Yamaha Motif XF7 Synthesizer with Sampling and Karma

Yamaha Motif XF7
Yamaha Motif XF7

Finding a USED Yamaha Motif series synthesizer in Japan can be quite difficult. If you browse Yahoo Japan auctions or live in Tokyo you might find one here and there, but ultimately it’s not that easy. The reason is that the Yamaha Motifs hold their value pretty well and they are very popular around Japan. Add to this the fact that other than a Yamaha Motif ES Rack, I have NEVER ever seen one in all of my time checking used music stores over the past three or four years in Nagano-city. Thus I was extremely shocked to walk in a used shop this week and find a Yamaha Motif XF7 sitting on the shelf in new condition with a price tag that made me feel like I was robbing the store. Unbelievable! In fact, I was so surprised at the price and the fact that an XF7 was in the shop that I had a hard time not acting overly excited to the point of raising suspicion which might trigger the sales clerk to rethink selling the keyboard. I tried the Yamaha XF7 out for about 5 minutes knowing full well I was just doing it for show because I knew this was coming home with me, no doubt!

In addition, I found the Yamaha XF7 came with a hard shell case and two 1 GB flash modules!!! In total I paid fifteen hundred for the set. It was just almost year and a half ago that I contemplated spending almost four grand on everything but at the last minute decided to pull out. It just seemed like too much money “for me” to fork over when I had other obligations at the time. The Yamaha Motif X7 is a fantastic synthesizer keyboard and perhaps worth every penny, so you can imagine how excited I was to find one. I must note that even if the price was much higher I likely would have bought it anyway provided there was some sort of savings. I knew the XF7 was going to be an inevitable big purchase. I just didn’t think it would happen soon and as low in price as I found it.

Today I also picked up the new Karma Motif software and will definitely report back on how that works out. I missed that obviously because I didn’t have the Motif XF7, but a while back I purchased the Karma software for the red Korg Karma and have really enjoyed it. There is very little info about Karma for the Motif and next no buzz about the software. This means there likely there be very little development, new performances, and frequent updates. This might sound harsh, but a quick view of the Karma Lab forums will support my notion that there might be one too many Karma products to keep up with. Registration and confirmation of my challenge code for the Karma Motif Software took forever! Slow, Slow, Slow! With that said, just getting one’s head around Karma Motif initially will take time. So I’ll be busy with that having fun.

The Yamaha Motif XF7 is a beautiful workstation. I love the black color and the XF7 version is fantastic with the extra keys and such. The flash memory is awesome and with the John Melas Waveform editor a breeze to import samples. Boy does it sound sweet too. Not all keyboards and samplers import samples well nor do they sound good. The Yamaha XF7 definitely works well with sampling.

There is not much I dislike about the Yamaha Motif XF7 with may the exception of the LCD screen and lack of step recording in the sequencer. Regardless of the times, I think the step sequencer is still relevant and an import tool for sequencing tracks. Why Yamaha left that out, I have no idea but I do think it was a big omission. The LCD screen leaves a lot to be desired as well. Sitting above my XF7 I have the Rolad Fantom X7 and the screen on that thing is beautiful. Yamaha has never really been strong in the LCD department anyways, so I’m not all that surprised I guess. Other than that, I so far love everything about the Yamaha XF7. It’s a beautiful machine and quickly has become my main board for sequencing and working with multisamples.

I’ll definitely update this article with more info as I progress with the Yamaha Motif XF7.

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Korg RK-100 Retro Red 80’s Keytar

Korg RK-100 Remote Keyboard
Korg RK-100 Remote Keyboard

Back when I was growing up in the 80’s a group called Pseudo Echo released a remake of the classic song “Funky Town”. Other than the fact that they did a fantastic job with the remake, the keyboardist used a really cool keytar called the Korg RK-100. I know other keyboardists used the keytar before, but it wasn’t until Pseudo Echo that I really started to take notice. I remember Devo used the Moog Liberation on the “Girl U Want” along with Gary Moore on “Love is alive”.

While nearly forgetting about Pseudo Echo in the 90’s, I found and picked up a classic keytar called the Yamaha KX5. I liked and still like the KX5 very much, but it never really “wow’d” me as much as the Korg RK-100 in red. So it was on a stroll down memory lane watching the Pseudo Echo video and acting on a whim that I decided to look up the RK-100 on Ebay. Interestingly enough I found a few that had been sold but they were all in black. Lately Ebay doesn’t allow you to search worldwide very well, so I manually moved over to the UK Ebay site and unbelievably there was a fantastic Korg RK-100 in RED for sale! I jumped on it immediately!

