Dual Boss RC-300 Loop Stations

Dual Boss RC-300 Loop Stations

Dual Boss RC-300 Loop Stations

This week I found another Boss RC-300 at an old secondhand shop in Nagano-city. I actually use my first Boss RC-300 quite extensively and probably will never sell it unless something better comes along. Although I love the RC-505 Loopers, you can’t effectively use it with your feet. So the Boss RC-300 is still “the Boss” for the floor..laugh. What I wanted to do was understand better how to sync the two RC-300 Loop Stations together as explained in the manual. After working with the pair for about an hour I discovered some important points about this setup.

Most importantly is, YES, two RC-300 Loop Stations sync perfectly when setup exactly as indicated in the manual. Set the slave to sync via midi and make sure the Sync All Start/Stop is set to Start/Stop. Also make sure of course that your midi cables are setup properly with the Master out going to the Slave in. You only need one connection from the Master to the Slave.

One MAJOR omission from the manual is that you cannot have the master in “Singular Track Mode”. Singular Track Mode is where you run each of the three tracks in singular fashion rather than layering them. The reason is that when you press the “All Start/Stop” on the Master, it will NOT start the Slave RC-300. You must have it in Layer “Multi” Mode and THEN it will start the Slave RC-300. Now the Slave RC-300 can either be in Track or Layer Mode. It doesn’t matter which, so this is nice as you can then use the slave for your Track Mode if necessary.

On the other hand, you CAN set the Master to Singular Track Mode and it will send the midi clock signal to the slave RC-300. It just won’t start playing any of the tracks. This isn’t a problem if you don’t mind starting the tracks on your own. If you then press “all stop” on the Master, it will successfully stop all tracks.

Basically, my initial plan was to put three different drum loops on the Master RC-300. I then wanted one Bass Loop running on the Slave. I wanted the Track 1 drums to start and have the Track 1 bass start at the same time, however this won’t work as the Master RC-300 is in Singular Track Mode. If I set it to Multi Mode, then all three drum tracks will start playing along with the Track 1 Bass on the Slave. So I basically have to start the drums and THEN step over and start the Track 1 of the Slave if I want it to work my way. Indeed it all will be in perfect sync but it literally means I have to add an extra step…laugh.

Everything else so far works great and MUCH better than trying to sync a Boss RC-50 with the RC-300.

Stay tuned for further updates as I research this setup a bit more.

Nord Lead 2 OS v1.06 Upgrade

Nord Lead 2 v1.06 Chip

Nord Lead 2 v1.06 Chip

Wow! Long time no post!

I picked up a used Nord Lead 2 this week in Japan. They are VERY cheap in here compared to the States, so I’ve been lucky to now have three in my arsenal. I happen to really like the Nord Lead 2 the best actually which I’ll probably explain in a later post. The latest OS version is 1.06 while the oldest is v1.03 if correct. I have two synths on v1.06 but this latest NL2 came with the old v1.03. I found out that the chip used with the version 1.03 NL2 was an ST M27C4001 DIP32 chip made in Singapore. The v1.06 chips are AMD AM27C040 DIP32 chips made in Malaysia. I decided to rip both the v1.03 and v.106 OS to create .bin backup files. I then proceeded to erase the v1.03 EPROM chip using a UV Light Eraser. I was then successfully able to burn a new v1.06 chip using my MiniPro IC chip burner which has been working fantastic. I’ve burned so many chips with that thing. Upon powering up the Nord Lead 2, I was able to see the v1.06 version pop up onto the screen. After testing the sounds, everything seemed to work great. To order a chip from someone with the latest v1.06 OS on Ebay would have cost me about $50 plus a week or two of waiting. I found swapping the OS versions using the original chip worked out great. I highly recommend investing in an IC Chip Burner and UV Light eraser. It really makes updating, programming, and working with your own IC chips much easier and of course less expensive.

By the way, I’m back on the blog front after a nine month hiatus attempting to move my “growing” family from Japan back to the United States. After several setbacks and a few turn of events, I’ve decided to stay put in Japan. I’m so very glad to be out of the job search and agony of deciding whether to move or not. Ultimately I decided to follow the idea that if you’re life ain’t broken, the stop trying to fix it…laugh. Now I’m happily back into music stronger than ever.

Hope to respond to comments and add new posts regularly from May. Thanks everyone for the continued support and viewing of my blog. – Jim

Which Nord Lead Synthesizer do I like the best? Nord Lead 1, 2, 2x, 3 or Nord Lead 4?

