The Marxophone, spooky carnival instrument

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The Marxophone is a 1912 toy instrument that combines a zither with a keyboard linked to flexible hammers that repeatedly strike the strings.

Is fake. True Marxophone uses hammer and sickles.


Now that is a wonderful thing!

Pity they aren’t a hair cheaper or I’d be grabbing one right now. We need a proletarian revolution culminating in collective ownership of Marxophones.


Obligatory mention that Sour Times sampled the great Lalo Schifrin’s Danube Incident from an episode of Mission Impossible.


that’s not a Marxophone – you can tell by how the beats change their tempo. It’s being carefully controlled – which suggests more likely it’s the classic mittel-europa noire of the Cimbalom:

Third Man Theme:

Jazz with the Dresch Quartet (I used to see them play down the street from me when I lived in Budapest, amazing stuff on folk instruments (although he’s playing sax, here). One of my friends was dating him for awhile, IIRC.)

I can’t cite it precisely for Schiffrin, but here are some who would agree:

All that said – I love the sound of the Marxophone, and had never heard of it before. I always assumed it was some sort of tack-piano playing used in Alabama Song. Thanks!


As soon as she played a note on the keyboard, I thought of this song (although I couldn’t remember what song it was at first):

So that’s what that instrument is. Neat.


Paging @japhroaig - you’re long overdue from a comment in here.


That’s also the Cimbalom, or relative. Lower notes available, and more control over the tempo of the repeated bits.

Awesome track, though. Thanks!

I see. I had trusted wikipedia, but I see that it also lists Sour Times there as well.

I’m starting to think there’s actually no such thing as a Marxophone, and it’s all dulcimer.

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Let’s just call the Marxophone the Carnival Dulcimer and then we’ll all be right if we just say the sound comes from a dulcimer. Yay!


These instruments are derived from the autoharp, popularized by Oscar Schmidt. The autoharp, however, is still in use today. Thanks for promoting folk music and folk instruments!


This is more the type of dulcimer music I know, but it doesn’t surprise me it’s used elsewhere too:

There were actually a lot of these kinds of zither variations made in the late 19th/early 20th century (the “Hawaiian Mandolin Harp” is another), they were supposed to be an easy way to bring music into your home before phonographs or radio. This is also related to why a lot of small towns have gazebos on their town greens-- back then concerts on the town green were one of the few ways to actually hear decent music, unless you yourself could play.

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Cultural Marxophonists!


I got it with the 2nd Crime Jazz compilation CD

Wait, this isn’t a Marxophone?


Personally, I like cimbalom music a lot, but I can’t stand hammer dulcimers being used to play Irish music. If it were a cimbalom, it might actually be ok, because they’ve got damper pedals, but anything that rings without the ability to damp it has no business playing Irish trad music, IMNSHO.

Or this?


On the zither in “Sour Times”, Tom Waits (in a 1998 KCRW interview):

I always loved that - what I think is a Marxophone(2) is the central instrument on this cut and I had a Marxophone and I only talked to one other person who also owned a Marxophone - that was Mitchell Froom(3). It’s kind of an adapted futuristic autoharp. It gives you a plectrum sound that comes from vibrating a metal strip with a hammer on the end. So it’s kind of like a very narrow strip of metal that functions as a vibrating hammer on the string and it gives you a great sound and they used that and I didn’t realize it was a Lalo Schifrin sample but I recognized the sound because every time I move things out in the garage I knock this thing over and it does that when it hits the floor.

I always loved that image of Waits in his garage.

Via Tom Waits Library archive.

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