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Synth Price List – June 2012

No major structural changes. More models and a few new vendors added.

As always, the “Range” column represents the year-to-date average taking into account the availability of that particular hardware along with the difference between the high and low prices. A wide range indicates either low sales volume or large gap between the high and low (or both).

Synth Prices – June 2012

VST – The Hohner Pianet-T

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.

So put on your protective headgear as we travel back to the land that land of enchantment, a land of day-glo, unbridled greed, and really big hair – the Eighties!

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.

The inside, showing the pads and tines.

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.

The VST in Sonar. The little silver toggle switch is the only control.

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.

Hohner Pianet-T

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.

Planet-N VST

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.