Monday, August 30, 2010

Roland Juno-60, Keyboard 1983


Roland Juno-60 synthesizer advertisement from page 35 of Keyboard Magazine January 1983.

This advertisement ran throughout the first half of 1983 in Keyboard. For the month of January, the ad appeared on page 35, but for the rest of it's run (February to June) it ran on page 7.

The ad resembles the Juno-6 ad I just blogged about very closely. In fact, a reader already familiar with the earlier Juno-6 ad may inadvertently pass over this one while turning the pages of the magazine. That problem aside, Roland does rightly focus on the Juno-60's main upgrade - the addition of patch memory. They even provide an up-close photo of the memory section of the front panel. Full points for that one.

An interesting observation - The Juno-6's I've seen (including the ad photo in the previous blog post) have the words 'Polyphonic Synthesizer JU-6' written on the lower-right side of the front panel. Similarly, the Juno-60 synthesizer in this ad has the words 'Programmable Polyphonic Synthesizer JU-60" written below the memory section of the front panel. But, in some images of the Juno-60 I've seen online, the 'JU-60' is missing. Roland must have dumped that last bit when it didn't catch on.

Anyways, one of the best Juno-6/60 articles I've found online was originally published in the September 2008 issue of Performing Musician written by Gord Reid. After a brief introduction and synthesizer history lesson, Gord gets right down to business extolling the virtues of both machines. And its not just the technical references that I like - he's obviously played extensively on both synthesizers and thus is amply qualified to provide some great insight into not only the operation and sonic abilities of each synthesizer, but tips and tricks as well.

Gord saves the best for last. If you scroll down right to the bottom of the page, he lists off some tech specs that the Jupiter and Juno synthesizers apparently have in common:
"In Roman mythology, Juno was the wife and sister of Jupiter. Reflecting this, Roland's Juno and Jupiter families of synths are also closely related. In particular, there are many common components used in the Juno 60 and the Jupiter 8. Both have oscillators built from standard ICs, both have Roland's dedicated IR3109 filter chips, both have BA662 amplifiers, and both have IR3R01 envelope generators. Given that the two instruments reside at the opposite ends of the market (flagship mega-synth at one end versus low-cost, affordable synth at the other), this degree of commonality is remarkable, and it demonstrates that the two synthesisers have much more in common than might otherwise be apparent."
Roland was truly the victim of bad timing. As explained by both Gord, and on the Juno-60 Wikipedia page, there is a reason why Roland had to quickly come out with this upgraded version of the Juno-6.

Around the time that Roland first released the Juno-6, Korg came out with their more technically advanced Polysix - a similar synthesizer, but one which also including external control and patch memory.

In fact, to add insult to injury, when the Roland Juno-6 was first proudly announced in the Spec Sheet section of the June 1982 issue of Keyboard magazine, Korg kicked Roland's own TB-303/TR-606 advertisement out of it's coveted front-inside cover space for that month - a spot Roland had held pretty much exclusively since March 1980.

Ouch.

Korg's replacement? Four delicious pages of advertisements. A Mono/Poly ad which folded out to display a two-page Korg family ad inside it, and on the opposite page is the Juno-6's nemesis, a Polysix ad.

Quadruple Ouch.

Roland's engineers must have got the message.

They quickly added 56 memory patches and their own proprietary digital communication buss (DCB) for externally control, and screened on a '0' to the end of the synth's name to create the Juno-60.

I know I've been fixating on Spec Sheet promos lately. But since I included it for the Juno-6 in my last blog post, I figured I'd end this blog post with the Juno-60's Spec Sheet text. The 60's Spec Sheet promo appeared in the January 1983 issue of Keyboard, the same month this advertisement first ran.
"The Roland Juno-60, an expanded version of the Juno-6, is a six-voice polyphonic synthesizer with a programmable patch memory capable of string 56 programs. Like the Juno-6, it has a five-octave keyboard with a seven-octave range, a single digitally-controlled oscillator for each of the six voices, VCF, HPF (high pass filter), VCA, LFO, arpeggiator, transposer, and other features. It also has a full memory protection, a foot pedal option for changing programs, and a digital communication buss with a standard computer connection jack designed to interface the Juno-60 to digital sequencers and other computer-controlled devices. Dimensions are 41" (94 cm) wide, 4-1/2" (10.5cm) tall, and 15" (38cm) deep. The unit weighs 26.4 lb (12kg). Price is $1,795.00. Roland, 1022 S La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. "
Excellent!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Roland Juno-6, Keyboard 1982



Roland Juno-6 synthesizer advertisement from the front-inside cover of Keyboard Magazine July 1982.

This advertisement ran in Keyboard magazine during mid-1982, pretty much as this TB-303/TR-606 ad was winding down. I especially enjoy the photo of the Juno-6 with it's subtle pre-Photoshop lens-flare effect that can be seen above the first four led lights. I also enjoy this photo because it was the beginning of a Juno-based color scheme that would be carried on to grace the front panel of my favorite Juno-series synthesizer - the Juno-106.

Whenever I think of the Juno-6, I think 'DCO' - digitally controlled oscillators.

