Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ghostly Flexatones

Jack O'Lantern Noisemaker Graphics from the Flex-A-Tone Musical Sound Effect

This entry is dedicated to arguably one of the most ignored Halloween noisemakers of vintage collectibles - the Flex-a-tone (wikipedia). Its minimal graphics (opposed to artwork that lifts others into triple digits) may forever hold the value of this particular item down (as of this writing) to about $10-$25, and yet for audiophiles it could in fact be the most desirable of any in this genre. Contrary to other noisemakers with their monotonous racket, the musical sound of a Flex-a-tone was used in the recording studios of classic cartoons and vintage jazz for its glissando effect - a warbling that changes tone - something like a ghost crawling up and down your spine.


You probably recognized that sound instantly and can likely name a few tunes or shows where you've heard it? (For example, one person identified it used in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) whenever the evil sorceress Zenobia made her appearance). Well, it's been around for much longer. An invention for a flexatone occurs in the British Patent Records of 1922 and 1923. In 1924 the 'Flex-a-tone' was patented in the USA by the Playatone Company of New York (wikiedpedia). Here's one example of the effect used in a vintage cartoon Scrappy's Ghost Story (1935), making its eerily sonic appearance at about 1:18 into the animation (and appearing in quite a few other places during the song such as 1:53 to heighten the lyrics "I'm a ghost. Whoo-oo-oooo!"):


Below are a few photographs of the vintage Halloween version of the Flex-a-tone (exact date of production unknown). 

Halloween Jack O'Lantern pumpkin graphics on ghost sound effect.

Vintage Halloween collectibles noisemaker

Close-up of vintage ghost Halloween sound effect instrument.

Shown below are some vintage ads... but you might be interested to know that professional Flex-a-tones style instruments are still sold in at least two different sizes. I have seen them available from a few online stores including Latin Percussion.


Here are some more links on the vintage Flex-a-tone:
  • http://www.flexatone.org/article/flexatoneHistory
  • http://rhythmdiscoverycenter.org/onlinecollection/flex-a-tone/

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