Showing posts with label international musician and recording world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international musician and recording world. Show all posts

Monday, April 21, 2014

Crumar "The Protagonists" family ad, International Musician and Recording World (US edition), 1978



Crumar "The Protagonists" full page colour advertisement including the Organizer-T2, Organizer-T1, Multiman-s, DS1 DIgital Synthesizer and DS2 Digital Synthesizer from page 29 in the February 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World (US edition).

pro·tag·o·nist - noun
  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation.
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea.
 Well, there ya go - for all you cerebral types.  Good on Crumar not to dumb it down for a musician's magazine. :)

Over the last five and a half years that I've been blogging, I've spent exactly zero seconds talking about Crumar or their keyboards. Ziltch. Zip. Nada.  One hundred per cent of the reason has been because I've known absolutely NOTHING about them. And that's because Crumar synthesizers are very rare around these parts. Before last weekend, I had seen two in my entire life. Both DS2s. Both for only brief moments. And that was back in the early 2000s. Nothing since.

So it is with happy surprise that a DS2 just happened to come home with me last weekend. And, since they are notoriously flaky (according to Vintage Synth Explorer where they call it "a risky proposition") I'm happy to report that everything works perfectly on it. That's a photo of it right over there---->

Once I had one in my possession, I decided that I needed to do a bit of research on this beast and maybe get a little bit of history.

According to all things Wikipedia, Crumar was an Italian company, which explains why I haven't come across many of their synths in my part of the world. All the keyboards in this advertisement were first introduced in 1977 or 1978 and the DS2 was actually their first synthesizer to market. One of its main selling features was that it was one of the first synths to use digitally controlled oscillators, allowing it to stay in tune quite well - and something I noticed right away when I first turned it on and started noodling.

One of the coolest things about the DS2, in my opinion, is the amount of front panel real estate that is given to LFO control. Together it must make up about 40% of the front panel. Having two LFOs, and being able to choose which LFO controls OSC1, OSC2, VCF, VCA and pulse width - or both at the same time! - really adds another dimension to the machine.

The other crazy thing is that the DS2 also contains a basic string machine. And when I say basic - I mean basic. But it can be played at the same time as the rest of the synth, and runs through the VCF and VCA. Plus it has high and low pass filters/eq of its own. And its own LFO settings. Not too shabby.

As far as I can tell, this was one of the earliest ads for the DS2 - not just in International Musician, but in any magazine that I have in my collection. Keyboard didn't have a DS2 ad out until four months later in June 1978.

One of the first things I noticed in the ad is that the detailing of the DS2, and indeed many of the other keyboards in the ad's photo, is green. But, if you take a close look at the photo of my DS2, the detailing is in red. According to the DS2 page on Sequencer.de (underneath the photo of a green DS2), "Crumar DS-2 as green version, mornal it is red". So, apparently the red is "normal", what ever that means.

But when did the colour change?

According to Studio Dragon's user review for the DS2 on audiofanzine.com, the synth was manufactured between 1978 and 1980, and since the green version is the one in the 1978 advertisement, I'm guessing that green detailing came before red.

A Crumar DS2 auction post on MATRIXSYNTH indicates that only about 500 were made, and the serial number on my DS2 is in the 500s, so I'm guessing mine came out later on in the manufacturing run. But I can't find a date anywhere on the outside of my DS-2 - I may try and open it up later and take a look on the inside. A date may help narrow down exactly when the colour made the switch.

Well, I've only had the synth for a couple of days, but one thing I've noticed is that the beast has a nice filter, although there is a very narrow margin between not-self-oscillating and self-oscillating. But when you find that sweet spot, it has a really nice quality to it. With the help of the noise (white and pink), it makes some nice percussive sounds too.  I've already sampled it quite a few times into my Korg ESX and begun incorporating its sound into a few things I've been working on.

Not too shabby for just one long weekend of creativity.  :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

ARP Odyssey/Axxe "...now the most playable" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978


ARP Odyssey and Axxe "...now the most playable" two-page colour advertisement from page 34 and 35 in the March 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Halloween is getting close. It's usually around mid-October that I realize just how much I'm falling behind of all the different things I wanted to get done before the end of the year. Music. Work. Catch up with friends. The works.

And Halloween was the only theme I could think of when I took a look at those dismembered hands floating over the Odyssey and Axxe on the right half of this two-pager.  Hovering hands are one thing, but what really confuses me is the clothing choice. Those white frilly frocks chosen to accentuate the hands in the photo are a little outside their time period. Or was there a Shakespearian resurgence in the late 70s that I'm not aware of?

This ad is actually quite significant in the history of ARP. It marked the company's announcement to the world of their new black and orange colour choice for their synthesizers. Vintage Synth Explorer's ARP Odyssey and ARP Axxe pages include some great images of the different colour schemes used for both synths. A good read.

The new colour scheme promo wasn't just limited to CK either. Although that magazine seemed to have received the most advertising dollars to get this two-pager into the March, April and May 1978 issues. Plus also appeared in the June issue of CK as a full-colour 1-pager - running just the right-half of the ad.

Having that large photo take up the full left-half of the page really does help re-purpose the ad easily as a one-pager. And they did just that when ARP ran the 1-page version on the back outside cover of the May/June 1978 issue of Synapse magazine.

The 1-page version also ran as a black and white ad in the March (UK)/April (International) issue of International Musician and Recording World as part of a Chase Musicians' multi-page promo that included a big push for the ARP Avatar. Unfortunately, as is often the case when converting a colour ad to black and white, the small photos really suffered and are barely recognizable.  Boo.

The final 2-page spread of that Chase multipage promo is a one-night-only event to promote the updated synthesizers at one of Chase's stores, including an incredible 20% discount on all orders taken that night. As well as free drinks - in brackets: non-alcoholic only. LOL! May have to scan that one at a later date. It's quite spectacular.

Now, I just can't go any further without commenting on the ad's contents. Sure, its nicely designed with balance, good use of white space, yadda yadda yadda... but its the ad-copy itself that I find really really interesting.

ARP's big thing has always been "Human Engineering". A quick Google search of Retro Synth Ads for the term Human Engineering will give you a good idea just how much ARP pushed this aspect of their synths, and just how much I pointed it out. :)

And I have to say that this time ARP definitely made their synths "easier and more expressive to play" with the new black and orange "Halloween" colour scheme. Although not everyone liked the new colours, it was definitely a lot easier to locate and comprehend controls for "quick, clear readings".

There are a few other nice details in the ad-copy too. For example, ARP points out the synths' "extended keyboards" that "make them easier to play even when stacked with other keyboards". And, to subconsciously hit that point home, the centre photo of the Odyssey is lighted from above in such a way as to highlight the long keys of the keyboard. Brilliant.

And finally, the last point in the ad makes me chuckle. ARP has "redesigned" the prices for the Odyssey and Axxe. I love little bits of historical reference material like price drops.

And now I have to go find out just how much of a drop! And then, after that, get my synth advertising timeline tool updated.

I'm falling behind on that too. Gah.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Roland GR-500 Guitar Synthesizer "Each string is an orchestra" ad, International Musician 1978


Roland GR-500 Guitar Synthesizer "Each string is an orchestra" full page colour advertisement from page 99 in the January (UK)/February (US) 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World Magazine.

Gah! How silly of me.

Here I thought that the first full-page advertisement for the GR-500 in IM was this "Play me a rainbow" ad.


I actually thought that the ad scanned above was only a half-pager because that was how I originally recorded it into my database.

What? A database? You thought I knew all these synth ad stats off the top of my head?!?!  That's crazy talk.   :D

Anyways, point being, I was delaying the posting this "half pager" so I could do my cute little "you thought this other ad was the first ad for this [insert instrument here]..." bloggy thing I do. Yah, I know. Cheesy. .

So, then the other day as I'm lining up my next few ads, I actually pay a bit closer attention to this one and figure out it's actually a full pager. Go figure.

Then it got me wondering - I wonder if readers at the time had the same problem - only seeing half of this ad. To me, the top half of this advertisement just doesn't fit in with the bottom half. The top is totally black and white, and the bottom is colour. My eye is immediately drawn to the colourful image of the GR500, and then that thick black-lined box around the top half of the ad acts like a barrier and my brain doesn't want my eye to cross back up to the top half.  Even with the large guitar neck imagery, the font used with it is so tiny and different looking that it too makes brain want to separate it from the bottom half.

