Help Wanted Productions

Unusual Instrument and Recording Equipment Gallery 

If you're like us (or maybe even if you're not) you appreciate an unusual instrument when you see one. The problem is these things usually only show up by accident. Fear not! Help Wanted Productions has scoured thrift stores shelves, Flea market tables, Pawn shop back rooms, and even Internet auctions to get pictures of old recording equipment, weird toys, and even an instrument or two.

UPDATE: When I started this page I had no idea the interest and response to the unusual would be so strong. The Internet is a great medium for exploring these interests as there is so much information out there waiting to be discovered. With this in mind the gallery has now expanded to include even more esoteric instruments and unique controllers such as the additions below. Thanks for all your suggestions and as always if you have any items that you believe should be here please drop a line from the email link. 

Acoustic/Electronic Clothes and Fish Controllers

How else to even describe these wonders from around the world? A team in France is responsible for this plastic skirt with speakers, contact microphones and more. They also make "audio jackets" and perform regularly wearing these fashionably loud duds. Visit their webpage from this link.

A duo in Japan has taken organic controllers to new extremes by creating musical instruments and accesories based around live fish. Of course (?) they also sell a series of darts that whistle when shot and fish shaped extension cords. Visit their homepage from this link.

Recording Equipment:

Old recorders such as these introduce a lofi tone to whatever you put into them. Sometimes you can create bizarre aliasing or at least get a grungy overdriven tube sound. This particular wollensac mono unit can be used as a tube amplifier as well via it's switchable built-in preamp

Tubeheads: Two pictures of the popular Wollensac 1/4" mono Reel to Reel. This sexy model can be found at flea markets all over the world and offers a warm tube preamp (complete with input and output), two recording speeds, and has a built in speaker. Perfect for the experimenter on the go.

If you want to go further back in fidelity try the Wire Recorder which actually imprinted sound onto a spool of special cable. Below are two examples of this classic technology and a great page on the history of wire recorders and more pictures can be found by clicking on the first picture or go here.


Some consumer pieces blur the edges of toys and formal musical equipment. No one seems to do this better than Radio Shack and Casio who often have distributed the same piece under a different name. (The Casio SK1 and SK5 were also manufactured with a Realistic logo as the Concertmate 500 and 650). Who else but Casio could make a plastic guitar or calculator/keyboard that would be used and abused by creative minds a decade after they ceased being manufactured?

Some Casios...

SK5/Concertmate 650 "Sampling" Keyboard

VL1 tone Keyboard and Calculator (with case!)

A Casio DH100 plastic saxophone: This silver wonder uses the fingering of a recorder and can act as a velocity sensitive midi breath controller. It has six sounds built in so you can just pick it up and wail as well.

Wrong guitars...

Everyone loves guitars. Even people who hate guitars really secretly love 'em. Here are a few oddballs that don't quite fit in and thus become all the more lovable to those seeking something a bit different.

The Effector consumer guitar had switches for built in effects such as distortion, autowah, delay, and vibrato. The Effector seems to favor Gibson guitar body designs. In addition to the Les Paul shown here, they made an Explorer copy available in black or white as well.

Synsonics (owned by Mattel the toy company) made a number of strange toy instruments that have unique properties. The synsonics guitar was a 1/2 size mini instrument with a built in amplifier. Below is the "Gibson Explorer" model.

Finally the Casio DG20 is a digital midi guitar that uses plastic strings and a rubber fretboard to trigger built in preset sounds or send midi notes. Of course, it also has preset rhythms, a small built in speaker, and runs on batteries.

But why stop there? These companies didn't. Here's a wonderful full size guitar that's part Gibson Flying V, part Steinberg headless, and all cheaply contructed Synsonic. Of course the thing sounds horrid and has nothing to do with any of the companies it so freely borrowed it's fake design from but dig the built in speaker right above the pickup!

Or if you want a real player try the Casio MG500, a fully pro guitar complete with EMG OEM pickups, solid bridge and tuners, and the best midi tracking of any guitar of it's day. Of course it looks like it's from outer space which is why it landed here.

Effects units weren't immune to the consumer market either. The infamous Radio Shack reverb is so strangely designed it acts more like of a flanger or fuzz box than a reverb.

To make matters worse (or better depending on your view point) Radio Shack released their own version of other famous instruments. Here is the MG1, a Realistic analog synthesizer that was a slightly different version of the famous Moog company's own Rogue monosynth. Radio Shack's version added a polyphonic organ section and used more user friendly names of components such as "Voice" instead of "Oscillator" but the serious analog guts and slider interface are all there.

