Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yamaha CS40m, CS20m, CS15 and CS5, Contemporary Keyboard 1979

Yamaha CS40m, CS20m, CS15 and CS5 synthesizer advertisement from page 21 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine December 1979.

This ad was the beginning of Yamaha's 'How serious are you about...' campaign that ran in CK until late 1981 or so. The series of ads first ran in the December 1979 issue on consecutive odd pages (pg 21, 23, 25) to have maximum effect during the holiday season, and then the ads appeared sporadically in later issues of CK. The series included:
  • "How serious are you about a synthesizer" to promote their CS-series synthesizers
  • "How serious are you about an electric piano" to promote their CP-series electric pianos
  • "How serious are you about a mixer" to promote their EM-series mixers.
December '79 was a great month for Contemporary Keyboard readers for another reason too.

Sure, the near-100 page issue included ads like this one for Yamaha, as well as ads for Roland's Vocoder Plus, Crumar's Performer, Octave's Cat and Kitten, and smaller ads for Polyfusion and Serge. The Spec Sheet section also had a wack of goodies including info on Korg's MS-50 and SQ-10.

But the main reason you probably picked this issue up in the store (or right out of the mail box) and started reading it immediately was because on the cover was Wendy Carlos sitting in front of her gorgeous Modular Moog.

Wendy, formerly known as Walter, released the album 'Switched-On Bach' in 1968. But requests for an earlier interview with CK were turned down while she was going through the physical and emotional journey of becoming Wendy. And then, in the May1979 issue of Playboy magazine she revealed her story and she began doing interviews again. And this CK interview doesn't disappoint.

Inside the 14-plus pages devoted to her, Wendy discusses her Moog and it's modules, how she met Bob Moog and her long-lasting friendship with him, her views on synthesis, music and notation style, and how she got started in the biz. And reading it now gets me excited for totally different reasons - for example, her mention of Apple Computers or Chowning FM Algorhythms IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH.

Seriously - excellent stuff.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Roland System 100, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Roland System 100 modular synthesizer from page 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine February 1977.

One thing that always bugs me when reading old Contemporary Keyboard magazines is that it is sometimes months between seeing a new piece of gear in the Spec Sheet section and then seeing it in an ad or a Keyboard Report. Roland didn't advertise synthesizers consistently around this time, so the System 100 fell into this trap.

The Roland System 100 was announced in the Spec Sheet section of the May/June 1976 issue of CK but it looks like it wasn't until about eight months later that this ad appeared. And unlike the Oberheim 2-Voice that was also announced in the same Spec Sheet section, the System 100 announcement didn't include a photo *and* it had to share it's announcement space with its little brother the SH-2000 preset synth. Booo!

According to the Spec Sheet section, the System 100 listed for $1,950 US - and the ad mentions that you could purchase all the components for under $2000, the equivalent to about $5,800 US in today's dollars. Roland was smart to also mention that you could purchase the components separately in this ad, because other synthesizer ads appearing in the same issue were hitting a much lower list price 'sweet spot' at the time - sitting around $600-700 US ($1800-2100 in today's dollars).

For example, advertisements for the Micromoog and CAT in the February 1977 issue were throwing out list prices of $695 and $599 respectively, and even Oberheim's ad was pushing the $695 SEM module as a starting point for its 2-, 4- and 8-Voice synths.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but this issue would have come out after the Xmas gift-spending spree so many buyers would have less in their pockets to spend on synthesizers. Pushing products with lower list prices would be a smart strategy on the part of the gear companies.

I don't have the list prices for the the System 100's separate components, but if they fell even remotely close to the prices listed in these other ads, Roland maybe should have included some pricing info for the separate components to help themselves with the inevitable price comparisons that readers would be wanting to make.

Anyways, check out a few of these sites for more info on the System 100:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

ARP 2600, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

ARP 2600 synthesizer ad from page 26 and 27 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine November/December 1976.

My CK magazine collection is not totally complete, but as I look through old issues it becomes clear that ARP didn't promote their 2600 in CK ads very often . ARP was definitely bringing out the big guns for the Xmas holiday blast of 1976 with this 2-pager around the same time the Axxe and Pro-GDX really started to get ad-play as well (just not in this issue). ARP did promote the 2600 in the 1976 ARP product family ad that I blogged about last week, but as far as I can tell, this ad just ran once in the magazine.