Luckily for Roland, even if some readers only "got" half of this advertisement, this issue of International Musician also included a FULL PAGE promo of the GR500 only a page or two away. The GR500 promo was at the end of an 18-page Chase Musicians supplement (aka the London Synthesizer Centre Report) - a large advertising sectional promoting the new London Synthesizer Centre that opened on Chalton Street just a short six months previously in June 1977. I've blogged a bit about this supplement before - can't find the post at the moment though. Chase must have spent a ton of cash on promoting pages upon pages on ARP, Octave, Korg, Yamaha, Elka, and of course, Roland.

The GR-500 promo page is written almost like a review of the instrument with good sized paragraphs explaining every feature of the GR-500. and, boy, is it ballsy. Just read this introduction:
"FOR YEARS, guitarists have dreamed of new sounds. Now there's a whole Galaxy of new sounds waiting to be discovered. Roland have built a guitar synthesizer!

In the last ten years millions of pounds have been spent developing effects pedals and special pick-ups to improve guitar sounds. Now they are all OBSOLETE!"
Ballsy or what? And you know this statement must be true, because that last word was in capitals AND bolded.    :)

US readers of International Musician would get another lucky break with even more GR-500 goodness through the appearance of  an actual "balanced" review of the GR500 the following month in the February (UK)/March (International) issue of International Musician and Recording World.

US readers only? Confused? So was I for a bit. It seems that before IMRW split into what looks like totally separate magazines for their UK and US audiences, US readers got the exact same magazine as the UK - UK advertisements and all. But, apparently this Feb/March IM magazine was the "first ever US issue" running at a measly 86 pages.  This US issue has no price label or month-of-issue date on the outside cover, so I'm thinking in these early days it may just have been packaged in with the full 202 page UK issue for the US peeps - maybe as an early way for local US advertisers to hit the US readers. An experiment of sorts.

Anyways, before I got sidetracked, I wanted to mention the two-page GR-500 review that appeared in this first US issue. Written by Dave Simmons, it is almost as glowing as the Chase advertisement that appeared the month before - with detailed info on the guitar itself, as well as on the four main sections of the synth unit - Polyensemble, Bass, Solo melody, External synth. A good read.

The UK really had a monopoly on the GR500 advertising circuit. There is very little to be found on this side of the pond. Shame that is.

End note: Another interesting thing about the January/February issue of IM - there is ANOTHER Roland advertisement by a different synthesizer store in London - Macari's - that uses the exact same photo as this scanned ad - except in black and white. This Macari's ad is letting readers know that from January 14-21 they can view a special exhibition and demonstration of Roland instruments staged by Macari's and Brodr-Jorgensen at their London store.

Makes me wonder if BJ's strategy was to play stores against each other. And it also makes me wonder if BJ pitched in on advertising costs for these dealer ads.

Interesting stuff!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Roland GR-500 guitar synthesizer "Play me a rainbow" ad, International Musician 1978


Roland GR-500 guitar synthesizer "Play me a rainbow" full page colour advertisement from page 179 in the March (UK)/April (US) 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World.

The rain is gone, and the sun and heat are back. I'm keeping this one short so I can enjoy the rest of my day!

Yup - the love-fest for Roland continues with this juicy full pager for Roland's GR-500. And Roland must have known it was a gooder because they kept it running from March to December of 1978 in most if not all the issues.

I had never come across the beast until a new employee showed up at my local music store and found that we had analogs in common. After we both became pretty sure that either one of us was out to rob the other, I had the chance to go see his home studio. And the first time I walked in, I tripped over one of these sitting on the floor. then I tripped over another. After the initial shock, he told me he had a third in the closet.

And can you believe, I never actually got to listen to one because he moved out of the province before I had the chance.

Gah!

*slaps forehead*

I really enjoy the layout of this advertisement. Nice a clean, with that iconic photo of the synth module in the foreground and the custom guitar behind. The green hughs, probably partly due to the age of the magazine, give it a slightly sea-sick appearance. But don't let that get in the way of enjoying this ad.

The ad-title is cute and reads well on the page. The ad-copy the same - if maybe a little on the sappy side to go with the "Play me a rainbow" theme. I'm usually not a fan of statements like "Roland gives you music" or "Open up a new world of creative possibilities" but in the context of the rainbow... meh... I don't mind it.

But, like most Roland ads at the time, its the Brodr, Jorgensen (BJ) connection that makes me love this ad the most. That logo with the three quarter notes and the crown (by appointment to the Royal Dutch Court) is really hip. I could see it blown up to huge proportions - like three stories tall.

And, although three logos is kind of repetitive (two on the machine and the third on its own), the third logo really is required to balance the whole ad.

A quick Google proved what I expected - people seem to love this thing.

Vintage Synth Explorer has a GR-500 page with a small write-up, but its the comments section that really provides some good info. For example, apparently there is a "3 'patch' memory 'floorboard' called the PC-50 that was available for the the GR-500".That peaked my interest and before you knew it, I was on Wayne Scott Joness' Vintage Roland Guitar Synthesizer Resource Web site. And in particular, the GR-500 page. And it is quite the resource. Specs, detailed info, nice photos, and a ton of videos showing off its functionality and performance. Nice.

You can also find some excellent history on the never-disappointing Sound On Sound Web site. The August 1999 article written by Norm Leete and simply titled "Roland GR-Series" provides some great historical and technical information on the GR-500, GR-300 and all of their brothers, sisters and cousins are mentioned.

Like I said at the beginning - I'm keeping this one short. Want more information? Google is your friend.   :)

Hello sun - here I come! What... no rainbow?!?!

Boo!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Roland MC-8 Micro-Composer "If you can hum a tune..." ad, International Musician 1978


Roland MC-8 Micro-Composer "If you can hum a tune..." two-page black and white advertisement from page 240 and 241 in the August (UK)/September(US) 1978 issue of International Musician and Recording World Magazine.

I've been infatuated with a certain beast lately. No, not the MC-8. The Titanoboa (I can see all of my Facebook friends rolling their eyes and groaning as they read this. It may have been the topic of a status update or two).

You can blame the History Channel really. They have been hyping the Titanoboa - Monster Snake TV show recently and I finally got to watch the full two hours while hiding out from the world last Friday night.. 

I can't help but think the MC-8 is kinda like the Titanoboa of the sequencer world. A rare beast of another era, with analog synth fanatics drooling over every feature and function when finally digging one up in the back corner of a pawn shop or a retro synth studio somewhere.

And like the respect the Titanoboa gets from scientists, this ad is giving the MC-8 the respect and real-estate that it deserved at the time. Spread out amongst two pages, with a HUGE ad-title and an image of the actual machine so large you can make out some of the labels and settings on the front panels. Yum. And, that UK two-pager also ran for three consecutive months. Nice.

Meanwhile, in the US, Roland decides to give this Titanosequencer only a half-page. Boo! Makes me a little cranky.

The actual ad is a bit of a mixed bag. The beauty might lie in its ugliness. Probably much like Titanoboa itself.

The ad-title is big. I mean *really* big. And because the ad-copy is so much smaller, it gives the illusion that the ad-title is even bigger.  Plus it's in full-on caps, which makes it even harder to read.

Someone even figured this out, but rather than try and fix it, decided to make matters worse by increasing the size and boldness of the first letter of the first word (IF) as well as the M and C in MICRO-COMPOSER.

But, that's not even the dog's breakfast. Look at that ad-copy. Ironically, all that verbal diarrhea is to explain how *easy* the MC-8 is to operate and make music. I'm serious. Read it. I'd give anything for a bullet point. Or eight. Anything to make this thing more readable.

And then they go and throw around terms like crotchet and minim. Good lord. I'm going to stop there. If only because every time I see the word "crotchet" I giggle because it sounds dirty.

So, the ad may not be a design and readability success, but historically it is the bees knees. Mostly because of what is missing.

