Monday, April 30, 2012

Gray Laboratories Basyn Minstrel 4 Voice, Contemporary Keyboard 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MPC Electronics Music Percussion Computer "Play What You Feel..." ad, Keyboard 1983

MPC Electronics Music Percussion Computer "Play What You Feel..." 1-page colour advertisement from the December 1983 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I've never forgotten this rather rare ad. For some reason it has always stood out from many of the other drum machine ads that appeared around this time period - and you can bet there were a lot of them in all shapes and sizes. In this issue alone there were ads for the Stix Programma, Boss Dr. Rhythm, Oberheim DMX, E-mu Drumulator, and LinnDrum. I even think this ad is more memorable than the popular Roland TR606 and303 ad.

Even one of the Keyboard Reports in this issue was for the MXR Drum Computer.

Did you catch that? Not drum machine... "Computer".

Computers were hot. A big buzz word. And they could be found winding their way into more and more synthesizer and drum machine ads as manufacturers found different ways to integrate both the term, and actual computers. In this issue, Sequential was promoting their Model 64 sequencer for the Commodore 64, both Rhodes Chroma and E-mu Drumulator ads featured Apple computers,  and CMI  - well that thing was basically one big-ass computer.

And then there is this Music Percussion Computer. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to it. I get the urge to trawl eBay endlessly for both the instrument AND its partner in crime - a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer.

As much as I loved the look of the MPC, it was the idea of attaching a computer to it that first caught my attention back in the day. And the fact they chose to use the relatively cheap Timex Sinclair makes me absolutely giddy. My friend Bob had a Timex Sinclair when it first came out and we were mesmerized. I decided to catch up with the computer before the instrument itself.

According to the Sinclair ZX81 Wikipedia page, the TS1000 was a Sinclair clone manufactured and distributed in the United States by Timex under a licensing agreement:
"The TS1000 was launched in July 1982 and sparked a massive surge of interest; at one point, the Timex phoneline was receiving over 5,000 calls an hour, 50,000 a week, inquiring about the machine or about microcomputers in general.  It was virtually identical to the ZX81 save for re-branding and the addition of an extra 1 kB of memory, making for a grand total of 2 kB. In the five months following the TS1000's launch, the company sold 550,000 machines, earning Sinclair over $1.2 million in royalties."
Nice chunk of change. I found a bit more info on the Timex Sinclair 1000 on the site and And there are a lot more links out there - just Google 'em and see where they take you.  Never enough time. :)

Enough about the computer. Back to the advertisement and the instrument.

The Ad itself is half photo/half ad-copy.  You almost miss the computer in the photo, but the TV monitor sitting beside it is a dead giveaway and probably was the fishing line to hook those musicians that were also computer enthusiasts. I'm not usually a fan of lots of text in ad-copy, but in this case I think it was necessary for the distributor, On-Site Energy Music Corp, to get as much out there as possible. The ad only ran a handful of times, if even that much. I almost read it like an article rather than an ad. 

If you happened to read the magazine cover-to-cover each month, chances are you would have ran into more information on the machine two months before, in the October 1983 issue of Keyboard. The Spec Sheet section had a rather nice little promo for it. Tons of great historical reference information, including operations, enhancements when hooking it up to the computer, and best of all - price!
"MPC Electronic Drums. the MPC (Music Percussion Computer) interfaces with a Timex-Sinclair 1000 computer and links up with any TV set to read out a graphic display of the rhythms programmed. The MPC master module consists of eight touch-sensitive pads of ABS plastic, which you can play with your hands or with sticks. Each pad is spring-based to simulate real drum heads. the pad arrangement has two options - bass drum, snare, open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, and four descending toms, or bass drum, snare, open hi-hat, closed hi-hat, two toms, cymbals, and a handclap. All the voicings have individual level and tone controls, with an over-all mute button for dynamics. there is a 16-key on-board computer processor to record, play back, control tempo, bar length, and time signatures, program sequences, and add accents where needed. The performer may also play along with the sequence as it plays back. All programming is done in real time. Once link-up to the Timex Sinclair has been made, more complex programming and storage is available. While the on-board computer sustains four channels of 2-bar groups with up to 16 beats per bar, access to the T-1000 opens up 26 different bars of rhythm, each containing up to 20 beats. Both systems can arrange their bars into sequences to play back songs with up to 199 variations and infinite repeat capability. A tape sync input/output allows for loading and dumping of programming and synchronization with pre-recorded tracks. Measurements are 25-1/4"x7"x13-1/4", and weight is approximately 20 lbs. Price is $1,299.00. The software interface is $129.00. On-Site Energy Music, 3000 Marcus Ave., Suite 2W7, Lake Success, NY 11042."
 Today, there are a few good information sources on the company and the machine. The initial problem is finding them. Before even thinking about it, I typed "MPC" into Google's search field. Errr.... not so much.

