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Anatomy of an Instrument: The Keytar

Laura  Barnes
Anatomy of an Instrument: The Keytar

Is it the epitome of 80s cheese? Is it only ever used ironically? Is it actually a really cool piece of gear that deserves to be taken more seriously?

Whatever you think of the keytar, it’s certainly an interesting instrument, thus it deserves to be the focus of this month’s Anatomy of an Instrument.

What is a keytar?

A keytar is exactly what it sounds like – a guitar and keyboard hybrid. Typically, it features a lightweight electronic keyboard, with various controls placed on a guitar-esque ‘neck’. A strap is attacked to the instrument, so I can be worn in a similar fashion to a typical guitar.
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The oldest forerunner of the keytar probably is the orphica, a small portable piano invented at Vienna in 1795, which was played in a similar position as the modern keytar.

In 1966, Swedish organ manufacturer Joh Mustad AB introduced the Tubon, an electric organ in the shape of a tube. It was used by the likes of Kraftwerk and Paul McCartney during the 60s and 70s.

In late 1970s and early 1980s, Jan Hammer, the composer best known for his composition and sound design successes for Miami Vice, frequently used several keytars including the Royalex PROBE, which he helped develop.

The term "keytar" is actually a slang word, with the style of keyboard was mostly being  referred to by manufacturers as a "MIDI Controller", "Remote Keyboard", "Strap-on Keyboard" etc.

The Moog Liberation was released in 1980 by Moog Music, and was considered the first mass-produced strap synthesizer.

How do you play it and what does it sound like?

Designed to give keyboardist greater movement onstage, the instrument features a musical keyboard for triggering notes and sounds. Various controls are placed on the instrument's neck, enabling the player to manipulate pitch bends, vibrato, portamento, and sustain.

Here are some of our favourite keytar videos:

Why should I stock them?

The keytar is a great example of how technology can fuse instruments together to make an interesting new concept. It may not be the first instrument a young musician will be drawn to, but for those looking to explore and experiment beyond the staple band setup, the keytar is a great choice.

Despite its electronic roots, the keytar can be applied to various musical styles, with the likes of pop stars Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and Black Eyed Peas, as well as heavy rock outfits Dream Theater and Dragonforce, all using the unique instrument onstage.

Who makes them?

Here’s a selection of some of the most prominent manufacturers out there still making Keytar instruments:


Check out all of our previous Anatomy of an Instrument features here.

Tags: Anatomy of an Instrument , Keytar

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