“Crumpter” and Materials

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Object No. 33 of 50 — Significant Objects v3

[The auction for this object, with story and collateral materials by Matt Brown, has ended. Original price: donated. Final price: $51.00. Significant Objects will donate the proceeds from this auction to Girls Write Now. This object was part of a collection curated for Significant Objects by Paola Antonelli; the story was co-published on Core77.com.]

When I first met Ron Chutney I was 16 and looking to cut a record. Sang a few songs for him at his studio and I remember my voice being horrible and embarrassing, so imagine my excitement when Ron heard the first track and said, “Yeah we can Crumpter that up just fine.” Crumpters. Today auto-tuned vocals are all the rage, but no one remembers the analog version Chutney created back in the late ’50s. It was a way for guys like me to get an acceptable track out. You see, if you sang through it, your voice would be pitch perfect every time, “like an angel,” Ron would say. Nowadays they teach advanced harmonics in the third grade, so I probably don’t have to explain to you how a Crumpter works — but I will anyway. Each one has to be made by hand, in the winter, in Detroit. The metal rods all have a special resonance, like tuning forks, and they’re all connected with this special metal mesh. When a note is sung into a Crumpter, it sort of corrects it and adds a little bit of a chorus effect — something that you cannot get rid of. If you have the time, do a Google search for “Harmonic Shuffling” or “Lowbrow Harmonizers.”

Thanks to vocoders and other new technologies, the Crumpter ceased to exist. Like the cloudberries of Sweden or truffles, Crumpters couldn’t be mass-produced. Each one took about two months of labor to make and it kills me to see them selling at garage sales for less than five bucks. Just last week I picked up a copy of Ron’s first album for ten cents at a thrift store. Ten cents!

This Crumpter is one that I saved from way back. Over the years a lot of famous people have sang through it: Betty Hunk, “Ambi” Davis, Thumbs/Fingers, and Shoots Donsson, to name a few. The package is actually newer, got that for a dollar about five years ago — it still has the shrink wrap, but has been slit open on the side, not a bad box considering how rare these things are.

I have absolutely no idea what ever happened to Ron Chutney. No one knows — I’ve been trying to find out for the last 20 years. I’m hoping that someone, somewhere, reading this, can give me some information on what happened to Ron. And even if we never find out, I hope that someone can start Crumptering again in his honor. Thanks for reading.


Humanoid and almost 28, Matt Brown, is a designer living in Boston.

6 thoughts on ““Crumpter” and Materials

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