Monday, May 31, 2010

Yamaha GS1 (GS-1), Keyboard 1981



Yamaha GS1 synthesizer advertisement from page 27 of Keyboard Magazine August 1981.

This GS1 introductory advertisement by the G. Leuenberger Company appeared once in Keyboard Magazine a full four months before Yamaha came out with their own ad introducing *the* grand-daddy of FM synthesis. I have to ask myself - How could Yamaha have let them scoop such an important advance in commercial synthesizer history?

Yup. The G. Leuenberger Company. I'd never heard of 'em. Until now.

But before I say a bit more about that, a little introduction of the GS1 is in order.

The GS1 was Yamaha's first commercially available synthesizer based on FM (frequency modulation) synthesis. And within two or three years, that preset FM technology had been repackaged for 1/10th the price in the DX7 - the first commercially successful programmable synthesizer and one of the best selling synthesizers of all time.

And so I ask the question again. With such a monumental technology breakthrough at stake, how could Yamaha let the G. Leuenberger Company get the word out first?

Well, I think at least part of the reason is that the technology was so new. The mindset of the day was that you needed a PhD in physics and/or a large bank account to program an FM synthesizer. Until there were programmable synthesizers out there, no one really needed to know much about how FM worked.

So, the GS1, and the next few FM synthesizers Yamaha released were all presets.

But someone had to program those presets. And you will see that is where G. Leuenberger comes in.

Or at least, I assume this is the same Leuenberger... it would be the weirdest coincidence in the world if it wasn't.

According to the online encyclopedia at associatepublisher.com, the original GS1 programming engineers from Japan couldn't too many musical sounds out of the beast.
"The Japanese engineers in Hamamatsu failed to create more than a handful of pleasing sounds for the GS1 with the 4-monitor programming machine, although one of them was used on the recording of "Africa" by Toto. At one point, Mr. John Chowning was invited to try to assist in creating new sounds with FM Synthesis. He came to the Yamaha R&D Studio, and spent a long time trying to make the FM theory result in a useful musical sound in practice. He gave up by the end of the day.

Thereafter, a select group of prominent studio synthesists was hired by Yamaha to try to create the voice library for the GS1 (with that same programming tool). They included Gary Leuenberger (who at that time owned an acoustic piano outlet in San Francisco), and Bo Tomlyn (who later founded Key Clique, a third-party DX7 software manufacturer)."
That's gotta be the same Leuenberger.

And it makes him the perfect person to introduce the GS1 (and FM synthesis) to an American audience, not only through his demonstrations at NAMM, but through his store and in this advertisement as well. With or without Yamaha's backing.

(Also - unlike many other synthesizers around at the time, it probably didn't look that out of place in his piano store either. :o)

The ad itself does a great job of down-playing the rather complicated FM side of things - in fact, FM is only mentioned once in the whole advertisement, and only in relation to the 'vast spectrum of sounds' the technology is capable of. The rest of the advertisement is all about allowing the 'performer to concentrate on being a musician, not a programmer' - velocity sensitivity - after touch - simple front panel control.

Gary Leuenberger's name pops up a lot online, not only for his contribution to GS1, but synthesis in general.

According to the IEEE Global History Network's page on the Yamaha DX-7, Gary was also involved in programming the DX-7 as well:
"Apparently many DX-7 users found programming the device too difficult, and preferred instead to use the preset voices provided with the instrument. The credit for programming these voices goes to two individuals, David Bristow in the United Kingdom and Gary Leuenberger in the United States. The two developed a range of “voices”—imitation of bass guitars, brass instruments, bells, marimbas, the sound of a Fender Rhodes electric piano, and numerous special effects."
A post on MATRIXSYNTH from June 2009 also mentions an auction that included information on Gary's involvement in a CS80 patch guide.
"Gary Leuenberger Patches Demo CD - This has been transferred from a cassette tape. It is an audio tape that discusses, in detail, the best way to utilize Gary's Patch Guide per patch. It's noisy, has noticeable channel crosstalk and overloads at points. However, The CD provides very detailed examples of his famous patches, how to create them and, more importantly, how to play them. If you follow Gary's instruction, you will get a unique look at some ways, in which, Gary uses initial and aftertouch and how he puts the CS80's envelopes and ring modulator to good use."
An episode of Computer Chronicles that featured 'MIDI music' includes some good footage of Gary demonstrating some Yamaha synths as well as a sequencer and a drum machine.

