The Glass Armonica was a revolutionary instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin. It was based on the idea that when you rub your finger around a glass rim, it creates music.
He made his instrument by fitting a series of glass bowls that vibrate at different pitches used in Western scales into a rod with rotating glasses, held together with cork. He also color-coded each bowl to represent a different note.
The Glass Armonica
The Glass Armonica is one of the most unusual musical instruments in history. It was invented by benjamin franklin in 1761, and was used by many famous composers over the years.
Franklin was inspired to invent the Glass Armonica after hearing an English friend play a tune on wine glasses filled with water. He thought that this technique could be made easier to use, and he commissioned a London glassblower named Charles James to design a new arrangement of the glass bowls.
When the instrument was first introduced in Europe, it became a popular attraction and many famous composers wrote music specifically for it. It was used in operas and in songs, and even Queen Marie Antoinette took lessons on it.
In fact, it’s still being used today by composers like Bjork and David Gilmore. The mystical strains of the instrument are sometimes used in film scores and some music is even included in a few modern open air shows.
The instrument is played just as the name suggests: by running a finger around the rim of the glass bowls. The musician moistens his or her fingers at intervals, and places them on the rim of the rotating bowls to create a range of ethereal sounds and bell-like harmonies.
Although Franklin had some reservations about the instrument, he was impressed by its ability to produce a wide variety of musical tones. It was also more user-friendly than the original glass harmonicas, which required that a musician fill each glass with a stream of evaporating water.
To make playing the instrument easier, Franklin mechanized it by putting a spindle on a table and providing a foot pedal that turned the flywheel and glass bowls. He also designed a set of thirty-seven glass bowls that were fitted inside each other, eliminating the need for water inside each of the bowls.
He then mechanized the process even more by placing a flywheel on a wheel at the other end of the table and placing a foot pedal there. He also added a lead rim to the instrument, which he said was to prevent tampering with the musical notes by the player.
The Glass Harmonica
When you rub a wet finger around the rim of a glass, it produces a musical tone. This phenomenon has been known since the Renaissance, when Galileo referred to it as the “Glass Tone” (see the article on this topic), and Athanasius Kircher wrote about it in his Two New Sciences.
The first musician to play glasses as an instrument was Irishman Richard Puckeridge, who wowed Georgian London with his performances of wine goblets filled with water. He produced a series of notes by running his fingers over the rims of stemmed glasses, with the amount of water inside the goblets determining the pitch of the note.
Franklin, who lived in London at the time, saw a need for an improved instrument. He teamed up with a local glassblower to make a series of graduated-size bowls fitted one inside the other. These were then threaded horizontally onto a spindle, turned by a foot pedal.
Each bowl had a color-coded rim. C’s were red, D’s were orange, E’s were yellow, etc. Several notes were played simultaneously, making chords and lively melodies possible.
As a result, the Armonica, which Franklin called the glass harmonica because of its Italian name, became a popular instrumental instrument. Mozart, Beethoven and other composers wrote chamber music for it.
In addition to being a wonderful tool for musical education, the glass harmonica was also used in a wide range of other applications. In fact, its sounds were used in medical practice to calm patients before examinations.
A number of renowned musicians have used the instrument, including Paganini, Marie Antoinette, doctor Franz Anton Mesmer and composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. It was also used in new age music.
Today, the glass harmonica is made at a small factory in Waltham, Massachusetts. It is the only place in the world where the instrument is manufactured, and a visit to this small operation is a treat for classical-music lovers.
For a few years now, Finkenbeiner has been creating the glass harmonica at his factory. The company is still family owned and operated, with a large lathe and an entire workroom dedicated to the creation of these glass bowls.
The Glass Harp
The Glass Harp is one of the most unique musical instruments in history. Invented by Benjamin Franklin, the instrument works by running your fingers around the rims of wine glasses to create a variety of sounds.
It’s a simple concept: you run your finger over the rim of wine glasses filled with different amounts of water to make a musical tone. This practice has been around for centuries, but it was only in 1761 that Benjamin Franklin invented a mechanical version of the glass harp (also called an armonica) and streamlined it.
Franklin worked with glassblower Charles James to design his armonica, which had a series of interlocked glass bowls that were threaded together and mounted horizontally on a spindle. A foot pedal turned the spindle, allowing a musician to touch the rim of each glass with wet fingers at intervals to produce a variety of sounds and harmonies.
To create the music on his instrument, Franklin used a combination of chalk and wetted fingers to run along the rims. The rims were color-coded to indicate the different notes.
Although the sound of the instrument was beautiful, Franklin saw room for improvement. He wanted to find a way to improve the performance and to be more user-friendly.
He worked with a glassblower to design the instrument, and eventually he had the 37 bowls ground to the right pitches. He also painted the rims with chalk to indicate chromatic steps.
This streamlined the process of creating music on the Glass Armonica, making it easier to play and less difficult to maintain. The rims of the bowls were also color-coded, indicating the different notes.
After the instrument was finished, Franklin gave it to his son-in-law Richard Bache. It remains in their possession today, and it is one of the most important instruments in his family.
Aside from its ability to produce a wide range of sounds, the Glass Harp is also known for its creepy reputation. It has been accused of causing mental disorders in some performers, and it’s also been linked to lead poisoning.
The Glass Bass
Franklin was an inventor with a knack for finding solutions to everyday problems. He invented a number of items that are still used today, including bifocals, the lightning rod, catheters, and the odometer. He was also a politician, diplomat, and postmaster.
Franklin saw the potential in the glass instruments that had been around for many years. One such instrument he came across was the armonica, which used glasses of different dispersions of water to create a ringing tone. It was a rather unwieldy device for carrying, and Franklin wanted to come up with a better solution.
He was inspired by a gentleman from Ireland who had collected several glasses of different sizes and fixed them near each other on a table. He had then tuned them by rubbing their rims, and was able to create music.
His invention was a simple design, consisting of a spinning spindle on which glass glasses were set up. He was able to achieve a full bass range with his instrument.
The instrument was played by placing a finger on each glass and turning the spindle while another player held the glasses between their hands. The instrument was quite portable, but could not be used in a large orchestra.
A better, and more practical version of the instrument was designed by the French instrument maker Bernard and Francois Baschet in 1952. Their version called the Cristal di Baschet has up to 52 chromatically-tuned metal rods that are set into motion by glass rods that are rubbed with wet fingers.
Despite its simplicity, it is difficult to play. This is due to the fact that each glass vibrates at different rates, resulting in a different tone. The instrument must be played carefully, so as to avoid the risk of breaking or chipping any of the glass rods.
In his attempt to make the instrument portable, Franklin used a foot pedal to activate a lever that would make the glasses turn underneath his fingertips. He also made sure that the glass rods were of a suitable length and thickness so that they could be easily manipulated by his fingers.