Invented in 1941 in France by Georges Jenny, and based on the earlier Ondes Martenot invented by Maurice Martenot, the Ondioline is an electronic musical instrument with a keyboard interface, and it is a precursor to modern electronic synthesizers. Like the Ondes, the Ondioline features a mobile keyboard resting on springs, allowing side-to-side shimmying of the entire keyboard to produce vibrato.
The Ondioline's fifteen slider switches allow for the selection of a wide array of sounds, both unique to the instrument itself, and in highly accurate imitation of several acoustic instruments, such as the French horn, oboe, and violin. The internal circuitry is entirely constructed around vacuum tubes, with a multivibrator oscillator circuit responsible for producing the harmonically-rich tone, rather than the theremin-like mechanism and sound of the Ondes.
Jenny created the first version of the Ondioline 1938, while receiving treatment in a sanatorium for tuberculosis. He continued redesigning and updating subsequent editions of the instrument, selling them for as little as $400 at his Paris company Les Ondes Georges Jenny, later renamed La Musique Electronique. Jenny individually hand-built each instrument himself, or shipped it to the customer in the form of a kit for self-assembly, and more than one thousand Ondiolines were sold in just the United States, before Jenny's death in 1976. To keep production costs manageable, Jenny relied on the use of cheaply-made components which broke easily, and this means that few Ondiolines remain playable today, for lack of careful maintenance, and due to the difficulty of replacing the damaged components.
Related electronic instruments by other makers contemporary to Georges Jenny are the Clavioline, Tuttivox, and Univox. The sounds of these instruments can be found in dance hall recordings from the 1940s and 1950s, especially in cabarets in the United States.
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