You can view the Google Video below (Gary comes in around 2:50).
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The best thing about writing this blog is finding out the back-story of so many synthesizers and the people that were involved 'behind the scenes' - programming sounds, creating advertising campaigns, etc.

I think people like Gary deserve a lot more credit than they get online.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ARP family of products, Contemporary Keyboard 1976



ARP Family of Products advertisement from page 24 and 25 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine, May/June 1976.

ARP took a very interesting approach with this two-page ad.

The two previous issues of CK included an ARP 'family' advertisement that focused squarely on ARP's road-reliability, along with a good-sized helping of classic name-dropping.

Then they come out with this advertisement. Although it starts off with another big dollop of name-dropping, it soon takes a totally different sales approach than the previous ad.

ARP first points out a few facts about performance and quality. Never one to pull a punch, they take direct aim at Moog with the ever-popular slider-vs-rotary argument:
"ARP slide controls outperform hard-to-read rotary knobs".
(Moog's response: "Just try to accurately tune an all-slider instrument!")

ARP continues the attack on many of their competitors with:
"We build ARPs with expensive, industrial-grade circuitry. You won't find any chrome-plated plastic or paper based circuit boards inside an ARP."
Kapow!

With the bad-cop routine over with, ARP then goes into the soft-sell approach by providing a few educational facts, letting you know how easy it is to learn to play an ARP synthesizer and how you can grow your studio by 'adding-on, not trading in'.

And then. Finally... they hit you with the real pitch.

Buy our manuals for only a couple of bucks and see for yourself.

Like I said - it is an interesting approach and a common sales technique I've seen used in stores and at trade shows. Always try and put whatever you are selling into the hands of a potential buyer. And if you can't get the real thing in their hands, get the info into their hands.

In this case, ARP is enticing readers to buy an ARP manual BEFORE buying a synthesizer. Let's get this straight... they aren't asking you to send in for a free brochure with a bit of promotional material - they are actually getting readers to spend real cash on a manual. And once a reader has an ARP manual in their hands, it will be much easier to convince that reader to buy an ARP synthesizer.

I've bought enough synthesizers in my lifetime to know that I can justify a purchase if I've convinced myself I've done the research. And if I've spent money on that research, I can now convince myself to call that research an 'investment'. :o)

Smart thinking on ARP's part. And even smarter to sell 'learning synthesis' books that focus on their synthesizers. The more I think about it, the more I like this ad.

But you know what I like most about this advertisement?

It's like my own personal checklist of ARP stuff. Seriously - if you are into ARP paraphernalia like I am, this ad pretty much spells out some, if not most, of the great stuff that was available from ARP at the time. Even better is that the list in the advertisement is a great starting point for online searches for more information.

Take the first item in the order form: "Odyssey - Learning Music with Synthesizers". Over 200 pages of experiments and electronic music discussion based on the ARP Odyssey! One quick Google search and you are taken straight to the comprehensive Web site arpodyssey.com. That Web site provides images of the covers of both the first and second editions, and goes on to describe the book:
"Part I of this book is a theoretical introduction to the the science of synthesizers. Part II is a hands-on guide that walks you through principles learned in Part I on the actual ARP Odyssey. Part III gets into experimentation and studio techniques (admittedly of the 1970's).
Now I know exactly what to look for in my eBay search. :o)

Yup - the more I think about it, the more I like this ad.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Moog Minimoog Brochure 'The INstrument of the Pros...', 1972





Moog Minimoog brochure entitled 'The INstrument of the Pros...' from 1972.

Do not adjust your television set... (or in this case, computer monitor). Bright red, pink and yellow really were the colours Moog chose for this four-page brochure.

When this brochure was designed and printed in 1972, Moog's Minimoog had only been out for a year or two and the compact synthesizer market was far from saturated. Most synthesizer's keyboards were still considered more of an attachment or accessory. :o)

The Minimoog did have some competition around this time. The ARP Odyssey and the EML ElectroComp 101 were about to launch, if they hadn't already. But the ElectroComp 500 and Roland SH-1000 were still a year or so away.

So, why did Moog go so crazy with the colours of this brochure?

Well, Moog didn't go 'completely' crazy. In fact, those colours were quite 'IN' at the time. Just like the tagline Moog used on the cover of this brochure - 'The INstrument of the PROs...'.

