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Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage Articles

*Webmasters please note*- Feel free to copy/quote any information or pictures from these articles for your own use .... please credit Brad Coates/Melmusic for the information and include a link to melmusic wherever possible.

Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage Articles

Classic Keyboards - The Univox

Reproduced from Article in BeatMagazine1997 by Brad Coates (www.melmusic.com.au)

Probably the earliest mass-produced portable electronic keyboard was the Univox. Manufactured by Tom Jennings’ J. M. I. Company, it laid the foundations for what was to become VOX- the sound of the 60’s. Designed in 1946 by Derek Underdown and Tom Jennings, it fulfilled Jenning’s original concept of a small, portable electronic keyboard instrument that could be used by a pianist to simulate the sound of various acoustic instruments and the human voice. In actuality, the Univox was really a monophonic organ with a range of tone selections and vibrato effects, which, for the time, was remarkably successful at doing just that.

Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage ArticlesUtilizing a valve based tone generation system with a three octave F to F miniature wooden keyboard, the Univox came with it’s own amplification- a massive 6 watt amp driving an 8" speaker!!! (Remember, this was the Forties!) The keyboard was able to be switched through three different octave ranges giving a very wide range of pitches. There were 12 separate voicing tabs including a sub-bass and a rotary vibrato switch pot with (you guessed it!) 3 different settings. The whole thing broke apart into two separate pieces (keyboard and amp) and folded together into a carry case small enough to be easily carried from gig to gig by the player. For a pianist to have the ability in those days to carry around a portable electronic keyboard was impressive and broke the monotony of the solo piano.

All in all, this was very schmicko for 1946 and the Univox (Latin for single voice or monophonic) became extremely popular particularly on the British and European club circuit. The Univox reached what was probably the pinnacle of its success in 1962 when the Tornadoes used it on their single ‘Telstar’. This became a massive hit internationally, but was probably just a bit too late to put the Univox on the world map, as the new breed of polyphonic portables were then starting to make an appearance.

What the Univox really did however, was show Tom Jennings that he was on the right track and where his future lay as the creator of VOX- a company always at the forefront of new technology and forward thinking ideas (and some really off-the-wall wacky ideas too!)

*Webmasters please note*- Feel free to copy/quote any information or pictures from these articles for your own use .... please credit Brad Coates/Melmusic for the information and include a link to melmusic wherever possible.

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