Monthly Archives: December 2011
Casio, Casio, Casio…whatever shall we do with you? What were you thinking? Eye-catching, certainly, lots of colors and buttons, dual speakers, an important-looking tone list…and yet, as far as I’m concerned it’s also completely inexplicable.
This is one of the newer keyboards in my current collection. I actually have several variations of the SA series; this just happened to be the first one I grabbed from the pile. While I will still post entries for all the other units I have, this one will be the most in-depth.
Basics, which are generally common amongst all the SA models: 100 preset PCM tones / 4-note polyphonic / 19 preset rhythms / 13 preset accompaniments (no drums) / 5 demo songs / dedicated drum sample buttons. There are no LEDs or any other visual indicators at all.
|00 Piano||25 Ocarina||50 Synth-Piano||75 Cosmic Sound|
|01 Elec. Piano||26 Bagpipe||51 Synth-Celesta||76 Telephone|
|02 Honky-Tonk Piano||27 Harmonica||52 Synth-Clavi||77 Car Horn|
|03 Harpsichord||28 Chorus||53 Synth-Accordion||78 Computer Sound|
|04 Jazz Organ||29 Brass-Strings||54 Synth-Brass||79 Typewriter|
|05 Elec. Organ||30 Strings||55 Synth-Reed||80 Vibraphone|
|06 Pipe Organ||31 Warm Strings||56 Synth Lead||81 Marimba|
|07 Church Organ||32 Violin||57 Synth-Strings||82 Church Bells|
|08 Street Organ||33 Violin-Piano||58 Synth-Guitar||83 Bells|
|09 Accordion||34 Cello||59 Synth-Bass||84 Gamelan|
|10 Brass Ens.||35 Elec. Guitar||60 Glass Harmonica||85 Afro Percussion|
|11 Warm Brass||36 Jazz Guitar||61 Fantasy||86 Ethnic Percussion|
|12 Trumpet||37 Mute Guitar||62 Waw Voice||87 Sample Percussion|
|13 Tuba||38 Metal Guitar||63 Twinkle Echo||88 Matsuri|
|14 Brass Hit||39 Slap Bass||64 Metal Lead||89 Wadaiko|
|15 Wind Ens||40 Elec. Bass||65 Cathedral||90 Triangle|
|16 English horn||41 Wood Bass||66 Cosmic Dance||91 Conga/Agogo|
|17 Oboe||42 Snare Bass||67 Plunk Extend||92 Cowbell/Clave|
|18 Basson||43 Ukelele||68 Pop Lead||93 Tom|
|19 Clarinet||44 Banjo||69 Pearl Drop||94 Rock Drum|
|20 Samba Whistle||45 Sitar||70 Airplane||95 Swing Drum|
|21 Whistle||46 Mandolin||71 Ambulance||96 Bass/Piano|
|22 Quena||47 Harp||72 Insect||97 Bass/Trumpet|
|23 Flute||48 Taishokoto||73 Emergency Alarm||98 Piano/Flute|
|24 Flute-Vib||49 Shamisen||74 Laser Beam||99 Strings/Oboe|
While these are all ostensibly PCM samples, I can’t say I’m overly impressed with the sound quality. Lots of aliasing and digital noise. Most of the tones have what appears to be intended as a reverb effect, but rather than actual reverb the sample re-triggers at a reduced volume. Practically speaking, everything sounds like it has sustain, even percussive sounds like the organs. There are no tone modifiers.
The piano is actually not bad, but the four-note polyphony is obviously limiting. Several of the sound effects are quite good.
As would be expected, the rhythms are very cheesy but fun. A couple of the auto-accompaniment patterns are also very interesting, but they’re limited by being fixed-pitch; you’re stuck in whatever key they play in.
And now we move into the things that I absolutely hate. Tone selection, volume, and rhythm selection are all done using soft buttons. The power switch is the only “analog” control. Volume defaults to max on power-up and requires using the up/down buttons to change it. Every time you press either button it’s accompanied by a loud click. In fact, any time you press ANY button there’s a click. Rhythms and accompaniment are selected by using a panel button and the actual keyboard keys.