Among other things, MPC just happens to be the name of that other rather well-known Akai series of products, and those Akai links tend to dominate the Google search results. But with a little bit of digging and a few key word changes, I found a few gems.

According to Wikipedia, Micheal Coxhead was the founder of MPC Electronics, and it was when electronics wiz Clive Button came to him with the basic design for their first product, 'The Kit', that the company was formed. has a good article on the company, MPC Electronics, reprinted from the December 1983 issue of Electronics & Music Maker magazine. Together with's info on the company and the gear, you get a wack of great historical info.

Designer Clive Button has a Web site with some awesome information on the drum machine as well as many of the other products he has designed - including the "MIDI Humanizer"! Scroll down the home page to the section titled "Other Clive Button created products" and you will find the MPC and Timex Sinclair info. According to the page, later interfaces were also built for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum computers. Excellent stuff! He can also be found on Twitter @musichillout to promote his music

Oh - and last but not least, you can find the manual online too. In fact, Lazy Blue Octopus has a copy of the manual and schematics online.
You will find a few more gems, like auction info and photos, online, but for now I'll end with this: Youtuber snolan1990's overview of the MPC. Great sound!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Oberheim OB-X "Evolution of a classic" colour REBOOT 2-pager, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Oberheim OB-X "Evolution of a classic" REBOOT/2.0 2-page advertisement from page 38 and 39 in the November 1980 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Oberheim interactive advertising timeline updated.

Quite fitting, this ad.

No, really... as I write this, it just happens to be Earth Day around these parts. You know how I found out? Google has a lovely image of a dirt bed on it's Canadian search page that slowly animates into a fully bloomed multi-coloured flower garden. That's how I seem to find out about holidays lately. On Google. Last minute.

Heck knows I haven't heard much about Earth Day from traditional media. That is partly my fault since traditional media is playing less and less of a role in my life. Plus, I don't have a dead-give-a-way like a kid that would probably have brought home a sculpture made from used plastic cafeteria dishes and cups around this time.

What would I have done before Google? Actually, even before Google, I would have figured out it was Earth Day by forgetting to by-pass the annual traffic jam that takes place from all the cars trying to get to the festivities that occurs in our centrally-located park.

Ironic, I know. But this is also the city that "clear-cut" parts of our indoor domed plant conservatory (bolded for emphasis) made up of totally awesome exotic plants, to make room for fake gaudy Amazon-like statues for wedding photos. Yup. You heard that right. Clear-cut. Conservatory. No kidding.

IRL, I'm actually a bit of an eco-nut. My undergrad is a joint  Botany/Zoology degree in Ecology - yah, that's what the degree was called *before* there was such a thing as Environmental Sciences (now I'm really dating myself). I'm guess I'm just down on what Earth Day has come to represent. Boo me. But I will enjoy a nice bicycle ride and a free Starbucks coffee today, thank you very much!

Okay, enough complaining by the old guy.  :D

Anyways, what does Earth Day have to do with this ad?

Well, it was pointed out to me by fellow Oberheim fan and blog reader Jean-Marc that I had posted the black and white version of this ad that ran eight months earlier in the March 1980 issue of CK. But then I skipped over this colour version of the ad and mistakenly credited this OB-SX ad as the first colour ad by Oberheim! Gah!

Thank-you Jean-Marc! This OB-X ad now looks to be Oberheim's first colour ad in CK! 

So, then the question becomes - why would Oberheim recycle this ad, but switch from black and white to colour? Usually it is the other way around - run the ad first in colour to make a big splash, and then switched-out to black and white for the remainder of the ad-run.