Next to it is the Paia Gnome. Sold as a kit users tried to assemble this creation which used a touch sensitive strip that you played by rubbing it with the attached metal stick. if you were lucky and put it together correctly you would be rewarded by hearing werid noise and surf sounds.

Some Omnichords...

Omnichords are electronic versions of the autoharp. You can hold down a button and strum a template with your finger or a guitar pick and it will play a chord in the scale of your choice. All omnichords have a section for Major, Minor, and 7th chords and built in preset rhythms. Some versions go beyond the basics adding mutilple sounds (Piano, organ, etc as opposed to just the standard "Sonic Strings" (ie: Cheesey Harp) sound and the currently manufactured model even acts as a midi controller.

Or how about it's little brother the limited but nicely colored Suzuki Portachord?

The Optigon:

Optigons look like home organs, play like cheesey drum machines, and use weird laserlike disks. They are fickle, prone to breaking down, and ugly as hell. They are also unique, strange, and beautiful instruments which have been used by artists as diverse as Devo and Tom Waits. The Optigon Homepage can give you more info that you want on these wonderful monsters.

A typical Optigon home unit:

Mini Amplifiers...

Mini amps are great fun. They have a fuzzlike tone when over loaded and can be thrown in a backpack or even a pocket to annoy the neighbors or other street performers. All mini amps have their own sound and tone characteristics and can be miked and used as strange sound sources.

The ellusive Zeus Micro amp and a plastic Harmony consumer amp:

Not to be outdone, here are some consumer electronic tape recorders that can yield a lifetime (or at least a weekend) of pure fun...

Just damn good lookin'...
The 2XL Robot 8track Player will let you play normal or looped 8track tapes. It's eyes light up too. (See it's equivilent cassette robot player in concert here). Next to it is a GE "Powersound" 8track player. This unit has an 1/8" input which allows user to use it as a mini PA or play along with what's on the tape. If you run an empty 8Track tape into it you can use it as a very nice solid state mini amp. Use the 1/8" output direct to a mixer for some serious distortion and cool processing at low levels. If this isn't enough, it comes in Red, Blue, and Army Green colors and has a shoulder strap.

The Chordorama:
The Chordorama is similar to an Optigon that uses tapes rather than disks. It loops rhythm tracks on an 8track cartridge that can be played by pressing on foot swtiches on the top of the unit. The loop will play and change keys, add a bass line or additional rhythm instrument, or slow down/speed up depending on what button is pressed. I have only seen one of these in my life and no one I've ever spoke with (including those great folks at 8track Heaven) have heard of this unit. The tapes that were made for the unit are mostly what I like to call "Country and Cheese" with a few jems thrown in here and there. (One we call "Banjo Sammy" is quite good)  Hear lofi samples of the Chordorama in action in RealAudio format by clicking here and here.

Library Of Congress "C" series tape decks:

The Library of Congress has been making tape recorders and record players for the physically handicapped for decades. Often these units show up used in a thrift store or at a flea market for a few bucks. They are true cassette MONSTERS featuring a built in amp, realtime slider controlled pitch shifting, and the ability to play a tape backwards. Click on the image to read about these units in detail and see more pictures.

The Library of Congress also made pitch shifting record players. Dig the classy carpet swatch covering the speaker and note the silver knob on the front of the unit for realtime adjustment of the speed. Settings on this model are 8,16,33, and 45 RPM and each can be shifted down to 1 RPM using this knob.

Reel to Reel decks:
Reel to reel decks lend themselves to all sorts of experimental nonsense. It's easy to make tape loops (The first form of sampling if you will), play a sound backwards, mix sound on sound, and many have various speed settings which you can use to mutilate spoken word material or music quite nicely. Reel to reels come in all shapes and sizes as well as prices. As with most items it's best to use whatever you can find cheap and in semi working condition and then progress to other pieces to get the features you want from there.

A more professional stereo reel to reel deck next to a deck that was originally used to test hearing: 

A pair of stenography 3" reel decks which usually have a speed adjustment slider for realtime manipulation:

And to finish up just a few odds and ends from the Reel world:

This page is always under construction. If you have a picture, specs, or information on gear that you think belongs here please send us email.

Return to the Electronic Music Resources Webpage.

Visit Help Wanted Productions Home Page.Or Buy some music that's made with the above types of instruments.