Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock Instruments



ARP Solina String Ensemble
First released in 1974, The ARP Solina String Ensemble was the first fully-electronic instrument to try to fill the Mellotron's shoes. 16-note polyphonic, and with some minimal synthesizer controls, it featured no-drift tuning, no time limits on note duration, and a very thick sound, particularly for a synthesizer of its day. It relied on oscillators rather than sampling technology, and sounded very "synthesized" compared to Mellotrons and their kind, yet also not as ethereal. It really did only one sound well: Strings (in spite of various brass and horn settings). However, the lack of hassle and light weight made the ARP Solina String Ensemble and a couple of its follow-on successors (the ARP Quartet, Omni and Quadra) very popular in the late '70's and early '80's.

Sadly, this keyboard and its brothers became popular as the Disco fad began, so it is mostly associated with Disco bands. The most (in)famous use of the ARP Solina String Ensemble is in Gary Wright's Dream Weaver album, but it has also found use by numerous more progressive bands as well in spite of the fact that it has a different sound texture than a Mellotron. Pink Floyd (especially on Wish You Were Here), Styx, OMD and Tangerine Dream have all used this machine to create symphonic textures.


Birotron
Another attempt to replace the troublesome Mellotron. This one was invented by Rick Wakeman and David Biro, attempting to replace the Mellotron's tape strips with infinite tape loops ... in the form of 8-track tapes! Wakeman claims there were only 35 of these made. Biro thinks there were only 13. Either way, they never were made in mass production, and there are only a few left in existence. Even Wakeman doesn't have one any more!

The Birotron was used on Yes' Tormato album and Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record.


Bodhran
The Bodhran (pronounced BOW-ron*) is a traditional Irish hand-held drum. Traditionally made with a wooden frame with goatskin stretched over the top, there are, of course, synthetic skin versions now made. They come in sizes from about 12" to about 24" in diameter, with 18" being a pretty common size. The drum is usually tuned with a fairly low, boomy pitch. It is held in one hand by a stick (or a pair of sticks crossed to form an "x") mounted on the back side of the drum, and struck with the other hand using a carved stick called a "beater". As shown in the picture, their heads are frequently painted with Irish symbols or (perhaps more frequently) Celtic knotwork. The particular drum in the picture was made in Pakistan. Sigh.

The Bodhran may not be in widespread use by prog bands, but it is mandatory for those who want to inject an Irish or "Celtic" feel to their music, whether they're "prog" or not.

* Thanks to Sean (McFee?) for his correction to the pronounciation.


E-Bow
The E-Bow isn't an instrument in itself. Rather, it's a device which can be used on any instrument which uses steel strings to produce sound. Mainly, this means electric guitars and basses, though I have actually seen E-Bows used on acoustic instruments as well (specifically, a hammer dulcimer suite using two E-Bows to create the most ethereal sounds imaginable).

The E-Bow is held in the pick hand of the guitarist and brought close to the string the guitarist wishes to play. It produces a magnetic field which literally reaches out and grabs the steel string and shakes it, causing it to vibrate at the pitch set by where the string is fretted. The most-used effect is bringing the E-Bow close to the string slowly, causing an "attack supression", or slow volume build-up of the note. Careful playing can make the guitar sound like violins, flutes, clarinets or other slow-attack instruments. It can create very spacey, ethereal or ghostly sounds. Or, it can make you sound like Steve Hackett. Similar effects can be obtained using volume pedals or even the guitar's volume knob, but the E-Bow can actually operate on single notes at a time rather than the overall guitar sound.

The song "Good Company" by Queen uses the E-Bow to emulate the sound of a jazz band using multitracked guitars played by Brian May. Joe Funk of Thirteen of Everything uses his E-Bow to get a Steve Hackett sound on their Welcome, Humans album. Just about everyone has used an E-Bow at one time or another, including Frank Zappa on "Filthy Habits", Fred Frith on "What a Dilemma", Djam Karet and did I mention Steve Hackett?

Click here for the E-Bow web site.


Hammond Organ
The original Hammond Organ was designed and built by the ex-watchmaker Laurens Hammond in 1935. Hammond set up his organ company in Evanston, Illinois to produce electronic organs for the "leisure market". A Hammond B3 (circa 1950) is shown in the picture.