Other Roland ads that were running in International Musician during this time period, including this awesome "Groupies aren't everything" advertisement and even larger multi-page/multi-instrument promo spreads, included contact info for their European distributor Brodr, Jorgensen (U.K.) Ltd.


But there isn't any evidence of BJ in this MC-8 advertisement. This one is pure Roland with only Osaka identification. And pointing readers to their "local dealer" for more info.

Interesting stuff.

I wish I had something witty to say about Titanoboa to end this post. If I think of something, you, the reader, will never even have known this sentence existed. But coming up with something before this goes live is probably 1 in a million.

Much like coming across the fossils of Titanoboa. <--- see what I did there.  :D

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yamaha DX7 "The Performance is about to begin" 2-page ad - Part 2, Keyboard 1983


Part 2 of Yamaha DX7 "The Performance is about to begin" 2-page colour advertisement from page 42 and 43 in the September 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

As mentioned in my last blog post (Part 1 of this DX7 ad) - although I have been focusing on Keyboard Magazine when it comes to Yamaha's new DX line, I was still interested to see if other magazines were getting in on this new FM action. And one of the biggest surprises for me was found in a DX7 review in the US/Canadian version of International Musician and Recording World (IMRW).  More specifically, the photo of the prototype DX7 with it's "merged" DX logo.

But there was more to that October 1983 "On Test" review of the DX7 than just that unique photo.  Readers of IMRW were probably very happy to read that rather well written three-page review. 

Penned by Paul Fishman, the review does a great job of balancing the need to educate readers on FM synthesis while also trying to get an actual review of the instrument down on paper. Keeping the flow of a review going when you have to stop and explain every new term could have been overwhelming to both the writer and reader.  And then add to this the fact that the reviewer was also learning FM synthesis on the spot!  But he does a good job of it while still admitting to the fact that he's rather new to the technology. It could have been all too easy to just try and come off as an expert. Kudos Paul:
"I must confess that at the outset my brain refused to have anything to do with comprehending the system, but after about an hour of messing around, I began to see some light at the end of the tunnels."
The review starts off with a bit of theory surrounding algorithms and then into the construction and design of the instrument itself. Then he gets down and dirty into the complicated business of editing sounds, and seems genuinely relieved when he gets to some familiar territory - the "old faithful" LFO section. LOL!

The conclusion in particular is interesting, taking up almost one-third of the total review.  For one, he specifically references Yamaha's advertising during the time period!
"To return to the matter at hand. I would definitely agree with some of the advertising blurb that Yamaha are waving around. It does create some excellent and authentic sounds although Yamaha's blurb admittedly goes over the top. The capabilities of digitally-generated sound to mimic acoustic qualities is at times quite stunningly authentic. The clarity of tone is also most impressive. But I think it is important to keep in mind that this instrument will not replace the area of sound that its analogue competitors cover, nevertheless it opens up other avenues."
Paul also points out a few of the DX7's shortcomings in the conclusion, including the lack of arpeggiating and sequencing functionality. And he really rags on one particular item:
"For me, one of the dumbest design faults has got to be the lack of stereo audio output. One of the most important characteristics in synthesis is the spatial placing of sound, therefore the imaging of the sound."
Even with these and other faults, in the end he seems extremely happy with the instrument, especially at the price point Yamaha is selling them at.

The most interesting part of the conclusion is his bang-on prediction of the future, Yamaha's difficulty in promoting and educating this rather complicated technology to end users, and making the technology more user-friendly. Remember, this review came out only *months* after the DX7's introduction:
"But I must say that I don't know how Yamaha or the dealers are going to communication this new concept in keyboards to potential customers. I think people are going to be confused, although despite this, I am sure the DX7 will sell in vast quantities. But I will make a bet now that a good 70% of owners will never explore this keyboard fully, apart from using the factory memory packs, and it will generally be used as a preset…
...It would have been helpful if they had concentrated on making their format far more "user friendly".  A clearer explanation of reasons for choosing one particular algorithm as opposed to another would be very useful.  Many of the problems could have been solved if, for example, instead of using two small displays (patch no. and parameter status/select) they had developed something like a mini TV monitor panel within the keyboard to enable you to see all the tuning functions of the Operators at a glance, as well as their relevant Envelope settings… …As more keyboards become computer-based instruments, it is essential that manufacturers don't lose sight of how user helpful they are entitled to be."
I know! Right?!?!?!

Bang on, Paul. Bang on.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Yamaha DX7 "The Performance is about to begin" 2-page ad - Part 1, Keyboard 1983



Yamaha DX7 "The Performance is about to begin" 2-page colour advertisement from page 42 and 43 in the September 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Okay. Now we're talking. Yamaha finally getting serious about the promotion of the DX7.

This two page centerfold appeared in the September and October 1983 issues of Keyboard Magazine and I seriously would have considered putting this thing up on my wall if it had been available as a poster.

It has everything that makes a synthesizer ad great including a snappy ad-title in a large font and a really large feature photo of the synthesizer itself. Believe it or not, this is probably the first time many readers may have seen a clear photo of the actual instrument in a DX ad.

The ad also includes some great informative ad-copy, as well as images and testimonials from some of the biggest names in keyboards and synthesizers - Elton John, David Paich/Steven Porcaro, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea, Michael McDonald and Jerry Goldsmith.  I wouldn't be surprised if each of those artists ordered copies of their illustrated photos. I'm really digging them.

And what really makes this a really really awesome advertisement is how those last two features  - the ad-copy and the testimonials -  balance each other out.

I think the ad writers knew there were two audiences to be catered to when it came to the DX7 and FM synthesis. The logical types that like to read vast amounts of technical info about the synth. And the creative types that just want to know if and how the DX7 can create great sounds. So, I'm thinking that Yamaha consciously split that audience up.

The technical types would be drawn to the ad-copy and probably start reading immediately, eating up every last technical crumb about FM, operators and mathematics.  But the creative types would probably ignore large amounts of ad-copy, so those illustrated images of their favorite musicians act like magnets to draw their attention to those deliberately non-technical testimonials: "Lets me capture the mood". "Great warmth and colour".  "The sound speaks the melody". "Open a new world of sound with colors I could imagine, but not express musically".

The ad-copy  also filters the two audiences well - answering the two main questions on people's minds in a humorous fashion. But making sure the pricing info is answered first so that creative types can stop reading:
"For any of you familiar with FM digital, those prices have probably prompted you to split for your local Yamaha dealer already, so goodbye, this ad is over for you. For those still hanging around to find out more, here goes…". 
And the rest of the ad-copy goes on to explain FM synthesis and the technical features of the machines.

I'd also like to point out that the ad also contains a few other great historical references including Canadian suggested retail prices - $2,595 for the DX7 and $1,995 for the DX9.

If I was going to be a bully, the only thing I could pick on is that Yamaha logo. It looks like they chose to use the same logo size and style as for their one-page ads, but I find it kinda gets lost in this two page spread. But again, I'd have to be a real douche of a bully to start a fight in the school cafeteria over that one.

Enough about the ad. Although I have been mostly focusing on Keyboard Magazine, I was interested to see if other magazines were getting in on the new FM action around the time that the machine first launched.

One of the biggest surprises for me while I was digging around in other mags was coming across this photo:


That's a photo of a DX7 from an "On-Test" review  found in the October 1983 issue of the US/Canadian version of International Musician and Recording World (IMRW).

Look closely. Did you spot it?

Scroll back up and look at the DX7 logo in the top-right corner of the synthesizer in the ad. That's the logo I am familiar with. Now look at the logo in this photo again. It's different - the D and X are merged! Something I hadn't noticed before and so I immediately started looking for other photos of DX7s or any other DX instrument with this special logo. I couldn't find anything.

And then, coincidentally, the other night I'm on the Vintage Synth Explorer forums and someone posts THE EXACT SAME QUESTION. Awesome!  The poster - desmond -  included a photo with a DX7 and DX9 with the old logo from http://www.kratzer.at. So, now we have two photos with the old logo.

KevBKeys pointed out a few physical differences between what desmond considers is probably a prototype model used in the first generation of promotional photos and the final version of the DX7:

"I notice the 5 jack sockets on that DX7 seem to protrude out the back. On the two mk1 DX7 I have used (both of which had the regular logo) the jack sockets were flush with the back panel.

