Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roland JP-4 synthesizer "Introducing the new standard..." ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Roland JP-4 synthesizer "Introducing the new standard..." full-page black and white advertisement from page 55 in the November 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

I picked this advertisement for one big reason in particular. I'll let you listen for yourself.

Yup. The arpeggiator. I ***love*** arpeggiators. ***LOVE*** them.

In particular that riff from Duran Duran's Rio!

And now, every time I hear that arpeggiator I get a little weepy.

Let me tell you a little story.

I live in Canada. The middle of Canada. And around this time of year it begins to get cold. Right now we are hitting 0 degrees Celsius at night. The garden is done and squirrels are getting drunk on fermented crab-apples that have fallen off the trees. They are brave little suckers when they're bagged.

Anyways, last Sunday morning I decided it was finally time to turn on the furnace. After a couple of minutes, the familiar warmth that usually begins to slowly permiate my house was... well... it wasn't. No heat!


So I ventured down into my basement and took the cover off the furnace. I could feel the vibration of the furnace fan, but I swear I couldn't feel air flow. So, without thinking my next action through to its possible logical conclusions, I stuck my left index finger into the fan motor.

Hey neat - blood!

Lots of it.

Wait... that's MY blood.

That's when I realized the fan took off the end of my finger. Not a lot of it. But enough that the nurse at Urgent Care would later describe it as a "gaping hole". A "gaping hole" deep enough that the doctor was concerned about bone infection. 

It was a stupid thing to do. And I felt pretty foolish. 

But those good peeps at the hospital fixed me up and sent me home in under two hours. Who says Canada's health care system sucks?*

*Not me.

And I gotta say, the nurse that first bandaged me up was super nice about it. She calmed me down and was very understanding and kind about the whole thing.  All I could think about was how she probably had a shitty week of no sleep and here I was taking time out of her busy schedule to attend to the result of my extreme stupidity when I'm sure she had a lot of other things to do.

Nurses are good people. Okay, she may have been kinda hot too. Just sayin'...

Anyways, it took a few days before I finally man-up'd and posted a photo on Facebook for my friends. Mostly because when I went back yesterday night for a check-up, the nurse did an awesome job of creating a harness-like system to keep everything in place.

I also posted it to get some group sympathy. And it worked.

But one commenter in particular said something that struck a chord (pun intended):

"EEEK! Your arpeggio finger!"


Monday, September 24, 2012

Adaptive Systems, Inc. Synthia synthesizer "Art and technology in perfect harmony" ad, Keyboard 1982

Adaptive Systems, Inc. Synthia synthesizer "Art and technology in perfect harmony" full-page colour advertisement from page 73 in the June 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine.


We are only halfway through September and my daily workload has already ramped up to 10 on the crazy-scale. Not that I'm surprised. I had mentioned in a recent blog post that my company was going through a major "right-sizing" and but the work load hasn't followed the same decline as the staff. There is still a whole lot of frickin' work to do. Fun. Exhilarating. But it's still work.

But that's what advertisements like this one from Adaptive Systems Inc are for. I keep 'em in my back pocket when my day job gets too busy because there isn't much known about them so they make quick and easy blog posts.

And that's definitely true for the Synthia. There is not a lot out there other than:

1. what you can read in this advertisement
2. what you can find in Mark Vail's "Vintage Synthesizers" book.

Or at least that's what I initially thought after I took this ad out of my back pocket and set off on my first round of research.

That first Google search found that sites such as's Synthia page just used images from this ad as well as the photos and text from Mark Vail's book. Go read the book's write-up on that Synth Museum page because I'm lazy today and don't feel like paraphrasing  :) That book is also all that is pretty much referenced on the Synthesizer Database Web site at as well.

And like on that last Web site, the poor Synthia usually gets grouped in with the other extinct dinosaurs of this early 80s synth era, getting dumped into the "exotic" or "quirky" category. Even in "Vintage Synthesizers" its in the chapter titled "It came from the music industry" under "Part 1: Dredging the tar pits of technology".

Ouch. This synth could probably use a hug.

Indeed even Gforce software lumped it into its Prism page while referencing... you guessed it... the book "Vintage Synthesizers".

But then... everything changed after a few key-word changes in Google and I finally came across Synthony Music's Synth & MIDI Museum's Synthia page (say that 10 times really fast)!


