Monday, November 28, 2011

Korg "Where's the portamento?" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Korg "Where's the portamento?" 1-page advertisement from page 25 in Contemporary Keyboard March 1978.

Happy Movember, people!   :)

Do you know hard it was to try and line up this ad featuring Kerry Livgren of Kansas sportin' a kick-ass 'stache so it would  fall on the last blog post in November?   Best thing about that moustache? It has aged like good wine!

When this ad appeared in the March '78 issue of CK, across the pond, UK readers were opening up their March issue of International Musician to find that two-page "Seven hundred and fifty words..." ad I had just blogged about. Although the two appeared at approximately the same time, they couldn't have been more different from each other.

While Korg/Rose-Morris/Hohner were trying a little too desperately to take on the role of "expert" by using valuable advertising space to "educate" UK readers on the basics of sound, Korg/Unicord featured well-known musician Kerry Livgren to help promote Korg synthesizers in the US.

The largest of three photos in that 2-page UK ad? A kid playing a penny whistle. Meanwhile the US ad featured - unsurprisingly - a large photo of Kery Livgren playing a Korg PLS-series synthesizer that also featured a large KORG logo strategically placed in the centre of the instrument in the photo.

Do I need to go on? Needless to say, I'd bet that US ad was probably a lot more effective at both getting readers attention and keeping it.

To be fair - that UK ad was trying to push a lot more instruments in the two-page spread. The 1-page US ad was focusing mostly on Korg's Professional Laboratory Systems (PLS) line of synthesizers. Although, interestingly, the actual models of these synthesizers - the 3300 and 3100 (and possibly the 3200) - are not mentioned directly.

Mistake or not - this wasn't the first kick at the can to get the actual names of the synths in a PLS ad. The first Korg PLS ad that started to appear in CK in October 1977  also didn't mention the synth model numbers.

I find that odd - but, then again, the March UK ad doesn't mention the PLS synthesizers at all. Nothing. 

This ad also introduced US reader to the new Micro-Preset synthesizer by Korg - and mentioned that at the time there were 10 products in the Korg product line. My guess is these would include the Maxi-Korg (aka 800dv), 700s, Preset, 770, Synthebass, Ensemble P (aka Poly Ensemble 1000) and Ensemble S (aka Poly Ensemble 2000), Micro-Preset, 3100 and 3200.

US readers could consider themselves even more lucky - because it wasn't just in ads that readers could find info on the PS-series synths. Well before this ad or even the first PLS ad ran in CK, the July/August 1977 issue of Synapse featured a small promo for the two synths in the "What's Happening" section on page 40 that included a lot of good reference material like list prices.
"Two new polyphonic synthesizers have been released by Unicord Inc. The Korg PS3100 is a fully polyphonic synthesizer in which each note has it's own VCF and VCA. Six waveforms are available from the Modulation Generator and a Polyphonic Same and Hold is also featured. Unlike most polyphonic synthesizers, patching is allowed on the face panel. The PS3100 lists for $2995. The Korg PS3300 is a modular polyphonic system composed of three PSU-482 modules featuring signal processors, low pass filters, envelope modifiers, resonators, amplitude modulator, and two modulation generators. The PSU-483 module features mixer with VCA, sample and hold, envelope generator and voltage processors. As with the PS3100, patching is allowed and many inter-connections are possible between the two systems. The PS3300 lists for $7500 with remote keyboard"
Contemporary Keyboard also included a Spec Sheet promo on the PS3100 in the December 1977 issue (why not include the PS3300?!) that also included some good reference info:
"Korg Polyphonic Synthesizer. Capable of producing separate envelopes for each of its 48 notes, the PS 3100 polyphonic synthesizer is modular in construction. Waveforms available are triangle, sawtooth, and pulse in four frequency ranges: 2', 4', 8' and 16'. An external pulse width modulation control input and a frequency modulation control input are supplied. Two modulation oscillators, a filter section, a polyphonic sample & hold, a voltage processor bank, and an envelope generator section are included on this unit. The 48-note eyboard features selectable single or multiple triggering. Unicord 75 Frost St, Westbury, NY 11590."
But don't fret - it would only be another four months before UK readers would get some news on the PS3100 and 3300 in another two-page Rose-Morris ad that ran in the July 1978 issue of IMRW.