Bright, strong colours were really hot in 1972. You just have to look at Andy Warhol's Red Cow or Mao Tse-tung to see how splashes of colour were being applied over top of black and white images.

The designer used a similar technique to punch up the excitement in what would otherwise be a pretty sedate brochure. On the front cover, the colours are used as a candy-striped backdrop, a popular design element at the time. On the inside pages, the vibrant yellow and pink lines draw your eye through a collection of smaller, random black and white images. The lines are the only reason those photos can be tied together to create a balanced frame for the large central photo of the Minimoog in all it's glory.

If you don't believe me about the trend in colors, you just have to look back at your childhood set crayons. 1972 was the year, according to Wikipedia's Crayola Crayons page, that eight fluorescent colors were introduced into their crayon box, including 'Shocking Pink' and 'Laser Lemon' (renamed Ultra Pink and Chartreuse in 1990).

So, the brochure was really just playing into the design and creative style of the day.

And the exuberant creativity of the pop culture era was translated into the ad-copy as well. Take a look at that first paragraph:
"Brutal, caustic, volcanic - Evocative, flirting, caressing - Crisp, powerful, biting - Entrancing, embracing, exhilarating! Extend the stuff your music is made of with the MINIMOOG, a true Moog synthesizer which opens exciting new dimensions of expression to the creative professional. "
Really? Caustic...? Caressing...? Embracing...? Wow. Crazy stuff.

So, bring all that creativity and brash optimism together, and then on top of that, mix in the pre-clip-art artwork of that little, gentlemanly, 'well-bred' composer dude that pops up four or five times, and how could someone in 1972 not be inspired?

And/Or confused. :o)

BTW, it would be another five years or so before the Sex Pistols would jump on the hot-pink bandwagon with their shocking pink and yellow (or pink and green, depending on where you live) cover for the album 'Never Mind the Bollocks'.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5, Contemporary Keyboard, Synapse 1979



Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-5 advertisement from page 8 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine February 1979.

Um... er... how do I put this. It is *really* nice out this week. Warm and sunny. In May. In my part of the world this is a big treat. So, I'm gonna try and keep this short so I can go back outside an enjoy this early summer surprise.

This colourful advertisement ran in most issues of CK from February to October 1979 as well as in the May/June 1979 issue of Synapse (in black and white).

This is the first full-colour advertisement that SCI put into CK. And they took an interesting approach.

In both the early 1978 Prophet-5 introductory ad and the singular late 1978 Prophet-5 stop-gap (my description) ad, SCI used the common Title->Tag Line->Gear Photo->Ad Copy->Logo format. But in their first full colour ad, SCI took full advantage of the Prophet-5 itself. Using the stark contrast between the black & white front panel/keyboard and the lovely wood-grain body of the Prophet-5 keyboard as the main focus, they stretched the photo to the absolute edges of the magazine page.

And normally I'm a fan of a big front-and-centre logo, but SCI took great care to put the white tag-line text in the only black space of the page, which then naturally draws the eye horizontally across the page to the logo on the photo. Nice touch.

The only other text on the page is right at the bottom. But don't fear that it will get lost, because the wood grain finish that separates the front panel and the keyboard draws the eye directly downward from the logo to their action item - send $1 for a demo record.

Now, I don't know how much of the above was strategic and how much was a happy accident. But I do know it worked for me. I also know I would have sent away for that demo record.

Many companies were offering both vinyl and soundsheet records at the time, including this ARP Avatar ad from 1978 that also asked you to send one buck to get their demo record.

This Prophet-5 soundsheet has two pieces on it:

Part I - Performed by John Bowen, recorded at Music Annex, Menlo Park, California.

Yes, that John Bowen - he worked with Dave Smith at SCI and programmed the original 40 factory sounds in the Prophet-5 - as well as for many other synths. He was also involved in the creation of many of my other favorite synthesizers including the Wavestation and the Z1.

Part II - Bach: Simfonia No. 11 - 3 Part Invention Performed by Dan Wyman, Recorded at Sound Arts, Los Angeles, California.

Micke Lindgren from Sweden scanned and recorded some Prophet-5 material for a tribute Web site a while back, including these images and an MP3 of the front cover, inside cover, and the soundsheet itself.



