David Bowie may have used this instrument for one note on Space Oddity and Chicory Tip sounded like they had the mains-powered deluxe model on Son Of My Father, but this forerunner to home keyboards didn’t last too long, despite celebrity endorsement from Rolf Harris.
Created as a stylus-operated toy synthesizer and first released in 1968, the Stylophone was made by Dubreq Studios – a company owned by Brian Jarvis with his brother Ted and their friend Burt Coleman. The name “Dubreq” comes from a combination of “dubbing” and “recording” with a ‘q’ in place of the ‘c’.
On the introductory Flexi disk record that came with the Stylophone, Rolf introduced us to its many sounds (Normal *and* Vibrato) and to a Stylophone orchestra he had formed that produced a catchy, up-tempo version of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
The B-side of the disc also featured advertising blurb for the Super Stylophone. The Super Stylophone could do lots of different sounds and also had a larger scale.
The idea was to introduce kids to music. The reality, in most cases, was that after a while you got bored with reading the “How to Learn Scales” and began experimenting with switching the power off and on between notes or placing the pen halfway down your tongue and touching the keyboard with the tip of your tongue to make noises which resembled a duck breaking wind.
Then there was the 350S – with fake wood grain and everything. It had two styli (styluses?), a “wah wah” effect, and ran off two of those huge old EverReady “doorstop” batteries that you just don’t seem to see any more. . .
Stylophones were extremely expensive at the time (and parents bemoaned having to spend the equivalent of two months wages on these electronic audio torture devices) and they disappeared from the market in 1975.
Dubreq was reformed in 2003 by Brian Jarvis’ son Ben, and the company continues to make Stylophones today. It resurrected the instrument in 2007 and has sold over a million since then.