That ad is on deck for the next blog post! :)

Long end note: If you recall the end of my last blog post, I pointed out there were three logos at the bottom of that ad and I was trying to find the connection between them - Korg, Rose-Morris and Hohner. I knew Rose-Morris was a distributor of Korg, but what was Hohner doing in there? Turns out I found the answer quite by accident in a Korg WT-10A tuner ad that also appeared in that March 1978 (UK) issue of International Musician and Recording World on page 202.

A lot of ads in this UK magazine were actually paid for by the distributors of the products - unlike in the US where most synth ads seemed to have come directly from the companies themselves. Early on, Korg tended to let their distributors do the talking. Like for these Contemporary Keyboard ads from Unicord for the Polyphonic Ensembles and MaxiKorg. In the UK, I knew that Rose-Morris was often responsible for the Korg ads that appeared in IMRW.

In the case of that Korg WT-10A tuner ad I mentioned above, Korg looks to have paid for the ad because at the bottom it includes a list of all of their distributors - I doubt a distributor would include their competition in their own ads. These include CBS Musical Instruments in Australia, Erikson Music in Canada and Unicord in the US. But in the UK it looks like they have TWO distributors - Rose-Morris and M. Hohner!

So, here I was coming down hard on Rose-Morris for that two-pager, when in fact, it looks more likely that Korg probably paid for the ad themselves, and included *both* of their UK distributors logos - Rose-Morris and Hohner logos.

The other explanation is that Hohner and Rose-Morris paid for the ad together (again - can't see this happening).

Either way - my apologies to Rose-Morris! My frustration should have been distributed equally to Rose and Hohner - or to Korg itself.   :)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Korg "Seven hundred and fifty words..." family ad, International Musician 1978

Korg "Seven hundred and fifty words..." 2-page family advertisement including 800 DV synthesizer, 700s synthesizer, Preset synthesizer, 770 synthesizer, Synthebass, Polyphonic Ensemble 1000 and Polyphonic Ensemble "Orchestra" 2000 from page 20 and 21 in International Musician and Recording World (UK) March 1978.

From the moment I read the title, this ad made me a little bit annoyed. Mostly because I didn't know what "flannelled" meant.

Let me save you the trouble: "Flattery or meaningless talk intended to hide one's ignorance or true intentions."

Okay. I keep reading....

Still annoyed. Mostly because once I found out what "flannelled" meant, I then found it ironic that most of the "750 words of fact" was doing exactly that - trying to hide Korg... er... Rose-Morris' true intentions - to sell instruments. But that's not so bad. That's what ads are supposed to do - sell instruments. I'm angry they were doing it so badly.

I get it. They were trying to play "educator" with readers. Make 'em feel like they are the experts by laying down some basic facts about sound, how it's produced and how heat affects tuning. Get all altruistic on 'em. But unfortunately it's written... it's written... well... it's written like *I* wrote it. Lot's of sentences that start with "And", "But", and "Because". More of a conversational or advertorial-like tone. Bad news is - I'm not so good a writer. I write at about a grade-two level with an even more limited vocabulary.  That's why I'm not a featured writer for Wired (Two words: dream job).

And what do you get when you try and cover up a bad sell job by hiding it behind 750 words of "facts" using grade-two level conversational writing - all written in a font size more at home in the Mr. Men/Little Miss book series? In my opinion - epic fail. It can almost be insulting to the reader. At the least it is confusing, and the end result is a two-page spread that actually provides very little value.

We, my friends, are the ones getting "flannelled". 