That page is a goldmine of Synthia reference info including a detailed summary of how the synthesizer actually worked as well as an email from one of the inventors about the history of the company! And that history is definitely worth the time to paraphrase:

Adaptive Systems was formed when Mark E. Faulhaber, an engineer at a large chemical company with an interest in electronic music, obtained an additive synthesis patent in 1976, built a monophonic prototype, and demonstrated it at local IEEE meetings. Three other engineers at the same company were stoked enough by what they saw that in 1980 they formed the company and within two years had built two prototypes to take to the 1982 NAMM show. Over the next year or so they traveled to a few other music trade shows and conferences but closed down the company when they ran out of cash in 1983. The two unsold machines aren't working any more and are sitting in Mark's basement. Mark suggests that the unique instrument failed in part to a conservative music industry.

That Web page write-up also included details on the Synthia's own fabulous build quality and stylin's, including that sleek, clean-lined black and brushed aluminum cabinet with an optional choice of rare woods.


And, its obvious that the designer of the ad figured out that the beauty of the synth needed to be the focal point of the ad - by including that big-ass photo that shows off all that warm wood and shiny metal. That photo also shows off the unique state of the art touch-sensitive display that sits so nicely above the keyboard.

The only thing in this ad that may be more gorgeous than the synth itself is that Synthia logo.  Classy calligraphy with that stylized treble-clef "S". Yum.

Man, I've got to create a top-ten best synth logo list some day. 

But not today. Too busy.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Synton Syntovox "High performance vocoders" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1984

Synton Syntovox "High performance vocoders" 1/4-page black and white advertisement from page 86 in the March 1984 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

I got to say, trying to write a last minute blog post while watching Survivor is a lesson in futility. But "Survivor" is kind of a good theme for this post. On a few different levels.

On one level, these Synton vocoders have survived for over four years with just a trickle of advertising. The first half-pager appeared back in March 1980, and its little condensed brother appeared a month later and only ran two or three times. Both of those ads were probably paid for by Parasound, their American distributor in the early days. 

Then, what appears to be a very long break, this third ad made its first showing in mid-1983, popping up again once or twice into 1984. But this time, Synton's distributor had changed to Bob Moog's company Big Briar, Inc.

And there we see that theme of "survivor" again.  I'm talking about Bob Moog.

Walking away from Moog Music must have been tough. But he was definitely a survivor. Starting Big Briar near the end of the 70s until he finally acquired the rights to use the Moog  name again in 2002. All the while taking on consulting gigs with companies like Kurzweil. Dang good. That's a lot longer than I would survive in the woods. For shizzle. 

The ad itself is alright. I miss those luscious lips that used to appear in the name "Syntovox". But what should I expect - this ad did show up three years later. And not sure about the background image of four 222's stacked on top of each other in the top half of the ad. In fact, no model names are mentioned at all. Until I read the line about a choice of models, I wasn't sure if both were still offered.

I figured the best way was to find out when exactly Big Briar took over Synton distribution (and which models were on offer) was to look through old Big Briar catalogs online. Well... that was easier said than done. The easiest one to find was this 2000 catalog hosted on (where else!) Moog Music (that also features Retro Synth Ads' ads!). But, unfortunately, 2000 is long after Synton stopped producing vocoders I think.

But, after a bit more digging, I finally found this 1983 Big Briar catalog (17 MB PDF) on Be warned - if you click on the link it takes a while to load. It includes a Synton modular and vocoder price list near the end (yum) - including both the cadillac model 221 20-channel vocoder ($6018.00) and more moderately priced 222 10-channel vocoder ($815.00).

The first section of that PDF also includes some great history and insight into the direction Bob Moog was taking Big Briar. Remember, this is 1983, and Bob Moog is not just taking about electronic music, but COMPUTER music.  And I believe that last paragraph on the last page of the catalog pretty much sums up the support and respect Bob Moog had for artists (and scientists) from all walks:
"Big Briar custom-designs and produced a wide range of one, -two,- and three-output touch surfaces, multiply-touch-sensitive keyboards, and position-sensitive controllers. Applications include music composition and performance, interactive sculpture, dance, computer graphics control, and psychological testing. Inquiries are answered with written proposals and quotations. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with artists who wish to incorporate touch- and position-sensors in their work."
Interactive sculpture! Psychological testing! Awesome.