The Hammond Organ generates sounds using "tone wheels". The assembly which generates the sounds consists of an AC synchronous motor connected to a gear train which drives a series of tone wheels, each of which rotates adjacent to a magnet and coil assembly (much like an electric guitar pickup). The number of bumps on each wheel in combination with the rotational speed determines the pitch produced by a particular tone wheel assembly.

The Hammond has a unique drawbar system of additive timbre synthesis. A note on the organ consists of the fundamental and a number of harmonics, or multiples of that frequency. The fundamental and up to eight harmonics are available and are controlled by means of drawbars and preset keys or buttons. In addition, many models have a "percussive" mode which causes a fast-transient "ping" of certain harmonics. This, in conjunction with the famous Hammond "key click" caused by the mechanical contacts is the sound made famous by Keith Emerson during his The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer days, though this sound was used by '50's jazz musicians such as Jimmy Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes long before Emerson did it. The addition of guitar-type distortion to the organ's output and vibrato/tremolo introduced by Leslie cabinets completed the 70's prog organ sound, used by Keith Emerson of ELP, Rick Wakeman of Yes and Tony Banks of Genesis, to name but a few.

A Hammond console organ includes two 61-key manuals and a pedal board consisting of 25 pedals (concert models had a 32-note pedalboard). Hammond also patented an electromechanical reverb device using the helical tortion of a coiled spring (a.k.a. "spring reverb"), widely copied in later electronic instruments. In Rock music, widely used models include the B3, C3 and L100 models of Hammond, which all have similar sounds. However, the consoles are very heavy and difficult to take on the road. As a result, there are a now number of lightweight electronic instruments available which simulate the sound of the "Classic Hammond Organ". -- Fred Trafton with Randy Kuchik

Click here for a Hammond web site.
Click here for a PDF Hammond/Leslie faq containing lots of technical info.


Fender Rhodes
The Fender Rhodes was a staple of both progressive rock bands and jazz musicians due to its easy transportablility, touch-sensitive keyboard and mellow, warm sound. All models of Fender Rhodes pianos contained tuned metal rods that vibrated near a guitar-type pickup to create its sound. The sound has a clear, bell-like quality, and doesn't sound much like a piano at all. When struck hard, the bars create overtones that sound harsher, richer and more "growling" by creating extra vibrational modes in the tines and also by overloading the electronics slightly. This happens particularly audibly on the low end of the keyboard. Some models featured real piano-style hammers which struck the rods to cause them to vibrate, while other models used a less elaborate (and lighter weight) striking system.

Many bands used the Rhodes, but some bands like Magma built the band's entire sound around the warm Rhodes tines (yes, I know bass and drums are important for Magma's sound too). Fender Rhodes pianos also sound great when run through a guitar distortion box.


Mellotron
The quintessential prog rock keyboard instrument. Arguably (along with the Chamberlain) the world's first sampler, it had individual 3-track tapes of recorded instruments for each key. Pressing a key started a strip of tape pulling by a tape head, which was able to play for about eight seconds before running out of tape. A spring then reset the tape for the next pass. The instruments recorded on the three tracks were selectable, and many combinations were available. The most popular sounds were string sections, flutes, brass and voice choirs.

In spite of their marvelous sound, Mellotrons fell into disuse due to their tempermental nature - the tape heads had to be cleaned frequently, and the mechanisms which pulled the tape by the heads were notorious for jamming up, especially due to the rigors of being on the road. They were also HEAVY, and had only a three-octave keyboard.

Many modern prog bands use "virtual Mellotrons" ... the original Mellotron tapes recorded using a modern digital sampler. These sound the same as the original tapes (OK, purists ... they sound "very similar"), but have no time limits, weigh much less, are less fragile and have hundreds more sounds available from the same keyboards. But some people still like the nostalgia of having a real Mellotron. They are still being made today, in limited quantities.

Click here for the official Mellotron web site
Click here for Planet Mellotron, a site by Mellotron fan Andy Thompson, who's attempting to compile a listing of all albums containing Mellotron. Good luck!


Memotron
An all-digital Mellotron. Endorsed and used by Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, Michel Huygen of Neuronium and Richard Vaughan of Astra. Richard's Memotron is actually built into a "keyboard stand" that makes it look just like a Mellotron.