In fact, it's really only that second page that provides any real value. Could you imagine what an effective ad this would have been if the title had been "Two hundred and fifty words of fact about Korg synthesizers for the keyboard player who's tired of being flannelled". And then just included nice sized photos along with the basic facts about each of the seven instruments in a half-decent sized font.

Instead, the actual information on the instruments is squished into the far right of that second page in a font only an ant could read, with only a photo of a Polyphonic Ensemble and a Mini-Korg 700s.

Finally - those logos in the bottom right corner. I figured out the Rose-Morris connection with Korg - and will report on that in my next blog post, but what is with that Hohner logo sitting there too? I'm only starting to piece together that connection... but it is just too dang warm out. Unusually warm. And it won't stay that way for long.

So, logo connections will have to wait. Time to throw a snowball before it all melts.  :)

End note: Please note I'm not annoyed at the word "flannelled" - just that I didn't know what it meant. In fact, I think that word needs to make a come back with today's kids. Maybe get it positioned with the Occupy movement or something. Or slip it in with that Internet cat meme.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Korg Polyphonic Ensembles S and P "Most realistic sound under the thumb" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Korg Polyphonic Ensembles S and P "Most realistic sound under the thumb" 2/3-page advertisement from page 43 in Contemporary Keyboard July 1977.

I've been on a Korg kick for the last few posts with the DL-50 Delta and the Korg accessories posts. And while doing a bit of research I was flipping through older issues of CK when this ad caught my eye.

Does it look familiar? Then you have apparently become a bit of a Unicord ad fanatic. And you probably appreciate the lengths to which Unicord went to make sure that they kept some level of consistency with their early CK ad.

Six months before this ad appeared, Unicord included this 2/3-page Maxi-Korg K-3 advertisement in the January issue.

The latest Polyphonic Ensembles ad is different enough that even if the reader remembered the first Unicord ad from six months ago, he or she wouldn't have ignored it figuring it was the same ad. But its a great next iteration of that earlier ad with a number of similarities.

The repeating white "Korg" background with one grey stand-out immediately catches the eye - especially when you consider that this 2/3 ad runs next to a single column of text. The reworked pattern design works perfectly with the addition of an extra photo for the second instrument, and the additional ad-copy required.

The ad-title is also located in a similar position to the first ad, and although the "realistic sound under the thumb" is unmemorable and sounds awkward to me, I get what they are trying to say - "under your control". Ad-copy is similarly unmemorable, but provide a good overview of the two instruments, highlighting certain features of each.

The logo section, on the other hand, makes me extremely happy when compared to the earlier ad. The new ad got rid of that third level of corporate self-absorbed BS by removing the confusing "Gulf + Western Manufacturing Company" logo and tagline, and replaced it with a larger "Unicord, Inc" mark, as well as giving us Canadian readers a bit of acknowledgement by including "Sold in Canada by Erikson Music Ltd., Montreal".

The two ads have something else in common too. The Korg instruments they promote were given different names in North American and across the pond in the UK.

In the case of the Maxi-Korg ad, the instrument was also known as the Univox K-3 around these parts - or, as I eventually decided to call it - the 'Univox Korg Maxi-Korg K-3 distributed by Unicord', but in UK ads it was referred to as simly the 800 DV. Definitely not as cool a name - or logo if you look closely at the Maxi-Korg photo in the earlier ad. Very retro.

In the case of the Polyphonic "P" and Polyphonic "S", apparently they were also known as Univox K4 and K5, and early UK ads in International Musician referred to them as the Polyphonic Ensemble 1000 and Polyphonic Ensemble "Orchestra" 2000, later simplified to the Poly 1000 and Poly 2000. More on those UK ads in the very near future.