While looking for those catalogs, I managed to come across a comparison of the two models (and other models) written by Synton's own Marc Papin on
"221 - Big, 20-channel unit. Matrix-panel on the front allows analiser-synthesizer channel patching. Internal VCO, noise generator, Voiced/Unvoiced detection, 40+ LEDs for spectrum monitoring, etcetera. Also, it has a 50-pin connector on the back which provides CV in and out for each channel. I've got one, and I  think it is superior to Sennheiser, Bode (Moog) and EMS. Original RRP: HFL 12000,- (US$ 7500.00)

222 12-channels. Not very flexible, but they have a very musical sound. Original RRP: HFL 1000,- (US$ 625.00)"
The 222 was 12-channel? Not ten as described int he Big Briar catalog? Bah. 10. 12. It was a lot cheaper. That's what mattered most.  :)

I also found some good comparison info on, which seems to be a Web site for most Synton products, and some excellent photos on

Well, Survivor is almost done - first episode of the new season.

And I'm done too. Dinner time. Then bed. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Synton Electronics Syntovox 222 and 221 vocoder "You do the talking..." condensed ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Synton Electronics Syntovox 222 and 221 vocoder "You do the talking" condensed 1/6-page black and white advertisement from page 66 in the April 1980 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

I really love this advertisement. Enough that I decided to include the Polyphony ad that sits beside it because I knew it wouldn't take away from the main feature - Syntovox! Although I do love that Polyphony logo with its fat letters and the way the "L" connects with the "Y" beside it.


We are going through quite a rapid change at my day job right now. We are "rightsizing" from over 400 people down to under 100 and budgets are being slashed across the company. And, in the middle of all this the choice was made to rebrand too.

But even with all the stress of change and lack of job security (and all the shitty political stuff that goes along with that process) I have to say its a very interesting (and fun!) time to be at an 75+ year old company during such rapid change. Especially in the marketing and communications area. Its a learning experience and "skill-hoarding" experience I'll be able to take with me anywhere else I work.

And this advertisement pretty much sums up all the that change we are going through.

As part of the re-brand, all of our advertisements had to be re-designed, and due to budget cuts, many of those ads were also shrunk down from full- and half-page ads down to 1/4-page. Shrinking down advertisements is an art form unto itself. Images and layout need to be considered, but the toughest part is  usually deciding what ad-copy needs to go. No operations department ever wants to loose ad-copy. But fonts can only get so small before they are unreadable.

Parasound/Synton have done a bang-up job at condensing their initial March 1980 1/2-page Syntovox 222 and 221 vocoder advertisement down to a measly 1/6-page format. So much so that I've already spent 250+ words just building up to talking about it.   :)

Layout still includes tons of white space and they managed to keep the image large enough to still be recognizable. Plus they have kept the Synton logo at a respectable size.

And, as it should be, it's the ad-copy that really took a beating. No mention of the model numbers or the model name "Syntovox" - ouch! And that's a shame because I miss those lustful lips used in "vox" in the 1/2-page version of this ad.

Yup. You just can't cut down your ad-copy to 25 words or less without loosing some of the message. But Parasound did well to cut right to the chase: 1. We are affordable. 2. Contact us for more information.

Good work in cutting 'er down under such tough conditions. 

Well, I finally got around to doing some online research.  Never did find a lot of information on Synton's first distributor Parasound. Well, it's not that I didn't find any information - its just that there are a lot of "Parasound" companies out there. The one company lucky enough to snag has a few things in common with what we know about Parasound in the ad. They are located out of San Francisco and are a creator of audio equipment - now focusing on movie and recording studios. And kinda cool - according to their About Us page, this company is credited in Episode 1, 2 and 3 of Stars Wars. Not too shabby. 

I like the idea of a vocoder distributor from the 80s evolving into a successful company that is still around today. But I never found anything definitive and in the end I just decided to move on.

There is a bit more info out there about the company Synton. According to their Wikipedia page they were a manufacturer and distributor of musical equipment back in the 70s and 80s from the Netherlands.  It was founded by Felix Visser after he purchased an EMS Synthi AKS and decided he wanted more out of a synth. WTF? Who needs anything more than this little cutey!   :)

Synton went on to producer a few vocoders and synthesizers before they finally went bankrupt in 1989. Boo. Interestingly, the Wiki page only list Big Briar (Bob Moog's company in the 80s) as a distributor of the vocoders, even though clearly sales and marketing in the US were run by Parasound at least for the first little while.