This is all annoying enough, but as mentioned there are no indicators to let you know what you currently have selected. Naturally, settings are not maintained when the unit is powered off. As on other Casio units, the front-panel drum buttons are a neat idea, but not really useful (at least to me) in the real world.
And what’s the deal with the demo section? There’s no option for playing along or any kind of music-minus-one settings; dedicating a good percentage of the control panel real estate and five buttons to this seems excessive.
Having said all that, it’s still worth fiddling with for an hour or so. The sheer number of voices means that there are guaranteed to be at least some keepers. Coming up with melody lines to play over the accompaniment is neat, too, and having to keep them the same key is can be limiting but is also a bit of a challenge.
- Choral (Beethoven)
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Rock 1
- Disco 1 (Probably my favorite. Don’t hate me.)
- Pops 1
- 16-Beat 2
- New Age Music
- Funk (This one is kinda cool.)
The click which indicates program changes is audible during the rhythm and auto demos. There’s also a lag; I was hitting the button on the beat but sometimes it took a second before the sound changed.
This is the part that puzzles me: What is the intended use of this little beastie? It’s far too complex to be a toy, but the extensive features and options are either poorly implemented or of little use to a musician. The sound quality and inflexible accompaniment options are also strikes against it. The same rhythms with a smaller, better set of voices would be an improvement, or keeping the same voice set while ditching the demos and auto-accompaniment in favor of a couple of volume sliders would help too. A puzzle wrapped in an enigma, it is.
Pros: Lots of features. Lots of voices. Lots of potential for circuit-bending. Really fun to noodle around with (at least until the frustrations kick in)
Cons: All digital control. No indicators. Low polyphony. Poor sample quality.
Bottom line: If I decide to keep one SA series as an example, it’ll probably be this one. The others I’ll try to find new homes for; I’m sure they’ll make someone out there happy, particularly if they’re planning on opening them up & poking around inside.
Originally I was planning on only posting about experiences with keyboards I either currently own or that had passed through my hands recently. I was talking to a co-worker today about my lack of storage space, though, and the subject of soft synths came up. Specifically, re-creations of specific instruments that wouldn’t necessarily be consider mainstream. The Castio HT-700 and Yamaha CS01 were mentioned, but I’ve been playing with this one for a while and thought I’d share a bit about it.
At some point in 1982 or 1983, I first heard the Pianet at our local watering hole, played by the canine component of a duo called Mad Dog & the Kid. The keyboard had a sort of Rhodes-ish sound, but the bass notes were cutting, resonant, and unlike anything I’d heard.As a teen this would typically have been far out of my price range. One of our local music stores, however, did have it in stock for $600. Since they primarily dealt in band instruments, they were used to setting up payment plans and had no problem taking a third down and the rest over 90 days. Well, they had no problem once my mother co-signed.
This instrument is beyond simple – it’s absurd. There are no controls of any type – just a line out on the back. No sustain pedal, no volume, nothing. It’s an electromechanical keyboard, which means that the sound is generated by actual moving parts. In this case, pressing a key pulls a sticky silicon pad off a tuned read, which then vibrates and generates the note. Hit the key harder, the pad pulls off faster and the note is louder, at least in theory. Practically speaking, it didn’t make a heck of a lot of difference. One major advantage of the tone-generating employed is that it doesn’t (generally) require tuning.
As mentioned, there is no sustain facility, so when you let go of the key the note damps immediately. This does require a certain adjustment in playing technique. While portable and very solid, it’s also extremely heavy. The stand is sturdy, but that too is heavy and awkward to carry around. Which was annoying, particularly as keyboard geeks aren’t known for attracting roadies. The lid being an integral part of the case was handy, but the downside of that was it required a little creative engineering to get another keyboard to sit on top.
The sound is, to my ear, a good cross between a Rhodes and a Wurlitzer. The high end is a little more bell-like than either, with less of the overtones than a Rhodes. Depending on how you play, the bass can be either subtle and understated or borderline nasty – more like a Clavinet than a piano. Since the band I was in a the time didn’t have a bass player, I played most bass parts on the Pianet, and as far as I know no one ever really noticed.
Selling this was one of the more regretted decisions I made. At the time (must’ve been around 1987), polyphonic synths were extremely affordable, and there was zero market for what was essentially a one-tone piano. I think I got $100 for it. Now, a model in good condition with the stand will sell for more than the $600 they cost new.
