1939 Ansley Dynatone Spinet

1939 Ansley Dynatone Spinet


Here is another very unusual early electric piano. Rarer and less well known than the acoustic-electric Storytone, The Ansley Dynatone similarly combined an electric piano, radio, and phonograph into one “home entertainment” package. We acquired this instrument from the original owner’s family - it had been purchased new at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and lovingly preserved in the same home here in Oakland ever since. We are not aware of any other example outside of several in museum collections. Here is a brief history of the Ansley Dynatone, from the Museum of Making Music:

The Ansley Radio Corporation, founded by Arthur Ansley, had some success in the 1930s with a product line called the Dynaphone, a combination phonograph and radio. Late in the decade, Ansley utilized its expertise in electronics to create another hybrid product: the DynaTone, a combination phonograph, radio, and piano, which was released in 1939. The DynaTone was marketed both as a good value ($595 in 1939, or around $10,000 in 2017 dollars) and as a piece of advanced, cutting-edge technology—not only electrified, but also capable of receiving then-new frequency modulated radio signals.

Though outwardly very similar to an upright piano, the DynaTone has no soundboard. Instead, a set of pickups mounted inside the piano convey the sound of the strings to an amplifier and then to a speaker—all inside the instrument. With the amplifier switched on, the DynaTone can be as loud as a grand piano. With it switched off, the sound is considerably softer; marketing materials referred to this as a “harpsichord” sound, adding yet another hybrid capability to the instrument.

The phonograph and radio portions of the DynaTone are cleverly tucked away in hidden cabinetry. A handle below the left side of the keyboard pulls out a drawer housing a phonograph platter and tonearm, and a handle below the right side opens a door concealing a radio dial and controls. These could be used at the same time as the amplified piano, such that the player could perform along with the radio or a record. 

Production of the DynaTone ended in the 1940s. While a precise cause is impossible to pin down, the DynaTone’s success was likely hampered by its novelty and the onset of World War II, during which musical instrument manufacturing was effectively frozen nationwide. Nonetheless, the DynaTone is an amazing example of ingenuity and adventurousness. Height 36".

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