I'm not done with these vocoders yet. Gonna keep looking into Parasound. Kinda bugging me.

End note: About that Polyphony ad - I always find it kinda odd when a magazine includes an advertisement for a similar magazine. Maybe Polyphony was different enough from Contemporary Keyboard that CK didn't feel they were a threat. But still, it may have pulled a few subscription dollars away from CK.  Huh.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Synton Electronics Syntovox 222 and 221 vocoder "You do the talking..." ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Synton Electronics Syntovox 222 and 221 vocoder "You do the talking..." half-page black and white advertisement from page 26 in the March 1980 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Never heard of them. Well, maybe I have. But if I had, these vocoders didn't leave much of an impression. And I dig vocoders. My Roland SVC-350 has been in my rack for years and years, and I always try to find an excuse to patch it in. And one of the big reasons I love my Korg Wavestation A/D is because of its audio inputs and vocoder effect.

But these Synton Syntovox vocoders... drawing a blank at the moment.

Hmmm. What to do... what to do... I usually have two different "go-to's" when drawing a blank:

1. Kick-start some company research on the Internet
2. Jibber jabber about the ad itself.

And since I'm feeling a bit lazy today, I think I'll start by just gaze at this ad for a while. Save the online research for later.

This particular early advertisement only appeared once in CK as far as I can tell. And it's not too shabby. Nice balance, a smart, witty ad-title, and a nice big Synton logo. It took a while to realize what I like best about this ad - the lips in the second "o" of "Syntovox" in the ad-title. I missed it for a long time, but now that I know they are there, its the first thing I focus on. They're a little dirty even.

So, what's not to like? I'm not a fan of justified text in ads. And not a fan of it in this ad either. You get enough of it in the magazine articles themselves. My eyes are tired even before I've begun reading. But for the first time out of the gate, Parasound gets an "A" for effort.

Still knee-jerking from starting any online research, I decided to flip through my database and a few other issues of the magazine to see what came up. I never did come across a Spec Sheet for the 221 or 222 vocoder in my readings, but unexpectedly the next best thing does appear in a later issue of the magazine. A lot later. Like three and a half years in October 1983.

But it was probably worth the wait for readers because we're talking Keyboard Giveaway contest!

Before I go on - did you catch that?

The ad came out in March 1980 in Contemporary Keyboard, but the contest was in Keyboard magazine.  Yup! they took so long that the magazine changed it's name! Hee hee.

Okay, maybe I'm the only one tickled by that fact. So back to that Keyboard Giveaway contest.

Sure enough, the October 1983 giveaway was for a Syntovox 222 vocoder, and the description reads like a good solid Spec Sheet:
"The syntovox 222 vocoder is a professional audio rack-mounted sound modifier that is designed for live performance or studio use in inparting vocal articulation to musical signals. Two speech (program) inputs are provided: one for balanced microphones signals and the other for line-level signals. The articulation and spectrum of the speech signal are imparted to the carrier signal. the carrier input is usually an electronic keyboard or other instrument, but may be any line-level signal with a broad spectrum. The 222's output consists of the articulated carrier, plus adjustable amounts of straight speech and/or carrier signals. An internal "unvoiced sound synthesizer" is included for increased intelligibility.  Articulated carrier and unvoiced sound signals may be turned on and off by a panel switch or external footswitch. List price is $815.00. Syntovox products are sold in the United States by Big Briar, Leicester, NC 28748."
Like I said - a nice little write up.

And... did you catch it (again...)?

Looks like the magazine wasn't the only thing that was going through a wack of change during those long three and a half years. It seems distribution for the Syntovox changed hands too - from Parasound to Big Briar - sometime between March 1980 and October 1983.

Like the vocoders themselves, I don't recall the name Parasound either (yeah yeah, I'll get to that online research later), but I do know quite a bit about Big Briar.  That's the company Bob Moog started after leaving his original company Moog Music back in the late 70s. There are some really interesting Big Briar ads that I'm sure I'll post in the future, including one for the Syntovox 222 vocoder! Yay!

But, any more research will have to wait until the weekend. Because when I knee-jerk, I KNEE-JERK.

Like the year I refused to watch Toy Story because everyone loved it so much. KNEE-JERK.  And then attended Siggraph that year. Siggraph is *the* international conference and exhibition on computer graphics and interactive techniques.

