The Optigan, short for "Optical Organ," is a vintage electronic musical instrument that was developed in the 1970s by the Mattel Toy Company. It is often considered one of the earliest attempts at creating a portable, consumer-friendly electronic keyboard that could emulate the sounds of various musical instruments and orchestras. The Optigan was marketed as a home entertainment device and was intended to be an affordable alternative to traditional organs and pianos.
The unique feature of the Optigan is its use of optical discs, known as "Optical Discs," "Optigan Discs," or "Optigan Music Discs." These discs were essential to the instrument's operation and contained pre-recorded sounds, typically in the form of loops, that could be played back when the keys were pressed. The discs were transparent and featured a series of concentric grooves that were read by a light-sensitive sensor as they rotated.
Each disc was dedicated to a specific musical style or theme, and there were a variety of discs available, covering genres like rock, pop, jazz, country, and orchestral arrangements. Users could switch between discs to access different sounds and styles, allowing them to accompany their playing with a wide range of musical backing tracks. The Optigan was marketed as a versatile instrument capable of producing full-sounding arrangements even in the hands of amateur musicians.
Despite its innovative concept and unique sound, the Optigan was not a commercial success and was eventually discontinued. There were several reasons for its limited popularity:
Sound Quality: The sound quality of the Optigan was limited by the technology of the time, and the recordings on the discs were often of mediocre quality.
Reliability: The instrument was not particularly reliable, and the discs could wear out or become damaged over time.
Limited Range: The Optigan had a limited range of sounds and was not as versatile as other electronic keyboards that were emerging during the same era.
Competition: As technology advanced, more advanced electronic keyboards and synthesizers became available, offering a wider range of sounds and features.
Today, the Optigan is considered a collector's item and has gained some popularity among enthusiasts and musicians interested in vintage electronic instruments. The discs, which are an integral part of the Optigan's sound, are also sought after by collectors.