Stylophones 2 – Variations

As I said in my first post on the Stylophone, there have been a number of variations in Stylophone design over the years, so I thought I would illustrate some of these from the examples in my collection.

The earliest Stylophone – in the days before Rolf Harris adorned the box – looked like this:

Original Stylophone + box IMG_1035

This early variation is distinguished by the non-playable black sections of the keyboard.  There were three types, distinguishable only by the body colour – the black one illustrated was the ‘standard’, but there was also a white one, the ‘treble’, and also a ‘bass’.  I don’t know what colour it was: I’ve only ever seen it in pictures, and it looks like a reddish-brown to me, but I’m colour-blind, so an unreliable witness . . . I hope in time to get hold of one, and somebody will tell me if it is indeed brown!

Here is the booklet that you see pictured above:


Read the Original Booklet.

The black sections of the original keyboard had been a feature of Brian Jarvis’s prototype – which you can read about here: http://www.stylophone.com/Prototype.html – but the next generation of Stylophones dispensed with them.

There were still three types – the black ‘standard’, the white ‘treble’ and the (presumed) brown ‘bass’, and they looked like this:

2nd generation IMG_1057

Note the identical case design to the original, but the keyboard is now completely silver.  (Ignore the switches on the sides of these instruments – they’re a speaker cut-out modification I made to them many years ago).

The circuits in all these early Stylophones were quite similar, although not identical.  The instrument was subject to constant development, and there are versions with all discrete components, including the resistors which determine the pitch of the notes, and versions with different types of resistor modules – rows of resistors in a single unit.

It’s easy to peer into the inside of the original and ‘2nd generation’ Stylophones: the back is designed to be easily removable, in order to change the battery, and the component side of the circuit board is visible.  This is the inside of an original version (the one with the black sections on the keyboard):

Original inside IMG_1060

As you can see, in the middle, just above the piece of foam rubber which keeps the battery in place, there is a row of resistors connected to the keyboard, which determine the pitch.  This arrangement continued with the 2nd generation Stylophones.  This is a view inside the black ‘standard’ version pictured above:

2nd gen black inside IMG_1058

(Ignore the large resistor at the back right-hand side – this is attached to the speaker cut-out mod).

At some time during the production of the 2nd generation Stylophone, resistor ‘modules’ came into use.  This picture of the white version pictured above, shows two orange-coloured blocks in place of the row of separate resistors:

2nd gen white inside IMG_1059

Other slight changes were made to the component layout, and the style of the switches in the bottom right-hand corner is different.  (Once again, ignore the non-original large resistor next to the speaker).

This would be a typical version of the circuit from this period:

Stylophone schematic 2

A slightly different one is illustrated here:


Also at some point during production of the 2nd Generation Stylophone, there was a major change on the outside.  The shape and colours didn’t alter, but the guide to the notes, printed on the white background piece stuck around the keyboard and switches changed from showing notes (‘A’, ‘A#/Bb’, ‘B’, etc.) to numbers (‘1’, ‘1 1/2’, ‘2’, etc.):

Letters & Numbers IMG_1057

(These are the same two black and white Stylophones shown above).

This was the beginning of the famous Stylophone song-teaching method, which continues until this day.  Whereas the songs you learned from the original booklet were shown with notes, like this:

Original Booklet p7

songs were now shown with numbers, like this:


Edit: However, there is a photograph of an object from the collection of the Museum of Design in Plastic at http://www.modip.ac.uk/artefact/aibdc–002025 which shows an original issue Stylophone (the one with the black sections on the keyboard) in its packaging: and one of the items included is an overlay for the keyboard surround.  First of all, this is white lettering on a black background, rather than black lettering on a white background; secondly, it uses numbers, not letters for the notes.


The third distinctly different type of early Stylophone was the ‘New Sound’, which came out in around 1975.  The sound was ‘new’ because instead of the transistor in the original, the oscillator used a 555 integrated circuit.  Mine came in a box featuring Rolf Harris:

New Sound in box IMG_1048

This Stylophone featured, for the first time,a volume control, which can be seen on the left of the front panel, just above the on/off and vibrato switches.