I emailed him just before posting this to ask him more about the sound sheet and he had this to say:

"The '518782S' is printed on the flexi-disc right above the EVA-TONE logo and I'm suspecting the first five digits refer to the date of print or recording; ie May 18th, 1978. I think I'm right about this because that's about the same time the first P5's shipped from the factory."

Micke also added about the the second piece of music on the sound sheet:
"Dan Wyman, who performs the lovely Bach piece, is the same guy who wrote the Moog modular manual back in the mid '70s. He also wrote a couple of synth reviews (P5 and CS-80) for the Synapse magazine in the late '70s.

Dan learned synthesis under Paul Beaver in the late '60s and was one of the co-founders of Sound Arts studio in LA. His credits include synth-programming (often done on a Moog modular) for Giorgio Moroder (M√ľnich Machine, Donna Summer, Sparks, Midnight Express soundtrack etc.), John Carpenter (soundtracks), Angel (Greg Giuffria's group), Barbra Streisand, The Beach Boys, Cher, Diana Ross, Devo, Berlin,David Shire (Apocalypse Now soundtrack/rejected version) and many others. Mr. Wyman's feature film composition credits include The Return, Hellnight (in which Dan used the rare original single-keyboard P10 along with a small orchestra), Without Warning, Metamorphosis, and The Lawnmower Man."
I don't think Micke realizes just how much I'm going to be e-mailing him in the future...

Now, time to grab a beer and go sit out on the deck. I recommend Half-Pints Little Scrapper IPA if you are a hop-head like me. And no, I'm not getting paid to promote 'em... :o)

I have a feeling this is going to be a long, hot summer. I'm lookin' forward to it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Sequencer 'Treat Yourself' ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980



Sequential Circuits Inc. Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Sequencer 'Treat Yourself' advertisement from page 11 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1980.

Every now and then I'm flipping through a magazine, and an advertisement so out of the ordinary appears that you just tilt your head and go 'Huh?'.

When I came across this advertisement, that is *exactly* what happened. Put it's surreal dessert-based spread and gastronomically-bent ad-copy together with the fact that the advertisement is exactly 20 years old this month and I think you have blog post. :o)

This was one of the last (if not *the* last) 700/800 advertisement to appear in CK or Synapse. The first 700/800 advertisement push appeared in the June 1977 issue of CK and the May/June 1977 issue of Synapse. The next push came in the form of a single Rick Wakeman-endorsed ad that appeared in the December 1977 issue of CK.

But, looking back, I'm finding the best historical reference information on these two pieces of equipment comes from the news/press sections of the these magazines ( 'Spec Sheet' and 'What's Happening').

As far as I can tell, the Model 800 sequencer only appeared once in the Spec Sheet section of CK, way back in the January/February 1976 issue, almost a year and a half before any 700/800 ads appeared:
"Digital Sequencer: The Model 800 digital sequencer has the capacity to store up to 256 notes in sixteen different storage banks, each memorizing up to sixteen notes. The unit is keyboard programmed (any synthesizer keyboard with voltage and trigger outputs will do), and if extra voltage memories are added, homophonic textures can be produced. Playback speed is variable, ranging from twenty times slower to twenty times faster than the tempo of the original. All sequences are played back with the same rhythmic structure as the program signal. A display counter shows the current note number, and individual lamps indicate to the performer which memory bank is in use. Suggested list price is $795.00 from the Sequential Circuits Company, 7150 Rainbow Dr. #7, San Jose CA 15129."
Luckily for us, the Model 800 was also included in a small one-page review of four digital sequencers (Oberheim DS2a, SCI Model 800, EMS Synthi Sequencer 256, and THINC MMC-1) in the July/August 1977 issue of Synapse, and this provides a bit more reference info:
"The Model 800 sequencer from Sequential Circuits was designed with live performance at least partly in mind. The Model 821 foot pedal initiates start/record, stop/record, and clock on/off functions. On the instrument itself the clock speed can be externally driven for precise synchronization with, say, a click track. Especially useful are the 16 sub-sequencers of 16 steps apiece; the sub-sequences can be instantly selected or strung together by means of the ttoggle switches. Two editing functions are designed into the Model 800. An individual step can be reprogrammed without affecting the entire sequence, and the rhythm can be reprogrammed without affect the pitch values."
The Model 700 fared much better at getting into the news/press sections of these magazines due to the updates that occurred during the lifetime of the machine.