More to the point, I think back to the 'glory days' of the Internet and the number of questions, statements, comments, quotes, feelings, outbursts, and unsubstantiated criticisms about Roland's DCOs that took place in music stores, on stage, in back alleys, on rec.music.synth, and in mailing lists like Analogue Heaven.

Apparently Roland really hyped the 'digital' in DCOs when they first released the Juno-6. Surprisingly, its not even mentioned in this advertisement. Of course, now, if you see a Juno-6 or any other DCO-based synth for sale on eBay, it will almost *always* have the word 'analogue' next to it. Just to make sure potential buyers know they aren't getting a DX-7... :o)

I did a quick Google search on Roland's DCOs so that I could explain to readers exactly what they are, and found a great technical write-up on the subject by Tom Wiltshire on electricdruid.net. His page explains Roland's Juno Series DCOs in a way that even *I* can understand. I couldn't stop reading!

Basically, the Roland DCO is "an interesting hybrid design" that "although digitally controlled and digitally stable, the oscillator produces a true analogue output".

That pretty much sums it up.

You can read more about how they work on his Web page, but I thought I would jump right to the end where Tom finishes the page with the advantages and disadvantages of DCOs:
Advantages
  • All oscillators remain in tune between voices, even if the master pitch drifts. This is highly unlikely since it is a digital crystal oscillator.
  • Waveforms generated are genuine analogue waveforms, with no digital stepping.
Disadvantages
  • Oscillators always start a note at the same phase.
  • All oscillators are phase-locked to the master clock.
  • Much effort and circuitry is expended to keep the RAMP output level constant.
And he goes on explain his opinion on the DCO issue, and in the end states:
"Still, this technique provides true analogue waveforms and digital stability and tuning, without any of the aliasing issues that come with digital oscillators. This surely makes it a valid approach. Rather than use the 8253, a modern solution might be to implement a similar system using the 16-bit timers on a microcontroller like the AVRs or PIC series."
A modern solution!?!?! We need more people like Tom... :o)

One issue before this advertisement appeared in Keyboard - June 1982, Roland announced the Juno-6 in the Spec Sheet section.
"The Roland Juno-6 is a six-voice polyphonic synthesizer with a digitally controlled oscillator circuit for greater stability, an arpeggiator with rate and mode controls, and a digitally controlled key transposer. Control features in the DCO section include variable pulse, sawtooth, and square wave sub-oscillators (all of which can be combine with one another), LFO modulation, PWM modulation, a selector for manual, envelope, or pulse width modulation, and a noise generator. In the LFO section, features include rate and delay time sliders and a trigger mode selector. The VCF section includes a high pass filter and a 24dB/octave lowpass filter with cutoff frequency and resonance controls, envelope modulation amount slider with an inversion switch, and other features. A two-mode chorus generator thickens the sound to two different degrees of intensity, which may be combined to produce vibrato or, when using the stereo outputs, stereo panning. Price is $1,295.00. Roland, 1022 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035."
BTW - the June 1982 issue of Keyboard is one of my favorites. The feature article that month was 'The New Synthesizer Rock' and featured pages and pages of phone interviews with Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, Layne Rico and Scott Simon of Our Daughters Wedding, Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber of the Units, David Ball of Soft Cell, Richard Barbieri of Japan, Chas Gray and Stan Ridgeway of Wall Of Voodoo, and Peter Principle of Tuxedomoon.

Just for the heck of it, I did a Google search and (sure enough) found the article transcribed online at synthpunk.org.

Definitely check it out!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Roland TB-303 and TR-606, Keyboard 1982

Roland Bassline TB-303 and Drumatix TR-606 from inside front cover of Keyboard magazine April 1982.

I know, I know... been there, seen that. I posted this scan a while back, and the ad has been scanned by many others and has appeared on numerous sites including MATRIXSYNTH.

But I never blogged about the ad, and it seemed like a good time since I had just posted the Roland Rhythm Machine brochure that came out later that same year. It made me start hunting around old Keyboard magazines to see what new and exciting 303/606 information, if any, I could dig up in order to contribute to the Internet's ever-expanding knowledge about these two units.

And there is already a considerable amount of information out there - especially as far as the TB-303 is concerned. Wikipedia, Vintage Synth Explorer, and synthmuseum.com all have some great reference info, to name but a few sites. And then there are all the acid house Web sites out there. I'll never even try and 'go there' in a blog post.

The TR-606 has its fair share of fans to. Again, you have Wikipedia, as well as many other sites including, but definitely not limited to, Hyperreal and Vintage Synth Explorer.

But, one thing I haven't seen online is Keyboard's TB-303/TR-606 Spec Sheet promo info transcribed or posted anywhere.

And it turns out that their Spec Sheet promo is a goody. Remember that Jupiter-8 Spec Sheet promo that I had transcribed for a recent double-page JP8 ad post? This 303/606 promo is just as long, and just as informative from a historical perspective. It appeared in the same issue as when this advertisement started to appear - April 1982, and is jam-packed full of good reference info.

I've separated out the content into paragraphs to make reading more enjoyable :o)

"Two new products from Roland are the TR-606 Drumatix and the TB-303 Bassline.