Finally, you will notice that the scan I posted is kind of unbalanced, with a lot of dead space on the right hand side of the page. I just wanted to point out how much I hate when there is too much space between the ad border and the edge of the page. Gah! That bugs me. :)

Anyways, readers of Contemporary Keyboard would have run into a "teaser" for the two machines four months earlier when a few of the features popped up in the Spec Sheet section of the March 1977 issue.
"Korg Polyphonic Ensembles. Two new polyphonic keyboard instruments from Unicord are the Ensemble P and Ensemble S. The Model P incorporates presets of known percussive instruments such as acoustic and electric piano, clavichord, and so on. All preset selections are colored by the use of a high- and low-pass filter bank that can be remote-controlled with a foot pedal. An ADS envelope generator is provided, and a waveform selector supplies a variety of tonal effects. The Model S has preset sounds of pipe organ chorus, brass, and strings. A high- and low-ass filter bank and an AS envelope generator are supplied. Unicord, 75 Frost St. Westbury, NY 11590.
I also found a review of the "PE 2000" in an issue of International Musician that I plan to read over in the next couple of days and if I find any interesting points I'll be sure to pull 'em into a blog post. 

Thankfully today, it is much easier to find information on these two beasts online. For example, the most excellent Korg 40th anniversary article in Sound On Sound titled "40 Years Of Korg Gear: The History Of Korg - Part 1" included two paragraphs on the machines.
"The PE1000 was, in essence, a 61-note electronic piano with seven voices differentiated by preset values of the Traveler and envelope. Some control was available, but with a single oscillator per note, no touch-sensitivity, and just a single filter and envelope for the whole keyboard, it was very limited. Nonetheless, the PE1000 was soon to be seen in some respected company; Vangelis used one, as did Jean-Michel Jarre.

The 48-note PE2000 was a traditional string synth, with a richer sound produced by eight organ, brass, chorus and string presets. With a claimed three oscillators per note (or, more likely, three delayed and detuned versions of a single oscillator) and an integral phaser, it soon made friends among the keyboard cognoscenti of the day, including Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Hawkwind."
The article goes on to state that Korg President Keio promoted the two as a pair since the sounds they created complimented each other - one for percussive (hence the "P") sounds the other for sustained ("S") sounds. The chosen names of the instruments in the UK (1000 and 2000) don't really explain this aspect very well. And over in North America where the names "P" and "S" are a little more explanatory, I still find it surprising that the ad or the Spec Sheet don't explain the "P" and "S" labels more clearly. Maybe its just me that didn't get the association at first. That wouldn't surprise me.

Till Kopper also has a page dedicated to each instrument on his Web site. Both the Polyphonic Ensemble 1000 and Polyphonic Ensemble 2000 pages include reference information, specs and sound examples, as well as great photos - outside and inside the instrument. 

A lot more images and info are available in Google searches - MATRIXSYNTH in particular has some great auction photos. Definitely check 'em out.

The two instruments were promoted a lot more in the UK around this time period and I have a few great ad scans coming up in the next couple of posts. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Korg Accessories "Do you feel locked in" ad including MS-02, MS-03, MS-01, SQ-10, MS-50, PCK-1 & 2, Keyboard 1980

Korg Accessories "Do you feel locked in" 1/2-page advertisement including MS-02 Universal Interface, MS-03 Signal Processor, MS-01 Foot Controller, SQ-10 Analog Sequencer, MS-50 Monophonic Synthesizer, and PCK-1 and PCK-2 Synthesizer Patch Cord Sets from page 8 in Keyboard Magazine February 1980.

Putting the design aspects of this ad aside for a second, I gotta say this has always been a stand-out ad for me. From a gear-freak perspective it puts some of the Korg pieces I've always craved to play with into a very small space. From the perspective of my appreciation of their marketing strategy, the first sentence of the ad-copy sums up Unicord/Korg's positioning of all this gear in the market:
"Do you feel locked-in because you can't expand outside your synthesizer brand?"
Synthesizer companies, including Korg, had spent years developing their own proprietary technologies, and on purpose or not, "locked-in" their users by implementing their own controls. It wasn't a perfectly walled garden, but it did a pretty effective job at keeping owners from buying outside their brand. Until quite recently (relative to the appearance of this ad), most consumers were only buying one or two synthesizers due to their high costs, and it was a lot easier to sell the consumer the second instrument if all those other synthesizers and sequencers from other companies weren't compatible with that first one they bought.