The extra paragraph at the end of the ad-copy probably explains:
"Now with new patches! As of September 1st, OB-X's are being shipped with a completely new set of dynamic patches. OB-X owners, send your name, address and serial number of your 'X' and we'll send you a cassette of the new patches free. Send for a free catalogue."
 How excellent of 'em! And a good reason to make a big deal with a splash of colour right before Christmas. A very nice gift for current owners.

Then, as I studied the two versions of the ad more closely, there appeared to be even more differences than I originally thought.

One of the first differences I noticed was that the large photo of the opened OB-X is shrunk down a bit and angled differently to make room for the extra paragraph of content. But then I realized - THIS IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT PHOTO! The caution sticker and the slightly different ribbon positioning is a dead giveaway.

And then... wait... THAT OTHER PHOTO IS DIFFERENT TOO!  You can tell Oberheim switched it out for an instrument with updated colouring - most notable on the left-side controls. And, this smaller photo is now positioned behind the larger photo, where in the original it was actually positioned on top.

So, as is the case with the marketing of recycled objects, even though something may first appear to made of 100 per cent original materials, in reality it is often necessary to bring in new bits and pieces. In the case of this ad, the original ad-copy, catchy ad-title and awesome 2-page layout were kept. Photos and extra ad-copy added.

And that is a good enough recycling effort for this Ecology major. Time to enjoy my bike ride and a cup of joe.

I know its now a day later, but think about the Earth a little bit more.

Give a hoot. Don't pollute. NOW I'm dating myself.   :D

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Moog Opus 3 synthesizer reference sheet, 1980

Moog Opus 3 synthesizer reference sheet from 1980.

Okay - time to give Oberheim a bit of a break. I think my infatuation is becoming unhealthy.

Reader of the blog Morris had written in because he had come across my other 1980 Moog reference sheets and respectfully suggested that it had been over 14 months since I had posted one. sorry.  :D

He also suggested that if I had the Moog Opus 3 sheet, that one in particular would be interesting because:
1. He dug the synth.
2. He has been listening to the early 90s electronic band of the same name.

Good taste, Morris. Good taste.

Opus 3 (the band) brings back some good memories. I'm gonna assume the band got it's name from this synthesizer. Just a guess  :)

 This is the fifth Moog reference sheet I've posted. The others so far are the Moog Prodigy, Micromoog, Minimoog (yum) and Polymoog.  I've included the four others below but you can also link to them to see their back-sides.

There is something to be said for consistency. The same layout. Same fonts. The backs of these reference sheets are pretty similar too. Descriptions of all functions, and sometimes if there is room like on the Opus 3 sheet, we are treated to a juicy line diagram on the back.

That Opus 3 photo also really shows off the colourful Moog sliders nicely. They can also be seen in that Polymoog photo, but the Poly is such a large instrument that in order to get the whole keyboard into the shoot, readers don't get such a close-up view of those little gems. 

If my labels have been kept up to date, the Opus 3 has only made one other appearance in the site - in a Moog 1982 Product Catalog. The text that accompanied the Opus 3 photo in that catalog (page 3) includes a bit of info about the machine, most importantly pointing out that the synth included the patented Moog filter, and my favorite - the stereo mixer with panning.

You really gotta hear the Opus 3 live to understand its beauty... but the next best thing might be this 25 minute YouTube video posted by "mee3d" back in January 2009.  Yes that's 2-5 minutes. :)

Looking at all those sheets in a row now, that Moog Prodigy sheet really stands out with the textured background and that spot-light effect. I pointed this variation out in my initial blog post, but lining them up together now in this post (imagine the Opus 3 in that line as well!), really makes that difference stand out. And also, less concerning, is that the title doesn't contain the word "synthesizer" - although the Opus 3 sheet doesn't either.

But they still look like lovely little ducklings all in a row, don't they.  And that line up will be getting larger in the future, as I post others.  Yum.  :D

I just like to sit and enjoy them.

End note: One little quibble about the Opus 3... I really want to put a hyphen in there. Opus-3. Gah.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Oberheim Electronics advertising timeline created

Well, it had to happen sooner or later.  Another great company has been added to the blog's Advertising Timeline Tool page.

Introducing the Oberheim advertising timeline. Hit the link and it should automatically scroll you down to the Oberheim timeilne. If not, scroll down until you see that gorgeous Obie logo! I've included over 30 ads that I've blogged about so far - and there are at least a few more to come in the next while! *wink*.