A small write up first appeared in Synapse during the May/June '77 advertising push:
"Sequential Circuits Co. will premier their Model 700 Programmer at the Los Angeles AES convention. The programmer is designed to pre-program small performance synthesizers, resulting in increased variety during a live performance."
Two years later, news of updates to the Model 700 appeared in both the 'Spec Sheet' section of the June 1979 issue of CK and the 'Items' section of the May/June 1979 issue of Synapse.

CK:
"The Sequential Circuits Model 700 Programmer has been updated to include separate trimmers for fine-tuning control voltages to compensate for out-of-tune oscillators. The unit also incorporates a simple cable jack that lets the user connect the Programmer to another synthesizer with only one jack instead of the five or more that were needed previously. This single connector jack can be installed on most synthesizers by a qualified technician. The Programmer lets you store up to 64 patches in memory to be recalled at the push of a button Three quantized control voltages and two five-stage envelope generators are supplied for external control of synthesizers. These are the controls whose setting are stored in memory... Price of the Programmer is $995.00."
Synapse:
"The Sequential Circuits Model 7000 [sic] synthesizer programmer now includes a single plug interface allowing one cable installation with many synthesizers. The plug is already available on the 360 Systems Spectre guitar synthesizer, and installment on ARP synthesizers is offered by the ARP's custom engineering group. The plug can also be user installed. The Model 700 programmer lists for $995...
Surprisingly, there was no advertising campaign around these updates and it wasn't until a year later that this last 'Treat Yourself' advertisement came out.

So, I say it again. Huh? What was up with this ad?

As far as I know, this advertisement only appeared once in Contemporary Keyboard (CK), so my first thought was that this was an anniversary ad of some sort. Maybe the start of the company? But with eight candles, that would mean Sequential Circuits Inc. (SCI) would have started up in 1972. Depending on which Wikipedia article you believe, this may or may not have been the case. The Sequential Circuits page gives us a start date of 'early 1970s'. The Dave Smith page has SCI starting in the 'mid-70s'. Plus, I think they would have mentioned the anniversary in the ad-copy.

Another theory is that the theme might have been chosen for the May issue of CK because of the annual U.S. holiday known as Memorial Day. According to Wikipedia, Memorial Day was enacted to commemorate 'the U.S. men and women who died while in military service'. But (as is probably the case with many holidays around the world) the date was later changed to allow for a three-day weekend (in this case to the last Monday of May) and the day eventually also became 'a time for picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events'. Nothing says 'long weekend' like a icing on a $1000 piece of gear.

My last, and simplest theory, is that there were eight candles because it was the Model '8'00. And as everyone knows from watching Law and Order and Scooby-Doo, the simplest solution is often the correct one. So, I'm putting my betting dollar on this last one.

No matter the reason, the advertisement works. The over-the-top craziness of slapping icing onto a Model 800 sequencer definitely would have made others (including me) stop flipping through the magazine so they could take a closer look.

End note: I'm really hoping someone recreates this advertisement - much like John Van Eaton's response to an earlier EML advertisement blog post that appeared on MATRIXSYNTH.

On second thought... put the icing down!!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

ARP Avatar, Synapse 1978



ARP Avatar guitar synthesizer advertisement from page 11 of Synapse Magazine January/February 1978.

This advertisement answers at least one question I posed back in March when I posted and blogged about an Avatar brochure that used the same design style. If you don't recall that post, go back and read it. I'll wait. I learned some great Avatar history while writing it.

I had questionably pegged that brochure at around 1977, and this advertisement, from early 1978, was obviously the companion piece - letting readers known that for only a buck, they could be sent a demonstration record attached within that brochure. It also possibly explains why the brochure didn't include a large ARP logo on the front. If you were sending in for the brochure because of the action statement in this advertisement, you would have already been exposed to the logo that appears so prominently in this scan.

And - about that scan - I really like the detail in that 'A'. Seriously. The barely visible graph-like lines are fantastic.

So, obviously, if ARP was willing to spend advertising dollars to market to guitar players in an international music magazine such as Synapse, then I would have to say that Synapse was obviously successful in positioning itself to this audience.

And as you know, I've been a bit baffled by this positioning. Why target guitar players in an electronic magazine? But it makes sense that if the biggest problem facing guitar-synthesizer manufacturers was where to place ads to sell their product to their target audience (guitar magazines or keyboard magazines?), Synapse was well placed to lure this audience. And they did it well.