But, as prices for synthesizers dropped and synth stacks grew, demand also increased for gadgets that could link different brands of synths together. Korg acknowledged this situation and wanted to make sure they could accommodate these growing needs.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the ad (I'll get to that in the second half of the blog post), not much could be said about each piece of equipment. But luckily two of the products made it into the Spec Sheet section of Keyboard Magazine two months earlier in the December 1979 issue.
"The MS-50 synthesizer expander module has a multi-mixable waveform VCO, VCF, two VCAs, a highpass filter, two envelope generators with normal and inverted outputs, an LFO, a variable voltage supply, a 3-channel amp, a signal inverter, a ring modulator, a sample-and-hold, a pink/white noise generator, waveform dividers, an envelope follower/trigger detector, an AC/DC meter, a manual triggering switch, a headphone amp, and multiples."

"The SQ-10 analog sequencer is a 3x12 sequencer with separate portamento controls for two of the outputs, linear and exponential clock speed inputs for step spacing variation, and remote start, stop, and step capabilities. the unit can be used to drive up to three separate synthesizers. Pirce is $500.00. Korg, 89 Frost St., Westbury, New York, 11590."
To find out more on the other pieces of gear, Google away. Lots of good info online - for example, this MS-02 page.

So, about the design of this ad....

Just as Korg was acknowledging that many musicians felt "locked-in" by their synthesizer brand, I'm sure the designer felt "locked-in" when someone broke the news to him that he was building the ad. I'm guessing that this is how the conversation went down*:

(* some kind of legal disclaimer: This is very likely NOT AT ALL how the conversation went down)

Creative director: Hey Bob, finally got all the pieces of that new Unicord ad for you.

Designer: Awesome. I'm a big fan of Korg gear.

CD: Okay. Great. First, here's five photos of  Korg gear Unicord wants to includ in the ad.

Designer: Wow - nice stuff. These will look great in a full page spread.

CD: Yah, about that. Since this is really just promoting Korg's line of accessories, they've decided to go with a half-pager.

Designer: Huh. * thinks a little bit * Okay, no problem. The photos will be a little dark when printed so small, but we can maximize each photo's size to fill the available space and can select a few accent colours to help balance everything out.

CD: Um... actually, it's a black and white ad. The budget was really slashed for this one since for the last two years Unicord has really been burning through cash placing multiple full-page advertisements in pretty much every issue of Keyboard -  the MS-10 and MS-20 synthesizer, Sigma synthesizer, Lambda Polyphonic Ensemble, and VC-10 vocoder. So, yah - this one is black and white only. Did I mention half-page?

Designer: * nods head *

CD: Great. Oh, and here is the ad-copy. I know it looks a little long at around 200 words, but you can fit all those words in around the images, can't you? Try using really compact letters.

Designer: They're called "fonts".

CD: What? Whatever. No one will ever have to know technical terms like "fonts". Hey - also, try using something fancy, like italics. Those always look good in ads.

Designer: Italics will make the words harder to read, especially in such a small forma...

CD: * interrupts * Whatever. Just do it. Oh, did I mention the VP of Marketing's son is taking "Space" in his grade two science class and it would be really great if you could include a large unnecessary photo of the Earth in the ad?

Designer: Ummm... *grabs sketch pad*   Here... kinda like this...?

CD: Yaaaaah... no... Could you put it right in the centre of the ad? Oooh, yeah, like that. Now make that Earth photo larger... laaaaarger.  You know, the photo of the Earth represents Korg's growth and world-wide presence. We're sending a message to the reader.

