These unusual and quirky little instruments started their commercial life back in 1980 with two futuristic gadgets: the PC-27 Portachord/Tronichord and OM-27 Omnichord. Both featured 27 playable chords and a touchplate. The PC-27 had only two controls on the top panel; Chord Volume and Sonic Strings Volume. The model numbers were derived from the 27 playable Major, Minor and 7th chords.
Despite its clever design, the general lack of features meant the Tronichord would likely be short lived. This would be a pity as the Marketing Department realised the concept could be developed into a useful and very different Music Instrument. 1981 saw the main drive placed on the far more ergonomic, feature rich OM-27 Omnichord. For many, this is regarded as the first true incarnation of the Series.
The Omnichord was quickly adopted by singers, songwriters, musicians, - and the actual target audience: people who wanted to play an instrument but had never found the time to learn. Like an acoustic guitar it is ideal as an instrument to accompany vocals by simply strumming. Owners did not need any previous musical knowledge or even learn chord shapes. Just press a chord button and strum away. The Sonic Strings (or strumplate) would adopt the notes of the chord. Changing to another chord button would cause the notes of the strumplate also to change. This makes it very quick to learn, impossible to play wrong notes and the perfect tool for songwriters who can play with chord progressions on the go. Whilst many musicians dismissed the Omnichord as a toy (and some still do today), those with a little more imagination and an understanding of music soon found uses for this most unique of musical instruments.
Next came the OM36 (System One) and OM84 (System Two). The OM36 had 36 chord variations and the OM84 had...you guessed it...a whopping 84. The 84 chord system has stuck and the same combination and layout appear on almost all models since - including the latest version: Qchord. The SonicStrings/Strumplate was vastly improved on the new instruments (although some late model OM27s were fitted with this design) and has remained with us right through to the Qchord. The new touchplate design meant you are no longer required to use the conductive rubber plectrum.
As technology progressed, Omnichord evolved into the OM100 with a new, more ergonomic design. It soon found itself in places Suzuki had never envisioned. The tactile approach of the Omnichord, and later the Qchord has become an award winning in-road to music for those with special needs. It has helped choirs to sing out their praises, introduced children to music in schools and strung together chord sequences that have become some of the greatest songs written in the last three decades. As with many 80s gadgets it soon developed cult status, with many musicians utilizing its unique sound in their own music and taking advantage of the visuals when performing. Our cheeky little instrument can found on album credits and on Stage from the early 80s to present day. The Human League had their own Omnichord Podium for live use, David Bowie opened the 2001 Benefit 'Concert for New York City' with his, the late John Peel made a cameo appearance on an album called 'Omnichord', and Brian Eno strummed away for Bono, Pavarotti and other 'Passengers'. Moving forward into 2014, many more artists are finding the Omnichord works for them and used prices are rapidly increasing beyond their original retail cost! Midi became available on certain models: OM200M, OM250M and OM300 opening new doors for those interested in soundscaping and music production.
As we entered the 90s so the last of the 3rd generation Omnichords was released; model OM300. This is the only ivory coloured version with Midi as standard and included chord sequencer and revised sound pallet. OM100 through 300 shared many similarities and some parts are cross compatible (unlike OM 27 and System One/Two).
To Boldly Q...
By the time manufacturing of the OM300 finished, sales were dropping and the Omnichord was largely viewed as 'old fashioned' by consumers. The world was ready for something fresh and exciting....and so, this curious little instrument went for a serious makeover, or should we say 'regeneration'.
Just like the musicians who have owned one, it become a master in the art of reinvention. As the world rolled into a new millennium, the Omnichord continued its journey through time and space, bearing a new name... "Qchord". The effects were instant and a new generation of Omnichord/Qchord players quickly discovered the joys of being Q. Almost exactly the same size as an OM27 the Qchord is instantly recognizable with its 'cutaway' design although the basic layout of chord buttons and SonicStrings remain unchanged from the OM100-300 series. Pitch bend wheel was added which affects the strumplate sounds only. The sound pallet and styles were completely renewed and the instrument received an expansion slot for song playback and additional style cartridges. The amplification and speaker was also redesigned to add brighter top end and ported bass.
For more - check out our complete Model evolution with descriptions and photos of every model. starting with: Portachord/Tronichord