Thursday, July 14, 2011

Part 2: Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer ad: Technical synth info!

Part 2: Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer 1-page advertisement - technical specs!

I got a little sidetracked in my original Scorpion Stage Synthesizer blog post, so I thought I would try this again. And this time I promise to try and stay focused on the ad and the synth's technical information (and it almost works!).

The ad itself isn't anything out of the ordinary. Between the verbal diarrhea, the size of the font, and the curved shape of the ad-copy itself, the ad is a little hard to read. But I'll let that slide since they were such a small company and yet still managed to come up with such a cool logo. Check out the full logo with the scorpion image on the photo of the synth itself.

Unlike the Thunderchild synth which I recently blogged about, I had actually heard a little bit about the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer years before, probably through or Analogue Heaven or some other discussion list, most of which could also be found in this ad.
  • Two oscillators
  • Programmable with eight presets
  • Keyboard pressure bend
  • Delayed modulation
But, outside of what is found in this ad, I hadn't come across very much technical information about this synthesizer online. So, you can understand just how excited I became when I came to the realization that the same issue of the magazine that introduced this ad, also included a "Synthcheck" on the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer.

For those not familiar with IMRW, "Synthcheck" is the equivalent of Keyboard Magazine's Keyboard Review.



This 1-page overview was written by Dave Simmons and does a decent job at providing all the basic technical details of the Scorpion synth - something I haven't found online. I was a little scared after reading the first paragraph of the introduction, because it almost seemed like Dave was backtracking after that first sentence. Luckily, the article didn't disappoint... :)
"The Scorpion is being advertised as the first British lead line synthesizer. It is not the first British synthesizer by any means but, as far as I know, it is the only one that has been introduced to compete with the smaller stage synthesizers like the Micro Moog, Arp Axxe, etc.

It is simple to understand, easy to operate synth, aimed at the person who has been frightened off using a variable synthesizer because of his/her lack of understanding of synth jargon and technical terms (the owner's manual contains information on not only how to operate the synthesizer, but also how the different parts of the synthesizer affect the final sound.)"
The rest of the article deals with the meat of the synthesizer - all that juicy technical information that, until this article, had left a giant hole in my soul. To summarize:

  • Two voltage-controlled oscillators that produce triangle, sawtooth, square, and pulse waveforms, routed to the filter via a four-position switch
  • Tuning controls: VCO 1: 32', 16', 8', 4' - VCO 2: 16', 8', 4', 2'
  • Fine pitch from minus 1 tone to plus a seventh from concert pitch
  • Low-pass with variable cut-off and resonance
  • Dedicated 2-step envelope: option of Attack/Decay or Attack/Release (max 6 seconds on decay/release)
  • VCO 2 signal can be switched into the control input of the filter producing "interesting distortion and ring modulation effects"
  • Output of filter feeds to VCA
  • Dedicated 2-step envelope: option of Attack/Decay or Attack/Release (max 6 seconds on decay/release)
  • Sine wave output
  • Route to filter, VCA or Oscillators
  • Adjustable speed and delay time
  • Continuous (after delay period) or triggered when keyboard is pressed hard
Touch sensitive keyboard:
  • Triggers LFO
  • Bend the pitch of the Oscillator sharp by an interval set by bend sensitivity control
  • Eight pre-sets including Synth 1, 2 and 3, Trumpet, Clarinet, Flute, Oboe, and Violin
  • Oscillator footage NOT remembered - for example the flute pre-set will sound too low if pressed while playing oscillators at 32"
Prior to the conclusion, Dave Simmons summarizes it's sound, where he makes the ultimate comparison (emphasis is mine):
"The synthesizer I was given to review performed well with no evidence of drift. I was particularly impressed by the sound of the instrument. It sounded a lot like a Mini-Moog (which can't be bad). the pre-set sounds were full and rich and reasonably realistic, and the sounds chosen seem to be the most useful when you are limited to eight."
Sounded like a Minimoog? Really? Huh. Anyone confirm this? Anyone...? Anyone...? Bueller...?

Dave concludes the review by adding that the synth should appeal to first-time buyers, and although he didn't think its general appearance was up to the American and Japanese competition, the recommended retail price of 595 pounds made up for its lack of charisma :)

Now there's some nice info that would look good on Vintage Synth Explorer! I'll have to write up something and submit it. :D

So, who is this Dave Simmons that had the balls to compare the Scorpion to the Minimoog - even back in 1978? I thought I would do a little search to see if I could find anything.

General name searches didn't help much and results for "Dave Simmons" + [insert selected musical/synth terms] was also rather unsuccessful. But, then I remembered that at the end of the review article, there was a short bio for Dave which included the fact that he played "the massive synthesizer part in Dave Bedford's 'Odyssey'."

Most of the search results for Dave Bedford's Odyssey link to online music resource pages like this one at And most list Dave Bedford as playing most of the keyboards (check out the other artists listed!).

But I then found this reference to a live performance of the Odyssey that lists Dave Simmons as playing string synthesizer. Also, a post on the forum lists the musicians that played on a live rendition of the Odyssey at the Royal Albert Hall in 1977, which includes:

"Dave Simmonds (Fad Gadget?) - string synthesizer"

And, later in the discussion, the name is corrected to Dave Simmons.

So, does the poster mean it was corrected to be Dave Simmons from Fad Gadget? Or corrected to be a totally different Dave Simmons that has nothing to do with Fad Gadget?

I figured I could simply Google Fad Gadget and look up the list of band members, but quickly ran into problems.

Most notable Fad Gadget reference sites list a David Simmonds as playing synthesizer:
But a few sites list David Simmons as playing synth:
So, based on this, I'm doubting it is the same Dave Simmons, and that the guy in Fad Gadget was in fact David Simmonds. But I just really really really wanted the guy that reviewed the Scorpion synth to be the keyboard player in Fad Gadget. Just because I like discovering those kinds of connections. :)

Oh well.

Always end on a high note - so here's Fad Gadget's Collapsing New People vid. Enjoy!

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