Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Kawai R-100 and R-50 drum machine "Overnight Sensation" ad, Keyboard 1987

Kawai R-100 and R-50 drum machine "Overnight Sensation" full page colour advertisement featuring Jan Hammer and Steve Smith from page 73 in the June 1987 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Wowza. There is so much 80s goodness to unpack in this little rare advertisement. It only ran twice in Keyboard - the June and August issues... but should have had a much longer run, dammit.

First - lets look at those 80s design elements. Have you ever seen anything more 80s? Those pink, blue, yellow and purple colours? That "torn page" design element traveling through the middle of the ad? Even the logo for Kawai's "Electronic Musical Instruments Division" with its lines, Keyboard keys knock-out, and other various chunkiness.  Reminds me of Roland ads running around the same time period (see right). 

11/10 for design. 

Next - 80s endorsements! Steve Smith and Jan Hammer - pure 80s peeps endorsing pure 80s drum machines. Jan Hammer, of course known for Miami Vice (did I mention the 80s!?!?!?) and Steve Smith, known for his work with Vital Information and Journey (80s!!!!!).

The ad copy only solidifies the whole 80s vibe with references to Miami Vice, a keyboard review quote, and the trifecta of 80s brand marketing jargon - the "combination of sound, features and price". 

My head is gonna explode!!!!

Here's the thing though - there is just so much going on in this ad, that the whole reason for its existence almost gets lost - and that's the introduction of the R-50 itself. This little guy came out at under $500, and although it lost a few of its bigger brother's great features like velocity-sensitive pads, less memory and, arguably, the fact that half the patterns are uneditable, it did keep all 24 sounds. 

But more importantly, in my head, the R-50 represents what in my mind was a huge leap forward for drum machines:

The sounds are mappable to any button. 

Look at older drum machines, and you see each button has an instrument label under it. Bass Drum. Snare Drum, Hi Hat, etc. Great when memory cost a lot and there was only a limited number of sounds you could fit in a machine. But memory costs were coming down, and programming was improving. 

Some manufactures would get around this button/sound dilemma by stacking sounds on the limited number of buttons. Like the R-100 - only 8 buttons, but three sounds were assigned to each one. But, hard-coded non-the-less.

The R-50 represents that new era of drum machines that were just labeled Pad 1, Pad 2, etc. Like the Roland R-8 or Korg S3. Suddenly, you could have a wack of sounds onboard, and just assign to different pads as needed. Primitive menu diving.

And this brings up to the other really exciting thing announced in this ad almost as an afterthought:

"Both machines have the same great sound and easy operation. And both accept Kawai's new interchangeable sound chips.". 

Say what now?!?!? 

Yup. And those new sounds rawk even more than the standard ones.

There's a lot more to say about those chips... coming up soonly!

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