While I’d definitely pay that same $100 for one these days, there is a very good, very small, very simple, and very free VST synth called Pianet-N which does a great job (Artifake Labs). It doesn’t respond to velocity, although as mentioned that’s not really much of a limitation, but it does accept sustain pedal input and has a nifty little vibrato switch. There are no presets, no tone modifiers – it is as simple and as uncomplicated as the original Pianet.
Planet N Demo Recorded straight with just a hint of reverb. The vibrato switch is thrown around the :42 mark; it’s subtle but it adds to the end of the piece.
If I had the room, the money, and the time to actually play it, I would certainly seek out a replacement. For the little bit that I actually use it, though, the VST is a perfectly cromulent substitute.
Pros: Unique sound. Simple to set up & use. Nothing to break. Doesn’t need tuning. At the time, a cost-effective substitute for a Rhodes.
Cons: Ridiculously heavy. Lid configuration is awkward. No sustain. Prices for used units seems way too high.
Pros: Free. Great sound. Low CPU overhead. Good emulation of the Pianet. And did I mention it’s free?
Cons: Doesn’t respond to velocity.
Cuz, you know, cats & synths go together. Even if cat hair & synths don’t. Jellybean is guarding a lot of broken equipment I unloaded a while ago. Left to right – Korg DW-8000 (dead); Casio CT-310 (broken power jack, bad keys); Ensoniq Mirage DSK (no floppy, intermittent power problem); Kawai K3 (missing keys; no power). With the exception of the DW-8000 they were probably all repairable, but they weren’t worth my time.
The Korg was one of my very few unsatisfactory Ebay transactions. It was listed as “untested but working when it went into storage”. As-is, of course. When I received it, it wouldn’t power up. My hopes for an easy fix went out the window when I opened it. It had clearly been stored in a really damp area for a really long time. Like, say, the bottom of a pond – the case was a solid mass of rust. Contacted the seller, who denied that it was improperly stored and wouldn’t consider adjusting the price. Ah well; live and learn.
Listed the lot on craiglist as non-functioning, and still ended up getting a decent price – lots of optimists out there.
Released in 1987 or 1988, this is one of Yamaha’s Tone Bank keyboards. It’s a two-operator preset FM synth with a couple of voice modifiers, the expected auto-accompaniment, and some really poor drums. Master volume, accompaniment volume and auto accompaniment select are handled by physical sliders on the front panel. The only I/O port is a headphone jack.
Most of the front panel is taken up with the voice list:
|00 Piano 1||25 Alpenhorn||50 Classic Guitar||75 Gurgle|
|01 Piano 2||26 Tuba||51 Jazz Guitar||76 Bubble|
|02 Honky-tonk Piano||27 Brass Ensemble 1||52 Folk Guitar||77 Raindrop|
|03 Electric Piano 1||28 Brass Ensemble 2||53 Hawaiian Guitar||78 Popcorn|
|04 Electric Piano 2||29 Brass Ensemble 3||54 Ukulele||79 Drip|
|05 Harpsichord 1||30 Flute||55 Koto||80 Dog Pianist|
|06 Harpsichord 2||31 Panflute||56 Shamisen||81 Duck|
|07 Harpsichord 3||32 Piccolo||57 Harp||82 Babydoll|
|08 Honky-tonk Clavi||33 Clarinet||58 Harmonica||83 Telephone Bell|
|09 Glass celesta||34 Bass Clarinet||59 Music Box||84 Emergency Alarm|
|10 Reed Organ||35 Oboe||60 Brass & Marimba||85 Leaf Spring|
|11 Pipe Organ 1||36 Bassoon||61 Flute & Harpsichord||86 Comet|
|12 Pipe Organ 2||37 Saxophone||62 Oboe & Vibraphone||87 Fireworks|
|13 Electronic Organ 1||38 Bagpipe||63 Clarinet & Harp||88 Crystal|
|14 Electronic Organ 2||39 Woodwinds||64 Violin & Steel Drum||89 Ghost|
|15 Jazz Organ||40 Violin 1||65 Handsaw||90 Hand Bell|
|16 Accordian||41 Violin 2||66 Synth Brass||91 Chimes|
|17 Vibrapone||42 Cello||67 Metallic Synth||92 Bell|
|18 Marimba 1||43 Strings||68 Sine Wave||93 Steel Drum|
|19 Marimba 2||44 Electric Bass||69 Reverse||94 Cowbell|
|20 Trumpet||45 Slap Bass||70 Human Voice 1||95 Synth Tom 1|
|21 Mute Trumpet||46 Wood Bass||71 Human Voice 2||96 Synth Tom 2|
|22 Trombone||47 Synth Bass||72 Human Voice 3||97 Snare Drum|
|23 Soft Trombone||48 Banjo||73 Whisper||98 Machine Gun|
|24 Horn||49 Mandolin||74 Whistle||99 Wave|
To change voices you need to use a dedicated keypad type the number in. There is no Up/Down button for stepping through the programs. On the positive side, there IS a large display which shows the currently selected voice. There are buttons for sustain and vibrato, as well as portamento, which seems like it would be cool but has a fixed glide rate that’s disappointingly long. Good for sound effects, not so much for music.