A letter to the editor in the May/June (Summer) 1978 issue of Synapse pretty much sums up Synapse's audience compared to one of its main competitors - Contemporary Keyboard (CK).
"I have subscribed to CK since its beginning, but was never entirely pleased. Don't get me wrong - CK is a fine magazine, covering the entire keyboard spectrum. That, however, is the problem. The material is so diverse that I find little of interest to me in each issue (due to my own restricted interest in the keyboard field, no doubt). Your magazine, as advertised in July '77 CK, looks more like what I want - contemporary, state-of-the-art electronic instruments and modern performers."
I bet a lot of people felt that CK was a bit too broad in scope, and that includes guitar-synth enthusiasts. Many were probably looking for a 'home' - and found it with Synapse's aggressive publishing of guitar-synth articles and advertisements during the explosion of electronic guitar devices that appeared around this time period.

Synapse started a new series of articles on guitar synthesis in the November/December 1977 issue of Synapse that was to include 'nutshell descriptions of most of the currently available guitar synthesizers', with 'future issues to follow in the form of hands-on, road test-type equipment reviews'.

In the January/February 1978 issue, the series featured Leon Gaer and his bass-guitar-synth system that revolved around a 360 System's Bass Slavedriver (yes, they came in a bass version too!). The first paragraph of that article sums up what most guitarists and bassists were probably facing at a time when synthesizer sounds were making it onto more and more records:
"It's not surprising to find that many of the bassists and guitar players using synthesizers are regularly employed studio musicians. When it is necessary to produce the appropriate sound under time pressure one become inventive. How steady one's studio income is can depend on how useful you are to a producer. It helps to be able to do more than simply play an instrument."

The series continued in later issues of Synapse, including a two-page article in the Summer '78 that covered the two basic methods of interfacing used in guitar synthesizers at the time, and an equipment review of the ARP Avatar in the January/February 1979 issue.

And Synapse wasn't the only magazine competing for guitar-synth eyeballs.

A 1/2 page advertisement in the Jan/Feb '78 issue of Synapse for 'International Musician and Recording World' magazine (IMRW) begins in big letters: How much do you know about guitar synthesizers?

And the ad-copy pushed the point home:

"Unless you're an expert you need International Musician and Recording World to explain. In a current issue [IMRW] has gathered together the Roland, the ARP and the Hagstrom and compared them. A panel of famous guitarists was invited to visit and test all three. Afterwords they were privately interviewed about their preferences..."
Also, at the end of my last blog post I talked a bit about 'Device' magazine - a 12-issue newsletter published in 1979 by Craig Anderton and Roger Clay that was directed squarely at "electronic guitarists". Even better, as you know from that last blog post - all the issues are scanned and online.

What? You still haven't gone over to read 'em?

Go to hammer.ampage.org now.

NOW!

Monday, May 10, 2010

BCD Technology Inc's Nebula Guitar Synthesizer, Synapse 1979



BCD Technology Inc's Nebula guitar synthesizer advertisement from page 44 of Synapse Magazine May/June (Summer) 1979.

This was a surprising find.

After my recent blog posts about the 360 Systems/OB-1 and 360 Systems/SEM advertisements from 1978, I started flipping through future issues of Synapse magazine to see just how far the guitar-synthesizer trend continued. Sure enough, not only were the big guns of the guitar-synth world like ARP and 260 Systems continuing to show up in Synapse both in articles and advertisements, new companies like BCD were also jumping onto the bandwagon.

I had never heard of the Nebula guitar synthesizer, so when I first saw this advertisement, I did a quick search to try and dig up some dirt.

I didn't find much.

I first tried looking for information on Wikipedia's guitar synthesizer page, but because the Nebula didn't use a HEX pickup or pitch-to-voltage converter (PVC) , I'm not sure that the Nebula may have actually fit in with this crowd. I'm still doing some deeper research into all the different tech behind guitar-synthesizers in general, so I can't really comment too much on this yet. But will hopefully be knowledgeable enough in this area in the near future.

There is the chance the Nebula was vaporware (although the ad does ask the reader to see their local dealer or write the factory, suggesting to me that the factory was actually creating something). But, my Google Images search (albeit an admittedly quick one) should have turned up at least one photo, no?