Also on that advertising timeline page, you will find ARP, Korg, Moog and Sequential Circuits. I've had a bit of trouble finding time to keep those others up to date... and now here we go and throw this one into the mix. Gah!

I just didn't feel like writing much this weekend. But found it almost therapeutic to crunch out this thing. Actually - that makes it sound like it was long and grueling job. Not so much. Just too lazy to write.

Enjoy!  :D

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-SX "Oberheim Updates" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1982

Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-SX "Oberheim Updates" 2-page colour advertisement from pages 46 and 47 in the January 1982 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

If you have been keeping up with my Oberheim obsession, then you might be wondering - why the big time jump between that gorgeous 2-page OB-Xa introductory advertisement from February 1981 I just blogged about on Monday and this also-gorgeous OB-Xa and OB-SX advertisement from January 1982?

Well - Oberheim took a bit of break in advertising their OB-series for most of 1981. That doesn't mean that readers of CK couldn't find a lick of information on Oberheim gear, but as far as ads go, the OB-series was out. As luck (or strategy) would have it, even without ads, Oberheim and the OB-Xa still managed to wiggle in a few guest appearances in the mag.

For example in February 1981, Oberheim announced a new publication for dealers and owners in the "Keyboard News" section of CK:
"Oberheim Electronics Inc. (1455 Nineteenth St., Santa Monica, CA 90404) is now putting out a free company newsletter to dealers, advertising carriers, Oberheim equipment owners, and other interested parties. The newsletter will appear quarterly and will include a small Q&A section...."
Oberheim also went through a bit of a tough patch when the June 1981 Contemporary Keyboard review of the OB-Xa didn't exactly go as planned. The two-page review, written by the most excellent Dominic Milano, begins well enough with a small introduction to Oberheim's polyphonic synthesizer history starting with the 1975 Chicago NAMM show and those two SEMs and keyboard that showed up there. But it is the end of the introduction that provides one little piece of juicy historical info:
"Oberheim tells us that they're selling mainly 8-voice instruments, since in split mode a 6-voice instrument would have only three voices on each half of the keyboard, while in double mode it would only sound three notes overall."
 I love documented history of buyers' behaviour - and is one of many reasons I collect CK and other music mags. A little nugget of gold. Seriously!

After this introduction, Dominic then quickly turned his attention to the synth itself, with numerous detailed sections dedicated to the keyboard, the programs, edit mode, left-hand controls, panel controls, manual section, control section, modulation section, oscillator section, filter section, envelopes, rear panel, and even inner controls.

On that rear panel section, Dominic mentions my favorite - the computer connector! And why not - it is kinda sticking out like a sore thumb.
"Then there's the multipin connector for interfacing the OB-Xa with a computer. This jack, the owner's manual explains, is for interfacing the instrument with future Oberheim products."
Interfacing? Computer? Future Oberheim products? Would CK readers at the time be as intrigued as I am about this? And did those readers realize it was only a month or two later that these "future" products would be launched?

Okay - I'm getting ahead of myself. First I have to explain why this review didn't really go as planned for Oberheim...

Dominic starts the rather long conclusion (almost a full column of text!) of the review with:
"When you've got a piece of high-tech gear, it's pretty much a certainty that at some time it will break down. The question is not whether, but when..."
Aaaaah... obviously Dominic is just about to reinforce the rock-solid reputation of Oberheim instruments. Right? RIGHT? Reading on...
"Reliability is one factor that people consider when they're looking into a programmable polyphonic synthesizer, but reliability will vary as much or more from one machine to another as from one manufacturer to another..."
Yes, of course. But what does that have to do with Oberheim...?
"The reason we're bringing this up is to stress that you shouldn't draw too strong a conclusion from our experience with the OB-Xa, even though in good conscience we have to let you know about it..."
Wait? WHAT? What's he talking about?!?
"We had the opportunity to look at two OB-Xas over a span of two months. the first unit that came had a wrong-valued resistor in its LFO, which affected modulation. In addition, after we'd had it for a a few days the memory started malfunctioning, so that some patches were showing up with wrong values. Needless to say, this affected their sound. On the second instrument we received, four of the eight voices were noticeably lower in volume than the other four on the mono output in normal mode, and there was no way to adjust them so that they were balanced in volume."