It is rumored that there are other users, but they keep their identities a secret to avoid the hordes of slavering, pitchfork- and torch-wielding "Real Mellotron" cultists who wish to do them bodily harm.

Click here for Manikin Electronic, the German company that builds the Memotron
Click here for Analogue Haven, who sell the Memotron in the USA


Moog Minimoog
The Minimoog is what most people mean when they say "a Moog". First introduced around 1970, this workhorse synth has probably had more progressive solos played on it than any other single synthesizer. Monophonic, but with 3 oscillators and the patented Moog filter, it is generally agreed to be the gold standard for the term "warm, fat analog sound". The Minimoog was also notorious for oscillators that drifted out of tune ... sometimes so badly that a solo that began in tune was out of tune by the end, especially under hot stage lights.

Among the more famous prog artists/bands who used the Minimoog are Rick Wakeman in Yes, Jürgen Fritz of Triumvirat and Peter Bardens of Camel to name but a few.*

After a fight to regain the use of his name from the corporation doing business as Moog Music, Robert Moog has recently re-established his name brand and released an updated version of the Minimoog named the Minimoog Voyager. It does everything the old Minimoogs did, plus has computerized patch storage, extensive patching facilities, a MIDI implementation, and STABLE OSCILLATORS!

If there's anyone in the world that still doesn't know it, "Moog" rhymes with "Rogue" and does not sound like a cow's "Moo" with a "g" on the end.

Visit Moog Music for a look at the Minimoog Voyager.
* Thanks to Jim Schoemer for reminding me that Tony Banks was not a Minimoog user, but instead used and endorsed ARP instruments.


Recorder
The recorder (not a tape recorder!) is one of the earliest known examples of a type of wind instrument known as an "internal duct flute". It is basically a whistle with holes in it which change the pitch depending on which holes are covered by the fingers. The earliest examples including the Dordrecht Recorder from the mid-13th century and the Göttingen Recorder from the 14th century show that they have been used since medieval times in a form similar to modern instruments.

Prog artists who wish to infuse their music with a "medieval flavor" use these instruments in their music. They are relatively easy to learn to play, and modern versions are easy to find and are low cost. Really cheap ones are made of plastic, though purists believe the wooden types have better sound quality. Probably the most famous use of recorder in rock is the intro to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". More "progressive" examples are the use by Gentle Giant, especially on their first album Gentle Giant and also In a Glass House and the Israeli Trespass, particularly on Morning Lights.

The above info is condensed from the excellent Recorder Home Page with lots of history and other information


Moog Taurus Bass Pedals
The Moog Taurus bass pedal synth was a totally unique product (then and now) in that it was a simple bass synth that could be played with the feet. They were released in the mid-'70s to much acclaim ... they hit the spot with the then popular progressive rock bands for adding an extra element to their (dare I say it?!) pompous and pretentious stage productions. Honestly, the unit was a bit of a rip-off costing almost as much as a MiniMoog but with considerably less in the way of synth facilities and functionality.

The Taurus synth engine was a very simple 2-oscillator affair using the famous Moog filter and two simple envelopes - one for the filter, the other for amplitude shaping - with switchable release. What users were paying for, however, was the "concept" ... the notion of being able to add bass lines to their music whilst their two hands were otherwise occupied. They were also paying for the Taurus' astonishing build quality - it was a big, heavy affair that was built like a tank to withstand being stamped on.

Four footswitches were provided to select presets (Tuba, Bass, Taurus and Variable) and others to switch glide on and off, to transpose the sound up and down and to switch envelope release on and off. Two large "footsliders" at the top of the instrument allowed you to control level and filter cutoff with your feet and so it was possible to achieve a fair amount of "hands-free" operation on-stage. More in-depth programming was possible by lifting the flap on the top of the panel where the simple synth was laid out using a handful of small sliders - these settings were selected with the VARIABLE "preset".

Famous users include Mike Rutherford of Genesis (i.e. the bass drone at the beginning of "Watcher of the Skies") and Geddy Lee of Rush (i.e. the synth bass on "Xanadu").

The above was condensed from the Nostalgia web site's Moog Taurus page. Click here to read the entire article.