The top search results on Google's Web search linked me to a 1979 newsletter called 'Device'. The 'Info' section on page 11 of issue 2:79 provided a short description of BCD Industry and the Nebula:
"A new company has entered the guitar synthesizer/processor market, BCD Technology, Inc. (285 K Sobrante Way, SunnyVale, CA, 94608 - tel (408) 739 2880). Their product, the NEBULA, makes extensive use of the SSM chips designed by Dave Rossum and Ron Dow. The guitar signal is processed directly (no hex pickup, no PVC) and is modified by way of: an input processor (consists of compressor, fuzz, and octave divider/multiplier), a VCF, a VCA, envelop generators, and a parametric equalizer. List price is $795 + options"
Reading this, I completely forgot about the Nebula and became more curious about 'Device'. When did it start? Who was behind it? Why had I not heard of this newsletter?

According to the 'What's Happening' section of the 1979 Summer issue of Synapse, 'Device' was a relatively new start-up newsletter devoted to the electronic guitarist:
"...Craig Anderton and Roger Clay have begun a monthly publication of Device, a newsletter for the Electronic Guitarist/Musician. Included in the format are construction articles, equipment reviews, features on circuit design, and interviews.
What, you don't know who Craig Anderton is? Um.... where have you been? :o)

And want to know something *really* cool? You can find all the issues of 'Device' online. Seriously. Someone at ampage.org has scanned all of them. They aren't readily linked from the home page, but if you go to hammer.ampage.org and go to pages 10, 11 and 12, you can find all issues.

The ampage site describes the newsletter as:
"This was a newsletter for "electronic" guitarists that was published by Craig Anderton and Roger Clay in 1979, and lasted for 12 skinny but deep issues. Lots of useful info and nostalgia inside."
You have to check it out. I know it will keep me busy for quite a while. It's helping me with my guitar-synth tech research *a lot*.

Hint: Issue 12 includes an 'Index' of all the content - great for the reference fanatic like me! :o)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

360 Systems 'The System' - Slavedriver and Oberheim SEM, Synapse, Summer 1978



360 Systems 'The System' advertisement, consisting of the 360 Slavedriver and Oberheim SEM, from page 10 of Synapse magazine, Summer 1978.

Interesting. If you have been following my posts recently, then you know I've been focusing on the 360 Systems/Oberheim partnership. The latest of which was the blog post about the Slavedriver/OB-1 dual advertisement that appeared in early 1978.

But, by the summer of 1978, it seems that 360 Systems decided to tone down the Oberheim connection a bit. Kinda. In a way. Not really? You be the judge.

Gone is the Oberheim logo practically holding hands with the 360 logo, and also gone is the Oberheim OB-1 - replaced in the photo with an Oberheim SEM.

In fact, compared to the Slavedriver/OB-1 ad, even the ad-copy in this ad doesn't seem as 'clingy' to Oberheim in general, and 360 goes as far as to admit that the Slavedriver 'works with most popular synthesizers'.

That's not to say that Oberheim was booted out the door. Far from it. As mentioned above, you still have the photo of the SEM in the advertisement, and the smaller photo even includes them nicely tucked into bed together in an Anvil case (ask your dealer...). The ad-copy also includes all the reference info for the SEM.

The most interesting part of this ad to me is the fact that 'The System' now consists of the SEM rather than the OB-1. But I think the prominent inclusion of the Anvil case in the ad gives us a hint as to the first of two reasons why the switch was made.

1. Portability.
Lugging around an OB-1 could get a little annoying. But now, you get the same Oberheim sound AND the Slavedriver in one portable case. The only trade-off is that you don't get the easy sound accessibility with the eight memory locations of the OB-1. But, I'm guessing that 360 Systems were finding (or betting) that at least a few guitarists were used to the on-the-fly programming that was common with their non-memory-based guitar pedals.

And the second reason to make the switch to the SEM?

2. Cost. An SEM only cost 695 bones. Quite a bit cheaper than dropping $1895 for an OB-1. 360 Systems must have realized that they were marketing mainly to guitarists that were used to shelling out hundreds of dollars for pedals. Not thousands of dollars.

The 360 Systems' Spectre Guitar Synthesizer

Eventually, 'The System' of the SEM and the Slavedriver merged completely, to become the 360 System Spectre.