But the fine editor at Keyboard also points out that the second OB-Xa was sent on to a retailer who couldn't find anything wrong with it.

I include this info not to rag on Oberheim. The exact opposite. Bad luck hits every company at some point. Having it happen *twice* during a CK review sux total bum. But Dominic, the true professional, handles this situation well, using it as a lead-in to why it is important to fill out warranty cards (Yes. It still is...). And going back and reading the review again, there is NOT AN OUNCE of frustration in his writing tone. It remained a very fair and accurate review. And kudos to Oberheim for weathering this relatively small storm extremely well  - no doubt due to their already rock-solid reputation for quality and professionalism, that still exists today.

(I did not get paid to say that  :)  

After that review appeared in June 1981, Oberheim spent the second half of 1981 switching their focus from the OB-Xa to the two newest members of the family -the DSX digital polyphonic sequencer and DMX programmable digital drum machine.

I've already posted and blogged about these and other "System" related advertisements when I had originally obsessed about Oberheim's pre-MIDI interface.

[Pauses to think back fondly]

The two ads in particular that took up most of the second half of 1981 - this DSX/DMX 2-page introductory ad and a creatively titled DSX "Xtra hands" 1-pager sure do fit in well with the previous OB-series ads I've been blogging about recently, eh?

Oh - before I forget - the OB-Xa actually managed to squeeze in one more appearance in the December 1981 issue of CK.  And it is directly related to this ad that started in January 1982.

In the December issue's question and answer section, Dominic Milano answered this question related to the OB-Xa's expanded memory - which again - includes a wack of historical information both about Oberheim personnel, as well as information on modding up older OB-Xa's:
"I've heard rumors that Oberheim is now shipping OB-Xa polyphonic synthesizers with expanded memories. Is this true, and if so, can owners of OB-Xas without expanded memories get them?

Russ Jones, vice president of marketing for Oberheim, tells us that beginning in mid-September 1981, OB-Xas were indeed given expanded memories. Where they had 32 memory positions for storage of patches, they now have 120. In addition to that, memory space for split and double combinations was doubled from 8 to 16. Cost of the parts for the modification is $120.00. Owners of OB-Xas that are still under warranty can have the work done by any authorized Oberheim service center with no charge for labor. The modification shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to add onto an instrument. The memory expansion kit also includes a cassette tape with the new preset sounds, with space for the user to write his or her own sounds onto the tape."
Awesome info!

This blog post is already tipping 1000 words, and between my online and offline research on the OB-Xa and OB-SX, as well as info coming in from a few old and new friends of the blog, I could go on for another 1000 word at least.

But that will have to wait. Time to enjoy the rest of my extra-long Easter weekend - which when you read this is long over. Boooo!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thank you again, Moog Music! You too, MATRIXSYNTH

Wowza. My blog's Web site stats (visitors, page views) have jumped off the charts over the last few days.

A little sleuthing solved the mystery. Yesterday, Moog Music posted one of their best (and one of my favorite) retro synth ads on their Facebook page:

That post links back to their Web site's retro ads page - which just happens to feature ads and a courtesy link back to this blog!

The result? A lot of new friends from both Facebook and Twitter.

Moog Music Inc, and of course MATRIXSYNTH, provide a fair bit of ongoing traffic to the blog, and I truly appreciate their support, and everyone else that posts these ads on their Web sites and blogs and provides courtesy links back to this blog.

Plus, it gave me a good reason to put this image back on the main page of the blog.  :D

Monday, April 9, 2012

Oberheim OB-Xa "Latest result of the evolutionary philosophy..." ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1981

Oberheim OB-Xa "Latest result of the evolutionary philosophy..." 2-page colour synthesizer advertisement from page 42 and 43 in the February 1981 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Hubba hubba! This is my kind of centerfold.  No, I'm not talking about that J. Geils Band song everyone used to roller-skate to. I'm talking full-on pure centerfold gear pr0n.

Early side note: Just for sh*tz and giggles, I decided to Google "centerfold", and sure enough not one, but two links for the song of the same name by the J. Geils Band, are actually the top links.  Yup - that song beat out anything related to Playboy. How popular do you have to be to do that?!? Although unfortunately, the Wikipedia page for the song doesn't mention roller-skating at all. Very disappointing. :)  And yeah, don't try the image search though, unless you are 1. alone and 2. not at work.