Nevborn Sleipner 8-String Guitars
Sleipner is the name of Norse God Odin's 8-legged horse, making it a good name for a scandanavian 8-stringed guitar. Fredrik Nevborn is a luthier (in Sweden I think) who builds custom guitars by special order. He has two varieties of 8-string guitars, the Sleipner I which is designed to be tuned A D G C F Bb D G (low to high), and the Sleipner XL (pictured) which is tuned F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb.

The Sleipner XL is used by Fredrik Thordendahl of Meshuggah. The string length is longer than that of a standard electric guitar, giving it a clear, deep sound with lots of overtones when played "clean" and it has a thunderous, gutteral low end when played with distortion. The price tag is steep at $3000 ("prices may vary due to your own setup"), but they are hand-built to order, and Nevborn will work with you to create a custom instrument.

Click here for the Nevborn Guitars web site


Orchestron
The Vako Orchestron is an instrument which was meant to replace the Mellotron. Rather than using tapes to record the sound of real instruments, the Orchestron used spinning optical disks to record the information, much like the sound stripes on films. However, the technology was derived from a toy keyboard (Mattel's Optigan), and the sound quality left much to be desired. The most famous use of the Orchestron was on the Relayer album by Yes, played by Patrick Moraz and his subsequent solo album, The Story of i. There was enough studio work done on these albums that the Orchestron sounds very good here.

Depicted here is a custom Orchestron 3-manual. This is almost certainly the particular Orchestron designed for Moraz.



Rickenbacker Bass
For as long as Progressive Rock has been around, the smooth growl and high-end sting of the Rickenbacker Bass has played no small part in defining the sound of many a classic Prog band. First introduced as the single-pickup 4000 in 1957, it was accompanied by the double-pickup 4001 in 1961, which became the standard on which all future Rick bass models were created. (The aforementioned 4000 was discontinued in the mid-80's). Its distinctive sound, made famous by such players as Chris Squire (Yes), Geddy Lee (Rush), Gary Strater (Starcastle), Sgt. Pepper's ... era Paul McCartney and many others, owes itself to a number of design features which set it apart from other basses.

One of the most important of those features is its construction. Designed by the legendary German luthier Roger Rossmeisl, this was the first bass to feature "Neck-Through-Body" construction: A single plank of solid Maple runs the length of the instrument with Maple "wings" on either side to form the body. A solid base on which all other components are mounted, resulting in superior acoustic coupling and resonance, which in turn results in the Ricky's Piano-like sustain and punch.

All of this would be nothing without another important feature, the pickups! Until the mid 70's, these basses featured the "Toaster-Top" neck pickup, and the famous "Horseshoe" assembly for the bridge (Featured on the cream-colored Chris Squire Signature model on the left). This design performed a unique function, with the strings surrounded by metal, affecting the electromagnetic characteristics of the unit. The pickup layout was later revised with the new "High Gain" Models (Featured on the Jet-Black 4003 model to the left). The pickup covers on the bridge units are merely chrome-plated plastic, not metal, so it's unnecessary to keep them attached ... and most players take advantage of that fact!

The most commonly found model is the 4003 Deluxe 4-String, which was designed and introduced in the early 80's for optimal performance with roundwound strings. It also features two outputs: the standard Monaural output, and the special "Rick-O-Sound" Stereo output, which separates the two pickups and sends the signals to two respective amplifiers ... a somewhat impractical and cost-prohibitive idea. 5-String, 8-String and fretless models are also available, although this author has never seen any of them in the shops ... it seems as if they are Special Order items. -- Jason Rodriguez

Click here for Rickenbacker's web site


Roto Tom
The version depicted is a Remo Roto Tom set, though other manufacturers make similar drums. They are basically synthetic tom-tom heads stretched over a circular hoop without a drum body, supported by a steel frame. What makes them "roto" is the fact that the drum can be tuned by rotating it on its support frame. This can be done to simply tune the drum prior to playing, or it can be rotated while playing to create interesting effects.

Roto-toms are distinctly pitched for drums, and can be tuned to specific "notes", making it possible to play melodies. They are usually not used alone, but as part of a larger drum kit. Bill Bruford typically uses a set of Roto Toms in his kit, sometimes with resonant columns mounted behind them.

