The Stylophone has seen a colourful variety of iterations over the years. While the 1968 original was not much bigger than a paperback book, the latest addition to the line-up - the Stylophone Gen-R8 - is a full-sized desktop synthesizer that’s armed to the teeth with nifty features.
What you might not know is that there’s another member of the family that dwarfed its pocket-sized relatives: the Stylophone 350S. Released in the mid ‘70s, this impressively chunky box appeared to be an inflated Stylophone, wood speaker grill and all - but it soon became apparent that there’s quite a bit more on offer...
What was different about the Stylophone 350S?
First up: the size. As mentioned, the Stylophone 350S was considerably bigger than the familiar Stylophone instruments of the time - it remains one of the largest Stylophone varieties ever made. At over 6 times the size of the ’68 original, it wasn’t a handheld instrument in quite the same way.
With this increase in size came an increase in functionality. The familiar touch keyboard boasted a 44-note range - that’s a rather snazzy 3 and a half octaves compared to the usual 1 and a half.
Next up: 2 styluses are better than 1, as the old saying goes. Rather than simply allowing you to jump between notes across the extended keybed range, the second stylus (on the left) was used in conjunction with the ‘reiteration’ control. More on this later…
The larger enclosure combined with the extra feature set meant more power requirements - the 350S was fed by 2 PP9 batteries. Another reason for its increased thirst was the size of the loudspeaker behind that trademark wooden grill - a little extra volume never did any harm, right?
The final standout feature was the drastically-expanded set of controls. Those familiar with the Stylophone at the time will have been used to the Organ and Vibrato switches. The 350S instead featured an impressive array of rocker switches - here’s a lowdown of what’s what:
Stylophone 350S switching explained
- Photo - choose the effect that the Photo Control is assigned to - either waa waa or vibrato (explained in more depth below).
- Decay - as it sounds. Choose between a long or short decay.
- Reiteration - as mentioned above, this is controlled by the second stylus. It’s essentially a note repeater, with a slow or fast setting.
- Vibrato - again as it sounds, similar to the original Stylophone. Slow and fast settings to choose from.
- Woodwind - 4 woodwind-like voices, each tuned an octave apart and displayed like organ stops (16, 8, 4 and 2).
- Brass - 2 charming voices reminiscent of a trumpet, set an octave apart (16 and 8).
- Strings - 2 confident voices set an octave apart (4 and 2).
What is the 350S Photo Control?
A typically outside-the-box feature, the unique Photo Control allowed you to use ambient light (or lack of) via a photo-diode as an extra way of controlling your sound. Situated directly above the main volume knob, you could assign it to waa waa, volume or vibrato.
By obscuring the Photo Control lens, you increased the depth of the effect. This added a whole new level of tactility to the instrument, letting you interact with the sound in real-time in a way that no previous Stylophone instrument had allowed.
What did the Stylophone 350S sound like?
With so many shiny new features, the Stylophone 350S was always going to have a sound of its own. While it still retained buckets of the original Stylophone charm, it had a unique sonic character that set it apart.
The extended keyboard range meant more notes at your disposal then ever before. By adding the additional voice options into the mix (voiced across 4 octaves themselves) you were presented with a huge range, from deep fuzzy bass to sparkling trebly leads.
Speaking of extra voice options, you could combine up to 4 of the voices together for all manner of quirky textures. By using up to 4 octaves at once, the 350S offered a far more complex, rich sound that was still bundles of fun.
Who used the Stylophone 350s?
Zombies founder and keyboardist Rod Argent was also an early adopter of the 350S, favouring its distinct tones that set it part from other Stylophone models.
Jarvis Cocker has long been a proponent of the Stylophone sound, both flying solo and with Pulp. Want to hear the 350s in action? Take a listen to the immensely talented Candida Doyle from Pulp using it on His ‘n’ Hers or check out the one and only Russian rock lords Gromyka. Surely the best brows in the business?!
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What happened to the Stylophone 350S?
The Stylophone 350S enjoyed a fairly short run - around 3000 were made in the ‘70s before Dubreq ceased production, compared to the millions sold of the original model and its handheld variants.
Some still exist out in the wild, many with their original components intact - a truly rare gem and a lesser-known chapter in the Stylophone story. Long live the Stylophone 350S!