Monday, June 7, 2010

Yamaha GS1 (GS-1) and GS2 (GS-2), Keyboard 1982

Yamaha GS1 (GS-1) and GS2 (GS-2) synthesizer advertisement from page 36 and 37 of Keyboard Magazine January 1982.

Unlike the two previous introductory GS1 ads (the G. Leuenberger Company ad and Yamaha's own ad), this two pager appeared in Keyboard Magazine more than once in early 1982.

The advertisement does two things. First, it introduces the GS1's younger brother, the logically named GS2. Second, the ad builds on the previous ad's themes of simplicity and beauty by keeping the clean layout, as well as the dramatic lighting and shadows that were originally introduced.

In fact, Yamaha's themes are even spell out by 'the three key considerations' that make these keyboards different from every other keyboard:
  1. a philosophy (keeping it simple for musicians)
  2. advanced technology
  3. stunning beauty
I think I gushed over the design of the GS1 as well as the ad itself in the last blog post. So, I'm not even gonna touch #3 above. So, lets concentrate on #1 and #2.

When introducing a new 'advanced' technology, it's sometimes a trade off between trying to keep the human interface simple enough to use while still allowing the user to access and wield the power of the technology itself. In other words, if you want the interface to be easy to use, then you often can't allow the user to do too much without it getting complicated. It just leads to a lot of button pushing and knob twisting - more time being a geek than a musician. And once you make the interface complicated, you scare away many of your potential users (ie: $$$).

In the case of Yamaha, they definitely chose to kept the GS1 interface simple - it was a preset instrument. Push button -> new sound. But the trade off was that a user couldn't do much to change or edit the sounds.

So, if you are not going to let users under the hood, then you may as well keep the explanation of the technology simple as well. Yamaha does just that in the ad-copy of this ad. They explain FM synthesis in under 30 seconds:
"Briefly, FM digital synthesis enables the GS1 and GS2 to precisely recreate the harmonic structure of acoustically produced sounds, as well as many other sounds, by generating a brilliant range of harmonics "all at once". And all without the tedious and expensive drawbacks of other digital synthesizers."
Now compare that to the way Sound On Sound magazine explained the technology behind the GS synthesizers in their August 2001 article 'Yamaha GS1 & DX1 - Part 1: The Birth, Rise and Further Rise of FM Synthesis (Retro)'.
"Named the GS1 and the GS2, these abandoned recognisable synth facilities such as oscillators and filters, in favour of frightening new things such as multi-operator equation generators, 30kHz data rates, and digital-to-analogue converters. What's more, despite offering just two-operator algorithms, the operation of these monstrously expensive machines (the GS1 retailed for £12,000) was a complete mystery to all but the most mathematically orientated."
I'll say it again - I think Yamaha was right to keep it simple in their ads (and in their synthesizers) until the concepts of FM synthesis trickled out through magazine articles. (If only bloggers were around back in 1981... :o)

So, how did someone like Gary Leuenbeger program those presets then? According to's synthesizer reference page:
"The GS1 and GS2 had their small memory strips "programmed" by a hardware-based machine that existed only in Hamamatsu (Yamaha Japan headquarters) and Buena Park (Yamaha's U.S. headquarters). It had four 7" monochrome video monitors, each displaying the parameters of one of the four operators within the GS1/2. At that time a single "operator" was a 14"-square circuit board -- this was of course long before Yamaha condensed the FM circuitry to a single ASIC. The GS1/GS2 programmer's envelope circuitry had well over 50 "break points"...but these proved quite ineffective in modifying sounds, hence the subsequent regress to the analog-synth type ADSR envelope generators in the design of the DX series instruments."
I found some images of a working programmer online on the Memories page of the Dave's Group Web site. Definitely hi-tech-cool looking. Any piece of gear that requires A KEY to turn on is cool.

A blog post on MATRIXSYNTH from two years ago also shows some images of a programmer, and two of the comments below the post stand out for me.

The first comment from Loscha tells us that allegedly only four programmers were ever made.

The second comment is from Carbon111 and he makes a very interesting observation:
"Its kind of interesting the GS1 is a beautiful piece of cabinetwork and its programmer is so "utilitarian"...kind of an odd couple when placed next to each other."
I agree.

And if you compare many of Yamaha's products during this time period, you might notice that some of them fell into the totally retro category while others looked totally contemporary. Even different products within the same company division had no real standard method to their design styles. Or did they?

But that will have to wait until a future blog post.


Unknown said...

Question how much do those GS2's normally go for, we have one in our garage.

OptimisticCurmudgeon said...

I am not sure how much they are worth;

I also have a Yamaha GS2 in fairly good shape; it does need some repair (the tone generator has something wrong because it doesn't make the correct programmed or pre-stored sounds; one time it started working fine again, but I can't guarantee that); I have a complete service manual for it (like new --with all the schematics).

I also have a complete set of all the voice cards along with blanks to make backup copies,etc.

I would like to sell or will consider donation to a legitimate non-profit organization such as a music museum, etc.

It does work as a very decent midi controller / keyboard, but of course thats not really the point of a GS2 -being that is was a very early YAMAHA FM synthesizer with all those classic 80's sounds and great Yamaha keyboard sounds all mixed in.

If interested, please let me know. Thanks!

William Carter said...

I have a Yamaha GS-1 in working condition. The strip reader works and I have two packets of strips. This was Toto's original FM synth and if you look at the Africa video, it is Mine that you are looking at. I'm wondering what something like this is worth on the global keyboard market? William

OptimisticCurmudgeon said...

I finally got my GS-2 working with a great amount of help from Doug @ We worked together to find a battery-backed memory that will store the voices. They were able to reload 16 voices into the CPU board (since my card reader doesn't work--I am still trying to fix it). Doug hopes to create a daughter card for GS2 (maybe GS1 too) since many of these keyboards work but the card readers have failed and some of the chips are hard to get.

I am still interested in selling my GS2 or donating it to a good cause.

@William Carter.. these are very rare and I would think the GS1 would be very valuable if still working. I am not sure how to assess value, but you could let synth ark know as they have a museum and may know if someone is interested in one. I have 3 books/ volumes of the sounds if interested, so I may have some you don't have. Let me know.

Unknown said...

OptimisticCurmudgeon, do you still happen to have any presets strips?
Thank you,

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