Also, some of the front panel markings are different. There is no "Keyboard Level Scaling" graph for example."
And in a follow-up post wrote:
"I also notice the white strip (that says "play") under the memory select switches is missing. It was presumably added to production models so users could easily locate the modes where you select presets ...and therefore make this sophisticated hi-tech digital technology seem a little less daunting! "
This is exactly why I like hanging out on the VSE forums. :)

There's more to that October 1983 IMRW DX7 review than just this interesting photo. This early review of the DX7 really helps put Yamaha's new FM technology into a historical perspective.

But that will have to wait until Part 2.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 U.K. ad, 1978


Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 1/2-page advertisement from page 155 in International Musician and Recording World July (UK)/August (USA)1978.

Oh Rod! How much does your store love US synth companies! First "OBERHEIM month" - twice. And now July is the "MONTH FOR THE COMING OF THE PROPHET".

And, not sure if the Prophet just didn't show up in July or not - but the ad appeared again in September declaring that it was the month that Prophet would show up.

Either way - like I said in my last Rod Argent ad post on the Oberheim synths - good on ya for giving companies like Sequential Circuits and Oberheim some good advertising real estate in IMRW.

The ad template is very similar to the Oberheim advertisement, and in fact this template appeared quite frequently to promote the store in IMRW. For example, the same 1/2-page advertisement template appeared in the May issue of IM declaring May as R.M.I. month - "starring for the first time in the U.K. the RMI KEYBOARD COMPUTER - solely available from us". Great historical info!

Side note: It seems Rod Argent was the exclusive distributor for a few synths in their time. As as I flipping through the Nov (UK)/Dec (USA) issue doing research, I noticed that the "Stand by for the Wasp invasion" ad mentions that Rod Argent's was the exclusive distributor in the UK. 


Similar 1/2- page Rod Argent ads in other months wouldn't focus on a particular piece of gear, but instead be very general in nature. The ad in the March 1978 issue of IM was just that - listing off a string of synths, electric pianos, organs and string machines by Moog, Yamaha, ARP, Korg, Yamaha as well as a few lesser known companies such as the Jeremy Lord SkyWave! Yum!

This ad is also cool because it really helps pin down when exactly the Prophet made it on to UK soil. Promotion of the Prophet started in Contemporary Keyboard back in February 1978. And this ad states that this synth is "solely available from Rod Argents Keyboards" in the UK. This seems to indicate to me that there was only a four or five month delay (tops!) before Dave Smith got that instrument across the pond. Not too shabby for 1978.

And something I didn't mention in my previous blog post -  you will find a small blurb at the bottom of this ad that states that Rod Argent carried Contemporary Keyboard magazines! Including back issues. Nice!

Just like I mentioned in my previous Rod Argent advertisement, it seems that its not only me and Rod that are digging the Prophet-5 either. But this time, its not IMRW reviewer Dave Simmons that is reviewing the synth. It is none other than Robin Lumley from Brand X.

In the review, Lumley doesn't hide his excitement over the Prophet too well. Okay - not at all.

For example, at one point he describes the Prophet as a "super-Minimoog" that "behaves like and has the inherent richness of sound of the Moog". He even includes this note:
"Note the constant reference back to the famed little instrument from Norlin: this is because constant comparison to the Mini should be useful to you as a tern of reference, and also because for any instrument to be compared favourably to a Mini is a compliment to its ergonomics, its sound, and its satisfaction in operation."
Even when he mentions that quick removal of the Prophet-10 from the market due to the power-supply temperature issue, he is quick to point out the good in the situation:
"Obviously, Sequential Circuits is going to lose a lot of prospective customers by withdrawing this version, but it's to their credit that they've not prepared to see anything that is slightly below their high standards."
Near the end of the article, he mentions that his only two quibbles (I love UK-speak!) are the fact that it is only five-voice polyphonic, and the lack of triangle wave on oscillator 1.

Interestingly, his conclusion is upbeat, and, even better, also gives us a little bit more history on the Prophet's entry into the UK. After pointing out the number of Prophets bought up by musicians such as Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, Bob Styles, and others, he writes:
"Only the fairly slow arrival of the product into the UK is stopping a boom from occurring. If you are into synths, you must try the Prophet, and if you're not, try one anyways and you'll be converted for sure."
Can't beat that kind of historical info.

End note: One other thing I always find interesting about UK ads is the different credit cards that seemed to be available.

Diners Club?

To buy a synth?  :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oberheim FourVoice and OB-1 ad, International Musician and Recording World 1978


Oberheim FourVoice and OB-1 1/2-page advertisement from page 197 in International Musician and Recording World  June (UK)/July (USA) 1978.

Um... this is sad. I seriously never made the connection between Rod Argent - keyboardist for the band The Zombies, and Rod Argent Keyboards - the store in the UK that printed a wack of ads in International Musician and Recording World in the late 70s.

In my defense, I hadn't been born yet when The Zombies were around. But my brother had rightfully introduced me to the band at an early age, and they had a large influence in my early music experiences.

After The Zombies, Argent went on to form the highly descriptively named band Argent, which was active until around 1976. And then he continued on to do a number of other projects.

When I started Googling his name as part of the research for this ad, search results had pretty much convinced me that the band member and the shop owner were one in the same, but it took a bit to find some kind of evidence of this fact. The Zombies page on Wikipedia didn't including any reference to a keyboard store. And neither did Rod Argent's own Wikipedia page. But I finally found one small sentence on the Argent (The band) page that backed up this theory - and this sentence also included a bit of history on another one of my early favs - The Kinks!

That page states that when the band stopped performing in 1976, other members "briefly continued together under the name Phoenix before going their separate ways, with first Rodford and then Henrit becoming members of The Kinks. Meanwhile, Rod Argent went on to work with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and to produce a couple of solo albums. He also opened a keyboard shop in the West End of London".

Bolding is mine - interesting stuff. And, leads me to believe this is Rod Argent of The Zombies' keyboard shop.

So, back to that ad...

Now, one might get excited to know that Rod Argent himself declared June "OBERHEIM month" at his store - the line in the ad is in quotations, so I'm assuming Rod himself declared this. But then, two months later, you may not get so excited to know that International Musician included the exact same advertisement with only one change - "June" was changed to "August". Yup - Rod had once again announced that the month of August had also been selected as another "OBERHEIM month".

Don't get me wrong. Oberheim deserves as many months as possible in a given year dedicated to it. And I dig the fact that Rod Argent was also digging Oberheim synthesizers enough to import and promote them on their own in an ad.

And, it turns out that Rod and I aren't the only ones digging Oberheim synthesizers. Reviewer Dave Simmons also took a bit of a liking to the OB-1 in his August 1978 "Simmons' SynthCheck" review in International Musician.

The opening few sentences really gives today's readers a good indication of where the synth industry was at the time - and something we take for granted:
"The OB 1 is made in America by Oberheim Electronics Inc. and is one of the "new breed" of synthesizers which have memories i.e. a particular sound can be stored away, to be recalled instantly at the press of a button. this, to my mind, is the ideal type of synthesizer - fully variable but with a number of pre set sounds, each of which can be set up to the player's own taste (You're not lumbered with someone else's idea of what a trumpet should sound like.)"
The rest of the article  is logically organized by standard synth programming sections - a few paragraphs on the VCOs, VCF, EG and VCA, as well as small sections on programming, manual controls, and the general layout of the machine.  And of course, also included in a call-out box and one of my favorite bits of reference information - price! 1,240 pounds or 2,500 US dollars in 1978 dollars.

As Dave Simmon's notes at the end of the article:
"It does all that you would expect from a single voice, lead-line synthesizer and is not much more expensive than one without the memory".
So, good on Dave Simmons! And good on Rod Argent!

BTW - Rod's official Web site tells me he is currently touring. I apparently missed the Canadian leg of his tour, but would really try and catch him if he ever came close again. He is also twittering under the handled @zombierodargent.

I just started following him  :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jeremy Lord Synthesizers SkyWave, International Musician & Recording World (US) 1978



Jeremy Lord Synthesizers SkyWave synthesizer 1/2-page advertisement from page 77 in International Musician & Recording World (US), February 1978.