I'm tickled pink by this ad for a few reasons:

One. I find out that Joe Zawinul names his synths. Or at least he named his 2600's - 'Eins' and 'Zwei' (German for '1' and '2' - kinda makes sense since Zawinul was born in Austria). And at one point in the ad he talks about inverting the keyboard of one of the 2600's and calls playing the two keyboards in this fashion "...a real head trip". You just don't hear that phrase much anymore. Could someone famous please bring it back into the pop-culture conscienceness for me?

As an aside, I've only named two of my synths but I know lots of friends that name all their gear. In fact, if the gear were alive, they would probably be fed better than their own children. And no, I'm not going to tell you what the names of my synths are - just that they might somehow be related to Lord of the Rings. 'Nuf said.

Two. The ad mentions 'Human Engineering' - an ARP phrase that also appeared in a Contemporary Keyboard magazine article about David Friend that I talk about in same ARP family product post I mention above. This ad and the article makes me realize just how much the phrase was actively used by ARP to help separate itself from the pack.

Three. The photo shows the two 2600's standing on either side of an ARP Sequencer. Excellent secondary advertising.

Earlier this year I posted an ARP Sequencer ad that just happens to appear in this same issue of CK. I still think the hand in that ad looks incredibly creepy.

Anways, getting back on topic...

If you aren't familiar with Zawinul, a good place to start is the Wikipedia page for the band Weather Report. From there you will be bouncing around to different Web pages in no time.

I don't think I have to mention (but I'm about to anyways) that although this ad focuses on Zawinul, like most ARP ads, it drops the names of other famous musicians as often as Public Enemy drops beats. The usual lot are mentioned - Edgar Winters, Stevie Wonder, Bob James and Pete Townsend.

Before I go, just thought I would let you know I updated my last Emulator blog post. A former employee of E-mu mentioned that the image in the ad was actually the prototype of the Emulator, and you can see another photo of the prototype in the 'Vintage Synthesizer' book by Mark Vail. The book even mention that the awesome older logo that existed on the prototype was Scott Wedge's favorite. Nice.

Don't forget, you can always comment on my posts or contact me at retrosynthads AT to let me know what you think.

Monday, October 19, 2009

DrumDrops Volume One, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

DrumDrops Volume One record album advertisement from pg 41 of Contemporary Keyboard, February 1978.

Before the idea of drum machines and sampling CDs came along, there had probably been a few attempts at providing a relatively low-tech/low-cost way to get some solid beats into the hands of musicians. The Powerhouse 8-Track Rhythm Unit was one that I blogged about recently, but DrumDrops was probably the lowest priced alternative to hiring a live drummer at the time. In 1978 a record album full of live drum tracks could be yours for a measly $9.95 US, the equivalent to $27.71 US today.

Although the ad makes no mention of any names associated with the recording of the album, a quick search online found that it was produced by Joey Vieira, and the drums were played by "one of the finest session drummers on the West Coast"- David Crigger. David has been performing professionally since the age of 18 both in the studio and on stage with virtually everyone in the biz - from the Don Ellis Orchestra to Rick Springfield to David Foster to Elvis Costello to Burt Bacharach. You can learn more about David and keep up to date with where he's recording and performing on his Web site.

By the end of 1982 seven DrumDrops albums had been produced, six of which you can hear David's drumming. The albums proved quite popular at the time and according to his biography, are still popular today:
"The current demand for drum loops as well as a renewed interest in 70's grooves and recording qualities have made the five disks very sought after items. And though it's been seventeen years since the last "DrumDrops" album was recorded, David is still frequently stopped and asked, "Hey! Aren't you the Drum Drops guy?"
Throughout my research I came across many vinyl sites that have these albums for sale. I'm tempted to start my collection today.

I'll hopefully blog more about David Crigger and Joey Vieira in future DrumDrops blog posts.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ARP 1976 family of products, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

ARP advertisement of its 1976 family of products including the ARP Odyssey, ARP Pro Soloist, ARP Axxe, ARP String Ensemble, ARP 2600, ARP Explorer, and ARP Little Brother from back inside-cover of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine March/April 1976.

Time to add another family photo to the blog!

As noted in previous blog posts, ARP used musician endorsements more than most to help sell their instruments and this ad is no exception. But they satisfied the gear-heads as well by providing a delicious family photo that included all of ARP's latest wares.

The ARP marketing team must also have known that this was a great issue of CK to showcase their whole collection, because it just happened to also include a good-sized article on one of the big-wigs of ARP - David Friend.

The article, written by Hans Klein and simply titled 'David Friend of ARP Instruments' is a great read from a historical perspective of the company. It is also a great journey into the mind of David Friend. The Article starts with a bit of Friend's history including his work towards a double major in music and engineering at Yale, and how he came to meet ARP's founder Alan R. Pearlman (ARP). As I continued to read through the article, it became clear why Friend was "credited with ARP's 'human engineering' in synthesizer design."

