Loar received 14 U.S. Patents during his career. His most prolific design period (from a standpoint of developing patentable ideas) appears to have been from 1927 to 1937. Nine of the 14 patents relate to piano designs and keyboard actions, the others to stringed instruments. However, all of them speak to his focus on improved tone and amplification.
Loar best summed up his lifelong objectives in developing the ultimate musical instrument in this opening statement of his fourth patent:
“The main objects of my invention are first, to provide a musical instrument capable of tone production in which the note produced is approximately 90% fundamental and only 10% overtones and having a perfectly even scale with every tone developed to its maximum of quality.”
As these patents clearly demonstrate, the work of Lloyd Allayre Loar proved him to be a pivotal force in musical instrument advancements. Truly, he was an acoustical genius and musical instrument designer way ahead of his time.
While all of his patents clearly demonstrate his incredible thought process and ingenious mind, Patent 2,046,331 (July 7, 1936) talks about an amazing departure from the viol family’s soundpost. In this design, a simple linkage system drives the soundboard and backboard together and apart in unison to improve compression and rarefaction in the air chamber. A marvelous and yet simple idea!
The following is a brief excerpt of each of his patents (full copies are available from the US Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov):
(My appreciation to Arian Sheets at the National Music Museum, Vermillion, SD, for discovering some patents that I had not found.)
US Pat 1,798,212; March 31, 1931— Loar’s first patent was a true indication of his focus on tuning the various components of musical instruments. In this Patent, he claims his ideas for the alignment of the sound-board’s grain, adding apertures (visible along upper edge of lower drawing) to the edge of the soundboard to make the soundboard more supple and to help tune the air chamber, positioning and tuning the soundboard’s braces, and general tuning of the piano’s air chamber. Loar points out in this patent that his improved soundboard design was efficient enough to permit the instrument to be strung with twins rather than triplets of strings per note.
Loar was living in Chicago at the time he applied for this patent.
This patent was applied for on Dec 24, 1928 and was assigned to the Gulbransen (piano) Company of Chicago, Illinois for whom Loar was working as a consultant.
US Pat 1,815,265; July 21, 1931—- Following from his soundboard development in the previous patent, Loar set out to improve on the piano’s bridge system. As with his previous studies on mandolin and violin bridges, he strove to develop a bridge that could rock on its axis to take advantage of the strings’ longitudinal (rather than lateral) vibrations. His bridge design was intended to amplify the torquing motion of the bridge and to control how that bridge energized the soundboard to which it was connected. The cantilever positioning of the bridge (as seen in the middle drawing) enabled great mechanical advantage in transferring the strings’ energy to the soundboard.
Loar was still living in Chicago at the time of this patent and applied for it on July 10, 1929. As with his previous filing, he assigned this patent to the Gulbransen Company of Chicago, Illinois.
US Pat 1,821,978; Sep 8, 1931—- The application for this patent was filed on July 10, 1929. The patent describes Loar’s design of a picking action for producing a harpsichord effect and produce “special effects” in the playing of a regular piano. As opposed to add-on accessory products of the period, this technology of this patent is designed to apply a “wiping effect” to standard piano actions and to enable the entire set of hammers to shift their position so they would attack only one string (of the double or triple sets of strings in the piano).
This patent was assigned to Gulbransen Company of Chicago, Illinois.
US Pat 1,992,317; Feb 26, 1935—- This filing created a major breakthrough in instrument design. The patent describes a piano with tuned “reeds” or bars whose adjustable length determined the pitch to which they vibrated. When struck by small hammers, and amplified, the reeds would emit a piano-like tone. A further objective of the patent was to create an inexpensive keyboard instrument with easy access to the pickups. And, since the reeds were not stretched wire (like their piano counterparts) they would always be in tune.
Loar proved to be right. When his personal version of this piano was unpacked 50 years after he crated it, it was still in perfect pitch!
Loar was living in Kalamazoo, Michigan when he filed for this patent and assigned it to his new company, the Acousti-Lectric Company of Kalamazoo, makers of ViviTone electric pianos. This application was filed on Jan 27, 1934.
US Pat 1,995,316; March 26, 1935— This patent was filed on the same date as his previous patent (Jan 27, 1934) and was basically an extension of his previous work. In this patent, Loar focused on an improved magnetic pickup, a pedal controlled poten-tiometer, and an improved method to transfer the pianist’s energy “whereby the intensity of the tone is controlled directly by the force with which the keys are struck.” Again, he calls out the goal of producing an economical and lightweight piano. (The ViViTone Clavier which he manufactured weighs about 110 pounds compared to the 550 pounds of a traditional upright.)
In this patent, Loar also describes that each rod or “reed” would have it’s own electronic sensor to amplify the sound.
Loar assigned this patent to the Acousti-Lectric Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
US Pat 1,995,317; March 26, 1935— This patent was also filed on the same date as his previous two patents (Jan 27, 1934) and describes a unique key action with special picker jacks, picks, friction, and leverage points to improve the picking action without mechanical interference. While the text of this patent also speaks about a bar that touches all of the strings in their center to evoke the second partial (harmonic) and raise the pitch of the whole instrument by an octave, that feature is not called out in any of the patent’s claims.
This patent was assigned to the Acoustic-Lectric Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
US Pat 2,020,557, Nov 12, 1935—- Loar’s next effort was to amplify guitars, mandolins, and violins by developing an instrument with two soundboards and electronic pickups. In this patent, Loar describes that both soundboards have tone bars and that the inner or “secondary” soundboard is driven by the outer or “primary” soundboard. Of great interest is that the primary soundboard has only one oval soundhole (upper drawing) and the secondary soundboard (inside the instrument) has two F-holes, very reminiscent of the Virzi Tone Producer. He describes placing the soundhole under the bridge (with the bridge resting on the edges of the soundhole) because “the vibration in the board weakens as it travels away from the bridge so that the edges of the soundhole vibrate with the greatest possible intensity … and adds to the efficiency.”