Nord Lead Synthesizers

Nord Lead Synthesizers

The very first Nord Lead I bought was the Nord Lead 1. Outstanding!! I love the Nord Lead 1 and it is probably the best sounding of all the Nord Leads, however, there are TWO MAJOR problems that ultimately lead me to the Nord Lead 2x. One problem was no split keyboard. I needed this for my live shows in order to minimize the number of synths on stage while getting access to more playable sounds. The second biggest problem was no Arp hold. I sing, play guitar, and work with synthesizers so I can’t be having my foot stuck on the sustain pedal or worry about missing the beat when making the arp changes. I need Arp hold and the Nord Lead 1 doesn’t have it. Some might say the lack of on board memory for programs and performances is a drawback which it is, but that didn’t bother me as much as having no split keyboard of Arp hold.

So, I was on to the Nord Lead 2x which is a beautiful synth and it had all the bells and whistles that the Nord Lead 1 lacked. I now had plenty of memory, a split keyboard, and Arp hold. I should have been satisfied and I was for about a year but then realized that I really liked the Sound of the Nord Lead 1. If I wanted that RAW LEAD sound, I needed to have the Nord Lead 1 because the 2x just didn’t have that warm grit that the first generation had. I’m a big fan of the Prophet V and the Nord Lead didn’t really sound like one, but it had the dynamics of one which allowed me to play music that often had a Prophet V in the mix. I then heard that the Nord Lead 2 was similar in sound to the Nord Lead 1. Thus I moved on and bought the Nord Lead 2.

Now, the Nord Lead 2 in my opinion is definitely the best between the Nord Lead 1 and 2x. It has the sound of the Nord Lead 1 ( close enough ) along with the Split Keyboard, Arp Hold, and the memory card for storing programs and performances. It pretty much has most of what the 2x has and everything the Nord Lead 1 had. When I first played the Nord Lead 2, I ended up playing it virtually all night. It was finally the right combination of functionality and sound. It was THE BEST Nord Lead I had played to date and I was very happy, until I got my hands on the mighty Nord Lead 3 ….crap!!

Everyone knows the interface of the Nord Lead 3 is better than any Nord Lead produced both past and present. In fact, many will argue it’s one of the best synth programming interfaces of all time. Of course there are other synths that are right up there with the Nord, but with those rotary encoders and the LCD showing the precise values of each and every turn, it’s hard to argue why anyone would settle for less. Unless…. unless the sound was not up to your standards. That has generally been the problem with the Nord Lead 3, the tinny sound most people say it has. I actually found it to be an amazing sound primarily because as an 80’s kid, the FM sound was huge during that decade of music. Of course analogs were popular in the early 80’s, but with the release of the Yamaha DX-7 and later the D-50, digital was king and I feel for that reason, the FM aspect in the Nord Lead 3 is essential “for me” in playing 80’s style music. YES, you can get sweet analog sounding patches out of the Nord Lead 3 but you need to create them. They are there, perhaps not the Nord Lead 3 strongest suit, but there is ample programming power and creative combinations to get the 80’s analog”ish” sound. You just need to really dive in and program it.

I thus found over the past two months more and more interested in the Nord Lead 3. I wasn’t playing the Nord Lead 1 or 2x hardly at all. I pretty much had confined myself to the Nord Lead 2 and 3 versions because in combination they covered the FM and Analog sounds perfectly for the 80 synthpop music I liked to play. I was doing fine when a nice shiny new Nord Lead 4 fell out of the sky and landed on my lap. I good friend at a local music shop in Japan gave me a deal I couldn’t pass up on a B Grade model. Whatever B grade meant, I had practically a brand new Nord Lead 4 in my studio. I quickly dove in and “almost” fell in love with it. I say almost because at the end of the day, I kept going back to the Nord Lead 3. Was it the FM sound? Or the awesome encoders? Maybe it was the that the sound was different than the other Nords that I felt it was better in the mix. At the end of the day, I think it was just that. The Nord Lead 3 fit better in the mix with pretty much every sound I created with it. The Nord Lead 4 while SUPERB SUPERB SUPERB, it just wasn’t quite grabbing my attention enough to pull me away from the Nord Lead 3. It did well to distract me from the Nord Lead 2, but not the Nord Lead 3.

Thus to finally answer the question in my title. Which Nord Lead Synthesizer do I like the best?

