Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I found an Optigan!

This past weekend, I found something from my musical "Holy Grail" list....an Optigan! The Optigan was built in the 1970's by Mattel Corp. (yes, that Mattel) in Compton, California (yes, that Compton). Wikipedia has a pretty good overview : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optigan The Optigan used samples recorded on circular film stock that looks like a vinyl LP, but you can see through it. Each key on the keyboard was mapped to a separate track on the optical disk. There were also tracks for the chord buttons and 5 special effects buttons. The Optigan was built by a toy company, thus the dodgy build quality. Some internal parts would disintegrate, the rubber idler wheel would get hard and the disk would slip. Nonetheless, the Optigan and its' low-tech sampling capablity has appeared in many commercial recordings (and still does to this day...check out the Optigan Facebook page). My main interest is historical. Here is my Picasa album of the teardown. When I brought it home and plugged it in, for the most part, it worked (this is unusual for Optigans). The special effects buttons were intermittent so I had to take off the top to access the buttons. To remove the top, the sides must be removed because they cover the screws that hold down the top. Yay. The pictures show the state of the internals. Not so bad. While reassembling, a small wire which moves the disk assembly fell out. In order to reinstall the part, I had to pry out an internal panel, replace the part (with forceps) and screw it back together. Another common problem is the idler wheel. The rubber has turned hard and slips on the disk. It can be resurfaced, but requires major disassembly to remove the part. Once I have a service manual (or at least a procedure), I may attempt this.

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