Wooden sticks, when dropped on the floor, sound a variety of tones. While the bars of a xylophone are varied in tone by changing their length, these “tone bars” are all of the same length and width, but have different thicknesses and different densities and elastic properties.
The sound synthesiser was Helmholtz’s clearest instrumental expression of his theory of timbre, or sound quality. Whereas his spherical resonators dissected compound sounds (vowels or musical sounds) into elemental frequencies, the synthesiser did this by building up complex sounds from simple frequencies. In 1857 he went to the instrument maker Friedrich Fessel of Cologne to turn this idea into reality. The initial instruments used a combination of electrically driven tuning forks, resonators and piano keys to synthesise compound sounds.