The TR-606 Drumatix is a portable, fully programmable rhythm device that is useful for live performance, songwriting, and recording. The unit allows the user to program any rhythm desired, and program as many as 32 separate patterns containing seven different drum sounds each, with accents.

The 32 rhythm patterns are broken into two groups of 16, each called up by its own switch with one additional button for pattern group selection. Programming is done either in real time by utilizing the unit's tap switch or out of real time by means of a step programming method.

Written and stored in computer memory, rhythm patterns can be used to form entire percussion compositions via the unit's track write function. A total of eight tracks, seven of 64 bars each and one of 256 bars. A chaining feature has also been built into the instrument which allows adjacent rhythm patterns to be linked together for more complex arrangements.

A programmable D.S. function allows for repetition of verse and chorus sections as many times as required; a D.C. Bar programs the repetition of the entire track upon completion; and two separate trigger outputs and a DIN sync connector by which the TR-606 can be connected to a variety of digital sequencers and synthesizers are included.

The unit is battery-operated and includes a self-contained headphone amp for on-the-spot composing and monitoring at any location. A soft case for protection is provided. Price is $395.00.

The TB-303 Bassline is another of the ProForm (programmable performance) line of instruments from Roland. It is a fully self-contained bass synthesizer with a 3-octave range. Features include two waveforms and controls for VCF cutoff, resonance, envelope modulation, decay, accent, and overall tuning.

The TB-303 lets you program bass lines the same way that the TR-606 lets you program drum parts, that is by breaking them down into one-measure segments that are called bass patterns. The unit contains sufficient memory to hold up to 64 different bass patterns and also as a key bias function that can raise the key of a programmed bass pattern. This feature is useful in many rock and blues song formats that have repeated bass patterns following a I-IV-V type of progression.

Patterns are programmed for pitch by using the selector switches as you would a piano keyboard. After the pitch values are programmed, timing values can be added to each note either in real time (by tapping the rhythm out on the tap switch) or out of real time through a step programming method. Programmed notes can be accented for slap-style sounds, they can slide from one note to another, or they can be tied over two or more steps to obtain longer note values.

Like the TR-606, the Bassline features track writing and playing, with each track being up to 64 bars in length. Programmed tracks can be synced with the TR-606 through a DIN sync input jack for coordinated programmed bass and drum tracks. The unit also has the D. S. and D.C. features found on the TR-606 that serve to enhance flexibility and conserve track memory. The TB-303 is battery-operated and includes a self-contained headphone amp. A mix input allows other instrument like the TR-606 to be daisy-chained to facilitate remote use without the necessity of the mixer. The unit also comes with a soft carrying case. Price is $395.00. Roland, 2401 Saybrook Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90040."

The Roland Rhythm Machine brochure I blogged about last week had a small paragraph dedicated to the TB-303, and it gave some indications (such as that 'instead of strings' comment) that the company really, really, really, actually expected the TB-303 to replace a live bass player.

If there was any doubt, comments from the Spec Sheet text above such as "this feature is useful in many rock and blues song formats" and "programmed notes can be accented for slap-style sounds" has gotta confirm this. Anyone who has actually heard the TB-303 will tell you:

Definitely great for electronic bass, blips, and drones.

Definitely not a substitute for a real bass player.

End of story.

So, back to the ad itself.

Roland had pretty much owned the front inside cover of Keyboard magazine for quite some time with gear such as the JP-4, Saturn-09, RS-09, TR-808, and finally with that awesome 'Understanding Technology' double-page Jupiter-8 ad that ran for most of the second half of 1981 and into January 1982. A Roland VK-9 ad that had been running concurrently with that Jupiter-8 ad elsewhere in the magazine, took over this coveted front-inside cover ad-space for a couple of months, until it was finally given to this TB-303/TR-606 ad in April '82, running for the next three months or so.

The advertisement itself is a bit different than previous Understanding Technology ads - probably since they wanted to differentiate these two products as part of Roland's ProForm Series of gear.

But 'ProForm' as an identifier didn't seem to really go anywhere. I would suspect that maybe the SH-101 and MC-202 might have been contenders at some point in some Roland Marketing Department's 'big picture' flow chart, but it looks like Roland dropped the term and decided to go in a different direction. The Roland Rhythm Machines brochure came out only seven months later, and the ProForm identifier doesn't seem to be mentioned at all.

I'll keep looking for other references to the ProForm series, but I'm doubting I'll find much. I think it was all just swept under the rug. If you know of any, let me know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Roland Rhythm Machines TR-808, TR-606, TB-303, CR-8000, and CR-5000 brochure, 1982





Roland Rhythm Machines brochure featuring the TR-808, TR-606, TB-303, CR-8000 and CR-5000, as well as a few special guests including the Jupiter-8, Jun0-60, Juno-6 and SH-101.

Whoa!

This is one of my favorite brochures of all time! I've wanted to share it for a while - but was waiting for a larger scanner. And this piece of art deserved the wait.

But, while this brochure is definitely awesome in all its awesome geariness (I just made up that word), it is also kinda awkward. It's like watching a re-run of Meerkat Manor, knowing that the cute little happy, cuddly, family is about to be taken down by a big predator.