Click here for the Remo web site


Saz
The Saz is a Turkish stringed instrument. It is the grandfather of the Greek Bouzouki and is also related to the Oud. It originated in Central Asia where Turks lived before their westward migration. Like the Guitar in Spain and the Bouzouki in Greece, the Saz is the most popular stringed instrument in Turkey. They are plucked or strummed. They are basically acoustic instruments, though they can be fitted with pickups to allow them to be amplified like an acoustic guitar. They are used by prog bands who want to include a middle-eastern sound to their music, or simply a different variety of guitar-like sound.

These instruments have traditional tied frets that are movable, and 3 courses of strings. Tuning: GDA. Larger sizes are tuned lower, such as DAE.

Click here for Lark In The Morning, which has info on many ethnic instruments.




Simmons Drum Pads




Simmons SDS5 Electronics
Simmons SDS5 Electronic Drums
The Simmons SDS5 (or SDSV as it is was officially known) was the world's first truly electronic drum kit. Prior to the Simmons, there had been electronic drum pad synths such as the Pearl Syncussion and the Electro-Harmonix Space Drum but these were pretty much nasty 'byoo byoo' gimmick boxes that were essentially a sound effect adjunct to an acoustic drum kit.

Dave Simmons had an altogether different vision ... to make drum synthesis serious and expressive ... a viable alternative to acoustic drums. Working with Richard Burgess (then the drummer with the jazz/pop fusion band Landscape), Simmons devised a unique drum synthesizer that put the individual components of a drum sound under users' control. He devised a series of modules optimised to produce certain drum sounds such as kick, snare and toms that could be triggered from pads. Each module contained a variable triangle wave oscillator and a noise generator which could be mixed and manipulated to provide a wide range of drum and percussion sounds as well as special effects. It was released in 1982.

A standard SDSV came shipped with 5 modules - kick, snare and three toms. On the surface, these looked pretty much identical with controls for noise level, tone level, bend, decay time, noise tone (a simple, static filter) and the curiously labelled "click drum" control which added extra attack derived from pad velocity. However, despite the similarities, each module's parameter range was optimised for the sound it was designed to re-create. Simmons subsequently added hi-hat and cymbal modules but these were unconvincing and generally, most drummers still retained acoustic hats and cymbals.

Like so many other innovators (and despite very prominent endorsements from high-calibre drummers such as Bill Bruford), Simmons could not keep ahead of the competition for long. The expense was also too high for most drummers to be able to afford the kit. Simmons struggled on as best they could but, sadly, the company eventually folded.

The above was condensed (greatly) from the Nostalgia web site's Simmons page. Click here to read the entire article.


Stick (a.k.a. Chapman Stick)
The Stick is a 10-string instrument (or 12-string for a Grand Stick) which is played from both ends by tapping the strings. The same technique (known as "hammering") has been used on electric guitars since Jimi Hendrix, but the Stick was optimized for playing this way. It may be played like a guitar, with the strings facing forward with hands coming onto the fretboard from each side, or it can be swung in front of the player with the strings facing them, and both hands tap downward on the fretboard. Some players change the position depending on what they are playing.

Using both hands, the player can theoretically play up to 10 notes at a time by hitting 10 strings with all 10 fingers. Typically, though, the player will use the lower strings to tap bass lines while the fingers on upper strings tap out melodies or chords. Extremely intricate rhythmic and melodic structures can be created that are impossible on a guitar or keyboard, making this a natural instrument for prog rockers to experiment with. Listen to the opening sequence on King Crimson's Discipline album ... all that sound is coming from a solo Stick being played by Tony Levin.

Click here for Stick Enterprises web site
Click here for the Tappistry web site, official site of the Tapper's Guild
Click here for a Stick fan site maintained by Stick player Manny Tau



Synclavier II - Original wooden keyboard


Synclavier II - Velocity/pressure sensitive keyboard

Note there is a black key missing just above the keyboard center in the above photo. This was not a feature of the original keyboard. The picture I took this from seems to have cut out a page fold from a scan here. Woops! Bet they thought nobody would notice. -Ed.

