Bad Imitation Instruments

August 2nd, 2023
music, tech
It's common to look down on modern instruments as cheap imitations: the digital piano as an inferior piano, foot drums as an inferior drum kit. While this isn't wrong, as far is it goes, it's a very limiting way to look at these instruments. Instead of writing them off for their faults, it's a lot better to figure out what they're good at and what new musical possibilities they open up.

Some historical perspective might be useful: there's a long line of classic instruments that were created as bad imitations of other instruments, that we now appreciate for themselves!

Consider the Hammond organ:

It was invented and originally marketed as a cheaper alternative to the pipe organ, and even lost an enforcement action from the FTC after advertising that it was an equivalent instrument. Which makes sense: if you evaluate it as a pipe organ, it's really not a very good one. And yet, appreciated for itself, it's an incredible versatile instrument, well worth playing in its own right.

Or the Rhodes piano:

It's a similar story: what began as a cheap portable substitute for the piano in military hospitals is now a valued for its own complex sound.

Or the DX7 keyboard:

Many of its presets are pretty lacking imitations of the instruments they're modeled after, but the DX7, played by people who wanted it for the sounds it did make, was tremendously influential in the mid-80s.

Others include the Mellotron/Orchestron, Harmonium, and even the electric guitar.

So I'd encourage you to keep an open mind when listening to new instruments, and focus on what they have to offer instead of whether they represent a strict improvement over more established options.

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