The Thyratone. Richard Henry Goldfogle Dorf. USA, 1945

The keyboard of Richard H Dorf's 'Thyratone'
The keyboard of Richard H Dorf’s ‘Thyratone’

Richard H. Dorf (b 14 Mar 1921; d New York, 21 June 1989) was an electronic engineer, prolific author on the subject of vacuum tube electronics and electronic organs, and the head of the Schober Organ Corporation – a supplier of self-build electronic organ kits (using patents licensed from Baldwin organ Co.).

In 1945 Dorf patented the Thyratone which was also supplied in kit form or simply as a circuit diagram and again, in terms of circuitry and filter formant construction, used a design inspired by Winston Kock’s Baldwin Organ .

The Thyratone's seperate tone and amplifier unit
The Thyratone’s seperate tone and amplifier unit

The device was a simple, compact monophonic neon/thyratone vacuum tube instrument similar to the Hammond Solovox and Clavioline family of instruments i.e. designed as a conventional piano extension. The Thyratone was powered by a three octave keyboard with a single sawtooth oscillator for each octave and a series of filters and vibrato effects to colour the tone. The keyboard could be attached to the host-piano keyboard using metal brackets and connected to the Thyratone’s tone generator box, amplifier and loudspeaker via a cable.

Thyratone circuit diagram
Thyratone circuit diagram


Thyratone tone unit and amplifier circuit diagram
Thyratone tone unit and amplifier circuit diagram

Dorf designed as a miniature pipe organ, with familiar stop -based controls for timbre, pitch and vibrato (from another neon tube ‘LFO’); essentially preset setting for the tone filters and vibrato. A foot operated ‘expression pedal’ allowed the player control over the Thyratone’s output envelope.

Schober under Dorf’s supervision continued to develop electronic organ kits – starting in 1954 with valve based organs and moving to transistor organs in the mid 1960s – as well as various peripherals such as the  Schober Tunesmith (1969), The Dynabeat drum machine (1968) and various tape echo units and stroboscopic tuning devices.

Schober Dynabeat, top view showing small percussion pads
Schober Dynabeat, top view showing small percussion pads

Schober Dynabeat drum synthesiser

The Dynabeat was an early solid state transistor based drum machine that was played via pads or a keyboard rather then the usual pre-set rhythms. Percussion sounds included:

  1. Bass
  2. Tom Tom
  3. Woodblock LO
  4. Woodblock HI
  5. Cymbal Brush
  6. Cymbal Crash
  7. Bongo LO
  8. Bongo HI
  9. Snare Drum (when held down does a roll)
  10. Castanets (when held down does a roll)

Tunesmith control panel

Schober Tunesmith

The tunesmith was basically the evolution of the Thyratone but equipped with solid state transistors rather than neon tubes.

dynabeat_popmechandec69-1Like the Thyratone, The Tunesmith was a monophonic 32 note portable mini-organ with a two and half octave range. The basic tone controls allowed the player to switch between different organ voices, trumpet, violin, cello, oboe and flute and modify the note with a variable speed vibrato.


Hugh Davies. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, 2nd edition, issue Published in print January 2001 | Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9781561592630

‘Electronic Musical Instruments’ by Richard H. Dorf. New York : Radiofile, [1968]

‘Neon Organs’ by Richard H. Dorf . Electronics. p36 August 29, 1958

‘Electronics and Music’ Part IX-X by Richard H. Dorf. Radio Electronics. p39-68 March 1951.

Schober Organ Orphans’ Page

One thought on “The Thyratone. Richard Henry Goldfogle Dorf. USA, 1945”

  1. Thyratone
    There are three thyratron sawtooth oscillators, But they are synchronized to each other It can play only one note at a time, but the note plays at three octave. The output of each oscillator passes through its own filter.

    How were the notes individually tuned? I don’t see any tuning elements.

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