The result: I got boo'd by everyone else in the room during the Pixar session. Even by my best friend, who I swear knew it was coming.

True story. And now that I think about it, I may have already told that anecdote.  Gah.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Vibronic Music Systems "Synthesizers?" ad version #2, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Vibronic Music Systems "Synthesizers?" half-page black and white advertisement version #2 from page 37 in the March/April 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

This third and final advertisement from Vibronic only seems to have appeared once in the March/April 1976 issue of CK. After this ad ran (as discussed in my last blog post that featured the previous version of this Vibronic ad) I learned that owner Ken Fine made the decision that marketing dollars could be better spent by advertising directly to local musicians and educators.

The ad itself borrows the ad-title and photography from the previous ad, but the ad-copy has been reduced considerably, but those few lines carry a lot of history..

"Customized" hybrid systems: In past ads, Vibronic really focused on Moog synthesizers and Moog modifications. But in this advertisement the word Moog is curiously missing. In fact, I learned that Vibronic carried a much wider selection of synthesizers and keyboards than just the Moogs of the time. He recalls the store carry the Moog Sonic Six, Moog satellte (tough to sell), Minimoog, Modular systems, as well as EMS synths and Mellatrons, among others.

"Customized" high-intensity keyboard sound systems: If you recall from the first ad blog post, those customized systems were created by Music & Sound Ltd. And if you recall from my second blog post, they demonstrated those synthesizers to clients through their own customized sound system. Each synth was hooked into a matrix sound system like those found in today's stores, and then fed into a McIntosh amp and large speaker cabinets hung by chains from the ceiling. Not a surprise - adjacent businesses were often complaining about the sound.   :)

Even the company name and address in the ad have some good history behind it. Ken had come up with the name Vibronic by putting together the words "Vibration" and "Sonic", although there were plans to change the name to Vibronix at a future date.

The address in all three ads was actually the store's second location. He originally opened the store in Ardmore, PA, about 10 miles west of Philadephia, at 6 East Lancaster Ave. That is where the futuristic showroom and that first large custom-built sound system were located. Ken recalls that there was a Radio Shack across the street the got a lot of repeat business from Vibronics at the time. In fact, Ken still has a box of all types of cables and connectors that were originally from that store.

The second location was actually Music & Sound Ltd's address, where he moved Vibronic after the first year in operation. His partner, Marc Paturka, had left the company and moving into M&S's location would save money as well as give him more exposure since they were a well-known retailer in those parts. Moving into M&S also allowed Ken to spend more time doing consulting work with studios and schools and keep up his chops as a session player at Sigma Sound and Philly International Records.  Ken continued to own the company Vibronic, but included that "Division of Music & Sound Ltd " above the address in this advertisement as a way of creating a larger company image.

I always jump at the chance to research and talk with people who were deep in the industry during this time period. People like Marco Alpert of E-mu fame and Sequential Circuits advertising artist John Mattos. They usually have some great history to share. And Ken Fine fits nicely into this category. He was surrounded by music all his life - before, during and after Vibronic.


Ken remembers growing up surrounded by artists in his family. Most were entertainers in some way, always trying to find that balance between art and business. He was primarily a piano player, who then studied at the Philadelphia Musical Academy in the early 1970s. He recalled finding a Moog IIIc in the school's Music department, where students were using it to record compositions. And as an undergrad he had access.  Ken was already fascinated with, as he put it, "the crazy electronic stuff". He became influenced by many electronic artists and their music of the day, including Isao Tomita's Snowflakes are Dancing.

Upon graduation from music school in roughly 1973, he ended up working at an electronics company called Components in Minneapolis, and that's when he started to go out and visit synthesizer factories like Moog and EML. He visited the Moog factory in Buffalo, and it was around this time that he realized he really wanted to sell synthesizers. He began speaking with others in the synthesizer industry like ARP owner Alan R. Perlman (Ken recalls having an ARP synthesizer back then) and this solidified his resolve to get into the business. And after only a year in Minneapolis, he moved back to PA to get to work on that plan.


Finding himself back in PA, he soon found his 23-year-old-self with a new bank loan and a new business partner - Marc Paterka. They had met at the electronic store in Minneapolis, and at the time Marc was a church organist who had been playing in a lot of big cathedrals at the time.

