You see, back in 1980, I worked for Mattel Toys in Hawthorne, CA as an engineer in the preliminary design department. I designed electronics for prototypes of all sorts of toys, including remote control cars, self-guided racers, sound effects for a hot wheels airborne transport toy, and the piano sounds for Barbie’s Piano.
I collaborated with another prototype designer who did the mechanical development. My job was to develop an electronic piano sound. I actually got a patent for the ‘decay modulator’ circuit, which was the heart of the semi-realistic sound. When a key is struck, the tone fades out gradually just like a real piano.
When it came time to demonstrate the toy to Mattel’s president, Ray Wagner, we brought the model in, sat Barbie down on the bench and I made my first and only professional musical debut as I plunked out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ using Barbie’s hands on the keys.
“I love it,” said Ray, as he clapped his hands with approval, “let’s get it into toy development and go with it!” After the piano went into production, even though I was not working at Mattel, they called me in and gave me this one when it was new.
I saw an original Barbie Piano on eBay today with a selling price of 160USD. And that was without the bench and the instruction/songbook. I imagine that this particular one might be worth a bit more with my signed statement about its development and my role in it.
While this one has never been owned by a child, I used to indulge my granddaughters and let them play with it. As a consequence, it’s not completely pristine and the little wands used to play the tiny keys are missing. A mistake, to be sure, but you should have seen the pride in their eyes knowing granddad invented this toy.
Please, click either image for a wallpaper-sized close-up.