Quickly I emailed the owner praying they would send it to Japan. The gentleman was an incredibly nice guy. He had no problem at all sending it to Japan, however, I did have to pay a sizable but reasonable sum to make the purchase. To be honest the money saved with deals and repairing my own synths allows me to splurge on nostalgic gear every now and then. The Korg RK-100 feature wise might not be the best keytar synth controller, but in my opinion it’s definitely one of the sharpest looking axes I’ve seen, especially in red. You just don’t see too many around either.

Currently the Korg RK-100 is on it’s way to Japan. I’m really excited about it with two 80’s style concerts coming up in August. I’m sure it’ll be fun wielding the RK-100 on stage. The Korg RK-100 does not have after touch nor is it velocity sensitive, BUT it’s the look that I’m after ultimately and for what I do, the Korg RK-100 is perfect. I should also note that I also use the Roland AX-7 which I find to be my second most favorite keytar. The one aspect of the RK-100 that I like over the AX-7 are the mod and controller wheels on the neck. I like that much better than the ribbon sensor. The Yamaha KX5 also has a ribbon strip but it’s very stiff. Plus the keys on the KX5 are rather small for me. Thus I’m a wheel guy rather than a ribbon guy…laugh.

In addition, I can’t believe the AX-7 stays in one piece considering the plastic feel it has. I’ll be very curious how the Korg RK-100 feels being that it’s made of wood rather than plastic. I know it will likely be heavier, but if it feels good than I can tolerate the extra weight considering I only play sets that consist of 4-5 songs at a time. The AX-7 is a nice looking keytar as well. Mine is in Pearl white, but again I absolutely love the Korg RK-100 retro red color.

Keytars are not popular with everyone I know, but I really do feel Pseudo Echo knocked it out of the park with how they incorporated the keytar into their band and of course the song “Funky Town”.

Here’s the video of “Funky Town” with a red Korg RK-100 in action. Note I’d be curious what sound module was used.

Club WEST Live Show in Nagano Japan

Jim Atwood in Japan
Jim Atwood in Japan

I teamed up with a fellow synth enthusiast named Kazuki here in Japan for a live show that we performed at Club WEST in Nagano-ciy. Here is our rendition of Cars by Gary Numan. We used a Roland D-50, Roland JX-8P, Korg MS2000, Roland JP-8000, Oberheim Matrix 6, Roland JV-5080, and a Yamaha RX-15 for the show. I also used the TC-Helicon Voice Live 2 for vocals and a Behringer BCR2000 to live tweak the Roland JX-8P. We have two more shows next month and a drummer joining the group. Should be fun!

Roland JX-8P Aftertouch and Key repair notes

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

This week I picked up another Roland JX-8P in cosmetically great condition, but had both aftertouch and key issues. I’m finding out that the keys and aftertouch are a relatively easy fix, but a huge pain in the neck with the Roland JX-8P.

First aftertouch. Knowing what aftertouch sounds like and how it GREATLY impacts the sound of the Roland JX-8P, I would most definitely not even go near a JX-8P if I couldn’t get it to work. What a WORLD of difference an operational aftertouch function is on the JX-8P. My goodness, the difference it makes on patches is unbelievable. On both of my JX-8P synths, I had to completely strip down the keys and remove the aftertouch strips which required major cleaning. There are tutorials around about how to do this. Many have trouble with putting the strips back together. I found adding fresh double sided tape and slowly layering the metallic colored strip, silicone strip, and then the rubber piece on top to be relatively easy ONCE I had fresh double sided tape to back me up along the way.

For best performance I buff the crap out of the embedded metallic strips so that they are nice, shiny, and clean!! Usually you will find very clear marks on the strips and I complete remove that so they are like new. Let me tell you that the aftertouch will sound great if you take the time to clean everything slowly and properly. Also, you may find that the the silicone or rubber strips are slightly longer after putting it back together. How that happens I am not sure, but simply snip the end and you’re good to go. Also note that the silicone strips do break into 4 or 5 sections. This is normal to my knowledge and does not affect the aftertouch system IF properly cleaned and put back together.