THE NORD LEAD 3 SYNTHESIZER!!

Note: I have not tried the Nord Lead A1 yet, but it’s on my radar. In Japan the Nord Lead A1 is the most expensive of all the Leads right now. I actually think it’s too expensive and will waiting until next year to check on out. Until then, I think the Nord Lead 4 should fill in nicely.

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

Roland D-550 Replacement LCD Display

With success replacing the LCD screen on my Akai S900, I thought I would try to do the same for my two Roland D-550 sound modules that both are legible, but with no back light. I could get a foil backlight for the LCD, but to me they seem rather expensive. I was able to get the LCD screen for about $10 and if successfully installed could prove better for me than having a foil. The screen on my Akai S900 is amazing now and if I could get the same look for the D-550 that would be fantastic. Right now with what I’ve learned in my research, the actual LCD installation is not the probably, electrically, rather it’s whether the size will fit well or not. Indeed the thickness of the original is about 9mm and the one I purchases is a bit thicker at 13mm. The big hang up will be whether I can fit this into the D-550 or not and if not, whether I could make room for it with some modifications. If so, then the installation should be pretty straight forward. I should get the LCD sometime next week and should then be able to install shortly thereafter. Stay tune for updates and hopefully I’ll have some good results to post. I know a few people are looking to do the same. Thanks!

Roland D-550 LCD Replacement

Roland D-550 LCD Replacement

Akai S900 Replacement LCD Display and OS Version 4

Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair

Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair

This afternoon I was able to successfully replace the LCD Display on my newly acquired Akai S900. There are already a few replacement LCD kits available on Ebay but I found them to be rather expensive ranging from $55 to $65 not including airmail to Japan. So instead I elected to find the sources of the LCD displays which I found from buydisplay.com. On Ebay I believe I payed $20 including shipment to Japan for the LCD display that most were providing in their kits.

Akai S900 Cool Blue Display

Akai S900 Cool Blue Display

Installation was not too difficult. After removing the front plate of the Akai S900 I was able to easily remove the old LCD Display. I then clipped the right side two wires going to the Inverter and removed that as well which you can see in the photo below. With the replacement of the new LCD display, the Inverter was no longer needed. On the left side you then have to remove the 14 pin angle connector from the old display so that you can then re-solder it to the new one. This was the only difficult part but with patience and careful desoldering, I was able to remove the pin connector just fine. I then cut the two P-401 wires connected to the inverter so that I could solder them to pins 15 and 16 to power the backlight LCD of the display. The 5V wire is the one soldered near the resistor on the Inverter board for those who know what I’m talking about.

Akai S900 Inverter

Akai S900 Inverter

Finally, you solder the 14 pin connector on to the new display along with the P-401 wires to pins 15 and 16. Then you screw the LCD back into the front panel frame using small nuts to secure the LCD. Note that the LCD is a tad thicker so you have to screw the LCD behind the frame and not in front. That is why you need nuts to secure the LCD. You should know exactly what I mean once you see how your LCD is connected. Then you just power it on and all should work well. IF you should get a faded or partial lit LCD, then look for possible shorts connected to your soldering and the screws. The upper left hand screw is VERY close to the pin 15/16 solder joints. If you don’t solder that properly you may get a short.

Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk

Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk

In addition I was able to locate and make a copy of the Akai OS 4.0 software that pretty much brings the Akai S900 specs alongside that of the S950. I used an old Windows 98 PC along with Teledisk to make the copy to a DD floppy. It worked great.

I now have a pretty cool Akai S900 that both looks and works very well. If you are having LCD issues, I strongly recommend picking up some LCD screens from the seller mentioned above on Ebay. You’ll save a lot of money from the kits that are being sold if you can do it yourself. I basically figured out how to do this from my experience with changing my Yamaha SY-77 display. It was pretty much the same concept.

Please feel free to post questions if you like. Thanks!

Roland Juno-106 Beyond Effective Range

Roland Juno-106 – “Beyond Effective Range” Vocal – Retro 80’s Groove.

Had a lot of fun working with the AKai S3000XL this evening. I used Propellerhead’s Recycle to slice up a vocal phrase and send it directly via SCSI to the S3000XL. I have an old Windows 98 computer that that is connected to the AKAI S3000XL which is also connected to an MO drive. The Roland Fantom XF is controlling the S3000XL which I’m playing on the lower part of they keyboard. Everything in the video is improvised including the sequenced parts and drums which were put together this evening.