For example, it is obvious that Friend cared about designing synthesizers that would be easy to perform with. He knew it would take time for most of the musicians who were still used to the relatively non-expressive electric pianos and organs to become familiar with the expressive performance tools and techniques available with a synthesizer:
"The surface has barely been scratched... Since 75% of the synthesizers sold have been sold in the last three years, it's not surprising that most of the people using them today are still doing so in a fairly unsophisticated, elementary way."
Friend also had (what CK called) some 'provocative comments' about monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers and their separate uses, including:
"Polyphonic and monophonic instruments are played completely differently, and have to be used in different types of music. A melody is by its very nature generally one note at a time. People who play trumpet, saxophone, or other traditional lead-line instruments have never felt any resentment about the fact that they couldn't play a chord, because that's not what the playing of that instrument is all about. "
His recognition of musicians other than keyboardists was most likely what led Friend to try to find ways to get non-keyboard musicians interested in synthesizers:
"For many musicians, the keyboard may be their second instrument, or they may want to process their first instrument's signal through the synthesizer. I expect that as time goes on, more specialized types of synthesizers will be available, that can be played using techniques that are more familiar to people who play other instruments."
In my mind, this thinking led directly to the production of the ARP Avatar - an instrument that was developed to be used by guitar players to control a synthesizer. But the pitch-to-voltage converters weren't the greatest and the instrument didn't do well in the marketplace. According to an April 1983 Keyboard article entitled 'The Rise and Fall of ARP Instruments' by Craig Waters, Pearlman recalled later about the Avatar - "Essentially, we blew our brains out on that instrument." Ouch.

Friend's comments in the article often reached outside the world of synthesizer design. For example, he also observed how the synthesizer was going to expand upon and become an important part of the familiar 'hook' to be found at the beginning of many future hit songs:
"A skillful musician can use the synthesizer to create a musical signature for a song that makes it immediately identifiable to the listener, and that instant recognition factor seems to be one of the necessary ingredients in making a hit record."
It was Friend's ability to look at synthesizer design from a musician's point of view that helped ARP build performance-friendly instruments and this article captures this point of view perfectly.

Lastly, one more quote from the article - a single sentence by Friend that pretty much explains the current state of my bank account:
"Every keyboard player I know has more keyboards this year than he had last year, and I think that's a healthy trend that should continue."
Could he really have predicted 'gear lust'?

Monday, October 12, 2009

E-mu Emulator, Contemporary Keyboard 1981

E-mu Systems Inc. Emulator sampler ad from page 9 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine May 1981.

Although this is not E-mu's first ad for the Emulator, I thought it most fitting since today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

This version of the ad contains a photo of an early model a prototype model of an Emulator that included a lighter display panel and a Tune section with only one knob. Late the same year they replaced the photo in the ad with a later manufactured Emulator. The later model manufactured Emulator (in a totally different ad) can be seen in one of my other blog post scans. I'll give you a second or two to go take a look and compare...

Great - you're back. Did you notice one other difference? I saved it for last since the topic is kind of near and dear to my heart...


The Emulator in this ad is sporting an early E-mu logo that included a stylized thirty-second music note and the Mu symbol. You can see a better image of the logo in this Emulator price list pdf from the Emulator Archive Web site. I think this logo might make good tattoo material in the near future.

The Emulator looked great with its clean lines and stripped down user interface. And, best of all, it included a small holder for the 5 1/4 inch floppy disks that you would use to store your samples on. Musicians weren't accustomed to using disks, so having a place to hold the disks right on the instrument was definitely convenient. Unfortunately, the holder couldn't store them while transporting the instrument, and Keyboard magazine writer Dominic Milano creepily predicted the soon to be well-overheard phrase 'whoops - I forgot to bring the disks with me' in his March 1982 Keyboard Report:
"One more thing about the diskettes: Don't forget to pack them up and bring them with [you] when you're taking the Emulator out on a gig, because it won't work without them. We musicians aren't used to thinking about diskettes yet."
I can't tell you how many times I had to drive back home to get my Emax disks after arriving at a gig to set up. Grrr...

Well, time to start preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Gobble gobble.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Korg Maxi-Korg K-3, Contemporary Keyboard 1977

Korg Maxi-Korg K-3 synthesizer from pg 15 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine January 1977.

I think this is the first half-page ad I've posted. I also think this ad is one of Korg's earliest to appear in CK.

