The Story of the Symphonica


The odd looking object in the photo above is called a symphonica. Chances are, you haven’t seen one before. It’s definitely the most unique musical instrument I own. Hidden inside the sparkly green plastic body are a group of reeds similar to a harmonica. You play it by blowing or drawing through the end while pressing the colorful buttons/keys on the top of the instrument. The result is a sound similar to a harmonica. You can hold down multiple buttons at once to play harmonizing notes. This means you can play a low note and high note simultaneously, something you couldn’t do on a harmonica.

So where did this thing come from and why am I so sure you haven’t seen one before?

I was given this instrument by one of my brother’s ex-girlfriends. The symphonica was created by her father and grandfather and unsuccessfully marketed back in the late 60s (if I remember the details correctly). The only remaining symphonicas still sit in her dad’s garage in Arkansas. I feel lucky to have gotten ahold of such a rare item. It even came complete with a custom box and some sheet music.

Here’s a detail of the logo on the box:

And of the sheet music (it has its own unique form of notation):

When I first got it back in 2006 I took it with me on a coffee shop tour through the southwest and it was a great conversation starter. I don’t believe I’ve ever recorded it, but I plan to use it on a recording soon.