The circuit for the ‘New Sound’ version looked like this:

555-based Stylophone circuit.LARGE

This view of the inside of the ‘New Sound’ shows the black, rectangular 555 chip just above the centre of the circuit board:

New sound inside IMG_1061

The Booklet that came with the ‘New Sound’ Stylophone was more extravagant than the original – although it was only printed in black and white, it was 16 pages long and the pages were about twice the size:


Read the New Sound Booklet.


Edit: Not part of my collection, but of interest nonetheless, is a variation made in Hong Kong and sold mostly in the United States.  These are described in detail at http://www.stylophone.ws/hk.html, but a correspondent, ageing60hippy,  has sent me some very nice photos of one that he has.

It can’t be stated for certain if these stylophones were copies as a number were manufactured under licence at this time, but they have several features which differ significantly from the versions being made in the UK.  Note the ® symbol after the Stylophone logo on the front grille, the socket for an external 9v power supply, and the small battery compartment on the back.


Inside, the circuit board design is different and the construction quality perhaps not quite the equal of the originals, but not bad for this period:



All of these early series of Stylophones offer opportunities for modification and circuit-bending: the electronics aren’t complex, circuit diagrams are often available, and the components themselves are large and readily accessible.

I haven’t worked on these much, but my SoftPot Stylophone is a modified ‘2nd Generation’ treble version.  The ‘Hedgehog’ uses a Stylophone ‘New Sound’.

Production of the original Stylophones ceased in 1980 and the manufacturer, Dübreq, moved on to other things (‘Top Trumps’ playing cards!), but in 2006 the design was revived.

The new ‘Stylophone S1’ had different electronics inside, but a more or less identical case design.  Only by looking carefully can you see the tell-tale signs: the extra socket on the side – an ‘mp3’ input – a volume control on the right-hand side, and a three-way tone switch on the front, none of which is present on any of the 1960s and 1970s Stylophones:

Stylophone S1 2

Several colour variations – sometimes referred to as ‘Special editions’ were produced.  These were all-black (‘ebony’), silver and white:

4 S1s IMG_1044

Unlike the earlier Stylophones, the colour isn’t an indication of different sounds – as all S1’s have 3 tones, there was no longer any need to make three different types.  They’re all identical on the inside – although I did have the impression that a little more care was given to the assembly of the Special editions, compared to the standard version.


In Asia an even more completely black version, the ‘Stylophone Studio’ was marketed:

StylophoneSBE_package_Full lge

They’re very uncommon in Europe and I’ve never seen one.

[Edit: I’ve finally acquired one!  Here are some pictures:


As you can see, it’s VERY black!  I like the contrasting white switches].


This is the booklet that came with the Stylophone S1:


Read the S1 Booklet.

The version that comes with the black ‘Stylophone Studio’ is mostly in Japanese (at least mine is, having been purchased from there; different languages may have been used if it was sold in other countries):



Another rare variation of the S1 is the so-called ‘Raconteurs Tour edition’ – a special version made to be sold as part of the merchandising connected with The Raconteurs,  a band formed by Jack White after the dissolution of the White Stripes.

Both the colour scheme of the instrument and the package design were unique, with a distinctive black and gold colouring:

Raconteur + box IMG_1036

In addition, the contents of the booklet were customised for the band:


Read the Raconteurs Booklet.

According to a concert-goer (at http://cousinsvinyl.com/2008/dude-check-out-the-merch-raconteurs-and-black-lips-play-the-fillmore-detroit/): ‘I was very curious to see what a Stylophone was.  The box read “The Original Pocket Electronic Organ”.  My friend said, “Dude, you’re going to want to get one of these,” as he opened the box.  It was $40, but worth the money: it’s a working instrument with the Raconteurs logo on it.  The next day, it was worth $200 online.’  Mine was a lucky find on eBay, but these can be very expensive when you come across them, usually more than the original $40 price tag.