Synclavier
The Synclavier was manufactured by New England Digital, and was really an integrated audio control system combining the features of synthesis (both additive and FM modulation), sampling and direct-to-disk audio recording. The original models were built between 1972-1976, a collaboration between Cameron Jones and Sydney Alonso under the guidance of composer Jon Appleton. The price per unit was astronomical, ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 for the largest possible system.

In the early '80's, a commercial version dubbed the Synclavier II was produced, and this is the version which saw use from a number of famous musical experimenters. The primary engine was an 8-bit additive/FM synthesis system. Yamaha later used the FM synthesis ideas in their DX series, including the DX7, but in a harsher- and more digital-sounding 16-bit version. On top of this, a direct-to-disk recording system was added, making the Synclavier one of the first hybrid sampler/synthesizers.

Progressive artists who have experimented with the Synclavier include Laurie Anderson (Mister Heartbreak [1984] includes Synclavier sound waves pictures in the liner notes), Genesis, Pat Metheny and Frank Zappa (especially on Jazz From Hell and Civilization, Phaze III). The Synclavier is still being made today, including a "virtual Synclavier" that runs on Macintosh computers.

Click here for Synclavier's web site
Click here for a web site dedicated to "What Makes The Synclavier So Special And Different?".


SynthAxe
The SynthAxe was one of the early guitar MIDI controllers, built about 1985. In addition to a guitar-like fretboard, it also had a few keyboard-like keys and a pedalboard (which also held the power supplies).

Unlike modern MIDI guitars which attempt to detect the frequency of each string and convert it to MIDI data, the SynthAxe used a different approach. The strings of the SynthAxe don't create sound on their own, but are merely sensors which convert the guitarist's finger positions to MIDI data. It does not need to use different size strings for each of the six strings, so easily-stretched strings are typically substituted in all six positions. Both fret position and string bending are sensed, so the player can perform natural guitar pitch bends. Notes can be triggered from the second set of strings, strummed or picked like a guitar, or from the keyboard which was velocity sensitive and had polyphonic aftertouch. It also had a whammy bar which could be assigned to any MIDI function desired.

Users say that the whole assembly is so heavy that it's more comfortable to play sitting down than standing with the weight around the player's neck. Also, the non-standard spacing of the frets take some getting used to. However, there is no delay as there is in MIDI guitars that track string pitch ... bends, hammers, pull-offs and trills all respond instantly. However, these devices were very expensive and were only made for a few years before the manufacturer folded.

Famous musicians who used one, for a while at least, included Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola and Lee Ritenour.

Click here for more information from the John Hollis' web site



Synthi AKS (and VCS3)
EMS (Electronic Music Studios) was a UK company, one of the original synthesizer makers. They created the Synthi series which included the VCS3 (a.k.a. "Putney") and the AKS (pictured) which was basically the same synth in a briefcase with a "touchplate" keyboard. That blue thing at the bottom of the photo is the actual keyboard that came with the AKS, a capacitive-sensing printed circuit board with no moving parts. Difficult to play, but very durable. The keyboard was also "velocity sensitive" in that there was a shock sensor mounted on it which gave a control voltage proportional to how hard the keyboard's PC board was hit. This was in 1971! The built-in joystick (lower right corner, the handle was removed in this photo) was intended to be used as a primary controller in addition to the keyboard, and it works great for making those sci-fi noises.

Its three oscillators provided a sound as fat as a Minimoog, but suffered from drift even worse than the infamous Minimoog, making it difficult to use as a melodic synth. However, the pin matrix (bottom center of the control panel), allowed a patching capability rivalled only by more expensive patch-cord machines like the Moog III and ARP 2600, so these were excellent for creating strange synthesizer sounds (that little red "jack" under the Synthi photo is what the pin looked like, about 50% of actual size). The AKS also had a built-in loop-able sequencer which could create short sequences like in Pink Floyd's "On the Run" (though that was the VCS3 incarnation of the Synthi) which could then be mutated by turning the knobs on the front panel. You can't do that any more with modern digital synths! But the only way to save patches was to write down the pin configuration and the settings on all the knobs ... no patch programmability was possible!

In addition to Pink Floyd, other prog artists who have used the AKS or VCS3 include Brian Eno, Jean Michel Jarre, Todd Rundgren and Tim Blake.