But back to the ad.

Oberheim obviously thought they got some good bang for their buck with their first ever 1-page colour ad for the OB-SX, and so decided to keep the colour machine running when launching the latest instrument in the Obie family - the OB-Xa - with not just one page of colour, but TWO. 

Like their only previous 2-page ad (in black and white) for the OB-X, a good majority of the two pages of real estate was reserved strictly for imagery. Rightly so - that OB-Xa baby speaks for itself with its gorgeous texture and colouring, the big-ass OB-Xa logo with that cute little "a", and all those other fine details such as the red accent line running along the bottom of the ad that we were first introduced to in the colour 1-pager for the OB-SX. TOberheim - you are on a roll.

As for ad-copy, again Oberheim keeps their long-standing theme of "evolution". And their positioning as a higher-end synthesizer manufacturer by including such lines as "collaboration between Oberheim staff and professional musicians" - with the keyword being "professional".

I used the word "launch" to describe the purpose of this OB-Xa ad, but were there enough changes between the original OB-X to consider it a whole new instrument? Heck yah! The bullet points angled down the lower-right hand side of the ad give all the details, except what I think is the most important one - the switch from discrete circuits for oscillators and filters to Curtis integrated circuits.

The Wikipedia page for the OB-Xa points out the obvious - this change "made the inside of the synth less cluttered, reducing the labor required to replace bad parts; and reduced the cost of manufacture". But, not mentioned (but probably inferred), is that this switch also resulted in a change to the sound of the OB-Xa when compared to the OB-X.

I wasn't the only one interested in this difference. The sound comparison question has been asked on the 'net on numerous occasions, but I found two sites in particular with some good information. The first was a conversation on the GearSluts forum back in 2009. And a post in that thread took me to a good Oberheim OB overview from the September 1998 issue of Sound on Sound. There are other interesting conversations out there too. And, unlike some comparison conversations I've witnessed, the Oberheim crowd tend to keep it on-topic and it rarely devolves into name-calling. Gotta like that.  :)

Did you notice that curious end to the ad-copy? This little gem is something new for Oberheim: 

"Don't take any wooden nickels"

I took it as an obvious message to musicians not to accept cheap alternatives (and a jab at other manufacturers).

Not sure how I feel about the inclusion of that little sentence - did they really need to "go there". Maybe it was more of an in-joke thing?

This particular ad appeared a couple of times at the beginning of 1981 to introduce readers to the OB-Xa. And it certainly wasn't the last we would hear from Oberheim about this instrument. But, the OB-Xa (and OB-SX) would have take a back seat to the new DSX digital polyphonic sequencer and DMX programmable digital drum machine for the next while.

Short post - time to enjoy the extra long weekend (which by the time this goes live will almost be over. Drat.

But yeah - nap time.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Oberheim OB-SX "What makes the OB-SX so impressive" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Oberheim OB-SX "What makes the OB-SX so impressive" 1-page colour advertisement from page 23 in the December 1980 issue of  Contemporary Keyboard.

Want to know what makes the OB-SX so impressive?

**THIS AD**. That's what.


For a start - it is in *colour*.  I believe this is the first Oberheim advertisement in CK to appear in colour. Can you believe it?!?!

And this is their second "First" for  1980! The first "First" being that their first two-page CK ad appeared in the March 1980 issue - the OB-X "Evolution of a classic" ad.

Also impressive - the photo used in this ad. Up close and personal. You can even make out the surface texture. Almost feel it! The only disappointment is that you don't see the OB-SX logo on the synth. I love that big fat font with the slightly larger "S". The ad-title font comes close, but just doesn't do the actual logo full-on justice.

The ad-copy is impressive in that it is short and sweet - not typical for Oberheim.  With the main ad theme being "Sound", Oberheim again pushes the OB-SX as the keyboard for the "professional musician" who's too busy working to learn to program. It's excellent positioning, and I'm sure played well with their main audience. Interestingly, they continue to mention that other sounds are available on chips, but gone is the original offer to customize memory chips if a user sends in a cassette dump from their OB-X.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I gotta say it again. I really think Oberheim missed an opportunity by not pushing the custom chip angle more, explaining that musicians could program their OB-X in the studio, and then get the custom roms made of their patches to take on the road inside the much cheaper OB-SX. Maybe it just wasn't cost-effective to make the custom chips, or, not many people took advantage of the opportunity. Boo.

