Monday, April 30, 2012

Gray Laboratories Basyn Minstrel 4 Voice, Contemporary Keyboard 1982

Gray Laboratories Basyn Minstrel 4 Voice synthesizer 1/6-page advertisement from page 61 in the February 1982  issue of Keyboard magazine.

This ad first looks like it appeared in the February 1982 issue of Keyboard in the bottom left-hand corner of page 81, the third of three small ads in a row along the bottom of the page. 

I've seen this tiny little ad around the Web a bit, but the scan is always a lot darker and you can't really make out the instrument's front panel. The ad itself is only about 5-1/2cm x 12cm (2-1/4in x 4-3/4in), but yet I can't help giving it so much of my attention lately. Okay, not all of that attention is aimed directly at this ad and the synth itself, but more about that in a moment.

If you are a long time reader of the blog, you will remember that this Feb82 issue holds a special place for me. As I pointed out in a Fairlight CMI "Orchestra for sale?" ad, this issue was dated incorrectly as February 1981 on the cover - a rare occurrence in the magazine world.  I'm still a little scared I'll misfile this back on the shelf during my traditional post-blog clean-up while listening to SomaFM's PopTron channel. I really dig that channel, and nope - not getting paid to say that. But I do pay a month donation to help keep the site going... and so should you so I can keep listening to it.   :)

For such a small ad, it does manage to provide some pretty good info on the Basyn Minstrel:
  • Fully programmable
  • Polyphonic
  • Unique waveform generation process
  • Transform filter
  • Digital envelope
  • 32 presets
  • Cassette tape storage
But it's that last line in the ad that kinda ticks me off - "1,112,525 possible preset combinations just using waveforms". Sure, full points to some engineer to come up with the right mathematical calculation. But if, like me, you hit the random button repeated on every soft synth with the feature, most of those combos either sound very similar to each other or just sound like @ss. That kinda math leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

And then I just start looking for other things I don't like. For example - the ad says "fully programmable", but the picture of the machine shows a from panel with very few controls. That immediately screams "complicated" to me.

Anyways, if you happened to be a regular reader of Keyboard back in 1982, after seeing this ad in the February issue you might have recalled the Spec Sheet promo for the synth a month earlier and taken the time to go back to read it for more info. It contains some great historical information include a nugget of operational information:
"Digital Synthesizer. The Basyn Minstrel is a 4-voice polyphonic digital synthesizer. It sports a 5-octave keyboard. Its front panel has two modes of operation: a preset mode with 32 presets, and a programming mode with 32 programmable parameters. 32 separate waveforms are available from the internal memory with more available through cassette tape. Other parameters controlled directly through the front panel are a transform filter (a digital approximation of an analog filter), digital envelopes, transform filter mode and texture, and four keyboard modes. The case is hand-finished Honduras mahogany (other woods are available on a factory order basis). Pitch-bend and modulation wheels are standard, with a two-axis joystick also available from the factory. Price is $3,995.00. Gray Laboratories, 1024 Lancer San Jose, CA 95129."
I used to be a big believer in having the Spec Sheet promo come out before the ads (usually a month or two before the ad starts running), but this is a good example of a case where seeing an ad first, and then running in to a more fully-featured Spec Sheet sometime into the ad-run may make more sense. Just thinking out loud here.

Readers today have the luxury of quickly learning a lot more about the Basyn Minstrel. According to Mark Vail, in his book Vintage Synthesizers (page 81 in the chapter "It came from the music industry"), the Basyn Minstrel started production in 1981 and was trying to slide into the same market as the Synclavier and the Fairlight, but with a much more attractive price point. Where I crankily found the sparse front panel to be a disadvantage to convincing people to shell out three grand for the machine, Mark probably more aptly describes it as "uncluttered". :)

You can read the full except from the book on's Basyn Minstrel's page, along with another even more detailed article about the instrument by Joey Swails. It contains some good reference info (example: it also came in an 8 voice version for $5995!), but let's just say he wasn't exactly a fan.

Another write-up from Joey Swails that came up in Google search results for the Basyn Minstrel was actually for the Gleeman Pentaphonic.
"They had wanted to call it the "Gleeman Minstrel", since their family name Gleeman means "minstrel." But there was another machine on the market called Minstrel (the Basyn, by Grey Labs), so they settled on 'Pentaphonic'."
Interesting stuff! I love tidbits of knowledge like that.

Okay, I mentioned that not all of my attention was aimed directly at this ad. The two other ads that appeared in the bottom half of page 61 are both rather unique in their own ways.

The first is an ad for Pi Corp. I've blogged a bit about Pi Corp in connection to the Digi-Atom 4800 Analog-MIDI interface, it's influence on the Cleveland music scene (Pi Corps, not the Digi-Atom), and Trent Reznor. But, most of all I really just like that logo.  :)

The second ad, that appeared in between the rather corporate-looking Pi Corp and Basyn Minstrel ads, was one for Hurdy Gurdy Productions.The company designs musician-related T-shirts images.

I only reference this ad for one thing. The stark contrast between the rather serious first T-shirt design:
"let the music take over your spirit, let it sing out - for all that can hear it. I the musician"
And the second design, which simply reads:
"Keyboardists have big organs"
Tee hee.  :D

No comments:

Post a Comment