The “Thummer” is a legitimate controller design.

Although I need to note that Jim Plamondon, the inventor and promoter thereof, hasn’t had much luck finding investors willing to bankroll mass production. And it is a shame. A simple version of it would not be very costly to manufacture.

He has been very, very aggressive about promoting his idea. For example: Valleywag, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Engadget, Coolest-Gadgets, and a TV station in Austin TX.

Didn’t anyone tell Mr. Plamondon, a former Microsoft marketing dude, how difficult it is to sell a new kind of musical instrument to musicians? If I were offering advice, I’d tell him to start small. Manufacture a boutique version, get some user feedback. Build the business up slowly, because, trust me, it is the only way.

This IS NOT a mass market. It IS NOT like selling a videogame gadget. Musicians are conservative and spend irrational amounts of time practicing on their existing instruments. Popularizing a new instrument is like invading Russia. Look at Adolphe Sax — he battled other instrument makers in court over patents, and his saxophone did not become popular until well after his death.

Judging from the Wall Street Journal article, which ran six months ago, this is probably a dead issue by now:

“Taking stock of his savings, he says he has about six months left before he’ll have to find a full-time job. At that point the Thummer will be relegated to an evenings-and-weekends enterprise, he says, “and that’s the death of a start-up.””

5 thoughts on “The “Thummer” is a legitimate controller design.”

  1. I think he has made a mistake in trumping up his controller as if it is the most revolutionary musical invention in the last 100 years. It is a cool controller, and I would buy one if he could ever get them manufactured, but the hyperbole turns people off, I think. Check out his blog for info on “dynamic tonality” – it is really amazing.

    This guy is making kits to make a controller very much like the Thummer, and they will actually be available this summer.

  2. Thanks for the plug, oldgravity!

    Yes, I’m making conversion keys to convert a Standard Design (SD) keyboard into a 3-row general-purpose (GP) mutable design, relatively cheaply. By folding the GP kbd over or using 2 keyboards, one can get 6 rows.
    By reprogramming the note assignments and chosing your own shapes for the key-caps, a GP Keyboard starts to get interesting.

    E.g., in we are wondering just how close we can get to the gains promised by Fixx’s Law (see wikipedia) of a factor of 3-4 faster playing speed with a jammer or c-thru layout. There are also neat things hinted at in moving the pitch-bend and mod controls to make them actually useful.

    The catch? The conversion kits are likely to be expensive at first: “Cheap” = $200, plus you must supply your own keyboard(s) to convert. Music = money.

    Ken, MusicScienceGuy.

  3. A good example of starting small with a good group of hard core fanatics is the Monome project. Problem is, in comes major manufacturer with a clone (TENORI-ON from Yamaha).

  4. Well, I see 2 things wrong with that: first, the Tenori-on isn’t a clone of the Monome. It is a big grid of buttons, but that’s really where the similarity ends; the Monome needs software to do its thing, and what it does is completely up to the user. In comparison, the Tenori-on is a $1200 version of Elektroplankton (even designed by the same guy) – a fun little toy, but not an instrument.

    Secondly, I don’t think Ken or anyone else would mind if some big manufacturer came along and made a mass-produced thummer – in fact, that’s what Jim Plamondon’s been trying to do with no success. Kenis just doing this in the absence of a mass-produced device.

  5. You advice is right on: “start small. Manufacture a boutique version, get some user feedback. Build the business up slowly, because, trust me, it is the only way.”

    That’s exactly right. One has to keep overheads super-low while the product climbs up out of the Long Tail into the mainstream. However, that climb can happen a lot faster than it used to, so long as the product is truly “remarkable,” offering extraordinary value at a low price.

    As some commenters have noted, the key “price” in music-making is TIME. Learning time and practice time dominate the equation. If the Thummer (and ThumMusic System) prove to deliver an equivalent amount of musical knowledge & skill in (say) a third the time or less, while providing greater expressive potential and opening new musical frontiers, then it’s got a very good chance of going viral. Its unique ability to support Dynamic Tonality and other truly novel yet traditional-sounding effects is important in this, given the music induatry’s insatiable desire for music that is novel…but not TOO novel.

    Also, Thumtronics’ innovations lend themselves to a line of products designed for very young children. If we capture the headwaters, then the stream’s momentum works in our favor (albeit on a generational time scale).

    As to Thumtronics’ hyperbole — it ain’t hype if it’s true. Big changes can happen fast if the conditions are right. The success of Guitar Hero suggests that the non-musical public is eager to experience music-making, if the time-cost can be reduced sufficiently.

    Watch this space. 😉

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