Monday, March 21, 2011

Korg KPR-77 Programmable Rhythmer, Keyboard 1983

Korg KPR-77 Programmable Rhythmer advertisement from page 9 in Keyboard Magazine January 1983.

When I first started getting interested in analog gear, I totally ignored this thing. I seriously never noticed it. Maybe it was always there, listed beside the 606 whenever the topic turned to small drum machines on Analogue Heaven or on Web site forums, but for some reason or another it was always in my blind spot.

And when I did start to take notice of it, I found that it was often referred to as the KPR-77 Rhythmer. And I couldn't figure out where the "Rhythmer" part came from. So, when I finally saw this ad, everything started to make sense.

Started to...

I originally thought the word "Rhythmer" was strictly some kind of Korg term because I usually saw it associated with the KPR-77, but every now and then I saw it pop up on other gear, like the Farfisa Melodic Rhythmer. And even though Korg calls it a "rhythmer" in the title of this ad, it's not called a rhythmer on the actual unit. So, maybe it's just another generic term to describe rhythm units in other parts of the world?

Anyways, I guess the point is that I think "Rhythmer" is one weird looking word. Make a good band name. Or at least an album title.

I do like this advertisement from a design point of view. It's nicely balanced, with "KPR-77" in big, bold, bright letters against a dark background. And the font the title is sporting is simply spectacular. It's one of those retro-fonts that has a modern feel to it. In fact, the ad as a whole is fairly modern looking.

The photo of the KPR-77 is nice and large too. I'm not sure I like the fact that there is a solid white line running vertically right through it. It doesn't really get in the way of any detail in the photo, but whoever the designer was had some big balls to get away with it.

Interestingly, Korg took the design style from this ad and used it for their SDD-3000 Programmable Digital Delay - font, glowing piece of gear, lots of ad-copy. But another big piece of Korg gear that appeared in 1983 - the Poly61 - didn't use this design at all.

The ad only seems to have appeared twice in 1983 - January and March - so it was a good thing that Korg included a fair bit of ad-copy for readers interested in learning more about the KPR-77. And in some ways, it has even more reference information than the delayed Spec Sheet write up that appeared in the May 1983 issue of Keyboard:
"Korg programmable Rhythm Unit. The KPR-77 Programmable Rhythmer stores up to 48 2-measure patterns, and six 256-measure chains tha can be combined to produce three 512-measure chains. Other features include the ability to program all instruments simultaneously in real time, a cassette interface for external storage of patterns, analog-sound generating circuitry, and AC or battery operation. Sounds include bass drum, snare, open and closed hi-hats, cymbal, high tom-tom, low tom-tom and hand claps. A 7-channel mixer is built-in, the clock can be interfaced to external synthesizers, sequencers, and other drum machines, and there is a stereo headphone out-put. Unicord, 89 Frost St., Westbury, NY 11590."
The most disappointing thing is that neither the ad nor the spec sheet copy mention exactly how this little machine syncs to other gear. DIN-sync! But before you get too excited like I did when I first found out, I quickly learned that it used Korg's 48 parts per quarter note (ppqn) sync, and not Roland's 24 ppqn. But I would just use my trusty Korg KMS-30 to sync it up. I love my Korg KMS-30. :o)

Most forum comments and sites such as Vintage Synth Explorer suggest that the KPR-77 was Korg's answer to Roland's TR-606. But, lucky for Korg, Roland's well-known TB-303/TR-606 ad had stopped running regularly in keyboard six months previously. But because Korg's ad only ran twice in early 1983, I don't think Korg really took advantage of this golden opportunity. And Roland did bring that 303/606 ad back for a one-month run for the holiday season in December 1983 - probably taking some holiday money away from Korg.

One of the coolest links I found online while researching this thing was a custom mod done on a KPR-77 at It included a face lift as seen in the first photo on the page as well as tons of functionality. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to hear some fantastic samples.

But don't get your hopes up that you can get your KPR-77 modded this way. The poster added this paragraph right above the sound examples:
"Unless you want to pay an outrageously obscene amount of money there is absolutely no way that we're doing this again! This was one of those occasions where an initial 'good idea' slowly snowballs into an avalanche of nervous breakdown inducing tweaking ;-)"
Time to buy a lottery ticket...

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