Designer: I got that. But it really takes up a lot of space that could be used to help layout all that content you just gave me.  And don't you think the three or four full-page Korg ads that have been appearing in each issue of Keyboard for the last two years has already given readers the impression that Korg is a world-wide company?

CD: *stares at designer in silence*

Designer: *stares back*

CD: So, you'll make that photo little larger?

Designer: *under his breath*   Fuck me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Korg DL-50 "Delta Dawn" ad, Keyboard, 1980

Korg DL-50 "Delta Dawn" synthesizer 1-page advertisement from page 49 in  Keyboard Magazine February 1981.

It's Thursday November 10 as I begin writing this - the start of my extra-long weekend here in Canada since tomorrow (Friday) is the Remembrance Day holiday for most of the country. I took off the Thursday hoping to get a four-day holiday out of it and spend some time watching some quality movies I've been PVR-ing. But work keeps catching up to me, so instead of keeping this blog post short so I can hide out in bed watching some gratuitous violence, I'm keeping it short because I'm doing work stuff. Boo me.

This Korg Delta advertisement looks to have made its first appearance on the back-inside cover of the  December 1980 issue of Keyboard. It then appeared three more times in 1981 exactly four months apart starting in February, then June and finally October.

Why so much time between ad runs? Probably because Korg was on year three of their multi-advertisement blitz that started ramping up back in late 1978 with promotions for the MS-10 and MS-20 synthesizers and VC-10 vocoder. When this ad came into the rotation, Korg was also promoting the CX-3, ES-50 Lambda synthesizer and KR-55 drum machine. Korg was playing musical chairs with their ads - there were only so many they could have in one issue.

Besides the really clean layout of the front panel, one of the things I love most about the Delta is the name. I think the Delta was the third keyboard from Korg to use a cool symbol-like title - there was also the Sigma from back in 1979, and the Lambda that began its advertising in early 1980. I really dig cool names for synthesizers rather than just boring model numbers. Sure, some synths speak for themselves. But really... MS-10 - boring. KR-55 - blah. But Delta and Trident have a lot more pop to 'em. And if you look at today's synths, names like Virus, Mopho or Revolution are what catch my eye. Hee hee... especially Mopho.   :)

I have had no experience with the Delta. None. So, of course to learn a little bit more I turned to YouTube. One of the most watched demo videos is by YouTube user Abertronic, and it does a pretty good job at showing off the best of the Delta.

Another video that came up in a YouTube search was from Brainstormer2302. Looks like it was made as part of an eBay auction and not surprisingly has a bit more of a sell-job associated with it. But it is still an okay demo. There is a Part 2 as well.

But even in today's connected world of YouTube synth demos, I still find original synth reviews helpful to dig up and read through. The problem is that even when you considering the vast amounts of advertising Korg did in Keyboard during this time period, reviews of Korg instruments were quite rare. Luckily, a review of the Korg Delta was published in the December 1980 issue and looks to be only the second or third Korg review *ever*.

Domonic Milano introduced the two-page review by immediately setting expectations. He points out the low price and the Delta's limitations. I like my reviews honest and to the point.
"This month we'll be looking at the Korg Delta, a relatively low-cost keyboard ($1,160.00 list price) that offers both string machine and polyphonic synthesizer sounds. The Delta has some limitations - it's not one of those it'll-do-everything-and-the-laundry-too instruments - but it's not designed to compete in that market. It's designed to provide the player on a limited budget with a reasonably good string sound and some polyphonic synthesizer effects."
He then describes each of the sections separately - keyboard, joystick controller, tuning controls, synthesizer section, string section, output section and back panel - before ending on a high note by calling the machine versatile and useful, and he found that "you could get quite a few different effects and some real nice sounds out of the instrument". Domonic never let's ya down!

Before I end this post, I just have to point one thing out. I don't know about you but this ad really reminds me of an1980s action movies. I tried using Google Images to pin down some movie in particular, but just couldn't find anything similar to it. In fact, most of the action movies that even remotely look like this ad came out later in the 80s, so a connection with action movies was obviously not the designer's intent.