I actually started writing this blog post back in September 2011 with my original intro made reference to Thanksgiving in Canada. But I kinda forgot about it after I sent a few emails off to people in the hopes of getting more info on it. I guess I never got anything back, and the post fell to the sidelines for a while.

Oooops.

Anyways, I've blogged about many of my favorite imports like the Thunderchild, Scorpion Stage (twice), and the more common Wasp synth, but this Skywave was one of my all time favorite import obsessions - for a while anyways.

You may have heard about the Skywave. Probably from someone trying to impress you with their synthesizer knowledge. Me? -I knew absolutely nothing about it except the existence of an actual ad. Ziltch. Nadda. So, as usually happens in these types of situations, I focus first on the ad itself.

This 1/2 page advertisement isn't exactly "art" with all the different font sizes and styles popping up everywhere, but the ad-copy itself becomes "art" to me because of that heaping pile of gorgeous, ridiculously yummy historical and technical information.

This was obviously the introductory ad for the Skywave, with its main purpose to get people out to the Frankfurt Spring Fair - and in particular Custom Sound Ltd's stand in Hall 5 to hear Case Bakker of H.B. Electronics demo the beast.

The title includes the word "rugged", and the word is mentioned again in reference to the flight case. Both references suggest Jeremy Lords Instruments was targeting touring musicians.

The ad also provides some juicy historical pricing and technical info.
  • A recommended retail price of 599 pounds (including flight case!). Nice.
  • Two VCOs
  • Square wave modulation
  • Graphic Waveform controls (?!)
  • Mixer section
  • Noise
  • External i/p
  • Touch operated illuminated selectors
  • VCF and VCA ring modulator
  • Sample and hold
  • Output EQ
  • Four LFOs
  • 49 note keyboard
  • And, most interestingly, a "3 dimensional joystick that controls keyboard modulation, pitch bend and sound volume".
Sounds like a formidable opponent to some of the other synths available at the time. But, alas, finding a real Skywave in a retail shop was probably as rare as this ad, and as rare as finding information online about the instrument.

Sequencer.de has a Skywave page with some specs, and a nice color photo of a Skywave showing off the lovely yellow and red accent colours. Another side view photo, along with a few other stats (only 10 made!) can be found on the blog side of the same site.

I found and interesting comment in the Theremin World forums made in 2008 by what looks to be a former employee, that explains what happened to the synthesizer and the company:
"I watched this happen synthesis, when low cost plastic keyboard synths from Japan wiped out the British Analogue Synthesiser producers (I was working for Jeremy Lord Synthesisers, which changed to making medical products as Lord Medical, because there was a near total collapse in sales of the expensive Sky-Wave Synthesiser)"
But the majority of information that pops up when you do an online search for the instrument is Jeremy Lord's son, Simon William Lord. His Wikipedia page describes Simon as "an english musical composer, record producer and musician" who has been involved in a number of projects, including a solo effort where he goes by the name "Lord Skywave". And not surprisingly, Simon has used a Skywave synth in his music.

His personal Web site, simonwlord.com, includes a few songs from the Lord Skywave album released in June 2008, and states on the site that the album includes the Skywave synth. In fact, Simon's connection to his father (and the fact he used compositions from his grandmother) is such a great sound bite (pun intended) that the Skywave connection is picked up in many reviews. Gigwise.com, for example, really grabs onto this marketing hook in it's review of the album - and in the end gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars. And that isn't the only good review. According to the Wikipedia page, NME gave it 8/10, and Mojo gave it 4/5. Not too shabby.

I found some more recent solo work described as "Acoustic/Psychedelic/Screamo" on his MySpace page. And he has another MySpace page featuring some more collaborative "Electro/Pop" work under the name Black Ghosts.  Black Ghosts seems to be getting popular amongst the kids.

I spent a little bit more time online because I wanted to track Simon down and ask him a few questions about his father as well as his own impressions on the sound of the Skywave. But so far, no replies. :( 

If he does get back to me, I'll be sure to post an update to the blog.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Korg "How to get fat sound from a thin wallet" family of synthesizers ad, International Musician 1978



Korg "How to get fat sound from a thin wallet" family of synthesizers two-page advertisement including the 800 DV (Maxi Korg), Mini Korg 700s, 770,  Poly 1000 (Polyphonic Ensemble P) and Poly 2000 (Polyphonic Ensemble S) from page 12 and 13 in International Musician and Recording World November 1978.

Crazy late in the day. I know. That's just the kind of days it has been around here.

I'd like to take full responsibility for this ad - as if I was blogging about this long string of Rose-Morris ads after each first appeared back in 1978, and the company was actually listening to what I had to say. :)

First, the bad. For some reason, Rose-Morris has decided to ignore the new crop of Korg gear they had just launched in an ad three months earlier - including the MS-20, MS-10 and VC-10. How could they go back to the older products? MS was the future! In the US, once those MS/VC ads started running, they didn't stop for over a year.

Gah! Maybe they put out that ad before instruments could make it into the UK? Or maybe they had to get rid of old stock...  :)

But because this ad is just so great, I can forgive Rose-Morris for circling back to Korg's older gear.

For starters - the ad-title. Unlike some of the older ads, this one makes sense. It's also a great play on words. Witty and all that stuff.

The layout is also great. Only five products have been wisely chosen to promote - and each includes a nice large photo. There is also a nice large sub-title for each, and a small descriptive paragraph with just enough white space to make it easy for the eye to separate the content of each instrument from the others. But the best thing is that Rose-Morris/Korg has decided to finally use bullets to highlight the main features of each instrument. What a great way to get a lot of good reference info, including recommended retail prices (!), into a small amount of space. Kapow!

Plus - look at that font size. Finally, I can actually read this without putting on my reading glasses (did I just give away my age-group?). The font choice is a little unorthodox, but it is still readable, so I'm not gonna complain. Even the logos, although smaller that in previous ads, are easily seen in the bottom right hand corner. There is no doubt who's ad this is. Great stuff.

Looking over old ads, I can't believe I haven't actually looked into who Rose-Morris is anyways.

I found a bit more history about Rose-Morris in a Korg "40 years of gear" article in the November 2002 issue of Sound on Sound magazine. Near the bottom of the Web page is a call-out box called "The Establishment of of Korg UK" where it explains that Rose-Morris was a British company established in the 1920s, and by the 80s were very successful with a number of stores, distributing for Korg and many others. They also had a few of their own product lines including Vox.  But in the late 80s, things weren't looking so good for Rose-Morris, and in 1992 Korg acquired  a major stake in the company and changed the name to Korg UK.

Interestingly, I found a Rose Morris Web site that sells music instruments and they do write in their About Us section that they have a 90-year history. So, it could be that the name was kept alive or resurrected at some point. If anyone has more info on this, please comment!

Another great SOS article I ran into online was written by Gordon Reid in April 1998 called "Korg Minikorg Family (Retro)". It includes some great history and reference information on a number of the instruments that are highlighted in the past few Korg ad blog posts, including the 770, 700s, 800DV, M500 Preset, Poly 1000 (Polyphonic Ensemble P) and Poly 2000 (Polyphonic Ensemble S).

The best thing about that article is how it explains Korg's "unorthodox terminology" used on many of these synthesizers. For example, the "Traveler" was the name used for Korg's combined dual 12db/oct low-pass and high-pass filter. "VCF" just wasn't good enough.  :)

Thank-you Sound On Sound for keeping this history alive on your Web site!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Korg "A universe of sound" family of synthesizers ad, International Musician 1978



Korg "A universe of sound" family of synthesizers ad including MS-20 Monophonic Synthesizer, SE-500 Stage Echo, VC-10 Vocoder, MS-10 Monophonic Synthesizer, SQ-10 Analog Sequencer, PS3300 synthesizer, PS3100 synthesizer, GT6 Guitar Tuner, and EM-570 Echo Mixer from page 16 and 17 in International Musician August (UK) 1978.

 Hello! Now were talking!

Rose-Morris is really starting to kick it into high gear - and it didn't hurt that Korg had something new to talk about - most excitingly the MS-10 and MS-20 synthesizers, as well as the VC-10 Vocoder. IM readers started hearing about these instruments in August 1978, but readers of Contemporary Keyboard wouldn't start gazing at these instruments in Korg ads for another three months ( November 1978).