This patent, filed May 14, 1934, was also assigned to the Acoustic-Lectric Company.
US Pat 2,020,842; Nov 12, 1935—- This patent was issued on the same day as his previous patent and describes an amplification means for an electric violin or viola. In this design, the instrument has no air chamber, but merely a simple spruce soundboard with no apertures. The pickup is mounted on the soundboard and the bridge is mounted directly on the pickup.
(The prototype of this instrument was in my possession for several years. The instrument I owned had the pickup mounted on the soundboard, and not under it.)
This patent also features a “pedal-operated circuit-controlling device” for altering the volume — in essence, the earliest known foot operated volume control. Loar also used this pedal control with his amplified F-5.
This patent was filed on July 31, 1933 and assigned to the Acousti-Lectric Company.
US Pat 2,025,875; Dec 31, 1935—- After Loar’s extensive work on electronic amplification systems, this patent clearly expresses Loar’s realization of the attributes of non-amplified instruments. This patent describes a guitar which is switchable between amplified, non-amplified, or both by changing the internal components through a drawer in the side of the guitar. Unlike the bridge claimed in his previous guitar patent (2,020,557), the bridge in this guitar does not rest on the upper soundboard. Instead, it contacts an internal support which can be altered to either direct the string’s energy to the back or “belly” soundboard, or past a horseshoe-shaped magnet which surrounds an “armature” to generate electrical energy to be amplified.
(An interesting idea which made me chuckle in light of the work on my patent 4,433,603.)
Loar filed this patent on Jan 27, 1934 and assigned it to the Acousti-Lectric Company.
US Pat 2,046,331; July 7, 1936—– This was the first of two patents granted to Loar on the same day, and this Patent clearly demonstrates Loar’s genius in the most incredible method to drive the soundboard AND backboard since the invention of the soundpost! Here, Loar explains his idea for a bridge which rests on a horizontal lever. The lever has one foot extending to the backboard and another foot extending to the soundboard. Through this linkage, the strings’ energy is driven to both the backboard and the soundboard at the same time. Unlike the soundpost in the viol family, as the backboard is driven downwards, the soundboard is driven upwards, and vice versa, which “doubles the amount of compression and rarefaction.” Loar’s patent describes how the feet can be glued in place to facilitate construction or can be movable to change the leverage points and thus the tonality of the instrument. The soundboard and backboard are both described with longitudinal tone bars and the backboard is set in from the stiff rim, as on his ViviTone guitars. Amazing!
US Pat 2,046,332; July 7, 1936—– This patent was filed on the same date (Jan 27, 1934) as one of his earliest patents (U.S. Pat. No. 1,992,317) and, like the following patent (U.S. Pat. No 2,046,333), is a subset or “division” of that initial patent.
In this patent, Loar focused mainly on: developing a flexible mounting method for his “reeds” so they could vibrate at both ends, a method of mounting the reeds so they could produce a vibrato, a way to mount the reeds so there was no mechanical interference, an improved means of picking the reeds, and to provide a way to have ready access to the pickups through the back of the instrument.
There were 24 claims in all.
US Pat 2,046,333; July 7, 1936—– This patent was a subset or “division” of a separate patent (below) filed on the same day of January 27, 1934. In this patent, Loar describes his design for a unique action for clavichords and harpsichords which provided for a “means for plucking the strings to initiate the vibration thereof without mechanical interference.” In addition, the patent called out a method to utilize a series of long coil-wound pickups which would be positioned near a keyboard instrument’s strings, basically transversing the entire harp of the instrument, to sense the strings’ movements and then amplify them.
Loar’s prototype of this keyboard action is shown in the sidebar, below. The prototype, now almost 70 years of age, is still fully functional.
Loar was still living in Kalamazoo at the time of this filing and assigned this patent to the Acousti-Lectic Company of Kalamazoo.
US Pat 2,085,760; July 6, 1937—- This patent, Loar’s last, is very interesting. Rather than describing a new design, it is instead a reiteration of his earlier patent, US Pat 1,995,316. The drawings and opening statements are virtually identical with minor modifications. However, the 10 claims of this patent (1,995,316 had 22 claims) are carefully and concisely reworded to assure the ultimate protection of his design and ideas for a tuned “reed” clavichord.
The design still speaks about tuned “reeds” which float free in the air and are secured at one end, the specific striking mechanism and keyboard action, a means to control the intensity of sound, the portability of the amplifier, and the transfer of energy from the keys to the “reeds.”
The application was filed on March 16, 1935.
A typewritten attachment states that this patent, formerly assigned to Acousti-Lectric, was later assigned to the Vivi-Tone Company.
US Pat 2,185,734; Jan 2, 1940—- This was Loar’s last patent. It describes a very unique plucking (“plectrum”) action by which the strings of this electronic harpsichord were excited. The patent describes a pendulum system to efficiently pivot the plectrum away from the string after it is plucked.
The application was filed on October 7, 1937.
This patent was assigned to Frank Holton & Co., Elkhorn Wisconsin.
This is Loar’s prototype of the picking action described in his patent No. 2,046,333. The device has a delicate plucking mechanism that picks a string stretched vertically in the frame to the left. The white line at the bottom right of the photo is the inside edge of the ivory piano key. The prototype is of one key only, and is still very functional today.
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