Everything about the Optigan


What is it?

The Optigan is a Californian instrument designed in mid-1970 by Mattel as an alternative to the mellotron. 

Here’s how it looks and sounds

Not to be confused with

You may hear about it with other names like orchestron. From the english meaning optical organ and also called optigan in spanish, french and portuguese. A person that plays it it’s just called an optigan player. 

Category

The Keyboard family which means that it has a row of keys, buttons or levers that make the sound when you press them and from the subcategory electrophones meaning it makes sound through electricity.

Materials

Different types of plastic (celluloid, delrin, styrene, PVC)  and wood (spruce, cyprus, cedar, beech and walnut).

Variants

The types are determined by versions:

  • 34001: First Optigan, with only one amp and one speaker.
  • 35001: Now with reverb.
  • 35002: Most common. same as the 35001.but without reverb. 
  • 35011: Most expensive, made of veneer-covered plywood. 
  • 37003: Last model, designed exclusively for Montgomery Wards.

Prices

Around $150 – 700 USD, the cheapest we found was a 35002 and the most expensive was a 35011. And in the middle we have something like 35001 for $400 USD.

Accessories

Here’s a list of a lot of them, but for this one stopper to avoid scratching the floor, stickers with the key names for beginners (make sure they can be removed no problem once you’re done), dust cover for the keyboard and a cleaning kit that cleans both wood and plastic.

Start playing

We recommend learning to read sheet music to get the basics. We review resources to help you choose how you want to learn. Now that you know how to read them, you need to get some. 
Sheets come in different notations so we recommend checking various versions of the same sheets, searching for “scores” to get all instruments and even the “song name for optigan to save on translations.

Don’t forget all the details that combined make a big difference like the way you hold it, efficient warmups, positions and techniques.

Remember,the optigan is easy to learn and fast too, what takes time is understanding all the discs and experimenting with the sounds, it’s also similar to the digital piano, melodica, electric organ, keyboard and synthesizer, so you can combine those resources to help you learn.

Luis Gerardo

Musician as a hobby for +6 years, documenting every instrument in simple words for this website.

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