Opening that store in their first location was a busy but fun time. Ken recalls the "high" he felt when buying all those amazing synthesizers for the store. The direct access to a wide variety of rather rare keyboards got him started doing Moog rentals sessions for studios like Sigma Sound, who were always looking for the latest sounds for their R&B artists. And soon the store expanded to offer Moog service and modifications.

Philadelphia Moog Ensemble

Philadephia Moog Ensemble set-up 1
It was during this time that he and his partner also started the Philadelphia Moog Ensemble, an electronic band that played universities and colleges. They did covers from such college favorites as Switched-on Bach and A Clockwork Orange. With just four hands, four parts, and no sequencers - everything was played live. They even cut an album. 

But he ended up spending just as much time demonstrating the gear to students and curious on-lookers after the concerts - and he found he liked the educational side of synthesizers.

Philadephia Moog Ensemble set-upd
Ken started lecturing about electronic music at different schools, and at one point was teaching a graduate class in electronic music.  

Meanwhile, bands from all over the east continued showing up at the store. Educators from schools setting up labs to teach music and sound design also popped in.

But there was a recession back in 1975/76, so sales really began to drop off. At the same time, larger stores started selling more synthesizers, buying bulk from the likes of Moog and receiving  massive discounts. Small boutique synthesizer stores like Vibronic started to feel the squeeze. By 1977, Ken decided a change was in order, and decided to returned to graduate school.

He sold his entire inventory. Ouch. 

Post Vibronic

When Ken first mentioned on the phone that he went back to school, I immediately thought he meant music school. But he decided to take his love of music in a different direction.


Ken became interested in how humans perceive sound, and created what he called a "musical Rorschach test".  Test subjects listened to ten pieces of music - 60 second cuts - and then were asked a series of questions to determine their emotional response. This research led him to expand his interests into biofeedback, pain control, even interfacing people with machines. Gah! Terminator!   :)

But even as graduate school pulled him away from music, he continued to keep one foot in the door, playing in bands and at clubs.  To help pay the bills he also worked part time at Guitar Center, just as polyphonics began to make their rise in popularity and come down in cost. 

In 2000 Ken left his psychology private practice in Florida and Colorado, and decided it was time for another life change. He joined a band and spent four months on a cruise ship.  This led Ken to look into becoming a booking agent. And he soon opened up a new business - Blue Moon Talent Entertainment Agency with a new partner.

Within a year the partner had dropped out, but Ken has continued to grow the roster over the last ten years or so to over 1000 acts, now booking acts for corporate events, banquets and award ceremonies all over the country. 

Ken Fine's current license plate
Before hanging up the phone, I asked Ken if he had anything else to say. Any words of advice. Without even a breathe or skipping a beat:
"Never take your art to seriously. Always have fun making money."
Good advice.

And you can see he practices what he preaches just by looking at his current license plate.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vibronic Music Systems "Synthesizers?" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1976

Vibronic Music Systems "Synthesizers?" half-page black and white advertisement from page 30 in the January/February 1976 issue of Contemporary Keyboard Magazine.

Another gooder from Vibronic.

Where that first "What a combination" Vibronic ad was a lesson in simplicity with a simple line drawing and a few bullet points, this advertisement piles on the content with a large ad-title, a large photo of a large Moog modular, and a large amount of ad-copy. All in a half-page space.

And it's all in the details. The way the keyboard in the photo breaks the border of the ad to catch the eye. And the way the dotted line of the form follows the shape of the photo, also breaking the lines of the ad and catching the eye. Not sure if any of that was done specifically for that reason (often its just 'cause it looks good), but it worked out that way. And it works.

Ken Fine working hard, 1975ish
Notice all that juicy historical
synthesizer goodness hang on the
wall behind him.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that through a few Google searches I managed to track down then-owner Ken Fine, now "head honcho" at Blue Moon Talent Inc. And, after a quick email exchange, we ended up chatting on the phone about his experiences opening the "first synthesizer-only" instrument shop in America. He also sent a few photos my way, including this one of himself at the shop. Excellent!

Although not readily apparent in this photo of ken hard at work (on the phone with Bob?), Ken comes across as a fun and friendly guy. And that personality definitely played a role in the development of that first Vibronic advertisement with its most-excellent t-shirt-ready drawing of a Moog Modular, and this more comprehensive second ad.

I find that smaller companies like Vibronic can get away with a lot more fun and humor in advertisements than larger companies, but there is still that real danger of getting carried away. But Vibronic used humor well, without going over the top.