In the video I’m playing live:
Roland Juno-106 – Synth Lead ( Right Hand )
AKAI S3000XL Sampler ( Left Hand )

Roland MC-909 Sequenced:
Synth 1 – Roland D-550
Synth 2 – Roland MKS-50
Synth 3 – Roland SH-101

Drums were loop recorded with the Boss RC-300 Loop Station.

Akai S3000XL Sampler

Akai S3000XL Sampler

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler Review

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler

Today I picked up a great little sampler called the Akai S612. I actually had seen this sampler tucked away at a nearby used music store about a month ago but didn’t think much of it. I took a snapshot with my iPhone and later did a bit of research. My initial findings were that the Sampler wasn’t worth the effort. It had 1 to 8 seconds of sample memory depending on the sampling frequency. You also couldn’t save any samples unless you had the MD280 quick disk drive addon. As I searched for more info though, the tone seemed to change among the Sampler gurus that the S612 was in fact a rather hidden gem. In fact many said if you saw one to grab it quickly, so that I did…laugh. I ran down to the store and bought it from the guy who actually thought I was nuts. He said it didn’t work. He stuck his guitar cord into the line out jack and connected the input jack to the amp. He again said it didn’t work. I chuckled to myself and said not to worry.

After working with the Sampler this evening I found out some rather interesting things about it.

First I seem to have OS version 1.0 inside the box. This is potentially a problem because I can send wav samples to the S612 using Sample Wrench or the Atari based S612 editor using Steam. However, in all cases I couldn’t receive a sample dump via midi. The end result was a frozen connection. My thinking is that it’s possible OS v1.0 of the S612 is not working properly for sample dumps. The good news is that I can definitely send samples to the Akai S612 via midi and it takes just 50 seconds to do so. I know all the young sample musicians out there with the latest sampler gear will likely call that insanely long, but honestly that’s pretty quick and stable to get a sample into the machine. Due to the possible OS v1.0 glitch, I won’t be able to save sounds I sample just yet. I’ll need to find an OS Eprom update OR acquire an MD280 quick disk module. For a single sample machine, the time it takes to get a sample in there and ready to go is pretty good.

For live performance, I think the Akai S612 is going to be fantastic. I can easily load samples into the S612 using my Macbook Air running Windows 7 Bootcamp and Sample Wrench. As I mentioned it takes less than a minute to transfer a sample. I can then play the sample using a controller keyboard and tweak the LFO, Time, Decay, and Filter with the S612 knobs. I can also adjust the beginning and end points of the sample with the on board sliders. The results are awesome and it’s really a lot of fun to teak in real time. I also found that in Sample Wrench I can reduce the Sample Rate which effectively lengthens the sample when transferred to the S612. It’s particularly effective when using dialog or vocal phrases. You can then use the loop sliders to isolate the words in the phrase. Pretty cool!

Among other things you can overdub after your initial sample recording. You can adjust the sample rate that you sample from Sampling 4 kHz to 8 kHz to 16 kHz and finally to 32 kHz. Sampling time is 1 second at 32 kHz on up to 8 seconds when sampling at the lowly 4 kHz frequency. I have found 8 kHz to be quite good, especially when transferring samples from Sample Wrench to the S612. 4 kHz is not bad but it’s definitely got that Lo-Fi sound. It’s going to take some experimenting to determine which samples work best at what rates, but for now 8 kHz is best for balancing quality and sample time. 8 kHz would give you about 4 seconds of sampling time. In a live song where you stutter, glitch, or adjust the tempo of the sample it works very well.

Basically I view the Akai S612 as a single instrument sampler or synthesizer. It’s absolutely not a workstation nor is it a multi-sample instrument like the later Akai models. Rather it’s a single “Oscillator” kind of sampler where it’s best to find that one great sample and incorporate that into your song as if it’s a regular instrument in the mix. That’s pretty much how I plan to use it and I think for that sort of thing, it is a very unique piece of “hands on” sampling gear.

It’s pretty neat what the Akai S612 can do and I feel if one thinks outside the box a little, it can even have more interesting uses. The analog filter inside could also be used to warm up a sound as well. More and more I’m finding these ancient samplers to be very useful for creating additional INSTRUMENTS in the mix. If you’re into looping, I think the modern day sampler offerings are still probably the best choice, including software.

I haven’t found any decent Akai S612 videos on Youtube that are what I call musical, but I did find this one that was pretty good in showing some of the features. Enjoy!