Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prelude "Fully polyphonic instrument" ad, Keyboard 1983

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prelude synthesizer 1-page advertisement from page 23 in Keyboard Magazine April 1983.

Update: Added to Sequential Circuit's advertising timeline.

When looking around the Web for info about the Prelude, one particular item of interest always seems to pop up. No matter where you look you'll no doubt come across it:
They all mention the fact that the Prelude was built in Italy by Siel and was known as the OR400 aka "Orchestra 2". Internally, they were virtually identical - you can find a good comparison video of the two keyboards on YouTube by Bob Weigel of Sound Doctorin' .

This wasn't the first time SCI had partnered with the Italian company. According to SCI's Wikipedia page, a couple of years earlier the Fugue was designed by SCI (see comment by Micke) and built by Siel. But Similarly, with the Prelude, it looks like Siel had already built the keyboard, and SCI had slapped on its own front panel design and logo for US consumption. ARP had also done a partnership or two with Siel as well.

I contacted Dave Smith, award winning synth guru, "father of MIDI", head honcho of Sequential Circuits, and now kickin' out new synths at Dave Smith Instruments, what was up with Italy back then...
"Italy was a major center for organ companies back then, when home organs were big business. So, there were many keyboard companies like Siel, who expanded into other areas like professional keyboards."
... and how the partnership with Siel came about. Who contacted who...?
"Our marketing and sales guys back then wanted to add some products to our line, so they contacted Siel about private-branding some keyboards. These were all very close or identical to other Siel products, just with new paint jobs."
And it is not like SCI hid the fact that the keyboard was manufactured by Siel. In fact, they gave Siel some good-sized props on the back on the machine, as can be seen in the photo below from a recent MATRIXSYNTH auction post.

And if you had looked closely at the other photos from that MATRIXSYNTH post, you may have noticed something else rather amazing on the back of the instrument. I'm talking about this image in particular:

See it?

I sure didn't. And that's what's amazing.

No MIDI. Not even CV/Gate.

Just controls for a lonely foot switch and a volume pedal. That may have been more common for a keyboard in 1978, but not in 1983. And quite frankly a little surprising considering that this was the same company that had just launched MIDI in their Prophet-600 a couple of months earlier.

That's just the kind of control you loose (no pun intended) when you white-label another company's product. You don't have much of a choice.

The Spec Sheet promo appeared in the February 1983 issue of Keyboard, and doesn't appear to mention CV/Gate control. But there is a noticeable hundred dollar price difference when compared to the price tag in this scanned ad:
"SCI KEYBOARD. Sequential Circuits introduces the Prelude, a polyphonic keyboard instrument with string, brass, piano, and organ sounds, all of which can be mixed together if desired. Each instrument section also has three different tone colors that can be mixed. A modulation section allows for flanging, chorusing, vibrato, and delayed vibrato from an LFO. The brass section includes filter cutoff and resonance and attack time controls. the decay time can be controlled in the piano section, and attack and release times are controllable in the string section. the instrument also features a built-in five-band graphic equalizer. A rear panel input jack allows an external signal to be processed by the equalizer and the chorus effect. List price is $795.00. Sequential Circuits. Inc. 3051 N. First St., San Jose, CA 95134."
I should probably say something about the ad itself.

I'm not gonna lie - this definitely wasn't one of SCI's finer advertising moments. Not only was this ad competing for reader's eyeballs with a number of other manufacturer's slick ads like the Roland Juno-60, but readers would also be viewing SCI's own Prophet 600 and Poly-sequencer ads in the same issue. SCI has been know to throw curve-balls throughout the years. It's another example of the sudden appearance of an odd-ball-ish SCI ad during a time period that I like to refer to "the longest run of cool synthesizer ads in history" :D

SCI must have realized it was an oddball too - someone made the decision to pull the plug on the ad after only a two-month run.

The ad is a good example that even when you follow all the design and layout rules, it doesn't guarantee success. For example, it follows most standard layout protocol:
  • Lovely title, subtitle and ad-copy. Check.
    (BTW - all three use that awesome faux-celtic font we all love so much!)
  • To-the-point ad-copy. Check.
  • Nice, large front panel photo of the instrument. Check.
Everything points to the production of a great ad.

Lesson learned: Designers *are* important. :)

I should point out that the coolest thing about this ad is the creator's choice to use SCI's own 1982 "The Sound Choice" ad as the backdrop, so faded out that most readers' eyes probably didn't even notice it. But nice to see the ol' SCI Wizard keeping up appearances.

End note: What? You thought I wouldn't ask Dave Smith about John Mattos artwork?

Actually, taking a page out of Stephen Colbert's interview tactics manual, I didn't give Dave much of a choice:
Question: John Mattos artwork: A great artist? Or the greatest artist? :)

Answer: "Yes, we always liked John's art; very cool stuff!"
Tee hee! :D


Micke said...

Hi Retro,

According to Stanley Jungleib, who worked at SCI for several years, none of the Siel keyboards/synths were designed by SCI (the Wikipedia page is obviously wrong about the Fugue, and the same goes for the release date which should be '81 or '82 - not '79).
The deal with Siel was made by the European division of SCI.

Btw, the SCI Velocity 6 (a rebranded Siel DK-600)
had MIDI:

RetroSynthAds said...

Micke- thanks for the info! Will update the blog right away. And awesome link to the Velocity 6!

Micke said...

You're welcome my friend :)

Speaking of the Velocity 6; Stanley had never heard about it and he was pretty sure it wasn't sold in the US. It may even be a garage-job.

He may very well be right about that because during the 11 years or so I have had internet, I've never seen another one like that.

post honeymoon said...

Do you know of any midi or cv/gate mods available for this? I have one and would like to install one if possible.

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