And by that, I mean MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

All the information provided in this brochure pre-dates the launch of MIDI technology by less than a year. According to Wikipedia's MIDI page, by the time this brochure came out, talks between the manufacturers were well underway, and the protocol must have been pretty much hammered down. Additionally, Wikipedia's MIDI 1.0 specs page tells us that when the specs launched in August 1983, they included MIDI clock as part of the protocol.

And MIDI clock = the future of sync

But it's like Roland didn't want to let the clueless 303, 606 and 808 know that they were about to be drop-kicked into closets for the next half-decade or so, so the brochure cheerfully and colourfully pushes Roland's own soon-to-be-outdated DIN-sync technology for syncing not only the 606 with the 303, but also with Roland's older cv/gate sequencers such as the MC-4 Microcomposer (launched around 1978) and CSQ-600 Digital Sequencer (launched around 1980).

And it's in Roland's best interest to keep up this promotion - they already had a lot of DIN-sync technology out in the wild, and had to keep pushing it right to the bitter end.

Of course, the change-over to MIDI didn't happen *that* quickly. And, as we all know, in the end the 303, 606, 808, and a multitude of other pre-MIDI gear got the last laugh. Most are now prized by musicians, DJs, and producers around the world, commanding ever-increasing prices, and spawning imitations by many other companies, including Roland.

So, it ain't all bad for this little family.

This brochure was just one of many in Roland's "We Design the Future" set of brochures that ran during the first half of the 80's. Luckily for us, Roland dated all their brochures during this time period and so we know *exactly* when these came off the printing press to see the light of day. You just need to check out the back page - bottom right corner - to know that this one was printed in Japan in November 1982.

The brochure, in a word, is simply gorgeous (okay, two words), and includes everything I've always wished for in a brochure:
  • Full-colour
  • Great photography highlighting the front panels
  • Line drawings of the back panels showing all the in's and out's of each machine
  • Technical/reference information for each piece of featured equipment
  • Funky ad-copy
As mentioned above, the TB-303 kinda took on a life of it's own later in life (see it's Wikipedia page if you live under a rock), but it's great to be able to look back and see just how Roland was trying to originally position the 303 in the marketplace:
"Roland introduces the world's first computerized bass machine, the great new Bass Line TB-303. This remarkable little unit covers three full octaves. Instead of strings, you use keys to program bass patterns. Up to 64 patterns can be created for use anytime. And, like a bass synthesizer, you have full control over resonance, envelope modulation and other important factors influencing sound quality. When used with Roland's TR-606, you can play bass and drum patterns at the same time. Completely portable, the TB-303 runs on either battery or AC line voltage and comes completely equipped with its own carrying case. A headphones jack is also provided as standard."
"Instead of strings"!!! I love that!

It really gives you a good idea of where the industry, and Japan especially, was trying to go at the time. Smaller. More portable.

Interestingly, Roland's advertisements in Keyboard magazine didn't really match up with their "We Design the Future" brochures from around this time period. Roland was just winding down their "Understanding Technology" campaign that had been running in Keyboard for quite a while - like this two-page Jupiter-8 advertisement. They were also running this "Special Product Report" advertisement. And during the first six months of 1983, Roland switched over to an ad featuring their Juno-60.

Anyways, I'll touch a bit more on Roland's transition to MIDI in future blog posts. I doubt anyone is still reading anyways - not with such a yummy brochure to drool over...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Farfisa Soundmaker, Contemporary Keyboard 1979



Farfisa Soundmaker digital synthesizer half-page advertisement from page 60 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine December 1979.

Never heard of it.

I was going to end the blog post there for two reasons.

1. I thought it would be funny (and, for the record, true).

2. So that I could spend the rest of the day playing video games and generally do nothing.

But there was something about this synthesizer advertisement that kept pulling me back to the computer. Maybe it was the unique look of the machine with those gray-scale buttons lining up in a row above the keyboard - if I know my gray-scale, those buttons scream 'rainbow' colours in real life. Or maybe it was the fashionable word 'digital' that was dropped into the main title, an attempt by Farfisa to distinguish the Soundmaker from SCI's and Oberheim's offerings at the time. Or maybe how cute it is to see the word 'poli'. Or maybe the Canadian contact info. Or... :o)

This rare half-page advertisement seems to have first showed up in Contemporary Keyboard in the December 1979 issue of CK and then appeared very sporadically over the next year and a half. I've blogged a bit about that December 1979 issue during a Yamaha CS-related ad post because the cover of the mag included a classic photo of Wendy Carlos, together with a great 15+ page interview with her. I've read through that interview a number of times and I can't believe I've never noticed the Soundmaker ad that appeared on one of those pages of text. Or may that was exactly the reason I didn't notice it - too busy reading.

Sure enough, it is one pretty-looking beast. Vintage Synth Explorer's Soundmaker page probably has one of the best images available, along with a nice summary of the machine.

Till Kopper's Web site also has a pretty good image of the machine, but what makes his Soundmaker page great is the vast amount of reference information he has decided to share online, including lists of all the preset sounds, some operational info (split modes, aftertouch), a bit of technical info, and a peppering of his own subjective observations.

