The Optigan was created in Californie in 1971. It was produced by Optigan Corporation, a Mattel subsidiary, up until 1973, and by Opsonar afterwards.
The Optigan was an instrument that used celluloid discs, which featured recordings of real musical instruments (especially organs) and accompaniments. The term “Optigan” comes from the words “OPTIcal orGAN”. It was an instrument designed for household purposes.
The Optigan had a 37 note keyboard, and a 26 button pad for accompaniments: 1 row of buttons for major chords (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), 1 row for minor chords and one for diminished chords. 5 switches controlled introductions, endings, drums, and other effects (clapping, bells… ).
The cabinet (and the bench that came with the instrument) was made of plastic, imitation wood (!). The bench could also be used as a locker.
The celluloid discs featured each track’s waveform, drawn in concentric circles. A light bulb sent a beam of light through the disc to a photoelectric sensor. The intensity variation was converted into voltage, then into sound. There is a great variety of Optigan discs, with different musical styles and evocative names: Bossa Nova Style, Polynesian Village, Singing Rhythm, Easy Does It With Vibes… Each Optigan was supplied with a “Starter Set” including the following discs: Big Organ & Drums, Pop Piano Plus Guitar, Latin Fever et Guitar in 3/4 Time.
Several simplified music sheets collections, made especially for the Optigan, have been released.
There were several Optigan models produced until 1976:
34001: first model to be produced – mono version: 1 amp et 1 speaker
35001: stereo version (2 amps + 2 speakers), plus a spring reverb
35002: the most widespread model. Same as 35001, except without reverb
35011: wooden cabinet (plywood) – stereo with spring reverb
35012: plastic cabinet with moldings (!) – stereo with reverb
37003: the last model to be produced – very rare – wooden cabinet