This week is Obon week in Japan which is a national holiday week for folks to come home and visit relatives. I noticed in the used music shops that more gear is coming through the door so it’s likely that people have free time to pawn their gear. Today I found a mint condition Yamaha CS-10 with case and two manuals for $150. One manual looks like a sound creation manual and the other is titled “Yamaha Rock Keyboard School” written in Japanese of course. Since getting the Roland SH-01 last month I have grown fond of these dynamic monophonic synthesizers of the past. The Roland SH-01 has been a blast to play with and I equally but differently had fun playing with the Yamaha CS-10 in the store.
One of the things right away that I liked about the Yamaha CS-10 was that it was built very solid and the keys were exceptional. I also found the knobs easy to turn and everything was laid out very nicely. Sound wise, the Yamaha CS-10 is phat “enough” that when you add effects such as delay, chorus, or other that it will fatten up nicely to expectations for sure. My thinnest analog synthesizer at the moment to my ears is my Korg Poly-61 which doesn’t mean it’s bad at all but with effects it’s awesome. The Yamaha CS-10 sounds different than the Sh-01 for sure but different is what I want when I have two kinds of similar synths. Seriously though, I don’t wish to compare the Yamaha CS-10 to anything that I already have because just having a different synth is one of my main goals of course.
The main features of the Yamaha CS-10 that I really like are first the LFO SPEED and LFO MOD functions. You can get some great grooves going that with a skilled player can allow you to create some nice arps and bass lines. Note that the CS-10 does not have an arpeggiator but the LFO does nicely as an alternative for those wishing to get some automation out of the synth. If you couple the LFO with the “Hold” function you can add to that experience very well. The LFO can be switched to either “Saw-tooth” or “Sine” waves which both are very musical. I prefer the Saw-tooth wave for that punchy arp synthbass sound ala 1980’s synthpop.
I also really happen to like the “Portamento” slider which is very smooth and glides really well. I tend to use the third notch from the bottom to give it a nice bit of character to basslines. The bass grooves come alive and flow well. Anything higher than that will create more unexpected portamento results which are also good if you like that much unpredictability. Next to the Portamento is the Pitch Bend which is actually a slider and not the more popular wheel or joystick on other synths. While I prefer a wheel or joystick like on my Roland SH-01, the fact that it’s different on the CS-10 provides for additional creative uses. The pitch bend is not as smooth or I should say it’s harder to move in a fast smooth fashion, but if you slide it from the bottom up it creates some fantastic synth rise sounds.
Another great feature on the Yamaha CS-10 is the Mixer which combines the EXT in and NOISE functions of the synth. Adding a touch of noise really creates character and there are some great ways to modify the sound here. I haven’t experimented with the EXTERNAL INPUT yet, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about it.
So far I haven’t experienced any tuning issues or scratchy pots. The Cutoff and Resonance are all good. The Time x5 button is cool and seems to “phatten” up the sound a bit more as does the PWM button and knob. As I mentioned the three octave keyboard is excellent and the overall size of the Yamaha CS-10 is quite small so you can stick it pretty much anywhere in your setup.
I’ve heard pretty consistent “good” reviews about the Yamaha CS-10 and the CS line as whole. Of course there are some more popular models out there such as the Yamaha CS15, CS30, and CS80, but like with all my gear I buy it if I see it and only if it’s a bargain price which granted is pretty easy in Japan. So far I have not seen a CS15, CS30, or CS80 around my neighborhood. The Yamaha CS-10 however is a nice “basic” synth that will work great particularly with analog synthpop basslines from the 70’s and early 80’s that I’m particularly fond of.
As I’ve said before, it’s amazing the quality, condition, and prices of vintage music gear you can find in Japan. You just never know what you’ll find next when you walk into the doors of these used music shops scattered along the countryside of Japan. Have a great week!