According to Hollow Sun's Soundmaker page (created as part of a 'donations' sample collection where users can donate samples to the Zero-G 'Nostalgia' virtual sound module), the "obscure" instrument wasn't that successful "stacked up against the Prophet 5, the Oberheim OBs and, of course, other string synth hybrids such as the ARP Omni", and that Farfisa "lacked the clout to promote the product aggressively in a highly competitive market".

I have to agree. As far as I can tell, Farfisa wasn't aggressive at all with the promotion of their Soundchaser, or any of their other synthesizers for that matter. At least on this side of the pond. They didn't market nearly enough to get me used to putting the words 'Farfisa' and 'synthesizer' together in the same sentence. A quick jump to Farfisa's Wikipedia page confirms that few others string those words together either. The first thing you will notice is the lack of synthesizer information - pretty much all you get is "... and later a series of multi-timbral synthesizers."

Was Farfisa thinking that they could rely on musicians to keep the Farfisa name going, like they did earlier with their electronic organs? Maybe they should have taken a lesson from ARP and given away a few of the Soundmakers to some of the big musicians. Chick Corea endorsed *everything* at the time. But maybe he didn't even want it. :o)

I took to YouTube to try and find a video of the Soundmaker with some good audio. Turns out video footage of the instrument is almost as rare as the Soundmaker itself. I found one 9+ minute video that includes a very good sound demonstration.

Unfortunately the makers of the video decided to get all artsy and make the video black and white, so it can be hard to get a good up-close look at anything in particular. No, wait, that's not even B+W. They seemed to have turned the 'pretentious' knob to eleven and went straight for sepia. Geeez.

The first half of the video includes some hand-held camera-work of the internals of the instrument, but Mr. Hands located a tripod for the second half of the video, for some close-up keyboard playing and red hot slider action.

But I shouldn't complain, at least I get to see something while I listen...

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Some would say the name of the synthesizer is half the battle when marketing. 'Soundmaker' just doesn't cut it in a world rife in Prophets, Avatars, Chromas, Taurus', and the like.

As my GF just joked, why not just call it the 'Shelfsitter'.

Okay, maybe I should have stopped after "Never heard of it". The bad weather here is just making me grumpy now.

Apologies to all the hard working video creators out there (I do appreciate all the work that goes into producing those videos), to Farfisa, and the Soundmaker in particular.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Moog Prodigy, Contemporary Keyboard 1980


Moog Prodigy synthesizer advertisement from page 91 of Contemporary Keyboard February 1980.

This advertisement is an oldy but a goody. It was Moog's introductory ad for the Prodigy, and ran from late-79 into the mid-80s. It's fabulous because it doesn't follow the standard format in any way, shape or form.

Title-image-copy format... Nope.
Clear, idiot-proof ad-copy... Nope.
Giant logo and/or gear name... Nope. In fact, your eyes have to go looking for it.

And that is why it works for me!

Introduced in the holiday-packed November issue full of your standard black and white ads such as those for the Korg MS-20 and Octave Kitten/Cat 'SRM', this ad (and to be fair a few others) definitely stood out. It made you stop and read. And think a little while you were at it.

The best feature of this ad is the connection between the definition text 'a highly talented child' and the main tag line 'It lives up to its name'. It is a perfect fit - they don't even have to mention the Prodigy's natural father - the Minimoog.

And thus we come to the reason for this post (I scanned the image early last year - but never blogged about it).

I've just become infatuated with the Moog Prodigy. I very briefly had one back in the early 90s, but sold it fast as lightning when my chance to buy a local Minimoog came up. I didn't know much about the Prodigy at the time, and I just didn't get a chance to delve head-first into it's programming before it flew out of my hands.

I do recall that my Prodigy had that old-school Moog feeling about it. It wasn't anything hardware-wise - the knobs, the switches. It just 'felt' familiar, if that makes any sense. Poor thing sat uncomfortably next to my Moog Source - the complete opposite in design and feel (what a difference a year or two makes). Unlike the Prodigy, the Source took the word 'futuristic' to a whole new level. The Source would have looked right at home on the set of the film "Logan's Run" (which, btw, has been in the running for a remake for the last decade).

But now my Mini is in the shop and the verdict is out on whether it can be fixed without the loss of an arm and/or leg . I have to admit that while waiting for the estimate, I've started to get a bad case of gear-lust when a Prodigy showed up on eBay... In Canada... No customs hassles... :o)

Time to do a bit of digging to see if the Prodigy could possibly be a quick fix.

A Google search brings up a few sites with some good reference material - but surprisingly little for such a popular synthesizer. According to Wikipedia, about 11,000 were produced, mostly during the first half of the 80s, with at least one model update that allowed the VCF to be controlled by an external source. I can't recall if mine had that feature or not.

The synth's specs are well documented on Wikipedia, as well as Vintage Synth Explorer. Heck, you can just look at the front panel in the ad photo - what you see is what you get. Basically two VCOs sporting saw, triangle and pulse, 24dB low-pass filter and VCA, both with ADS envelopes, LFO, portamento, pitch+mod wheels and a 2.5 octave keyboard.