But, in my opinion, it would be worth the wait since those US ads consisted of those awesomely recognizable one-pagers that ran for an insanely long number of months. These ads would eventually make it into IMRW, but not until March 1979:


Like I was saying - this 2-page ad is a treat. Gone is the often crowded text found in the two previous IMRW ads - "Seven hundred and fifty words..." and "Synths for all the music you'll ever need".  The font is still a little small, but that is a small price to pay for a bit of white space. Aaaaaaah - room to breathe.  Each new instrument is given it's own little space with a sub-title, paragraph box and photo.

If I hadn't seen the ad, but heard the title was "A Universe of Sound", I would almost expect someone to take the easy road and plaster this ad with space imagery. But no! Three big cheers to the designer for maintaining some level of dignity. I'm thinking maybe they learned a lesson from that earlier Korg accessories "Do you feel locked in..." ad.  :)

Also really interesting is how Korg is starting to take on a more dominant position in these ads. Korg products are starting to gain recognition and respect with readers, and so it makes sense that ads would want to take advantage of this. For example, the Korg logo is starting to get relatively larger in relation to the size of it's distributors logos. You see it in this Rose-Morris ad, and you also begin to see it this side of the pond in the Unicord ads. Compare them to earlier Korg ads where the distributors have equal billing or even a larger presence than Korg. Yikes.

I'm hearing it already - "A-ha! But in that last ad example, the word 'Korg' in the background of the ad is larger!". But I would have to reply that the word "Korg" and the logo-type "Korg" are two TOTALLY different things. And I'm sticking to that story :)

The other thing I find interesting is that even though this ad is promoting its new line of synthesizers, the PS3300 and PS3100 are still getting a nod. Including these older machines may not have been a good call considering all that new juicy Korg goodness that was also been promoted, but in defense of the ad, I'm guessing these older synths were either worth mentioning because they had already gained some good cred among musicians, or they needed an extra push because they weren't selling too many of them.

Similar to the last Korg ad in IMRW, this ad was also part of a Rose-Morris advertising feature that spanned a series of pages. If you recall from the last ad, Rose-Morris didn't do a very good job of distinguishing their set of ads from the rest of the mag. But this time, they started off the feature-set of ads with this awesome photo:


That was a great splash of colour and a great lead-in to the Rose-Morris stable of products that followed.

Rose-Morris is definitely on a roll. And if you can believe it... it's gonna get even better!  :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Korg "Synths for all the music you'll ever need" family of synths ad, International Musician 1978



Korg "Synths for all the music you'll ever need" one-page family advertisement including PS3300 synthesizer, PS3100 synthesizer, 800 DV synthesizer, 700s synthesizer, Preset synthesizer, 770 synthesizer, Synthebass, Polyphonic Ensemble 1000, Polyphonic Ensemble "Orchestra" 2000, and Micro-Preset M-500 synthesizer  from page 13 in International Musician and Recording World (UK) July 1978.

This ad is proof that great things are often the result of small progressive increments. The best from Korg was still to come when it came to their ads in IMRW, but this one-pager was definitely an improvement over the earlier March 1978 2-page "Seven-hundred and fifty words..." ad.

One of the first thing you will notice about the ad is a thick grey line along the right edge of the page. It does look odd out of context. The thing is, this ad was part of a four page "Rose-Morris Advertising Feature" section in the magazine that also included ad pages on other products the company distributed - including Marshall amps (page 11), DiMarzio pick-ups (page 12) and Ludwig drums (page 14). That line is simply a design element that helped readers differentiate this series of ads from the rest of the mag.

The only other ways readers would know these ads were related would be the small text at the bottom of each ad that reads "A Rose-Morris Advertising Feature", plus a small, virtually unnoticeable form at the bottom of page 14 that readers could fill out to receive more info. Check a separate box for Marshall, DiMarzio, Ludwig and Korg. And don't forget your address!

But, like I said, it wasn't all bad and was an improvement over the last Korg ad. Rose-Morris did throw away the useless small talk that made up most of that previous Korg ad. They granted my wish and kept the ad-copy strictly instrument-related. In fact, I should be careful about what I wish for, because not only did they cram info about all the gear from the previous ad, but finally threw in a few more Korg instruments as well - the PS3300, PS3100 and Micro-Preset M-500. The US Korg ads had been pushing these synths  since March.

The cramped feeling is only magnified by some not-so-succinct ad-copy, an extra small font, and that grey side bar.  I can't decide if the lack of both the Korg and Rose-Morris logos were an oversight, or if there was just no room.

And, not to get really picky - but what is with that ad-title? "Synths for all the music you'll ever need". Does that even make sense?  

But, I'm getting all negative on Rose-Morris' ass. I'm actually really happy to see the appearances of the Korg PLS-series in this ad. Unlike in the US where PS ads appeared almost monthly between October 1977 and July 1978, PLS-series synth sightings seem quite rare in UK ads up to this point. And even better - unlike in the US where both PLS ads fail to mention the actual synth model names - both the PS3100 and 3300 get a nod in this ad.

Likewise - finding the Korg Micro-Preset in the ad was another big plus. I think the poor thing often got the short end of the stick. For example, check out this extremely small Spec Sheet promo in the May 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard:
"Korg Micro Synthesizer. This preset synthesizer has a 32-note keyboard. There are 30 voice selections, plus a filter, two-position portamento controls, two types of delayed vibrato, repeat, random repeat, modulation controls, and a pitch control. The price is $449.00. Unicord, 75 Frost St., Westbury, NY 11590."
Yup. That's it. Just a couple of sentences.

I'm guilty of ignoring that little sucker too. Most of my interesting in these Korg ads has been about the PLS-series synthesizers as well. While doing some online research, it didn't take me long to come across a great February 2001 Sound On Sound article by Simon Lowther on the PS3100. It contains some good information on all three of the PLS-series synthesizers, including information on the voice architecture, resonators, modulation generators and patch panel. A great read!

The wikipage for the PS3300 also seems very good with sections on it's history, resonators, tuning, audio mixer and modulation, and keyboard and foot controllers. Use your Google chops to find more info.

I promise I'll be out of my negative mood soon. It could possibly have to do with my inability to grow any sort of moustache for Movember.   It kinda hurts.   :)

This ad was a step in the right direction. And the good news? The best from Korg was yet to come!

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, October 31, 2011

Yamaha GX-1 "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" ad, International Musician and Recording World 1978


Yamaha GX-1 "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" 1-page advertisement from page 17 in International Musician and Recording World January (UK) 1978.

I'm a little embarrassed - for two reasons.

The first is a simple mistake - I almost overlooked this GX-1 advertisement because my eye's wouldn't leave a certain ad that sat across from it on the opposite page.


I swear that thing was looking right at me, deep into the recesses of my mind, pondering and judging my darkest secrets. It's like I was hypnotized by that giant mouse.

Okay - obligatory Halloween content finished.

The second reason I'm embarrassed is that I really had no clue who "Mickie" was. Which meant that the whole title thing - "The 'Most' Yamaha goes to Mickie" - was also lost on me. Part of the problem was that extra space between "Mickie" and ""Most" in the first line of the ad-copy. My mind wouldn't put the two words together in my brain and I thought maybe there was a word missing somewhere. I had to ask my GF if maybe the ad was referring to Mick Jagger. Seriously. I had no clue.

But when I finally did figure it all out (thanks Wikipedia!) everything else fell into place. Big producer... Rak Studios in London... Herman's Hermits... I learned a lot this weekend   :)

If you recall from my last CS-80 blog post, Yamaha didn't seem to promote the CS-80 through advertisements in International Musician. And it looks like we now know part of the reason. They were spending at least a little of their advertising budget on this advertisement, while (intentionally or unintentionally) letting earned media promotion do it's thing for the CS-80.

Looking closer at this GX-1 ad, its kind of an anomaly. Yamaha usually wasn't one to "pull an ARP" by name-dropping so extensively in an ad. I'm not saying they never did it, but if I look at other Yamaha ads I've posted, usually they relied on throwing out a few technical terms and focusing on the reader as the musician.