MATRIXSYNTH has had a few auction posts in the past that included photos of the Spectre. In particular...
  • A post in November 2006 includes some info on how they had a deal with Oberheim to buy SEMs.
  • A later post in November 2007 also has a great photo of the Spectre.
A quick email to Tom Oberheim helped confirm that they were indeed "custom" SEMs. Tom "knew Bob Easton (President and CEO of 360 Systems) before the Slavedriver because of a mutual interest in electronic music equipment in the early 1970s".

End note: It wouldn't be a retosynthads blog post if I didn't comment on the general design of the ad at least a little:

As far as the design of the ad itself goes, everything is tip-top except the font used for the words 'The System' that appears at the top of the ad, and as subtitles in the ad-copy. It just doesn't seem as endearing or as futuristically timeless as the 'Slavedriver' font to me. Its more 80's futuristic. (Is 'futuristically' even a word?!?)

Plus, the 'echo' design effect used around '360' at the top of the ad also kinda dates the ad a bit.

My 2 cents.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oberheim OB-1 AND 360 System Slavedriver, Synapse 1978



Oberheim OB-1 synthesizer and 360 System Slavedriver guitar synthesizer interface advertisement from page 15 of Synapse Magazine January/February 1978.

Okay, I'll admit it. Now that you see this advertisement, you have probably figured out my last two posts were both part of a set up (I'll get back onto the Steiner-Parker roll in a few more posts). But, I figured I'd better catch up on each piece of gear separately by covering what were at the time the current OB-1 and Slavedriver's individual advertisements, before jumping into the deep end with this awesome piece of advertising history.

In fact, Oberheim's OB-1 advertisement (linked above) appeared in prime real estate in this same issue of Synapse - page 3 across from the Letters section.

Now lets take a closer look at this ad - what can you say except WOW!

You didn't see too many companies pairing up in those days. "The two most respected names in electronic music offer the finest guitar synthesizer system available today".

But Oberheim and 360 Systems knew they could hit a totally new market by combining their individual products. And since both companies were based in Santa Monica, it was probably very easy for them to get together and chat. Cooperation and all that stuff. Very Sesame Street. Very cool.

In fact, it was so unusual to see companies at the time pair up like this that Synapse even commented on it in the previous issue's What's Happening section when they got the news:
"If petty competition has got you down, take heart. A new advertising tact is being taken by 360 Systems and Oberheim Electronics. The OB-1 and the Slavedriver, a programmable synthesizer and a guitar/synthesizer interface, respectively, are being advertised as a package and may represent a first in synthesizer marketing."
And what better synthesizer to plug into your Slavedriver than Oberheim's awesome OB-1 synthesizer? It was one of their newest, less-costly models, had great sound, and could recall all those great sounds you needed instant access to on stage while strutting your stuff with your axe. Synapse's summer 1978 issue spoke of the OB-1 fondly in the What's Happening section:
"Although Oberheim is known by some as the "Rolls Royce of synthesizers", this time they have come out with the economy item model including the luxury options. The OB-1 is a completely programmable lead synthesizer. Parameters that are programmable include VCO tuning, waveform, VCF center frequency, VCF "Q", filter/keyboard tracking, envelopes, sync, noise, cross modulation, and volume. The system includes a switchable 12 or 24 db filter and an 8 patch memory. The $1895.00 synthesizer is available from Oberheim Electronics."
The pairing of these two companies isn't the only thing historically significant about this ad. Take a close look at the photo of the OB-1. The model used in the ad must have been a prototype. Compare it to this product model photo from synthesizers.de.

A few of the differences I can make out include:
  • The prototype has that awesome Oberheim logo above the program section. In the production model, the programmer section was above the logo.
  • The prototype has the 'write' and 'manual' touch-switches in the Program section beside each other. In the production model the switches are in separate top corners.
  • The prototype is missing the freq-wave selector switches below the modulation dials of VCO 1 and 2.
  • VCF section in the prototype is arranged differently than in the production model.
  • The switches in the Keyboard section on the left hand side of theOB-1 is arranged slightly differently.
If the historic pairing itself and the OB-1 prototype don't make this ad awesome enough for you, I'll add one more.

The logos!

Look at them - almost total opposites in style but yet both still standing the test of time and worthy of a tatoo. A big chubby Oberheim logo standing next to that skinny 360 Systems logo.

Almost as if Oberheim's swingin' arms want to go over there and give 360 Systems a big bear hug.

I know I would.