The Wobble Organ. Larned Ames Meacham, USA, 1951

wobble_organ_popmech_jan52
The ‘electronic barbershop quartet’ equipped with the Wobble Organ

The Wobble Organ was a monophonic electronic instrument created by Bell Laboratories electrical engineer Larned A. Meacham in 1951. The device was intended as an inexpensive, portable recreational instruments where a family could get together to create an electronic “Barbershop quartet”. The Wobble Organ was not intended as a commercial instrument but designed for the popular self-build market of the time.

The Wobble Organ © Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1952.
The Wobble Organ © Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1952.

The instrument was designed to be playable by performers who “have little or no experience with the manipulation of conventional musical instruments”(1).  Meacham’s solution to this was to avoid using a conventional keyboard and instead control the Wobble Organ with a pivoted joystick, or ‘wobble arm’ sliding against a curved form marked with pitch intervals ( a similar control method to Jörg Mager’s Sphärophon of 1926) . By raising and lowering the joystick the player could alter the pitch of a single neon/thyratron sawtooth oscillator over two and half octaves – the note could be turned on and off with a hand-held button.

The Wobble Organ © Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1952.
The Wobble Organ © Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1952.

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Sources

(1) Electronic musical entertainment device
US 2544466 A Filed April 27, 1950 Patented Mar. 6, 1951 UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE ELECTRONIC MUSICAL ENTERTAINMENT DEVICE

Tom L. Rhea ‘The Evolution of Electronic Musical Instruments in the United States’ George Peabody College for teachers. 1972

‘Tomorrow’s electronic barbershop quartet’ Larned Ames Meacham ‘Popular Mechanics’ January 1952 Volume 97, #1.

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