Suzuki announces the return of the quirky Omnichord strum machine
Way back in 1981, Suzuki Music released a rather bizarre electric instrument called the Omnichord – a kind of synth you could strum. Production ceased by the end of the following decade, but now the company has relaunched an updated kidney-shaped oddity at NAMM 2024.
Numerous iterations of the Omnichord were released during roughly two decades of production, and a number of famous artists have tapped into the instrument's sonic arsenal – including the Eurythmics, Bjork, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Damon Albarn.
The player would strum Sonic Strings to trigger sounds according to buttons selected elsewhere on the interface. As well as chord tones, beats and bass generators were also cooked in (Albarn is reported to have used a preset for the creation of the 2001 Gorillaz hit Clint Eastwood).
The upcoming release is named the OM-108, signifying that 108 chords are available by pressing one to three buttons – including major, minor augmented, diminished, sus4 and add9 shapes. The player can drag a finger across the touch-sensitive strumplate while holding down chord buttons and "the chord and corresponding arpeggio will sound, similar to a harp, across four octaves" or tap out individual tones.
Suzuki has included 10 strumplate voicings, including two from 1984's OM84 (or System Two) model, along with an electric piano, guitar and harp. Each of the available tones can be combined with a second tone, or sub voice, for more creative flexibility. There are 10 rhythm patterns included too, and drum pads can also be assigned to the strumplate and auto-off pad. Auto bass accompaniment is onboard as well.
The instrument can be powered by AA-sized batteries or an AC adapter, and comes with its own speaker to share creations with those around you – though there's also a headphone jack and audio output plus two-channel MIDI out.
The relaunch was actually announced back in February last year, to mark the company's 70th birthday. But then all went pretty quiet, until a surprise launch at the world's largest music gear expo in Las Vegas this week.
"The new generation Omnichord is both unique and innovative, taking creative enjoyment to a level unattainable on more conventional instruments," said Suzuki Europe in an overview document. "Essentially a mass-market product, anyone can play this instrument, the first time they try……. whatever their level of playing skill!"
Suzuki has told us that the OM-108 will retail for around US$750 and that shipping from Japan will commence from June, ready for stock to be available the following month. You can get a pretty good idea of what to expect via Suzuki's YouTube feature playlist.