? seems cheezy cool if it is in working condition…thanks;

  26. keyboardkarl Says:

    I am trying to register for swaptigan but cannot find a registration button? I have an Optigan for sale in the Portland Or area; help!!!

  27. Howard Says:

    Pea-

    I stumbled on your site by accident this morning. Wow. The cheesy sound of these marvelous things brought back memories of a few wasted Sunday afternoons at a friend’s house. They had some out of tune pump organ and the family sang together – but they were all tone deaf. That connected me to a musician who was designing his own polyphonic analog synthesizer and I got to program it in Z80 assembly. It too was low budget and low fi but pretty impressive for one controlled by a 1MHz processor.

    After years of reconditioning juke boxes and pinball machines, about 20 years ago I was asked to recondition two Optigans. That was pure joy. The sound was so awful and cheesy. The owner was thrilled that it sounded just like it used to! Rebuilt amps, a new motor, lamps, etc. Lots of work but it was a good deal of fun.

    I’m downloading your tracks now – thank you so much for making those available. I love it when people take the trouble to save all of this tech. I’m imagining how they could be used on RFID instruments. One of my published projects is a science fair project suggestion for kids to use RFID tags to make musical instruments. It started with tuned cows but kids like burps and stuff too, so the collection of sounds is growing. If you’d be willing to let me excerpt a few of your tracks for this project, please drop me an email.

  28. Geary Says:

    I recently scanned an article from tower Record’s Pulse magazine (July 2000!) on the Optigan, which mentions your site. I would be happy to send you a pdf of the scan, if you do not have this article already.

    Also, did you ever release Four Organs on a CD? If not, is it amiable for purchase as a download MP3, or AAC file?

    Geary

  29. peahix Says:

    Hi Geary, I’ve got a copy of that magazine, thanks! I suppose one of these days I should scan all the old school press we’ve gotten over the years and post it all on the website. We never officially released “Four Optigans,” but now that you mention it, I ought to at least put it up on youtube or something. Stay tuned!

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