A simple, standard monophonic synthesizer that looks good on paper. But how about the sound? How does it compare to the Minimoog?

Well, apparently I'm not the only one trying to compare the Mini to the Prodigy. A May 2010 post on Synthtopia led me to this video on YouTube that pits them against each other.

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A few blogs posted this video, along with their two -bits of commentary. Switched On Synthesizers summed it up with:
"To my ears the Prodigy sounds brighter but the Minimoog has warmer sound. If you think that on the second hand market a Moog Prodigy costs 1/4 of the price of a Minimoog it's not a bad choice to buy a Prodigy and save the difference to buy other equipment ( please don't kill me for saying this )"
A fair point?

Moogmusic.com's forums recently had someone looking for a Prodigy as well. One of the members (and fellow Canadian!) suggested buying a Litty Phatty instead. I have to say I've thought of replacing my older synthesizers with 'compatible' new synthesizers if/when they become available. The Voyager as a replacement for the Minimoog. Litty Phatty for the Prodigy (and the Mopho for the Pro-One for that matter!).

Wait. Did I just go from trying to decide whether to purchase a Moog Prodigy as a quick fix, to now replacing a Minimoog (that may or may not be broken) with a Voyager and a Prodigy (that I sold in the early 90s) with a Little Phatty?

Seriously - that is one bad case of gear-lust.

But I do hesitate to give up the past without a fight. Is it cost? Inherent value of history? Just 'cause? I'm not sure why.

I'll think about it some more while I play on my $60 Monotron :o)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Octave-plateau Electronics Inc. family ad, Keyboard 1981



Octave-plateau Electronics Inc. family of gear advertisement including Catstick synthesizer controller, and "The New" Kitten II and Cat SRM II synthesizers from page 39 of Keyboard Magazine 1981.

I'll get to the advertisement in a second, but first - can you believe it? Go to start the computer to scan in this ad, and my computer wouldn't boot. And I haven't backed up any of my scans for about four months. *Panic*

I did manage to get the computer going again, but a reminder to everyone - BACK UP YOUR STUFF!

I've haven't spent as much time blogging about Octave/Octave-plateau ads as I have with some of the other gear companies such as Moog or ARP. But, there is a bit - so, some history first.

Octave's first set of ads in Contemporary Keyboard were... well... very original with their enjoyable custom illustrations, and then they did the musician-photo thing for a while. But it wasn't until Plateau joined the team that they started to focus more on the gear in the photos.

And now with this rare advertisement, I've jumped a little bit ahead in the Octave-plateau time line because I like this ad so much. As far as I can tell it only appeared once or twice in Keyboard (I'm missing an issue here and there during this time period).

Normally I would be bloggin' all over this ad - there is just so much to talk about. The messaging, the gear photos, even the font used in the title "Second Generation Technology". But, as I was flipping through issues to see just how often this advertisement ran in Contemporary Keyboard... er... I mean Keyboard magazine...

Wait? What?

Yes, July 1981 was the issue that Keyboard Magazine dropped the word 'Contemporary' from their name. And not only that, they also dropped the 'All Styles - Amateur and Professional' tag-line as well. A tag line that had been positioned above the magazine title for quite a while.

I decided it was time to look back at the evolution of the Contemporary Keyboard masthead.

Here's a summary of the evolution:

November/December 1975


March 1977
Thickened up 'KEYBOARD' type-face. Widened the flair in the
stem of the 'Y', much like the fashion in pant legs at the time


October 1977
Added the keyboard keys image on far left


August 1978
Changed 'The Magazine For All Keyboard Players'
to 'For All Keyboard Players'


April 1980
Removed 'For all Keyboard Players' from the top right,
and added 'All Styles - Amateur And Professional' above
a much smaller 'CONTEMPORARY' type-face


July1981
Masthead changed to 'KEYBOARD' and stem of the
'Y' is narrowed (skinny pants are back in style!)


It's really interesting to see the slow change over time up of the CK logo (until the big 'Keyboard' change in July 81. One of my theories is that as the cost of technology continued to drop, more and more amateur musicians were able to afford gear. Add that to the fact that synthesizers were becoming more and more common in music as well. And although CK had included the tag "The Magazine For All Keyboard Players" since the very beginning of the magazine, I'm thinking the magazine wanted to make sure that the growing number of amateur musicians were being recognized on the cover, without loosing sight of the 'professional' musician either.

But, the big change to 'Keyboard' in July 1981 was the most interesting of them all. Most people I know called it 'Keyboard' magazine anyways, and simpler usually is better. This final change makes total sense.

The communications professional in me always wants to know the reason behind big changes, so I thought it would be interesting to see just how the magazine positioned the July '81 change with readers. I was sure Jim Crockett, the publisher of CK at the time, would mention something in his monthly introductory column.

But when I took a quick look at the 'From the publisher' piece, I surprisingly found NOTHING related to the change.

Could the magazine have dropped 'CONTEMPORARY' in the name without a mention anywhere? That would never happen in today's world. The change would probably be a trending topic on Twitter, and a Facebook group devoted to bringing the original name back would have been created in under 24 hour of the mag hitting mailboxes. Maybe even before.