But, in this case, Yamaha does the name-dropping job proud by using the Trifecta of "important music business stars" - Mickie Most, Stevie Wonder and, of course, Keith Emerson.

Although Stevie Wonder coined the term "Dream Machine" in reference to the GX-1, to me he will always be associated with samplers (probably just me showing my age group). I would thus argue that from my point of view, Keith Emerson was usually associated more closely with the GX-1 over on this side of the pond. And you don't have to look far for examples - like that awesome photo in the book Vintage Synthesizers of Keith playing a GX-1 while "ignoring" his Moog modular and Hammond C-3 in a Montreal stadium.

Keith also had a column in Keyboard Magazine called "Inside Tracks" where he answered readers' questions on keyboard technique, film scoring, recording projects and other musical topics. Unsurprisingly, a question about the GX-1 makes an appearance in the first run of the column found in the May 1983 issue.
Q: "Did you use the Yamaha GX-1 on 'Honky'"?
A: "No I couldn't get the GX-1 into Nassau, where the album was recorded. The island would hae sunk! It takes about eight people to lift the thing, and it was bad enough trying to get any other stuff into Nassau, let alone trying to get it out. So there's no GX-1 on Honky."
It is not just the name-dropping references that make this such a great ad to me. The instrument is gorgeous and even this classic crappy black and white photo proves it. A friend has used the term "rocket body" to describe two things in life - p0rn stars and synthesizers. And the GX-1 probably fits nicely into both of those categories.

But it is that third paragraph of ad-copy that really puts this ad into perspective.
"The Yamaha GXI is the test bed of Yamaha Technology. Spin offs from this project have been utilized in the new ranges of Yamaha home organs and professional musical instruments."
So, this isn't so much an ad for the Yamaha GX-1, but an ad for *all* Yamaha instruments. No one is expected to spend 40,000 pounds on an instrument after reading this ad. But I bet a few musicians thought about buying a few of the less expensive organs and synths, and maybe even a CS-80 or two, after reading about the trickle-down effect of GX-1 technology.

Lucky for me, I'm now in 2011and have friends of the blog like FlameTopFred and Micke to help guide me through synth-tech connections like those of the GX-1/CS-80/E-70. There is also that thing called the Internet - and a quick Google search (Web and images) brings up a wealth of information, including the well-written Wikipage article. Great tech information, as well as other fun facts such as finding out that Aphex Twin (Richard D James) acquired Mickie Most's GX-1.  Also check out Gordon Reid's two-part series on the GX-1 found in the February 2000 and March 2000 issues of Sound On Sound. You will learn more than you ever wanted - including info about those speakers behind the machine in the photo. Digging a little deeper into search results is well worth the effort.

Making a huge buying decision without the Internet seems frightening to me now. I'm guessing name-dropping ads like this one might have been the tipping point for many of my purchases back in 1978 - more so if I had known who Mickie Most was...   :)

But in the end, the biggest name-drop of all in this ad isn't Mickie - or Stevie or Keith

It is the GX-1 itself. Nice work Yamaha.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yamaha CS-80 "Finally" advertisement, Contemporary Keyboard 1977


Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer "Finally" 1-page advertisement from page 9 in Contemporary Keyboard December 1977.

I had originally posted this ad way back in 2009 before I had a lot to say. But now, after posting that well-received CS-80/60/50 12-page brochure, I guess I have a little bit to say after all.  And most of what I have to say is related to advertising vs. earned media, and in some ways, the CS-80 would have been a good study to test the effects of each.

CS-80 information began to show up in a number of mags pretty much around the same time period during the winter of 1977. Here in North America, Contemporary Keyboard and Synapse both started to run this CS-80 advertisement in December (well... for Synapse it was the November/December issue). This was probably around the time the CS-80/60/50 brochure started to appear, and I'm kind of surprised that Yamaha didn't sync up the design or ad-copy a bit more between the two. Sure, you can say a lot more in a brochure, so you don't expect the well-written ad-copy of the brochure to be identical to the ad. But I would have thought Yamaha in America would have translated some of the design elements of the brochure over to the ad.

Speaking of the design elements - there isn't much in this ad. But that close-up photo is awesome! I love seeing those four rows miniature memory panels in the foreground with the two rows of programmable panels running off into the distance. It's a little romantic  :)

As far as ad-copy is concerned, Yamaha did keep the general theme of the brochure at play in the advertisement - focusing on the creativity that can be expressed live through the CS-80. And the ad does at least give the CS-50 and CS-60 a final thought at the end of the text.

So, Yamaha clearly chose to focus on advertising in North America. Meanwhile, across the pond, the company took a different approach - at least as far as International Musician and Recording World was concerned. Not sure if it was the company's intent, but somehow they got the magazine to review the instrument, not once - but TWICE within six months.

The first write-up showed up as a "KeyboardCheck" review in the January 1978 (UK) issue of IMRW. Rod Argent took the CS-80 out for a test drive on page 46, where he managed to haul the 4,350 pound/220lb synthesizer into the studio for the recording of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's "new set of 23 Paganini Variations". Not able to save the best for last, in the third paragraph, Rod writes:
"I must say at once that the Yamaha passed these tests with flying colours. In fact Mr. Lloyd-Webber was so impressed that he bought one after three days of recording and by all accounts is now threatening the time schedule of "Evita" by insisting on lengthy demonstrations to everyone who comes to his flat!"
Most of the rest of the review is your usual tour of controls and functions, and Rod concludes that it is a beautifully constructed instrument with a good layout with an "extremely satisfying" sound. Nothing we didn't know there. :)

The second IMRW review showed up exactly six months later in the July 1978 (UK) issue (with the same 4,350 pound price tag). And this time Dave Simmons gave the CS-80 true "synth" status by reviewing it in the "SynthCheck" section rather than "KeyboardCheck".

Dave's introduction made it clear he didn't get as much time in with the instrument as Rod did six months earlier, but was just as eager to praise the synth right out of the gate with this introduction:
"Since I have been doing synthesizer reviews for International Musician there have been two pieces of equipment that have particularly impressed me. One is the Roland Guitar Synthesizer and the second is the CS80 from Yamaha. As with the guitar synthesizer, I could easily have played for weeks with the CS80, but because of large demand for this instrument, the only one available for review belonged to someone else and so I was unable to take it out of the warehouse, or try it out in a band situation."
Later in the review he states that the CS-80 is the best synthesizer he has ever played, and suggests that you actually can "throw away your other synthesizers" if you buy one. He prefaces these remarks by noting that he is NOT on Yamaha's payroll. :)

Interestingly, I can't find a CK review for the CS-80. In fact, it looks like very little Yamaha gear got reviewed before 1980.

So, in the end, I have to wonder. Did Yamaha think they got a better deal out of spending cash on a year and a half worth of 1-page advertising in Contemporary Keyboard, or by taking the chance of getting TWO over-the-top complimentary reviews by lending out the instrument to IMRW?

I know I would have taken the chance on the two great reviews. But then again, with the awesomeness that is the CS80, it's not that big a chance to take.    :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Electronic Dream Plant Ltd. Wasp "Invasion" ad, International Musician and Recording World 1979



Electronic Dream Plant Ltd. Wasp "Invasion" 1-page advertisement from page 95 in International Musician and Recording World January (UK) 1979.

The Wasp has always been on my synth bucket-list. Of course part of that check-off includes finding it at a garage sale for ten bucks. :D

Looking at this "Stand by for the wasp invasion" advertisement always puts a smile on my face. Even when it is August during one of the warmest, driest summers we've had around here in a while. For those not from around these parts - these conditions *always* start to bring out the real wasps when sitting on the deck of your favorite restaurant.

But that won't stop my smile because this is one of the earliest EDP Wasp ads - and one of the best. The image of the synth, with the wasps flying out of the speaker is fantastic. Even the artist's rendition of the simplified front panel with the knobs out of place doesn't bug me. Come to think of it, the casing also looks a lot fatter than Wasps I've seen photos of. There is always the possibility that this image was taken from a prototype (but then again, I like thinking all early ads that have synth photos are prototypes).

The ad-copy is simple, but provides a wack of historical reference information including price (199 pounds!), synth functionality, and even the original exclusive distributors for both the U.K and the Americas. Nice.