The sounds are good, particularly in light of the crappy drums. Since it IS an FM keyboard, things like brass, organs, and bells are quite serviceable, while more natural sounds like the various guitars, piano, and woodwinds are a little lacking. The short keyboard is a definite disadvantage with some of the patches, particularly the basses.
The drum patterns each have a dedicated button:
Tempo is adjusted with a pair of up/down buttons. Synchro start, start/stop, and a fill-in button are the only other rhythm controls. As mentioned, the drums sounds are thin and the basic patterns are very simple.
I’m not now nor have I ever been a big fan of circuit-bending, so a given keyboard’s suitability for such doesn’t really interest me. However, I was able to determine that this model is indeed bend-able, and in fact at one point there was a MIDI interface manufactured that worked with it. If you don’t mind losing the voice list, there’s plenty of room to install switches & knobs.
Pros: Sounds are good, and the sustain and vibrato buttons add some interest. It’s nice to have physical volume controls instead of up/down buttons, and being able to see the currently selected voice is great.
Cons: Weak, boring drums. Portamento is useless. Short keyboard length is limiting. No line out.
Bottom line: This isn’t really a noodling keyboard; if you’re going to use it you’ll just play it. As I go through my keyboard collection over the next few months, I’m getting rid of some and keeping some. This one is a tough call; I may need to start a third pile.
The original manual: PSS-170
Demo song: Yamaha PSS-170 Demo Recorded with no effects. The voices are cycled through randomly, including percussion and sound effects, so it’s a little odd in spots.
This is a list of the hardware prices I monitor, mostly on Ebay. Craigslist isn’t all that great a source for info as the listings show asking prices, not what things actually sell for.
I do not include broken or as-is items. I disregard included accessories and shipping costs. I do not include most modified instruments – an MG-1 with a MIDI interface would not be included, nor would a DX-7 with the E! Grey Matter upgrade. I do include the Europa version of the Jupiter 6, though.
There aren’t a lot of newer or high-end instruments for a couple of reasons. First, the plethora of model variations makes establishing a baseline nearly impossible. For example, how many Triton/Fantom/Motif variants exist? And second, I’m just not that interested in newer equipment.
Averages based on data from 12/5/2011 to 12/18/2011
I’ve owned or own several of these. The SH-101, Juno-60, and Jupiter 6 I’d consider “classics”, even if I can’t really understand the high prices currently commanded by the first two.
The Microkorg and X50 both still available from dealers at full retail price, but there is a strong secondary market. The Poly-800 has been steadily increasing in price; a couple of years ago they could be had for around $100.
The MM-6 is also a current product. The FB-01 is old, limited, noisy, and uninspiring, but it’s still a good source for decent FM sounds on the cheap.
The Mini price is, I think, a bit higher than it normally would be due to a low volume of sales.
Here’s another one where I can spot a couple of trends. The CZ-101 is down quite a bit, while both the VL-1 and SK-1 are up.
It’s my intent to update these every couple of weeks, and I’m open to suggestions as to other equipment to include. Within limits, of course…I don’t really want to become the official Blue Book of keyboard values!