I contact Jim Crockett, now part of Dameron Communications, to ask him about the changes, and although he doesn't recall the reason behind the April '80 change, it turns out that from the very beginning he wanted the magazine to be called 'Keyboard':

"I originally wanted to call the mag Keyboard, but a tiny mag for teachers had that line tied up as a part of its title (which I don't remember). So I went to Contemporary (smaller type face) Keyboard until their copyright/trademark expired (or maybe the publication itself did). As soon as I was permitted to, I dropped Contemporary and got the name I originally wanted. I never mentioned it, hoping it wouldn't stir up any legal snags."

Excellent! If you look at Jim's columns, there is some evidence that the name change was on its way prior to July. As late as December 1980, Jim was referring to the magazine as 'Contemporary Keyboard' or 'CK' in his column. But in early 1981, he started referring to the magazine as 'Keyboard', even though the title was still officially Contemporary Keyboard.

Possibly even more interestingly, two other subjects came up in his publisher's column that month:

1. Jim mentions that Keyboard and sister Guitar Player magazines were selected as two of the five finalists in the hobby magazine category of the Maggie awards. He gives us a great statistic as well - that music is 'more than a hobby for 2/3 of' CK's readers. Not sure if that bodes well for my theory that a lot more amateur musicians were reading the magazine. Hmmm...

2. Jim announces that 2,000 randomly selected subscribers would be receiving a detailed questionnaire asking for their opinions about the publication, musical preferences, equipment and vital statistics. Change was definitely underway in the industry, and Keyboard wanted to make sure they were remaining relevant to their audience.

I did look back a bit further at some of the other masthead changes to see if there were any mentions in the magazine when they occurred. In the April '80 issue, when the 'All Styles - Amateur and Professional' tag-line was added, publisher Jim Crockett does slip it in to his column:

"You may have noticed that our cover is a bit different this month. You didn't? For shame! We spent hours working on it. The cover story is a more important CK first, though..."
Nice segue! :o)

Anyways, time to run. And I guess I never did get around to blogging about this ad - just got too into the CK history. I'll have to save that for another day. Now it's time to go enjoy the weather and think about a better back-up solution for my scans.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Roland Jupiter-8 two-page ad, Keyboard 1981


Roland Jupiter-8 two-page advertisement from the front inside cover of Keyboard July 1981.

No, this isn't another case of deja-vu. I first posted this scan back in April 2009, but I never blogged about it. And recently came across something that just had to be put down in writing. Well... on the Internet in writing. But I'll get to that in a second.

First, some of the specifics. This Jupiter-8 ad first ran in Keyboard Magazine starting in July 1981, and continued for seven months until January 1982, when it was then replaced in the February '82 issue with a VK-09 ad.

But, this wasn't the first Roland advertisement to take up the coveted inside-front-cover space. Roland had been a frequent flyer of the front-inside cover since they first took over the space in March 1980 with a short-lived Jupiter-4 ad. A few different ads for Roland gear, including the Saturn-09, TR-808, and RE-501, also appeared there before the Jupiter-8 started its relatively long run.

A month previous (and with perfect timing), Roland got their Jupiter-8 promo into the SPEC SHEET section of the June '81 issue. And this wasn't a normal promo. This Spec Sheet description has to be in the running for one of the longest descriptions ever. And I'm not complaining. The length of the description only goes to show you just how much the JP-8 had to offer.

Luckily I'm a fast typer - although, maybe not that accurate. In the magazine, it is one long paragraph, making it difficult to read. I've divided it up accordingly... :o)
"The Jupiter-8 is an 8-voice, 16-oscillator analog synthesizer. Each voice includes two VCOs, both a highpass and lowpass filter with selectable 12-or 24dB/octave slopes, an LFO with polyphonic sample-and-hold and programmable delay function, two ADSR envelope generators (one with an inverting function), and a key follow option to allow a note's shape to lengthen in proportion to its pitch height with way many acoustic instruments do naturally.

The JP-8's programming facilities have the capability to store and recall 64 different patch programs. Any patch in memory may be edited by moving any control in real time. An edited value may also be written into memory as a correction to a patch. A cassette interface allows you to store patches on standard cassette tapes for later retrieval. For expanded flexibility, specific smaller portions of memory may be dumped and reloaded into any memory position needed. A Verify function allows taped programs to be checked as correct before the JP-8's internal memories are altered, which is a useful safety feature.

The unit's five-octave keyboard may be grouped in three ways. In Whole mode, it operates as one 8-voice polyphonic instrument, while the Dual and Split modes divide the JP-8 into two 4-voice instruments that may be assigned different patches. Split mode divides the keyboard into Lower and Upper sections. Dual mode activates two patches for each key depressed. Two patches may be assigned either manually or with one of the eight patch preset selectors. These can be pre-programmed to recall any pair of the 64 available patches with a single motion.

The instrument's computer also provides an arpeggiator function which arpeggiates (up, down or in both directions) the notes being held on the keyboard. The arpeggiator includes four range and direction options and may be assigned to the entire keyboard or to the bottom of a split keyboard, leaving the top end free for soloing, accompaniment, or effects work. The clock of the arpeggiator can be synced with an external clock such as that found in any one fo the Roland Compu-Thrythms (CR-68, CR-78, TR-808).

