A small number of instruments become esteemed musical tools. They are the ICONS, maintaining a pivotal role in music-making overtime.
Some are happy accidents and others intuitive modifications to common practices.
While many manufacturers have tried to design the ultimate instrument, very few rise to become icons loved by all who create.
Instruments with ICON status may not be very rare, valuable or collectable but for whatever reason they have a large, devoted following that reach for them time and time again.
The National Music Centre presents a selection of ICONS from its electronic musical instrument collection.
Prized for its rich sound quality and technological innovations, the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 was used by such musical titans as Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, and Talking Heads—as well as on the soundtrack for the 80s dystopian flick, Blade Runner. Learn More Here
The first true “hybrid” instrument to use a dedicated microprocessor along with analog sound generation, designer Dave Smith also coined the term MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)—still the industry standard for how electronic instruments communicate with one another. Learn More Here
Developed by Thomas Garnet “Gar” Gillies—founder of the Garnet Amplifier Company—the Garnet Herzog was built in collaboration with The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist, Randy Bachman. Learn More Here
A former violin player, Bachman loved the effect of a sustained hum sound, and often tried to mimic it on his guitar by plugging a small amp into a bigger amp—and cranking the volume. After repairing countless blown amps for Bachman, Gillies built him the tube pre-amp seen here. Learn More Here
The Hohner Clavinet is among the most widely used electronic instruments in popular music, featuring what is perhaps one of the most recognizable and distinctive sounds among electric pianos. Learn More Here
Famously heard on “Because”—the trippy, mournful second cut on side two of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road—the Baldwin Electric Harpsichord was used extensively throughout the psychedelic 60s. Learn More Here
Popularized by Baroque revivalists and bands like The Doors, the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead, the instrument was produced in very small numbers—with only 500 units remaining in existence today. Learn More Here
The original Vox Continental combo organ was an iconic instrument in the mid- to late-60s, beloved by bands like the Animals, The Velvet Underground and The Doors. The more sophisticated Vox Continental Baroque was introduced to the market in 1968. Learn More Here
The Baroque’s double manuals (keyboards) allow players more timbre versatility—the upper manual includes banjo, harpsichord and lute, among many others. It also includes, unusually, a wah- and pitch- bend effect lever. Learn More Here
After the piano, no other keyboard instrument has been used in more musical recordings than the Hammond B-3 organ. Designed in 1954 as a low-cost alternative to the acoustic church organ, the instrument enjoyed immense popularity in almost every genre of music, from jazz to funk to prog rock. Learn More Here
Often paired with the Leslie 122 tone cabinet, the Hammond B-3’s distinctive and versatile sound can be heard on countless classic songs, including The Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone." Learn More Here
One of the most widely used keyboard instruments of the 60s and 70s, the Wurlitzer 200 is featured on such classic cuts as Supertramp’s “Dreamer,” The Guess Who’s “These Eyes” and Pink Floyd’s “Money,” as well as on Beck’s 1996 album, Odelay. Learn More Here
Combining the tone-producing mechanisms of instruments like the glockenspiel with the hammer mechanism of the conventional piano, the electric piano was highly prized for its unique tone and portability. Learn More Here
The Oberheim Four Voice combined four synthesizers with a four-octave keyboard to produce four voices or notes simultaneously, and some very diverse and complex sounds. It was used through the late 70s and early 80s by artists such as Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, John Carpenter, Herbie Hancock, Rush, Patrick Moraz and Tangerine Dream. Learn More Here
Despite its technological achievements, which also included programmable memory, the Four Voice was completely eclipsed in 1978 by the massively successful Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, which boasted more sophisticated features and a relatively more affordable price. Learn More Here
Meant to be performed with the feet, the Moog Taurus Pedals - a monophonic bass synthesizer - frees up a user’s hands to play another instrument simultaneously; a valuable asset during live performance. Learn More Here
They were used extensively by many progressive rock groups of the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Genesis and Rush, who sought a heavy and lush sound. Though the instrument was commercially successful in its heyday, it was never manufactured in large numbers. Learn More Here
The Fender Rhodes Mark II is a type of electromechanical instrument that, like an acoustic piano, generates sound with keys and hammers, but instead of strings, the hammers strike thin metal tines which vibrate between an electromagnetic pickup. They are considered “classics” and among the most iconic keyboard instruments of the 1960s and 70s. Learn More Here
Notable users of the era include The Doors, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and Chick Corea; however, the Fender Rhodes Mark II is still in high demand today, revered for its unique tone and portable nature. Learn More Here
The Roland Juno-106 is a polyphonic synthesizer with six voices. It introduced Roland's performance lever for pitch bends and modulation, which became a standard feature of Roland instruments afterwards. Learn More Here
The 106 was the third major incarnation in the Juno-series and added extensive MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) control making it one of Roland's first MIDI-equipped synthesizers. It is still a favourite tool of musicians, with artists such as Daft Punk, Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson and Caribou among its fans. Learn More Here
Early analog synths like the Sequential Circuits Pro-One left an indelible mark on synthesizer design. They promised new timbres and uninhibited methods of control and ultimately set into motion the foundations of synthesis practice that would follow into the modern era. Learn More Here
Notable groups to have used the Pro-One include Depeche Mode, New Order, Prince, Soft Cell and Vince Clarke. More recently, the Toronto-based rock quartet Metric feature the instrument both on recordings and in live performances. Learn More Here
A digital-analog modular synth, it updates Buchla’s earlier 200 series of the 1960s—the so-called “Electric Music Box”—by adding computerized voltage control and memory (it can store up to 30 presets). Learn More Here