[Edit: True at the time of writing, but less so now!]

As an added attraction for those who bought the Stylophone at Raconteurs’ gigs, the band held a competition, inviting fans to submit Stylophone versions of their songs.  The competition was announced on the band’s website:

Raconteurs competition

 The video made by the winner, Zach Herrmann, can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eK17MqWIo0. [link now dead]

The circuitry of the S1 is very different from the earlier Stylophones, being based on a tiny digital chip which you can’t even see as it’s covered in a blob of protective wax.  It has a separate amplifier circuit board.  It also runs on 4.5v, not 9v, so instead of a PP3 battery it takes three AA batteries.  These are not inserted by removing the back of the instrument like the earlier ones, but are held in a battery compartment accessed from outside.  For this reason, the S1 is glued shut and getting to the inside of it for the purpose of modification (or troubleshooting) is not a simple matter.

The only picture of the inside of an S1 I seem to have to hand is this one, which has points marked on it for a ‘feedback’ bend: but it clearly shows the components which are visible on the main circuit board – i.e. not very many! – and the amp board in the background:

Inside stylophone sm

The chip which does all the work is under the black blob; the resistors are tiny surface-mounted (SMD) type.

For this reason, modifications and circuit-bending opportunities are a little more limited than with the early series of Stylophones.  Elsewhere in the blog are one or two examples of my efforts: The ‘Alien’ was my first modification project; the ‘Gemini’ uses two S1 boards in a single case.

And finally, a word about the smallest ever Stylophone, the Stylophone mini:


This one really is miniature!  Measuring a mere 8cm x 4.5cm, this is an official Dübreq/re:creation product, and is a perfect reproduction of the regular Stylophone.  Powered by 3 AAA batteries, it has a working stylus and the full complement of 20 notes.  The only thing it lacks is the Stylophone’s traditional Vibrato.

Here is a Stylophone mini with a regular Stylophone S1:

Mini Stylophone IMG_1042

Inside, there seems to be very little indeed!:

Stylophone mini IMG_1094

It looks as though the keyboard is connected to a small piezo element acting a sounder, with very little in between!  I didn’t take the circuit board out on this occasion to look, but I suspect, like the S1, the chip which operates the Stylophone mini is very small and surface-mounted on the other side.  It certainly looks as though modification and bending possibilities are limited.

That’s an overview of the mini and regular Stylophones; my next post on the topic will deal with the amazing machine often described as the Stylophone’s ‘big brother’, the 44-note, 8-voice Stylophone 350S:

Outside angle after cleaning IMG_1089

4 Responses to “Stylophones 2 – Variations”

  1. 1 dangus
    October 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    say, an obvious question, maybe, but does the mini keychain one have phones input? cant see that from the insides view and other pictures on net show some small either screw or jack there on the left?

  2. October 5, 2013 at 2:33 am

    A very sensible question – but, no it doesn’t have any sockets on it at all, in or out. I think that’s a fixing screw you can see on one side, and on the other side the plastic loop for the key chain.

  3. 3 dangus
    October 5, 2013 at 8:15 am

    thanks – my bad, need glasses. your’s clearly is plugless, but i was referring to this version: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61umgpkxC9L._SL1200_.jpg .. i heard only one batch of minis was made so i dunno where’s the difference from. if that is a plug though, must be either 2.5 or it’s really screwed 🙂 .. i guess I’ll have to grab one and see

  4. October 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    I’ve checked that link, and you’re absolutely right! Mine definitely doesn’t have anything on that side next to the key-ring loop.

    I think that picture is an ‘artist’s impression’, as there are a number of other differences, for example, there’s no room for the word ‘STYLUS’ on the real thing; the size and shape of the grille is completely different; the size of the ‘Stylophone’ logo is completely different; and the number of notes is completely different!

    Conclusion: it’s a picture of a full-size S1 which has been doctored.

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July 2012

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