Realton Variophon Gig

Updated: 2005-11-07

Legendary but still somewhat mysterious and groundbreaking instrument manufactured 1980-1982. There is just one decent site online here though I think this deserves better! Realton was a german firm and the Variophon in it's different incarnations their one product they went into the history books for. My unit is the Variophon Gig which is the studio oriented version housed in a 19" rack. The former owner of mine built a roadcase for it and I guess that helped it survive in the great condition it is in (though there are a few nicks on the panel still). 

It's designed to imitate wind instruments so you cannot get electric bass or spaceships flying by from it like on some other wind synths. All sounds could be bought as epoxy-covered units which fitted the card slot on the back (think ARP 2600 filter units).  Even up to this date I have heard few imitations of wind instruments that are entirely analogue that sound this good! But on the other hand, this bastard set you back a handfull of thousand deutschmarks in 1980 so I guess you got what you payed for. The simpler model, the Variophon, could house four cards but the Gig model is designed for up to six cards and has far better sound variation controls. The entire "family" of cards was made up of twelve different units, all of them wind sounds like sax, clarinet, oboe etc. My unit came with six cards, including the rarest beast of them all... the mouth organ. Hey, I even managed o impress Christoph at with that! ;)

The different sounds are made up based on research around harmonics and square waves and from the front of the Variophon you can manipulate the upper and lower harmonics (i e add/increase them) as well as fiddle around with a formant filter (i e bandpass). This to add character according to taste to your own bassoon or pan flute. An external input would be cool like hell. Sounds can also be played simultanously and the volume set for each sound. There is noise to imitate blowing sound and also a LFO with a frequency knob for the strength of fluctuations in the partials. Sounds like greek? No, just realistic! 

To control the Variophon Realton offered a few different kind of controllers, but the most famous are the Martinetta, the "standard" harmonica and the keyboard with blow controller. Mine came with the harmonica. It can be a bit hard to see all the keys if you suddenly decide to jump an octave when improvising in a jazz fashion but otherwise it works great. By the pistol-like grip you find the portamento switch which only activates portamento if you're within one octave and only when you overlap the notes - good one. Below the mouthpiece is a little hole where the air comes out. After half an hour of playing it's a good idea to wipe the harmonica clean from saliva!

The ins and outs consist of mono and stereo (still not sure what stereo is for), pedal and remote input (volume and settings switch are my guesses) and the wicked little thingy for the controller's cord.

After having run into mine more or less by luck on Ebay (called "synthesizer mit steckkarten" and nothing more) I won the auction at what I consider a bargain price. Checking the few resources out there for a decent value I realised I payed less than 1/3 of what it's worth. 

Realton Variophon Gig (with harmonica controller) specifications; 

Rack size 19", 3U
Channels 6, originally 12 different to choose from, mine equipped with saxophone, trumpet, bassoon, clarinet, pan flute and mouth organ.
Noise white
Filter Yes, different from standard synths though with "upper harmonics", "lower harmonics" and formant filter. 
Keys 32, or 2 2/3 octaves
LFO yes, to modulate amount of partials
Connections mono out, stereo out, pedal input, remote control input, instrument input
Housing steel (variophon gig) & plastic (harmonica)
Dimensions 482 x 380 x 134 mm (variophon gig) & 586 x 54 x 72 mm (harmonica)
Weight ??? kg (variophon gig) & 0,??? kg (harmonica)
Released 1980
Quantity produced a few hundred (fair guess), mine probably among the last
Pros Rare, great wind instrument imitations, expressive 
Cons Hard to service, bulky, stuck with the presets.
Price? (bargain,
fair, horrible)
$500, 1000, 1500

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