Sunday, October 3, 2021

Ground Control to Major Cool! Dubreq releases David Bowie themed Stylophone.

A number of well-known musicians have used Stylophones in their recordings: Kraftwerk, Little Boots, Orbital, Erasure, Raconteurs, They Might Be Giants, and others. But the biggest star to use the instrument has to be the late David Bowie. The Starman's 1969 breakthrough single "Space Oddity" was the first popular recording to feature the Stylophone. The handheld instrument also appears in a couple of tracks on his 2002 album Heathen, and David has played Stylophone on stage. David also appeared in advertisements for the instrument.

David Bowie Stylophone graphic

Dubreq, the company that makes Stylophones, now has a special, limited-edition model of their flagship pocket synthesizer to commemorate the career of David Bowie and his association with the Stylophone. This is their second artist tie-in I know of that affected the appearance of the instrument (as opposed to just the box and booklet like they did with Rolf Harris and Bill Ramsey.) The company released a fun, black-and-copper Stylophone with Raconteurs stickers and packaging back in 2008. It was only sold at Raconteurs concerts and through the band's website, and it has become quite a collector's item.

The Bowie Stylophone is a variant of their current "original analog sound" S1, sporting a white cabinet, with a chrome-look grille featuring a large, 3-dimensional, official BOWIE logo, licensed from the David Bowie Archive. The sounds, switches, and jacks are where you would expect, and do what you would expect: power on/off, tremolo on/off, 3-position octave shift, headphone jack, tuning knob, and volume wheel. The one exception is that this limited-edition model runs on batteries only. There is no mini USB jack to power the instrument from an AC wall outlet, as was added to the previous S1 release.

Bowie Stylophone

The box features the BOWIE logo and a vintage photo of David playing an original model Stylophone. It is the same photo that was featured in Stylophone ads at the time. The 24-page instruction booklet features a short article about the history of the Stylophone and highlights of David Bowie's music career from 1969 to 2016, with lots of color images of picture sleeves, posters, and David in the studio and on stage. A quote from longtime Bowie producer and collaborator David Visconti recounts how David was ecstatic to be among the first artists to receive a complimentary Stylophone. That is a detail I did not know. There are also play-along tabs for melodies from "Space Oddity," "Suffragette City," "Golden Years," "Modern Love," "I'm Afraid of Americans," "Slip Away," and "No Plan." They aren't the complete songs, but just enough to get you started.

Bowie Stylophone, box, and booklet

In all, the BOWIE limited edition Stylophone is a fun keepsake for fans of the artist or the instrument. It looks great, it sounds great, and it's fun to play while you're sitting in your tin can, far above the world. To protect your instrument, you can also get a matching zipper case with the BOWIE logo. It's sold separately.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  When I first put in the batteries and pressed the stylus to the keyboard, the sound was all crackly and sputtery. THIS IS COMPLETELY NORMAL. When Stylophones are manufactured, the metal keys and the stylus tip have a protective coating or residue on them.  Likewise, an older Stylophone can start to have similar problems from a build-up of skin oils, dust, and tarnish. In either case, you need to clean it off to make good electrical contact.  I have found that firmly rubbing the metal surfaces of the stylus tip and the keyboard with a thumb or finger will remove a lot of the unwanted coating.  You can also place a small amount of cleaning solution on a cotton swap (aka Q-tip or cotton bud) and give the surfaces a scrub with it. Be careful, though. Several years ago I used a blue glass cleaner (like Windex) to clean the keys of a circa 2007 Stylophone. I used far too much cleaner. It soaked into the sticker that goes around the keyboard and broke down the glue enough that the sticker was damaged and came unstuck. As a collector's item, the instrument was ruined. This time I used a little DeoxIT spray on a cotton swab and was careful to not get any of it on the sticker.

Gotta get back to learning the Bowie tunes. Commencing countdown... Engines on...