Friend of the blog (and the Vintage Synth Explorer forums!) Micke mentioned in the comments section of my first OB-SX post that the photo in that ad was not the final product:
"...the instrument pictured in this intro ad is most likely a prototype or pre-production unit because it looks a little bit different from the "regular" OB-SX. To begin with, it has less knobs/controls on the front panel, and the OB-X logo is in a different position."
How did I miss that, especially with all the comparisons I've been making with the different OB-Xs in a recent post!?!? Gah!

In a follow-up email exchange with Micke, he provided more detail on OB-Xs, OB-SXs, and beyond.  I'll be including a lot of that information in a future post or three (a lot of info!), but some of that OB-X and OB-SX info fits perfectly in this blog post.

First, Micke pointed out that, in fact, the first OB-Xs off the production line did have what I called the "normal" font logo on them. I had included a progression of OB-X photos in that last blog post, the first of which was from Contemporary Keyboard's '79 NAMM article - and the one I suggested might be a prototype.

OB-X photo from Contemporary Keyboard NAMM article
Notice OB-X logo in top right in 'normal' font.
 BUT, Micke points out  that in those early production OB-Xs, that "normal" font wasn't in the top left corner like in the photo above. But in fact they were in the bottom right, together with that awesome punchy Oberheim logo. Micke pointed me to a number of photos of OB-Xs to substantiate this claim - along with many of their famous owner's names and the albums they were used on! I also came across this image, but can't for the life of me remember where it was from:

If this is your photo, let me know. I can remove or give you full credit!

But, how did he know these were "early" OB-Xs? Micke explained that you could tell when Oberheim OB-Xs were built by looking at the serial number:
"To the best of my knowledge the first two digits indicate the year of manufacture; The 2nd and the 3rd digits indicate in which week of the year it was made, and finally the last two digits refer to the number of units built in a given week. Thus, the OB-X with S/N #793504 was the 4th unit built in the 35th week (the last week of aug) of 1979. "

And further more, based on serial numbers, Micke also was able to pinpoint when the "final version" of the OB-X with the big fat juicy OB-X logo in the top left corner was finally shipping:
"The lowest (or earliest) S/N I have managed to find for an OB-X with the new look (the one you refer to as "final version" [See image below for example] is 793534 (the 34th unit built in the last week of aug 1979). This suggests that

a) the OB-X with the "new look" appeared only a couple of months after Oberheim introduced the OB-X and

b) a relatively small number of OB-X's with the "old-look" were shipped from the factory. "
FINAL Version from MATRIXSYNTH Flickr
Notice OB-X logo on top left in awesome Oberheim font
and Oberheim logo in bottom right of front panel

Now that's some detective work. And, we now know there was only a few months of production time before the final version of the OB-X started shipping.

Although that is some awesome OB-X info, what does this have to do with the OB-SX - the instrument featured in this ad? Not much... yet.

But, if you recall from my last blog post on the OB-SX, I'm kinda obsessed with Oberheim's computer port, a kinda pre-MIDI type connector that let Oberheim instruments sync to each other, and which later was officially labeled by Oberheim as "The System"!

In that OB-SX post, I had suggested that the computer port was available on the OB-SX from the start since it was listed in that introductory ad - bringing the introduction of "The System" all the way back to mid-1980.

And now Micke has provided information letting me know this port was ALSO available on the last batch of OB-Xs that came out roughly the same time as the OB-SX. To be more precise, the port appeared on the OB-Xs starting in the first week of September 1980 with serial #803600!

I <3 that computer port.

End note: Micke referenced that last batch of OB-Xs as "Rev 4", a term you evidently won't find in any official Oberheim info. According to Micke, "Rev 1-4" designations were created by a guy named Tony Clark who had a Web page dedicated to the OB-X and that "he created these designations purely for the purpose of identifying the age of the OB-X in question. According to Clark there's no reference to a rev 1, 2, 3 or 4 in any Oberheim documentation."

