Thursday, November 10, 2011

Gleeman Instruments "The Pentaphonic Clear", Keyboard 1983

Gleeman Instruments "The Pentaphonic Clear" 1-page colour advertisement from page 37 in Keyboard Magazine May 1983.

This advertisement is a good lesson in the power of packaging.

Two years earlier Gleeman began advertising the first generation Pentaphonic with ads like the one I posted last Monday. Here's a reminder:

In that post I eluded to the fact that the Pentaphonic wasn't exactly the most attractive looking synthesizer on the planet. It wasn't hit by the ugly stick or anything... it just didn't stand out. And so, just like a bored mother-of-three will set up a craft show table in an attempt to sell out-dated 80s jean jackets that have been Bedazzled with rhinestones and studs, so did Gleeman with their Pentaphonic.

According to designer Al Gleeman, in Mark Vail's Vintage Synthesizers book, the new clear look came about after someone spotted a clear Rhodes piano, and requests for a clear Pentaphonic started to come in. Joey Swails also recalls that Bob Gleeman was inspired by a certain 1982 Sequential Pro-One advertisement.

But, unlike that delicious-looking clear Pro-One that was a one-of-a-kind trade show display piece, this just-as-delicious-looking Petaphonic Clear was actually available to consumers - if they happened to have $3,295.00 in their pocket.

And unlike most (okay... all) Bedazzled jean jackets, this thing was gorgeous. Gorgeous enough that it rightly became the centerpiece for the advertisement. No catchy ad-title was required to differentiate this machine from the competition - this photo was more than enough to get the reader's attention. And, Gleeman knew that everyone who bought one of these beasts wouldn't stand to be... er... standing behind a rack of synths on stage. No way! So they even threw in a leather strap so you could wear it around your shoulder and give the lead singers and guitarists a run for their money.

Gleeman also really tightened up the ad-copy, focusing on some of the upgrades made to the machine since the original was released, and a little surprisingly, also updated their logo - for the better! In the original logo, the lines of the piano keys extended underneath the full length of the logo-type. In the updated version, it's compact, with two sets of piano keys that circle back on each other. Nice work.

So, did that new clear packaging actually convert into sales for Gleeman? And if so, how?

First, that spankin' new look got Gleeman a new, well written Spec Sheet promo (apart from getting the name of the synth wrong!) in the July 1983 issue of Keyboard.
"Gleeman Synthesizer. The Polyphonic Clear is a portable polyphonic synthesizer in a clear case. The instrument was designed for live performance and includes a remote power supply for reduced weight, a 20' extension cable, and a shoulder strap which enables the user to carry the instrument around onstage. The unit can also be played in the conventional manner from a keyboard stand. Standard features include five voices, each with a VCA, VCF, and two ADSRs, three oscillators with eight selectable waveforms per voice, computer-tuned chorusing, 100 programmable presets, a 600-note polyphonic sequencer, and a chromatic transposer. Price is $3,295.00. Gleeman, 97 Eldora Dr., Mountain View, CA 94041"
Second, and more substantial, that clear packaging opened the door to a Keyboard Report in the August 1983 issue of Keyboard - yes, the issue with Thomas Dolby on the cover - yum! I would suspect that for a small company such as Gleeman, a Keyboard Report would be kind of a big deal.

Written by Dominic Milano, the one and half page article was followed directly by a review of another portable keyboard from a very well-known company - the Roland SH-101.

In the review for the Clear, it's no surprise that Dominic had very positive things to say about the look of the instrument.
"As you can imagine, the instrument looks like something out of a '30s science fiction movie, but it's a great effect. It really grabs your eye immediately. All of the innards are visible through the body (all very neatly assembled so you're not getting a view of a lot of wires strewn about), and the labels for all the dials are printed in black, which is quite attractive and clearly visible against the green circuit board inside."
Dominic again focused on the Clear's distinctive looks in his conclusion, but also managed to get in a few words on the sound of the instrument.
"As far as looks go, the Clear is very nifty. It's always been mysterious and kind of sexy to see lots of electronic gadgets, and the Clear shows these off well. The instrument sounds nice a fat, with beautiful tone colors from the oscillators."
It's not a slam dunk for the Clear though. Dominic does list quite a few limitations of the machine, and finally suggesting that the synth may be for musicians that "just want some of the basic keyboard-oriented synthesizer vocabulary at your beck and call".

According to Mark Swails, the Pentaphonic Clear's good looks and, I think, the fair bit of publicity it generated, did kick-start an increase in sales before it was finally discontinued. The downfall of the synth had little to do with it's looks and abilities of the machine itself. It was more an issue of timing.

Mark Vail reports in the September 2001 issue of Keyboard that the $3,000+ Pentaphonic Clear came out just prior to the Yamaha's $1,995 DX-7. Digital quickly became all the rage and analogue gear was given the ol' heave-ho. 

Depending on the source, it appears only between 30-70 Pentaphonics were produced. And Mark Vail reports that in 1994, David Kean, curator of the Audities Foundation, ended up buying the remaining parts inventory from the Gleeman brothers and was able to hobble together seven new Pentaphonics and seven new Clears. There is a great photo of a Clear on the Audities site - not sure if it is an original, or one that was built in 1994. 

The Pentaphonic Clear and transparent Pro-One have been such curiosities on the Web that I wonder when a new clear-cased synth from one of the big synth companies will come out.

Considering Korg's latest kicks, I for one would welcome our new Korg Monotron Clear overlords   :)

1 comment:

zenbecca said...

"...I wonder when a new clear-cased synth from one of the big synth companies will come out."

I'm gonna start bedazzling some straps now, just in case. (Pun intended.)

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