For example, take a look at the ad-copy in this second ad. "We take the fun of making music seriously."  Not over the top, but you immediately "get" where Vibronic is coming from as a company.  And then you come to the punch line found in the cut-out form section of this ad. In that form are two check-boxes.
  • First check box: Send me the free Vibronic Catalog
  • Second check box: I want technical expertise. Send Kenny Fine
I wonder how many people checked off that second box. :)

I pointed this second line out to Ken and he chuckled as the memories surrounding this ad started flooding back to the front of his mind, noting that there was a lot of fun and laughter around the shop during this time period.

And how could there not be humor and fun?  Not yet in his mid-20's, Ken was an owner of a 1000 square foot futuristic-looking shop full of big analog monophonic and modular synthesizers, wired together through an audio switching matrix, feeding into a custom-designed sound system that would probably have felt at home in a large auditorium.

His excuse for the large custom PA - so clients could hear that deep Moog sub-bass. I'm sure one note and that bank loan officer understood exactly why he needed this sound system.  :)

This conversation led nicely into one of the topics I was really looking forward to discussing - that drawing of the Moog modular in Vibronic's first ad. That's one nice piece of... er... fun.

Ken loves that drawing too  (why wouldn't he  :), and recalled that it, and the ad, were created by good  friend and artist Linda Chyhai based on a photo of one of the modulars in the store. He pointed out that you can make out her last name in the bottom left corner of the keyboard in the drawing.

Maxi-Korg - another example of
the Baby Teeth font
Photo taken shamefully
from a MATRIXSYNTH 2007 post
She was also responsible for the creation of the awesome Vibronic logo that can be seen in these ads. Without skipping a beat, Ken recalled that the font used was Baby Teeth. We both did a quick Google search while we talked on the phone and... sure enough... there it was. Baby Teeth! The font was designed in the early 70s by Milton Glaser. And you may recognize Baby Teeth from another appearance it made in the early synth world - on the front panel of the Maxi-Korg synth! Hello!

BTW - you may have noticed that the Vibronic logo seen in the office photo is different from the one in the ads. That original Vibronic logo was created by a high school art teacher, who Ken mentioned also created the store sign. 

Another question I asked Ken was how the heck he managed to get his advertisements into the first few issues of Contemporary Keyboard. I had three theories.

1. Cold call from CK sales guy?
2. Through his association with Bob Moog, who was a writer for CK and a guest at the opening of the store?
3. From the 1975 NAMM show that CK happened to attend prior to publishing their first issue?

I was secretly hoping for "3" since I had noticed that the first issue of CK included an article on the 1975 NAMM show. In that article, the CK author mentions that the magazine had a booth there, promoting the magazine before its first publication. And well - that would just be cool if all those little pieces fell into place to create a great little story.

I was quite happy and surprised to learn that "3" *was* the correct answer.  Ken had been there with a few Moog synths and had met magazine editor Tom Darter, who convinced him to sign-up for a 1/2-page advertisement for the first issue. And in the next few as well. He seems to recall paying approximately $500 for the ad in that first issue. There is always a cost to being a part of synth history.

So, why did Vibronic's advertising in CK suddenly stop early in 1976 after only a few ads? Ken realized that his audience wasn't nation-wide and that a national magazine maybe wasn't the best vehicle to reach his customer-base. He decided to focus his marketing and advertising dollars towards local area musicians as well as educators that were also discovering synthesizers and setting up labs to teach sound and music.

In fact for Ken, music and education played a huge role both before, during and after life at Vibronic.

But that will have to wait for the next post.:)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vibronic Music Service "What a combination!" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1975

Vibronic Music Service "What a combination!" half-page black and white advertisement from page 23 in the September/October 1975 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

Have you ever been flipping through a magazine you have read dozens of times (backwards and forwards), only to suddenly fixate on a certain image or article after all that time?

That is *exactly* what happened here.

The Moog modular drawing in this ad is fantastic. I just can't look away. It belongs on my wall or a t-shirt. Or two t-shirts. Gorgeous.

And so, after picking up a magnifying glass to read every little detail in that drawing, I decided I would try and find out more about Vibronic Music Service. It wasn't a name I was familiar with outside of the magazine ads I'd seen in the early issues of CK.

And I was curious.