Also included in the synthesizer's range of features are a polyphonic portamento with a split keyboard option, a pitch-bender, and various LFO controls.

The output section of the instrument includes both balanced and unbalanced jacks. Separate outputs are supplied for the upper, lower, and mixed outputs, and the level is adjustable for either 0dB or -12 dB. There is also a headphone jack with a level switch on the back panel of the unit. Roland, 1285 Mark St., Bensenville, IL 60106."
I like that fact that Roland even got a plug in for their Compu-Rhythm gear - including the TR-808! Good job, Roland!

I decided to Google Map the address.


View Larger Map

I couldn't really tell you if that is the same building, but there is definitely a structure still standing there. Maybe I should go one some sort of tour and document all the old buildings?

Or is that creepy-weird? Yah, probably.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moog Taurus Bass Pedal Synthesizer (aka Taurus 1) introductory brochure, 1974


Moog Taurus Bass Pedal Synthesizer (aka Taurus 1) introductory brochure from 1974.

'Available November, 1974' <-- what a great piece of historic info. Most of the Taurus online references I've come across, such as Synthmuseum.com, Vintage Synth Explorer and Wikipedia, give a launch date of 1976 - not 1974 as presented in this brochure.

Granted, this info sheet was printed prior to the launch of the product and it wouldn't have been the first (or the last) time a synthesizer had been late getting into production. But, this brochure does give us some indication that at least at one point in time, the Taurus was *supposed* to be launched as early as 1974. And, just as importantly, that they had a prototype of the machine pretty much nailed down.

There are a few clues as to why I think the instrument in the photo is a prototype. And the changes made between this early design and the final model were definitely to the machine's (and user's) advantage.

1. The design of the Loudness and Filter pedals: Every Taurus I've come across has pedals like mine - each one has 2" x 2.5" of solid ridges with only one slopped end (the end with the writing on it). The pedals in the ad-photo are divided into two halves, each with a slopped end. Advantage: Having only one slopped end has got to provide at least a 1/2" more foot contact.


Photo from MATRIXSYNTH

2. 'Sustain' foot-switch: What is usually labeled the 'Decay' foot-switch on Taurus units I've come across, is labeled 'Sustain' in the ad-photo. In Moog-like terms, I think 'decay' usually refers to a decay time and 'sustain' refers to a sustain level. Even within the 'Programmed Preset' controls, the Loudness controls include a 'sustain level', and next to it is a 'decay' control. Advantage: My guess is that the name change was to keep things from getting all-around confusing for the operator.



3. The colors on the Programmed Preset controls: All the original Taurus controls I've seen are white, except for the three red 'loudness' controls. Although you can't see 'color' in the photos, the shades of the controls are clearly reversed (light<-->dark), and were maybe even black and white. It might have been that they were changed for the ad-photo, but if so, why not make them all white so they would all be easier to see in a black and white photo.
Advantage: Red and white controls are much easier to see on stage than the mostly black controls featured in the photo.

4. The vertical text beside each Programmed Preset control: In the photo, the vertical text beside each of the controls appear to be smaller than on the Taurus's I've come across. You can see this really well on the last three controls - the Contour Amount, Attack and Decay controls. In the production Taurus's, the text is so large that it passes the 0- and 10- markings. In the photo, the text doesn't. Advantage: The larger text is easier to read.

5. The screened-on brackets flanking the 'PROGRAMMED PRESET' control text: In the ad-photo, the bracket corners appear square, but in the pedals I've come across, they are all rounded. Advantage: Pure style. The rounded corners compliment the rounded corners of the boxes surrounding foot-switches.


Photo from MATRIXSYNTH

If those clues don't scream PROTOTYPE, I don't know what would. But, maybe it is just an early model and there are some out in the wild. Let me know if you see one!

Before I sign-off I have to mention that whenever I look at this brochure, two other things always jump out at me.

The first is the original name - 'Taurus Bass Pedal Synthesizer'. The name was quickly shortened, both by musicians and officially by Moog in future brochures to 'Taurus Pedal Synthesizer'. I kinda thought the word 'Bass' was a nice touch in the initial name, and much more descriptive.

The second, and much more important thing that jumps out at me is how small the Taurus logo is. The Moog logo is so big on the brochure, but that awesome Taurus 'bull' logo only appears as an almost unrecognizable blob (or a jumping cat? :o) on the two photos of the pedals - once on the front, once on the back. You can't even make out the twirl in the bull's tail.

I can't fault Moog for wanting to hammer home the fact the Taurus was a Moog product during this introductory phase, but someone should have really pushed for equal billing between the two. At least the logo got equal billing (albeit both are relatively small) on the front panel of the instrument.

Moog obviously figured out the bull image was a hot commodity after the launch, and enlarged the logo significantly in later brochures. Also on the Taurus II itself, where there was a lot more room.

Now, the big question is, where is that Moog Taurus logo tattoo going to look best? Next to the Oberheim logo? Next to the ARP logo? Next to the Aries logo?

I guess I still need to get those first, eh... :o)