Monday, November 7, 2011

Gleeman Pentaphonic "The performance power of chord sequencing" ad, Keyboard 1981

Gleeman Pentaphonic "The performance power of chord sequencing" 1-page advertisement from page 45 in Keyboard Magazine August 1981.

Not the most attractive looking ad - but then again, the Gleeman Pentaphonic wasn't exactly the most attractive looking synthesizer. Even so, this ad includes many of the puzzle pieces required to introduce a new product to an increasingly crowded synthesizer market.

First is a good sized photo. Even though the Pentaphonic isn't the most attractive synth, the photo is still important because it is the first place readers' eyes look. Like Red Green always said "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy". So Gleeman made sure that readers knew just how handy this baby would be by making sure all those front panel control labels were clearly visible in the photo.

Second, Gleeman did a good job on thinking up a catchy title by zeroing in on Pentaphonic's differentiating factor - chord sequencing. A title that highlights a differentiating factor becomes even more important with the Pentaphonic since the synthesizer itself is so utilitarian looking - especially when photographed in black and white. The title, split in two by the photo of the instrument, also conveniently includes the name of the synth itself on the lower right. Perfect placement to catch the eye. No need to go looking for it.

 Third, Gleeman made sure to include enough ad-copy to really sell the instrument. When you are a new company with a new instrument, I think it's often better to say too much than too little. In this case, Gleeman continues on the theme of the ad title by focusing the first half of the ad-copy on a good little summary of the functionality of the sequencer. Readers also get a few bits of reference information about the technical specs before the ad-copy gets to what I think could be considered the Pentaphonic's other differentiating factor - being the "untimate portable". The machine weighed only 18 pounds, measured just 6x13x25 inches and included an internal five watt amp and 4x10 speaker. Cute.

Finally, we find the company logo tucked into the bottom left corner. Large enough that readers won't miss it, but still out of the way. Granted, it's not the best logo, but like the synthesizer itself,  it does the job nicely.

A quick Google search will provide just a few sites with useful info about the Pentaphonic, and it looks like the Pentaphonic was such a rare beast that there seems to be some discrepancy as to when the Pentaphonic first become available to buyers. A few sites such as Vintage Synth Explorer give 1982 as the production start date at the time this post was written. But, the fact that this ad first appeared in *August* 1981 would suggest that either the machine was available much earlier or it was prematurely advertised by over six months.

More evidence of a 1981 production date comes from the February 1982 issue of Keyboard in the Spec Sheet section:
"Gleenman Pentaphonic Updates. The Gleeman Pentaphonic five-voice polyphonic synthesizer has been updated to include rear panel footpedal jacks for controlling the modulation depth and filter cutoff frequency and a two-axis joystick that replaces the unit's original one-axis joystick for control of pitch and either modulation depth or the filter cutoff frequency. Also available for the instrument is a retrofitable programming module which gives owners of the instrument access to 100 user-programmable presets. The module may be easily installed by a dealer or ordered as a factory option. Price of the updated Pentaphonic is $2,795.00. The programming module, available in mid-1982, will list for approximately $700. Gleeman 97 Eldora Dr., Mountain View, CA 94041."
Updates to the original? In February 1982? And this February info would have had to have been submitted in January at the latest to be printed. That would most likely have to mean that the original Pentaphonic was out and about in 1981. 

Interesting to note is that if you look closely at the photo in this ad scan, you can see the one-axis joystick that was available in the first generation Pentaphonics. Most photos of the Pentaphonic online are later models sporting  two-axis joysticks.

Another source of a production date comes from Mark Vail. No, not from the book Vintage Synthesizers, but in a Pentaphonic "Vintage Gear" article found in the September 2001 issue of Keyboard. In the vital stats section, he listed a *Design* date of 1981, but a *Release* date of 1982.

 I did find one fairly detailed first-hand account of the Pentaphonic by Joey Swails linked from the Pentaphonic's Vintage Synth Explorer page that might explain things a bit.

He writes that the synth was "introduced in 1981". Clear enough. But, he goes on to say that he first met Bob Gleeman at the 1982 AES show in Anaheim, and that soon afterward the company became the first authorized Gleeman dealer.

Now, according to, the 72nd AES show in Anaheim took place in October 1982 - so, if Gleeman didn't have an authorized dealer until late 1982 (over a year after that first ad appeared in August 1981), then could it be that Gleeman had only made a few sales of the first generation Pentaphonic before 1982 - not enough to register on a consumer level scale by most historians?

Does that make sense? I'm still thinking it through as I write it... but  based on all the evidence I think I'm gonna start using a 1981 production start date.  :)

Interestingly, but mostly unrelated, Gleeman was lucky enough to get ANOTHER small Spec Sheet promo for the Pentaphonic in the December 1982 issue of Keyboard, after the programming module became available. It's smaller than the February 1982, but includes more general information about the Pentaphonic itself. It definitely could be more than just coincidence that Gleeman would have appeared at AES in October 1982 with the updated machine, which would have resulted in a write up by Keyboard staff in November for a December appearance:
"Updated Gleeman Polyphonic. The Gleeman Pentaphonic synthesizer is a 5-voice polyphonic synthesizer that features a 3-octave keyboard, three oscillators per voice, a single VCF per voice, a 300-note polyphonic sequencer, and an LFO. New features include rear panel footswitch jacks for controlling modulation depth and filter cutoff frequency (it uses 0-8 volts DC); a two-axis joystick to control pitch-bend and modulation depth of filter cutoff frequency; and an accessory port to accept a 100-program memory module. Gleeman, 97 Eldora Dr., Moutain View, CA 94041"
Free advertising never hurts. But it wasn't enough to keep the Gleeman Pentaphonic alive.

More on what I found out about that, and on the purposely-ignored Pentaphonic Clear, in my next blog post... promise!  :)

No comments:

Post a Comment