Saw Devo at the House of Blues in Atlantic City Friday night. Awesome, awesome show. And that’s not just my own admittedly biased judgement – a friend of our who’s seen them many times said it was the best show he’d seen. One silly note – we were riding the escalator up to the second floor, and coming down on the escalator next to us was Mark Mothersbaugh. It was one of those “Did we just see…?” kind of moments. And yes, like deranged stalker fans we immediately took the down escalator and tailed him into the restaurant, but we also had enough empathy to not actually go up to the table. Can’t say it wasn’t tempting, though.
The opening act – Trippple Nippples – was…well, different. Sort of a manic combination of twisted performance art and a Bow Wow Wow revival, with completely incomprehensible rhythms – instead of 3/4, 17/3 might be more likely. Typical lyric- “I love my LSD! Scream till your eyes bleed!”. And although there was no shooting of warm Bailey’s Irish Cream from fake rubber mammaries, it was outrageous enough to have a gentleman behind us screaming gentle encouragements such as “This sucks!” and “I hope you all die!” and “Get off the f***ing stage!!” Classy, that one. They were energetic, and in front of a crowd not composed largely of what appeared to be middle-aged IT professionals, would probably have been received more warmly.
Devo came on at 10. We were on the main floor; apart from being closer to the stage it’s much nicer to be able to dance if the spirit moves you. The set list was a great mix of old and new – for me, I’d have been happier if they’d played MORE of the new album instead of just the three songs they did. Regardless, it was fantastic. They played straight through for almost two hours with multiple costume changes. Several of the songs had full videos played on the giant screen behind them and the audience was regularly pelted with with energy domes, shredded radiation suits, bananas, corn chips, and super balls. During the finale of It’s a Beautiful World, Mark Mothersbaugh left the stage and Booji Boy sang the second half. The (corrected) set list – the original post had one incorrect song and some in the wrong order.
- Don’t Shoot
- Peek-a- Boo
- What We Do
- Goin’ Under
- That’s Good
- Girl U Want
- Whip It
- Planet Earth
- Secret Agent Man
- Uncontrollable Urge
- Jocko Homo
- Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
- Gates of Steel
- Freedom of Choice
- Beautiful World
Thing that surprised me – Didn’t realize the House of Blues is actually inside the casino, accessed by the longest most nausea-inducing escalator I’ve ever been on.
Thing that sucked – The foul-mouthed moron yelling during the opening act.
Thing made of Win! – We started out a fair distance from the stage, but what with dancing and crowd circulation, ended up about ten feet away, which almost feels like having the band in your living room. Yeah, and their drummer kicked serious ass.
Released in 1987, the CT-510 is the full-sized relation of the MT-500 and MT-520 mini keyboards. The immediately distinguishing feature of this particular family is the group of large drum pads on the front panel. Less obvious are rear panel inputs for a pair of DP-1 external drum pads, with an additional input on this model for bass drum pedal. Additionally, there are front panel sliders which allow you to change – or turn off entirely – the various drum sounds in the auto-accompaniment. You can, for example, turn off the snare and trigger it manually using the front panel pad.
The pads in the picture are NOT mine. They do come up on Ebay from time to time, typically selling for $20-30 per pair.
Left-side controls include rhythm selection, accompaniment type, a fill-in button, part volume controls, and the aforementioned SuperDrums (!) slide switches. Keeping in mind the standard level of expectations for any Casio product, the drums are pretty good. The ability to change the various parts even while playing is a definite plus.
|Bank 1||Bank 2|
|Rock 1||Rock 2|
The right side contains the tone selector, and the minimalist sequencer controls.
|Bank 1||Bank 2|
|Jazz Organ||Pipe Organ|
|Funky Clavl||Synth. Sound|
The tones are all pretty much standard for a keyboard of this particular time period. The organs are usable, if uninspiring, and the flute is pretty good. The pianos and guitar, not so much – very muted, with not much in the way of a solid attack. Funky Clavl (sic) is probably my favorite. The onboard speakers aren’t bad.
Now, this is NOT normally a keyboard I would have purchased. I try to avoid the full-sized units as I don’t have the space, and the features aren’t different enough from the MT-520 I already own to justify it. However, there were a couple of interesting things about this one that caught my eye. First, it came in the original box with the original packing material, music stand, AC adapter, and (albeit somewhat beat-up) vinyl cover. And second, they sent me the two pieces they could find of the original Casio stand – the upper cross-piece and the all-important and difficult to find lower panel, with the Casio logo. For me, that was worth the price of admission.