Click here for more information from the Vintage Synth Explorer web site
Click here for a history of EMS products on their web site


Theremin
The Theremin, invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (later changed to Leon Theremin), is played without being touched. As a hand approaches the vertical antenna, the pitch gets higher. Approaching the horizontal antenna makes the volume softer. Wiggling the hands produces tremolo or vibrato in its single monophonic pitch.

The Theremin has been used by such bands as The Bonzo Dog Band, Led Zeppelin and Captain Beefheart. It's most famous for sci-fi movie soundtracks during the 1950's and 60's such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet.

In the late 1920's, RCA produced approximately 500 Theremins (shown in photo). Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog built Theremins in the 1960's, producing several models. His company Moog Music Inc. continues to produce Theremins to this day, including MIDI-capable models.

Click here for more information from the Theremin World web site


V-Drum
Roland V-Drums are percussion synthesizers, creating drum sounds electronically. Essentially a sampler with drum pads for triggers, the drummer has a huge amount of control over how each pad sounds and reacts to his stick. In addition, many different "kits" can be programmed so that the drummer can change complete kits with the touch of a button. The outputs are all electronic, so they may be run directly to a mixing board for recording or mixing into the PA system without the use of expensive microphones.

In addition to the added control allowed by the electronics, another advantage of V-Drums is their light weight and easy transportability. For the gigging musician, setup and breakdown are far simpler than a conventional drum kit. They also don't overpower the other instruments in small clubs, allowing everyone in the band to turn down and not be overwhelmingly loud just to be at the correct volume relative to the drums. The major downside is that many drummers dislike the relatively short cymbal samples. This is easily fixed by creating hybrid kits using V-Drums for the drums, but real cymbals.

V-Drums are used by many progressive rock bands, including Nervewerks and 99 Names of God.

Click here for Roland U.S.'s web site
Click here for an "unofficial" V-Drum web site


Vibraphone
The Vibraphone is a strange hybrid mallet percussion instrument. It's basically a Xylophone with metal bars that are struck by mallets, but it also has sympathetically vibrating pipes that hang below the bars that are not unlike pipe organ resonators. Each pipe has a rotating baffle in it which adds tremolo to the sound (not vibrato, as the name might indicate). It's a very ethereal and bell-like sound, extremely mellow; there's almost no way for a Vibraphone to sound harsh or brash, making it an unlikely choice as a rock instrument. Vibraphones (or "Vibes") were made fashionable in jazz circles by Lionel Hampton in the 1930's and '40's.

Aside from some incidental (but very pretty) use on early Gentle Giant albums (particularly Octopus and Three Friends), Vibraphones had not made many inroads into the high-tech soundscapes of progressive rock ... the only two examples I'm aware of is Ed Macan's power prog trio Hermetic Science, which put out their first album in 1997, and Marc Wagnon's Tunnels, originally a 1993 project with Brand X's bassist Percy Jones, but then becoming a band in its own right.

Hermetic Science used Vibraphone (and occasional Marimba) as the lead instrument in a true prog rock setting, while Tunnels is more of a fusion band with lots of traditional jazz leanings. Hermetic Science's first album was the most reliant on Vibes, with later albums using them increasingly less. Vibes continue to be the dominant instrument for Tunnels.

Click here for the TheVibe.net, a Vibraphone web site


Vintage Keys
E-mu has created a great keyboard for the gigging prog musician who wants to have those classic '70's and '80's keyboard sounds at his disposal without needing to lug around heavy Mellotrons or Hammond B3's. Purists will say that the sampler technology isn't really as good as the originals (rightly so), but the convienience is spectacular, and the sound quality is good within the limits of the samples.

This keyboard includes samples from the Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet, Farfisa, Mellotron, Moogs, Prophets, Oberheim OBX, Jupiter, Juno, 808, 909, ARPs, Yamaha DX7 and CP70 and more. Vintage Keys is a 61-note keyboard, but there is a similar set of electronics available as a MIDI-controlled sound module (the Vintage Pro).

The Vintage Keys sampler is used by many modern prog bands, including Códice and Mangala Vallis.

Click here for the E-mu web site


Violin, Electric
Electric Violins are played with a bow and held under the chin just like their acoustic counterparts. It is possible to add pickups to an acoustic violin, thus electrifying it, but the new breed of purely electric violins (such as the one pictured at left, from Electric Violin Lutherie) are frequently the preferred version for progresive rock bands.