I have to confess I'm not that familiar with this line of Korg synths (my MS-20 and Trident are about as far back as I get). While starting to do some research, it soon became clear that this piece of kit goes by a few different names online. Maxi-Korg K-3. Univox K-3. Korg 800DV. Maxi-Korg 800DV.

The problem is that I'm one of those people that believes everything I read on the InterWebz and, even more problematic, I crave consistency.

So, which is it? Maxi-Korg? 800DV? Univox K-3? Time to dig a little deeper. indicates that this synthesizer was marketed as the Univox K-3 in the US and as the Maxi-Korg 800DV elsewhere.

This MATRIXSYNTH post (from an eBay auction), contends that the piece of gear in question was sold under the name 'Maxi-Korg K-3' in the US and as the 800DV and Univox K-3 elsewhere.

This other MATRIXSYNTH post has great photos of a U.S. model sporting the Maxi-Korg logo on the front and lists K-3 as the model on the back. And when you click on the link to the auction, there is a photo of the back of the synth with the Univox logo.

Meanwhile, back in 1977, Unicord puts out this ad in a US magazine - with 'Korg' in big print, a Maxi-Korg logo on the left hand side of the control panel, and although distributed through Unicord, the name 'Univox' can't be found anywhere in the ad copy. But, my guess is that 'Univox' is slapped on the back of the synth in the photo.

So, I'm going say the US model should be officially called 'Univox Korg Maxi-Korg K-3 distributed by Unicord'. Sounds about right. :o)

The fact is, the big reason I like this ad is because Unicord totally jacks the Timothy Leary 1960's counterculture phrase 'Turn on, tune in, drop out', tacking on 'EXPAND YOUR MIND' at the start of the ad copy. Nice touch for 1977 - I think Unicord definitely knew their audience.

Sound on Sound has a great article from April 1998 about some of the early Korg gear including the Maxi-Korg, with some great insight as to why this synthesizer was so unique. BTW - big 'ups' to Sound on Sound for putting their older articles online.

For more on the history of Univox and Unicord - it's a good ride - check out this site.

And, one final note. I'm going to beat Zenbecca on commenting on the Univox/Maxi-Korg font. Yes - very retro... :o)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sequential Circuits Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer, Contemporary Keyboard and Synapse 1977

Sequential Circuits Model 700 Programmer and Model 800 Digital Sequencer from page 7 of Contemporary Keyboard June 1977 and page 5 of Synapse May/June 1977.

My archives are far from complete, but this must be one of Sequential Circuits earliest ads - at least in CK magazine.

Historically, I find the images in the ad most valuable from the perspective of SCI's logo evolution.

If you look closely, the Model 700 in the ad has a Sequential Circuits 'Co' logo rather than the more familiar 'Inc' logo. I'm not sure when they stopped using 'Co', but photos that I've found online of the 700 Mark 2 (released in 1979) can be seen with various versions of a non-'Co.' logo, including this one on Matrixsynth with the SC logo on the right side of the front panel and this photo in a brochure PDF I found on the Emulator Archive Web site that has the logo dead centre.

The Model 800 Digital Sequencer in the ad has what I believe is an even earlier version of the Sequential Circuits logo. This stylized 'SC' logo is more visible at the bottom of this very early Model 800 ad I found on

You can follow more of the evolution of the SC logo throughout the Model 800's lifespan. After the stylized 'SC' logo, the front panel of the 800 displayed the 'Sequential Circuits Co.' logo as seen in this photo from Synthnut's tech pages, and then the logo changed to the straight-up 'Sequential Circuits' logo like this one from matrixsynth's Flickr photo stream.

More on SCI logo evolution later...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Korg VC-10, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Korg VC-10 vocoder from page 79 of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine November 1978.

This ad began running in CK Magazine in Nov. '78 along with two other Korg ads - the MS-20 and MS-10. Interestingly, as can be seen in past blog posts, these MS-20 and MS-10 ads were very technical in text and design, while the VC-10 ad was largely dominated by artwork and included practically no technical information. Fortunately a bit more information was available in the Spec Sheet section of the same issue.

Although vocoders faded out of the spotlight over time, they never really left us - for example, my 1990's Wavestation A/D contains a fairly usable vocoder effect. More recently, vocoders have made quite a comeback in pop, alternative rock and electronic music. Hardware and software manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to provide updated vocoding tools to bands and producers, including Korg, with their own microKorg and R3.

Basic information on the VC-10 can be found online in the usual places, including Vintage Synth Explorer and Synth Museum. also has a good online version of the manual.

Wikipedia doesn't seem to have a VC-10 page, but they do have a fairly extensive general vocoder page for those interested in more information.