The Mellotron, a contemporary electronic keyboard that produces string sounds by manipulating loops of magnetic tape, was created in 1963 and has been used on countless popular recordings. 500 years before the Mellotron and decades before the adoption of the viola and violin, Leonardo Da Vinci designed the Viola Organista, a piano-style instrument that produced sound by bringing its strings into contact with a spinning disc of horse hair. The resulting effect was that of a full string ensemble, with the ability to produce bowed sounds across multiple registers.
Although the Viola Organista was never built in Da Vinci's lifetime, Polish pianist and instrument builder Slawomir Zubrzycki has recreated the instrument from Da Vinci's original plans published in his Codex Altanticus.
Hear the Viola Organista in the video above or read more here.