Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nintendo Ele-Conga and Autoplayer (エレコンガ, アートプレーヤー, 1972)

In the early 70s, Nintendo had not yet decided to focus on (electronic) toys and games only. They were still branching into various markets, trying their luck in areas as diverse as office supplies (Uni Rack shelf system, Copylas photocopier), home appliances (Candy Machine for candy floss at home) and baby gear (Mamaberica stroller and Twins seesaw).

Most of these ventures had limited success, and did not see more than one or two products per category.


The Ele-Conga (エレコンガ) is another example of this: an electronic drum machine which was more serious musical instrument than toy.

Nintendo Ele-Conga

The Ele-Conga was released in 1972 and retailed for ¥9,800. It has product code "ECG".



The Ele-Conga (short for Electronic Conga) was another invention involving resident engineer and inventor Gunpei Yokoi. It shows Nintendo getting to grips with increasingly complex electronic products (following the Love Tester, Kousenjuu light beam series and the Light Telephone).

Ele-Conga Manual

The Ele-Conga came with three removable legs and a carry strap.


A pretty power-hungry animal, the Ele-Conga required no less than eight batteries to operate: 6 C cells and 2 AA batteries. Thankfully, as is customary for most products sold in Japan, the batteries were included. The bottom of the Ele-Conga needs to be removed to insert the batteries.


When switched on, the Ele-Conga can produce five different electronically generated (analogue) drum sounds. Each of the five buttons on the top represent a single sound. Multiple buttons can be pressed at the same time.


The speaker is located just below the buttons on the top.



The five sounds the Ele-Conga can produce are: (S) Snare, (M) Maracas, (C) Claps, (HC) High Congas and (LC) Low Congas.


The manual includes a number of rhythm patters that can be played with the Ele-Conga, showing which buttons to press to produce a Mambo or Cha-Cha.

Rhythm patters are provided on the back of the manual

On the side of the Ele-Conga, you can find a volume dial and a line-out to connect the Ele-Conga to an external amplifier.


The bottom connector allows the Ele-Conga to be connected to the Autoplayer: a clever accessory for people who are somewhat rhythmically challenged.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer manual

The Autoplayer (アートプレーヤー) was sold separately for ¥1,200. It has product code "ECG-MX".

Ele-Conga advertisement: Latin Rhythms for ages 10 and up

Ele-Conga Autoplayer

The Autoplayer set includes the Autoplayer itself, eight programmed rhythm discs, ten blank rhythm discs and a hole puncher.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer set, including rhythm discs

When using the Autoplayer, it was no longer necessary to press the buttons of the Ele-Conga at the right time to produce a rhythm. The Autoplayer would do this for you.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer manual

The Autoplayer has a dial on the side, which is used to turn the rhythm disc placed on the top.


The rhythm discs work simliar to old fashed computer punch cards. On the left side of the top of the Autoplayer, you can see five contacts. The holes in the discs contain the rhytm pattern to be played. If a hole in the rhythm disc passes one of these contacts, the corresponding sound would be played by the Ele-Conga.

The eight rhythm discs that came with the Autoplayer include: Beguine, Bossa-Nova, Cha-Cha, Chindon-Ya (a Japanese March), Mambo, Rhumba, Rock and Samba.

Two of the eight rhythm discs that came with the Autoplayer

By turning the dial of the Autoplayer by hand, the Ele-Conga would produce the rhythm programmed into the disc.

I mentioned this was an accessory for the somewhat less musical, but it still requires the dial to be turned at a steady pace to produce a tight beat.


It is also possible to create your own rhythm discs for the Autoplayer.

The manual explains how to create your own rhythm pattern

You create your own rhythm disc by punching the desired holes in one of the blank discs, using the provided hole puncher.

Blank rhythm disc for the Ele-Conga Autoplayer, with hole puncher

The Autoplayer's cable is connected to Ele-Conga, using the port on the side of the Ele-Conga.

Ele-Conga and Autoplayer

The bottom of the Autoplayer fits neatly on the top of the Ele-Conga.

Combining Ele-Conga and Autoplayer into a single instrument

The Ele-Conga was produced in three colors: yellow, red and green.

All three Ele-Conga colors

The Autoplayer also came in matching yellow, red and green. However, every color combination of Ele-Conga and Autoplayer works just as well.

All three Autoplayer colors

The Ele-Conga was a high-quality product and quite advanced for its time, given that drum machines had only become available to a more mainstream audience as part of organs in the 60s.

You can see it in action in the video below. And you can hear and download the sounds here.


Besides the N&B Block Ringer, the Ele-Conga would remain Nintendo's only endeavor into the music business. Well, that is, if you do not count Wii Music.

The entire Ele-Conga family

9 comments:

  1. Cool, the ancestor of Donkey Konga's DK Bongos for the Nintendo Gamecube lol.

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  2. I realize I'm very late in finding this blog entry, but I and many electronic music composers would be eternally in your debt if you could share some high quality line-out recordings of the sounds of the Ele-Conga! Email tgray(at)alumnae.mills.edu if possible!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi - just to let you know that I received the request and will see what I can do to help. But please be a bit patient. It may take a while before I have time to get to this.

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    2. It took a while, but the ele-conga sounds and rhythms are now available here: http://soundcloud.com/beforemario/sets/nintendo-eleconga

      I have also updated the above post with a video. Check it out!

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  3. Hey Erik! Amazing entry! I'm really curious as to the sounds that come out of it also so if possible please help the world but uploading a video or something! Oh and if you did do the recordings I'd like some samples too please :] justin AT justinjaro.com Thanks and have a good day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. The ele-conga sounds and rhythms are now available here: http://soundcloud.com/beforemario/sets/nintendo-eleconga

      I have also updated the above post with a video. Check it out!

      Delete
  4. Oh man.... Any updates on recording the sounds and rhythms? I would love to use these for recording--

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, got an update for you. The ele-conga sounds and rhythms are now available here: http://soundcloud.com/beforemario/sets/nintendo-eleconga

      I have also updated the above post with a video. Hope it was worth the wait.

      Delete