Yamaha TX81Z brochure from 1986.
Brought to you by popular demand... or more correctly... a promise I made to one guy who I was talking with at a local electronic music festival last weekend.
We had both downed a couple of beer already, and had been talking about our mutual adoration for the TX81Z. I don't remember everything about the conversation, but three hazy points stand out in my mind.
- The TX81Z is an awesome piece of kit
- I promised I would scan the brochure and put it in a blog post
- We both agreed that the TX81Z, along with many other Yamaha synths, would have made a great name for a Star Wars droid
I think it was unfortunate that the machine was (and still is) often compared to Yamaha's other 4-operator synths such as the DX100, 21, and 27. And more unfortunately, it was even compared to the lowly FB-01 tone generator. Bleek. :D
But the TX81Z was so much more than those sine-wave-only-wannabes. It's beauty lie in the eight different waveforms that each operator could produce, "generating sounds more complex than were possible with previous 4-operator FM synthesizers". Read the call-out box on the inside of the brochure for more info.
In fact, even putting those waveform options aside for a moment, those crazy program engineers were obviously having a good ol' time designing the innerds of this thing. The new "Reverb" voice parameter simulated "the lingering decay of sound in a live room by slowing the EG release rates when the operator level falls below a certain point". In RL, not so good, but definitely fun. And the panning, transposed delay, and chord effects made the TX even more fun to play with.
Interestingly, Yamaha chose to promote the TX81Z's microtonal abilities on the cover of this brochure - as found in the screen of the synth in the photograph. Sure, it was a great feature, but I think a photo showing a screen shot of the multiple waveforms would have looked much cooler, considering those waveforms really are at the heart of the expanded sound space of the TX81Z. Just my opinion.
Anyways, take all these features, and add a list price of under $500, and you get a very popular synthesizer. For years after it's release, patches for it could be found regularly in magazines like Keyboard, and especially common in Yamaha's own monthly AfterTouch magazine.
A bit about AfterTouch magazine
Yamaha's AfterTouch magazine started in 1985 as a free promotional magazine sent out to those lucky individuals that actually remembered to fill out their warranty cards. Many of these readers thought they had automatically subscribed to the free mag, so when they stopped receiving issues after three months, the complaints started rolling in.
Turns out, the initial mailing had to be only a three month affair. According to the magazine, general postal regulations required that a signature be acquired by the sender to ensure the receiver actually wanted whatever was being mailed on a regular basis. So users had to fill out a proper subscription card in order to keep receiving AfterTouch after the three month grace period.
But I think these postal regulations were actually good for Yamaha. Costs to keep producing this high-quality magazine and mailing it out to readers was going to start adding up. Without measurements on whether users wanted it or not, the cost/benefit ratio couldn't be calculated. The subscription card gave Yamaha a much better idea of how many users are actually finding the magazine useful.
An even cooler fact about AfterTouch: Back in the day, Yamaha would PAY readers when they sent in patches and other useful information.
For example, if the magazine published your crazy DX patch - that's $25 in your pocket.
Got a cool synth trick to share - that's another $25 bucks.
And if you happened to develop a whole new approach to programming, or discovered an "important secret" regarding the use of one of Yamaha's synths - $100 bucks is yours!
Okay, so these AfterTouch facts won't get you chicks. But in my defense, at that electronic music festival I mentioned earlier, my girlfriend compared the electronic sounds that "come out of those little boxes" to "magic". And, putting the requisite Arthur C. Clarke quote aside for a moment, apparently magic can get your chicks.