Unfortunately that site doesn't seem to exist any more.  :(

If you find it, let me know!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oberheim OB-SX "We call it..." ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Oberheim OB-SX synthesizer "We call it..." 1-page black and white advertisement from the July 1980 issue of Contemporary Keyboard 1980.

Perfect. Or almost perfect. Haven't decided which yet. This advertisement just works on so many levels.

Right from the top, this ad pulls in anyone that may glance at this ad. The first thing a reader sees when they flip to this page is the ad-title: Oberheim OB-X for $2,995. Retail.

Those sneaky SOBs! Getting me all excited like that. Readers at the time would be thinking Oberheim has made a drastic price drop to their OB-X, when just a year before the four voice OB-X model was introduced at $4,295.

But the photo underneath the ad-title reveals the truth  immediately and readers are introduced to Oberheim's newest family member - the OB-SX.  Overall, the thin, top-heavy layout ensures that reader's eyes start at the top and reads downward, so there is little chance someone might get confused.

No harm. No foul.  Nice work.

The rest of the ad-copy fills in the details. Your $2,995 basically gets your a pre-programmed OB-X with 24 awesome sounds. "User programmability is not necessary". Better yet, buyers aren't limited to those 24 sounds because they ccould purchase and swap out other ROM chips with different patches. And even better, users could get custom chips made by sending in OB-X program cassettes to the factory. A musician could now keep his or her relatively expensive OB-X in the studio, and then when touring, just get the sounds used on the record dumped on a chip and put in a much less expensive OB-SX.

Brilliant thinking on Oberheim's part.

While researching this post, I found some historical debate on MATRIXSYNTH and elsewhere on whether the internals and sound of the OB-SX resemble the older OB-X or later-launched OB-XA. Indeed this ad compares it to the OB-X, but, that doesn't mean the internals and sound are anything like them. I can't really speak from a technical perspective, but from a marketing perspective, Oberheim didn't have a choice. The OB-XA hadn't been announced yet. So, even if internally, the technology had evolved enough to more resemble an OB-XA, Oberheim couldn't state this fact in this ad or they would have blown the OB-XA surprise.

My 2 cents.  :)

One other interesting note about this ad-copy... if you read right to the very last bullet point about the OB-SX's features, IT MENTIONS OBERHEIM'S COMPUTER INTERFACE! WTF?

Is this the Oberheim pre-MIDI interface, later known by Oberheim as "The SYSTEM", that I became a little infatuated with back in 2010? In one particular blog post I included this little bulleted timeline to explain it's introduction.

In my September 30, 2010 "The System" ad blog post, I did a little Contemporary Keyboard back-tracking to see just when Oberheim or the magazine might have first mentioned the connector:
"I found one of the earlier direct mentions of the multi-pin connector back in the June 1981 Keyboard review for the OB-Xa. The interface is mentioned very briefly in the description of the rear panel, where Dominic Milano writes that the owner's manual explains it "is for interfacing the instrument with future Oberheim products"."
Good lord, I'm quoting myself quoting other people now...   :D

Anyways, what I thought was the earliest mention was back in 1981.

1981: DSX, DMX, and OB-Xa start appearing in ads together.
1982: 1st generation "System" (OB-Xa/DSX/DMX) ad appears.
Early 1983: This OB-8 ad appears - no mention of the "System".
Mid 1983: DX drum machine ad appears - mentions the "System".
Late 1983: 2nd generation "System" (OB-8/DSX/DMX) ad appears.

Point is, this OB-SX ad came out almost A FULL YEAR before that June 1981 Keyboard review for the OB-XA, and that DSX/DMX/OB-XA ad that I also reference above.

Could this ad be the first reference to Oberheim's "System" technology? Way back in 1980? It's lookin' pretty likely.

Interestingly, most references I've found online, even Vintage Synth Explorer, suggest that the computer interface was added to the OB-SX some point later in it's production. But, this introductory ad clearly states that the computer interface was available right at introduction - in mid-1980. Nice.

I'll hopefully continue this OB-SX dialogue in my next ad post - with some guest commentary :)

There's some good resources out there!

End note: Can anyone tell me what the S stands for in OB-SX?  Maybe "Simple"? Gah. Sounds stupid.

Anyone... anyone...?