For example, Chuck Norris' 1986 movie Delta Force didn't look anything like it. And movies like Rambo II (go Rambo!) had orange cloud/smoke theme, but it came out in 1985.  The only movie I could find that came out before this ad appeared and that triggered any connection in my head was Dawn of the Dead - and that was really just the movie title that looks similar.

[Update: Friend of the blog Micke found an Apocalyse Now movie poster that includes a similar image. That must have been where my mind was... I've included the image Micke found below. See his comment below the blog post for more information about the movie]

Oh well, it was a hoot looking through old action movies, and gave me an opportunity to discover some cinematic gratuitous violence I hadn't seen yet.

Work is done, so time to make popcorn and tuck myself in. Go Rambo!

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   :)

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!  :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Roland SH-1000 "For those far-out sounds" brochure, 1975

Roland SH-1000 "For those far-out sounds" 2-sided brochure from 1975.

I'm "down" with the kids these days. Their music. Their hang-outs. Their lingo.

And back in 1975, Roland wanted readers to know they were "with it" too. The company made sure to give those potential customers lucky enough to get their hands on this brochure the real skinney on how the SH-1000 can create all "those far-out sounds". Bring this baby on stage and you'll be looooo-king good. A genuine Stone Fox. You will have all the bunnies getting down on the dance floor. It's total Ace.

Okay. I know... enough already.

So, what's all the buzz about this SH-1000 brochure? Well, for starters, it has the print date on the back!  I'm really digging that. Saves me time and effort trying to figure that out. Plus, I have a soft spot for that stylized "R" two-line logo.

I've come across the front half of the brochure online, but the back half seems to be a bit more difficult to find. A shame really - and one I'm hoping to fix with this post, since the second half has all the things I like in a retro synth brochure, including that great little diagram indicating the functions of each and every dial, switch, slider and tab. And it also includes a great little spec sheet underneath the diagram for those that would rather get their information in a more organized fashion.

According to many sources online, including Wikipedia, the SH-1000 was introduced to the world in 1973, and was not only Roland's first compact synthesizer, but the first to come out of Japan altogether. Sound On Sounds' April 2004 article on the history of Roland indicated that "it predated the Korg 700 by a handful of weeks". A pretty good start from a company that would expand on their SH-line for quite sometime after wards. And surprisingly, if online sources are correct, it continued production until 1981. 

Looking a little closer at it's specs, the SH-1000 had a pretty good feature set for such a young synth. VCO, Low pass filter with resonance, ADSR envelope generator, glide, white and pink noise... and the list goes on. It also included 10 presets, although the InterWebz jury still seems to be out on how useful they are on their own.

 It's brother, the SH-2000 came out a little later in 1973 with three times as many presets, but with less overall features and reduced sound editing capabilities. Some sites, such as Vintage Synth Explorer, speculate that the 2000 was possibly released because the SH-1000 turned out to be too confusing to many potential buyers such as church and home organists. That brochure photo of the SH-1000 sitting atop an organ backs the theory that the company originally was targeting those organists.

If you had any doubt about the capabilities of the SH-1000, look no further than to the YouTube video below created by AutomaticGainsay - aka Marc Doty. He hosts his own YouTube channel that is just shy of four million video views. He is also a recent Artist-In-Residence with the Bob Moog Foundation and a regular on's forums. You can be sure he knows a thing or two about synthesizers.

His description accompanying this SH-1000 video pretty much sums up his point of view on the beast.
"Do yourself a favour, and NEVER READ any review of the SH-1000 on the internet. ALL of them inaccurately portray the Roland SH-1000. Hopefully, this video will bring some accuracy and clarity.
Feel free to link to this video or post it on your page, but please give me credit by marking it "by Marc Doty." Thanks!"

Never read any review of the SH-1000? Now he tells me! Gah! *sound of hand hitting forhead*

Well better late than never.   :)