Naturally, when starting to look for clues in to a synth company, the first place I look is at the ads and their ad-runs. Vibronic's ads started in the September/October 1975 issue of Contemporary Keyboard. This wasn't just an early issue of CK. But THE EARLIEST issue. There seems to only be one other Vibronic advertisement, which appeared a couple of times in early 1976. This tells me either the company didn't find value in advertising in the magazine or that maybe something happened to the company. Kinda like in the fossil record when dinosaurs just suddenly dropped off the face of the earth.

This got me even more curious.

The ad itself is also a good place to build up info on a company. The ad-copy in this ad may be sparse, but those five bullet points actually say a whole lot about Vibronic. It looks like the company was part of a network of service providers that supplied Moog products (Vibronic), service (Beacon), and customization (Polyfusion - another advertiser in early Contemporary Keyboard mags). The company even provided Moog sessions for other bands and recordings by someone named Kenny Fine.


A name. Google likes names. Especially when you can cross reference it with other unique terms like "Vibronic" and "Moog". And it didn't take long to find out more info.

The first search result led me to the Moog Music forum where the original owner of Vibronic popped up to introduce himself back in a 2005 post. According to the post, musician Ken Fine owned Vibronic from around 1975-1977 and the company was the "first all-synthesizer music store" in the United States. When it opened in Pennsylvania, it seems it was quite a big deal with already-legend Bob Moog attending, drawing curious local press to see what Vibronic was up to. From the post:
"We supplied Moog products to area college music labs, recording studios, and of course musicians. I personally laid down Moog tracks for Philly Internationally Records, Sigma Sound Studios and Gamble Huff & Bell records. My Modular Moog III tracks appear on albums by the Spinners, Lou Rawls, The O'Jays and other Philly R&B groups of the 70's. Listen to "Rubber Band Man" by The Spinners! I also performed in an all Moog band called the Philadelphia Moog Ensemble."
Later in that string (a lot later - 2010!) he provides a bit more information on what happened with the company, along with the name of his business partner.
"After I closed Vibronic Music Service, I returned to school and became a psychologist. I left psychology in 2001 and got back into entertainment. I now own a corporate entertainment agency, speakers bureau and production company in Denver, CO. I also dabble around with video and have a photo studio on the side.
I have tried to contact my former business partner, Mark Paturka, but no luck."
 And this next part is what I like about the Internet so much. Turns out Mark's niece had recognized a piece from the Philadelphia Moog Ensemble playing on the radio and through Google found Ken's post in this forum and responded. Unfortunately it wasn't good news:
"You mentioned in one of your posts that you had tried to find Marc. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago, I believe it was 2005. He suffered for several years with problems related to obesity & diabetes and died from complications of pneumonia. For many years he fought with addictions which he did finally overcome. When he died, he had been sober for 5 years and living in Southern California in Ramona, a town east of San Diego, where he was director of musical liturgy for a church. He had earned Doctor of Musical Arts degree somewhere along the way, too.
I do remember the summer that Marc came back to Wahpeton, ND (our home town) with a (Mini?)MOOG and performed a concert in the catholic church with the pipe organ and the synthesizer."
A 2012 follow up post in the same forum provides a bit more information about the company:
"My partner (Mark Paturka) and I sold mostly Mini Moogs and modular systems and we eventually became an authorized service center."
 So, looks like Vibronic was operated by two partners - Ken Fine and Marc Paturka and the company sold mostly Minimoogs and modular systems, eventually becoming an authorized service centre for Moog. Not too shabby for a small company in 1975.

But Ken made one mistake in those forums. He left contact information. Hee hee.    :) 

So I emailed him the other day, introducing myself and rattling off a long list of questions. Ken was not only open to answering the lot of them, but took the time to talk to me on the phone for over an hour about the company, synths, bands, and even that awesome drawing in this ad.

We had a great conversation - he's a funny and engaging guy who has spent four decades with at least one foot, and often two, in the music industry. Musician. Synthesizer store owner. Audio researcher. Music lecturer and educator. To name just a few.

And his memory from 35+ years ago is astounding. Right down to the name of the font used in that awesome Vibronic logo. No joke!

But all that is going to have to wait until Thursday's post. If you want to know more about what Ken Fine is up to now, check out his current events entertainment agency Blue Moon Talent, Inc.

And while you are looking through that, I'm going to start putting all this material together!.  :D