The Dulcet Tones of the Phonograph Tattoo

The Dulcet Tones of the Phonograph Tattoo

The funky traditional tattoo symbol that has withstood the test of time.

Bold that Holds is our series where we examine the meaning behind traditional tattoo motifs. Be sure to check out some of our other installments, such as this piece about artful daggers.


The phonograph, otherwise known as the gramophone, (or old-timey record player to you philistines out there) is an iconic image that music nerds and history nerds alike glom onto. Thanks to the wiley ways of Bugs Bunny, and other classic cartoons, this 19th century machine still has some teeth in this new millennium, even though you’d be hard-pressed to find an actual old-school phonograph outside of a museum. Lucky for all of us, the technology of the phonograph has persisted — in the form of the beloved device known as the record player.

Invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison as a device for sound recording and production, the phonograph was the first instrument able to record and reproduce sound. Up until its creation, other devices had only done one or the other. Edison’s original phonograph isn’t commonly tattooed onto tattoo collectors’ bodies though — his machine, since it also recorded sound, used its flaring horn to take in sound and create grooves with a stylus to record the waveforms entering the horn. Phonograph tattoos feature only the output — the later, citizen-owned record players that used their flared horns for playing music and their stylus needles for reading grooved records.

Traditional style phonographs are a classic motif — coupled with skulls, text, flowers, they shout music aficionado and vinyl nerd, but the image is also just an archetypal traditional tattoo. The flared horn leaves a lot of room for artistic interpretation, and the shape of the phonograph leaves a lot of room for playful angles and witty additions. If you’re a fan of traditional tattoos, of the famous phonograph, or art in general, swing by the artists’ Instagrams for more. You can also admire some great traditional work by the likes of Rob Banks, who also lets you walk right in on the weekends. Jacob Rivera in Denver brings a traditional twist, while Valerie Vargas brings her own sense of character.

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