As far as I can tell, this ad looks to have only have appeared once in IMRW in that January 1979 (UK)/February 1979 (US) issue. Luckily for readers, and not too surprisingly, this issue also contained a "Synthcheck" review of the Wasp.

Written by Robin Lumley (described as a record producer, as well as a former keyboard player with Bowie, and who today has a fairly impressive Wikipedia page), the article isn't exactly written in what would be considered a normal review style. The opening paragraph of the two page review gives readers an idea of what they are in for:
"Once upon a time, there was a little boy called Adrian Wagner, and he lived in a little cottage in Oxfordshire. One day, in between writing vast and complex albums of synthesizer music, he decided to invent a new synthesizer, and after inventing it, he thought of a little company to manufacture it and sell it to all the boys and girls who liked playing synthesizers. He called the company The Electronic Dream Plant Ltd., and he called the synthesizer the Wasp. And here's where the fairy story ends, and the hardware begins because, dreamed up or not, the Wasp synth, designed and developed by Mr. Wagner, rock star of an Oxfordshire parish, represents a very important development in synthesizers indeed."
After making three more points during the next two painfully long paragraphs - it's cheap, its portable on-stage, and its portable off-stage - even Robin admits "This has been a strange review so far, in that I've been lavish with praise in a fairly abstract way without actually describing the nuts and bolts of the instrument".

Gah. But at least Robin then finally delves into the guts of the synth.

Like most reviews, near the end, Robin compares the synth to the Minimoog - "the overall sounds are a little thin" - but notes that its not really a fair comparison considering the difference in prices. And he finally ends the article with the obligatory "if you play keyboards, do go and buy and Wasp. You'll have fun".

Okay, he does tell one funny (and kinda horrific) story related to the Wasp that I just have to pass on:
"Well, I dropped a Wasp out of the fourth floor window of Trident studios into St. Anne's Court one night, without any damage at all to it, and we then, surprised at its survival, backed a Volvo over it. This caused a few knobs to bend, and one to break, but it still worked faultlessly".
Not really scientific, but full points for creativity.

Oh... rock stars...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Part 2: Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer ad: Technical synth info!



Part 2: Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer 1-page advertisement - technical specs!

I got a little sidetracked in my original Scorpion Stage Synthesizer blog post, so I thought I would try this again. And this time I promise to try and stay focused on the ad and the synth's technical information (and it almost works!).

The ad itself isn't anything out of the ordinary. Between the verbal diarrhea, the size of the font, and the curved shape of the ad-copy itself, the ad is a little hard to read. But I'll let that slide since they were such a small company and yet still managed to come up with such a cool logo. Check out the full logo with the scorpion image on the photo of the synth itself.

Unlike the Thunderchild synth which I recently blogged about, I had actually heard a little bit about the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer years before, probably through rec.music.makers.synth or Analogue Heaven or some other discussion list, most of which could also be found in this ad.
  • Two oscillators
  • Programmable with eight presets
  • Keyboard pressure bend
  • Delayed modulation
But, outside of what is found in this ad, I hadn't come across very much technical information about this synthesizer online. So, you can understand just how excited I became when I came to the realization that the same issue of the magazine that introduced this ad, also included a "Synthcheck" on the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer.

For those not familiar with IMRW, "Synthcheck" is the equivalent of Keyboard Magazine's Keyboard Review.

Jack.

Pot.

This 1-page overview was written by Dave Simmons and does a decent job at providing all the basic technical details of the Scorpion synth - something I haven't found online. I was a little scared after reading the first paragraph of the introduction, because it almost seemed like Dave was backtracking after that first sentence. Luckily, the article didn't disappoint... :)
"The Scorpion is being advertised as the first British lead line synthesizer. It is not the first British synthesizer by any means but, as far as I know, it is the only one that has been introduced to compete with the smaller stage synthesizers like the Micro Moog, Arp Axxe, etc.

It is simple to understand, easy to operate synth, aimed at the person who has been frightened off using a variable synthesizer because of his/her lack of understanding of synth jargon and technical terms (the owner's manual contains information on not only how to operate the synthesizer, but also how the different parts of the synthesizer affect the final sound.)"
The rest of the article deals with the meat of the synthesizer - all that juicy technical information that, until this article, had left a giant hole in my soul. To summarize:

Oscillators:
  • Two voltage-controlled oscillators that produce triangle, sawtooth, square, and pulse waveforms, routed to the filter via a four-position switch
  • Tuning controls: VCO 1: 32', 16', 8', 4' - VCO 2: 16', 8', 4', 2'
  • Fine pitch from minus 1 tone to plus a seventh from concert pitch
Filter:
  • Low-pass with variable cut-off and resonance
  • Dedicated 2-step envelope: option of Attack/Decay or Attack/Release (max 6 seconds on decay/release)
  • VCO 2 signal can be switched into the control input of the filter producing "interesting distortion and ring modulation effects"
  • Output of filter feeds to VCA
VCA:
  • Dedicated 2-step envelope: option of Attack/Decay or Attack/Release (max 6 seconds on decay/release)
LFO:
  • Sine wave output
  • Route to filter, VCA or Oscillators
  • Adjustable speed and delay time
  • Continuous (after delay period) or triggered when keyboard is pressed hard
Touch sensitive keyboard:
  • Triggers LFO
  • Bend the pitch of the Oscillator sharp by an interval set by bend sensitivity control
Pre-sets:
  • Eight pre-sets including Synth 1, 2 and 3, Trumpet, Clarinet, Flute, Oboe, and Violin
  • Oscillator footage NOT remembered - for example the flute pre-set will sound too low if pressed while playing oscillators at 32"
Prior to the conclusion, Dave Simmons summarizes it's sound, where he makes the ultimate comparison (emphasis is mine):
"The synthesizer I was given to review performed well with no evidence of drift. I was particularly impressed by the sound of the instrument. It sounded a lot like a Mini-Moog (which can't be bad). the pre-set sounds were full and rich and reasonably realistic, and the sounds chosen seem to be the most useful when you are limited to eight."
Sounded like a Minimoog? Really? Huh. Anyone confirm this? Anyone...? Anyone...? Bueller...?

Dave concludes the review by adding that the synth should appeal to first-time buyers, and although he didn't think its general appearance was up to the American and Japanese competition, the recommended retail price of 595 pounds made up for its lack of charisma :)

Now there's some nice info that would look good on Vintage Synth Explorer! I'll have to write up something and submit it. :D

So, who is this Dave Simmons that had the balls to compare the Scorpion to the Minimoog - even back in 1978? I thought I would do a little search to see if I could find anything.

General name searches didn't help much and results for "Dave Simmons" + [insert selected musical/synth terms] was also rather unsuccessful. But, then I remembered that at the end of the review article, there was a short bio for Dave which included the fact that he played "the massive synthesizer part in Dave Bedford's 'Odyssey'."

Most of the search results for Dave Bedford's Odyssey link to online music resource pages like this one at proarchives.com. And most list Dave Bedford as playing most of the keyboards (check out the other artists listed!).

But I then found this reference to a live performance of the Odyssey that lists Dave Simmons as playing string synthesizer. Also, a post on the guitars101.com forum lists the musicians that played on a live rendition of the Odyssey at the Royal Albert Hall in 1977, which includes:

"Dave Simmonds (Fad Gadget?) - string synthesizer"

And, later in the discussion, the name is corrected to Dave Simmons.

So, does the poster mean it was corrected to be Dave Simmons from Fad Gadget? Or corrected to be a totally different Dave Simmons that has nothing to do with Fad Gadget?

I figured I could simply Google Fad Gadget and look up the list of band members, but quickly ran into problems.

Most notable Fad Gadget reference sites list a David Simmonds as playing synthesizer:
But a few sites list David Simmons as playing synth:
So, based on this, I'm doubting it is the same Dave Simmons, and that the guy in Fad Gadget was in fact David Simmonds. But I just really really really wanted the guy that reviewed the Scorpion synth to be the keyboard player in Fad Gadget. Just because I like discovering those kinds of connections. :)

Oh well.

Always end on a high note - so here's Fad Gadget's Collapsing New People vid. Enjoy!