These instruments have the advantages of the expressiveness and direct control of pitch (since the performer is in direct physical contact with the strings) of a conventional violin or guitar with the "electric" properties of the electric guitar ... the ability to add distortion, feedback and effects easily. Add to that the ability to pluck, scrape, damp strings and play two notes at a time and you have an instrument that excels in soloing in the hands of a virtuoso player.

The most famous purveyours of the art of the Electric Violin are Jean-Luc Ponty, Jerry Goodman (both former members of Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Eddie Jobson (UK, Curved Air), though there are many excellent Electric Violin players in both prog and jazz circles.

Click here for Mr. Violin, a web site dedicated to violins (electric and acoustic)


Warr Guitar
The Warr Guitar is a relative of the Stick in that it is designed to be used by tapping the strings. However, the body style and string layout is different. Mark Warr and Emmett Chapman (designer of the Stick) got into some legal disputes a few years back, but not over the instruments themselves ... rather, it was about business and marketing tactics. The rumors that it was about the "tap" aspects of the instruments is untrue, and the dispute was settled years ago. (Thanks to Jim Reilly for this info).

Warr Guitars come in 8, 12 and 14-string varieties (14-string Phalanx series shown). There is no "standard" tuning (or rather, there are a number of "standard tunings", though Warr encourages you to try new tunings for yourself). Needless to say, the experimental nature of this instrument makes it a natural for prog musicians.

Probably the most famous Warr Guitar player today is Trey Gunn, sometime guitarist for King Crimson, who has both a Warr Guitar model and a tuning named for him. Less well-known, but every bit as good, are Mark Cook (99 Names of God, The Minefield) and Adam Levin (Dark Aether Project).

Click here for the Warr Guitar web site.
Click here for the Tappistry web site, official site of the Tapper's Guild.


Zendrum
The Zendrum is a MIDI controller that hangs around the musicians neck and contains a number of touch-sensitive pads. Each pad can be assigned to a particular MIDI note number, and the touch sensitivity is programmable. The idea is to have each pad trigger a particular drum or other percussion sample, but it could just as easily play different musical notes or sound effects for each pad, depending on what the user has programmed and what MIDI sound-generating device is being used.

The Zendrum has been used by Manu Katche in Peter Gabriel's band, Jeff Hodges of Man On Fire, and even Billy Cobham.

Click here for the Zendrum web site


Zon Hyperbass
The Zon Hyperbass is a fretless bass guitar specifically designed for altered tunings. It was designed for and with Michael Manring, who generally tunes to a nonstandard E A E A tuning rather than the standard E A D G. The fingerboard is unusually long, giving each string a full three-octave range, and the deep cutout in the body gives the player access to the very bottom of the range without flipping their hand to the top. For on-the-fly retuning, the head has four "Hipshot" tuning pegs, and the bridge has two levers, one that raises and lowers the string saddles all together, and another that can be assigned to specific strings to create new tunings. Because Manring sometimes tunes the strings fairly high, he uses light guage strings to reduce tension on the neck.

The first use of the Zon Hyperbass was on Manring's Drastic Measures album. The hefty $5400 base price for this machine will prevent all but the most serious of bassists from using it (for comparison, a 4-string Fender Jazz fretless bass lists for about $2100 and can be had at discount mail-order shops for about $1500). But if you have deep enough pockets, you can build your own customized unit on their web site and Zon will be happy to make your own signature model just for you. But I wouldn't expect to see one at your local guitar shop.

Click here for the Zon Guitars' web site.


Thanks to The Vintage Synth Explorer web site for info and photos of the ARP Solina String Ensemble and Minimoog
Thanks to the Theremin World web site for info and photo of the RCA Theremin
Thanks to After The Stranger guitarist Ian Simpson for the Synthi AKS photo.
Thanks to the Electric Violin Lutherie web site for the photo of the Electric Violin.
Thanks to the Lark In The Morning for the photo of the Saz
Thanks to Nostalgia web site for photos of the Simmons SDSV, Moog Taurus Bass Pedal and the articles about them

This page last updated 10/11/06