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About Our Music Boxes

About Our Music Boxes

Thank you for your interest in our music boxes! Our music boxes are a modern take on the antique polyphon music boxes from the 1800’s. We use a unique kind of music box mechanism that uses paper strips to play a song. Holes punched into the paper strip activate gears within the music box mechanism which play the notes. Using this system has a bunch of neat advantages over normal music boxes.

One of our favorite features about using this kind of music box mechanism is that you can play multiple songs with the same music box. There’s a slot on the front of the music box which you can feed songs into, and it’s quite easy to switch from one song to another. Because it uses paper strips to play the song instead of a barrel (like traditional music boxes), there is no limit to how long a song can be. We’ve even made full 5-10 minute songs before! Lastly, because paper is pretty easy to work with, we can make custom songs for your music box!

Models and Sizes

The music boxes come in three different sizes: we have 15, 20, and 30-note models. The number refers to the range of the music box (the number of notes between the highest and lowest pitches). There’s a few different reasons you might want to pick one size over another; however, if the physical size of the music box doesn’t matter to you, we strongly recommend getting the 30-note model, since it’s the most versatile, and usually yields the best results.

15-Note Music Box

The 15-note music box is the smallest in both physical size and range. It has a range of about 2 octaves (which is about the range of an average singing voice). This is enough room to add a melody line, and sometimes a simple bass line as well. However, the notes are arranged in a diatonic scale, meaning that you can only play songs that stay in one key. While most popular and traditional songs will work, many songs are not compatible with the 15-note model. The 15-note model can sound great when playing songs that are compatible with it, but there’s a lot of reasons you might want to get the 30-note model instead.

20-Note Music Box

The 20-note model is very similar to the 15-note model in the sense that it also has a diatonic scale, making many songs not compatible. The advantage of the 20-note model over the 15-note model is that it has more range for more harmony parts. The 20-note model has a range of 3 octaves. In our experience, the 20-note model also seems to be a little more reliable, since it uses a larger body. If you can afford a little more, however, we really suggest going with the 30-note model.

30-Note Music Box

The 30-note model is the largest, and best sounding out all three models. It has a similar range to the 20-note model (3 octaves), but it uses a chromatic scale instead a diatonic scale. The chromatic scale includes sharps and flats (the black keys on a piano), and the inclusion of ‘accidentals’ makes nearly every song compatible. We’ve even been able to arrange the full length version of Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb! A small number of songs may not be compatible with the 30-note model because of a physical limitation (We’ll touch on that later), but we really suggest getting this model if possible.

Physical Limitations

While most songs are compatible with the music boxes, there are a few limitations that you should keep in mind.

The range of the music box determines the highest and lowest notes that the music box can play. The 15-note music box has enough notes to play almost any singable melody (as long as it stays in one key: diatonic). Both the 20 and 30-note models actually have the same range, which is large enough to play pretty much everything. It’s not as large range as a full sized 88-key piano of course, but with a little tweaking, almost any song can work.

The type of scale your music box uses is important for many songs. The 15 and 20-note music boxes use a diatonic scale (think C-Major or A-Minor). Most music is written in a diatonic scale, but a lot of music uses more complex harmony, that wouldn’t be compatible with the 15-note and 20-note models. For example, most movie soundtrack and classical music take advantage of borrowed chords and modulating harmonies to add color to the music. For more complex music, you’ll want to get the 30-note music box. The 30-note music box uses a chromatic scale (the black notes on a piano) which makes it compatible with the most music. It sounds the best too, both sonically and harmonically.

Lastly, there is one last limitation that is shared by all three music box models, and can make a song not compatible with even the 30-note model. The music box mechanism uses metal teeth to simultaneously register the hole punched out in the paper, and plucks the note. Due to the distance between teeth, the mechanism needs some time to reset before playing the same note again. By far, most songs won’t be affected by this limitation, but some songs that have fast repeating notes won’t be compatible.

Final Thoughts

There’s a reason why the vast majority of our song catalog is for the 30-note model: because it sounds the best, and is compatible with the most songs. However, if you’d like to make a music box with a smaller physical size, and the songs you’d like to play are compatible (we’d be happy to check the compatibility of a song for you), you might really like the 15-note model, despite its smaller range. But if possible, we highly recommend the 30-note model over the other ones, since it’s compatible with more songs, and we know you’ll love the sound of the 30-note music box’s larger range.