Pros: Full-sized keyboard. Good on-board speakers. External drum pad inputs. “Super Drums” rhythm variations. Small sequencer.
Cons: Mediocre sounds. No voice effects (sustain, vibrato). No sustain pedal input. And the front panel drum pads give a distinctive look, but for musical purposes they’re not very useful.
Bottom line: It’s fun for a couple of hours of noodling, but I don’t think this one is gonna be a keeper. Try and get the stand parts away from me, though!
In 1987 when IBM introduced their new PS/2 computer lineup, mixed in with all the fancy new machines was a nondescript add-on card called the IBM PC Music Feature. Retailing for about $495, it was essentially Yamaha’s 4-operator FB-01 FM synthesizer on a card, coupled with a MIDI interface. Around this time I was working as a hardware tech in a computer store in New Jersey. They had actually had a system set up with the Music Feature, a Yamaha YPR-9 piano, and whatever the heck the software was that ran the card (I know it WASN’T Play/Rec; beyond that I don’t have a clue).
Since I’ve been interested in electronic music forever, and since no one else in the store had a clue what to do with it, I talked the owner into letting me take the system home occasionally. So when they finally had someone who was interested in purchasing a complete setup, naturally they had me do the demo. Those were the days…they sold a $3500 computer with a $500 sound card, based on my dubious selling skills and a badly programmed version of the Miami Vice theme. I did cheat, a little – in addition to the computer, I also had a Casio CZ-101 doing the guitar parts. Not that anyone noticed, of course.
The customer wanted a really good keyboard – he didn’t like the dinky piano we were using (well, neither did I). Given a (literal) blank check, I went to Sam Ash in Edison and picked out the Kurzweil K1000 as a controller. If I could never actually own one, at least I could visit with it for a while.
And visit I did – I loved it. Loved the keyboard action, loved the look, and loved the sounds. As I recall I sold at least two other complete systems, and each time the K1000 was carefully and thoroughly tested for as long as I could possibly justify it.
Flash forward to, well, now. Although the K2000 series and beyond are firmly established as classic high-end high-power machines, the K1000 series faded quickly. They would show up on Ebay from time to time, usually for a couple of hundred dollars but always with outrageously high shipping. Which only makes sense as they’re made of things like real metal and weigh a ton. But I read craigslist… a lot. And about twelve seconds after one was listed a few weeks ago, I got it.
I have an absolute limit of $100 on any single piece of kit. Although I have a lot of equipment, my cheap nature (or thriftiness) means that most of the things I buy have something wrong with them. But in this case, I got the K1000, the stand, both original pedals, a copy of the manual, and the power cord, for that same $100. The only defect at all – which I didn’t even notice until I was reading up on the unit – was the backlight was bad.
Although it’s not really a big deal, my eyes aren’t all that great anymore. There are a number of approaches to this, but since I found a guy on Ebay selling replacement EL panels for $25, I went the easy route.
Working on this is a dream. It’s big, well-made, solid, and logical.
From left to right, the processor board, the keyboard logic board, and the power supply. There is a lithium backup battery, but it’s very intelligently mounted on the power supply PCB instead of, say, the middle of the programmer board (yes, Korg, I’m looking at you).
This is the panel board which contains the LCD display.
Sorry about the odd colors – it’s a new camera & I haven’t figured out all the settings yet. Here’s the actual LCD panel with the LCD removed from the circuit board and the EL panel visible, and the replacement EL panel. I used flush cutters to snip the two leads on the existing panel, tinned the little copper tabs on the replacement, and soldered it in as quickly as I could to avoid melting the covering.
This is the panel after the install. Which you could see in the first picture if the flash hadn’t gone off. You may also notice the display looks a little odd – I initially installed the LCD upside down, which offset the element contacts and shifted the letters over one row. Memo to self – magic markers are our friends.
I also took the opportunity to clean the inside and out, checked all the connections, made sure the backup battery was holding a charge, and tested all keys, all switches, and the pitch & mod wheels. There are no other problems.
And it still sounds awesome.