It’s also very important that you try and clean the aftertouch strips evenly. You want it to sound great on all keys. On one of my JX-8P synths, I had to remove the strips again in order to re-clean a couple of sections that had an uneven sounding aftertouch effect. Once put back together it sound just fine. I usually eyeball this, but you will need some good light so you can scan along the strips to ensure they are all nice and clean evenly. You don’t want any spots or blemishes or even fingerprints if at all possible.

The Roland JX-8P keys can also have several issues such as stuck or sustained notes and dead keys or skipped notes. Add to this the fact that while the problematic keys are generally consistent, they don’t always skip or sustain when you play them. This lead to the unpredictability problem that many have had with the JX-8P. So how do you fix that?

I haven’t found the supreme answer, but I have found a few things that clear up the issue tremendously. First and foremost, the Roland JX-8P needs to be exercised or played! That’s right! This is NOT a synth that can sit idle for very long without issue, especially if you had issues in the first place. I have found that by playing it regularly, both eliminates many of the problems with the keys AND it can allow you to better assess which keys or areas are likely to re-occurring issues.

To fix many of the problems directly, I first remove each and every key to ensure it is clean. I then clean the copper contacts thoroughly. Remember there are “3” copper legs or strips for each key. You need to clean BOTH sides of each one. I used Deoxit on one JX-8P and that seemed to work best. You then have to be VERY CAREFUL when reinserting the keys back into the key bed. It’s better to get it right the first time, then to jam it in there bending one of the copper legs. You “may” find yourself tweaking that thing until the cows come home to get it to sound right. Finally, you need to grease the appropriate areas, otherwise keys will stick which can often cause the sustained notes. ( Note grease is not required, but is recommended and it does help ).

YES! All of this requires time, patience, and work. Once you have it done though, you’ll likely have at least 90% of all your issues solved. The other 10% is simply fine tuning, luck, playing it regularly, or in some cases, it’s simply the nature of the JX-8P beast.

Although there are always exceptions, I gather most Roland JX-8P users are going to have issues with their aftertouch and keys. If you play your JX-8P regularly then it’s highly likely you won’t have any issues now or in the future. However, the Roland JX-8P is not a synth to be stored….laugh. It’s meant to be played. In fact, I’m finding with analog synths in general, it’s better to keep them running in order to best keep them in top shape.

The Roland JX-8P is a sweet synth. I use the Behringer BCR200 to program it and the my MacBook air to transfer patches to it. It’s of course a splendid synth for 80’s synthpop which is where I’m at right now in music. I would also advise to grab a cartridge if you don’t already have one and either program or grab some good sounds for it. Note that if your aftertouch is working well, you can really tweak the presets nicely in realtime as well.

If anyone has found any tips, tricks, or experiences with fixing the Roland JX-8P keys or aftertouch, please comment. I’d love to hear about your observations and experiences. My JX-8P synths are working about 95-98% right now with an occasional blip on the radar with regards to a sustained or skipped note. It’s got ghostly bugs dancing around in there, but it’s definitely got character. I just love, love, love it! Thanks!!

UPDATE

I now officially have three, yes “3”, Roland JX-8P synthesizers sitting my room. I have worked on all three and can say with absolute certainty that ALL Roland JX-8P synths will exhibit the following problems at some point in it’s life cycle if not already.

#1 – The keys on the Roland JX-8P design wise, SUCK!! The three copper leg contact system is horrible and the reason why so many sustain, skipped, and dead notes occur. As far as I’m concerned there is no solution, BUT you can clean until your hearts content which will help, but will not prevent the problem. What I’ve done is mark the key or keys that often get stuck. When I perform live it’s then easy to recognize which key is likely to stuck ahead of time. I can then tap it again and 90% of the time the sustain will go away. This allows me to find the key quickly. I’m getting the hang of stopping the stuck notes now but I wish there was a way to completely eliminate the problem. It’s a serious design flaw with the JX-8P in my book and something that a JX-8P user will have to get used to.

#2 – The LCDs go out in the JX-8P synths. Oh boy!! Do they ever! I have one with a bad LCD or COIL. Not sure which, but if the LCD is bad and you require it, then stay away from the JX-8P. THERE IS NO FIX!! I’ve heard a couple of people are working on a replacement, but until that time, THERE IS NO FIX! The good news is that the JX-8P is not hard at all to operate, program, and play without an LCD. In fact, it’s quite easy. If you have an iPad or computer to program with it’ll give you the visuals back, but honestly, it’s not hard to work without an LCD. The only real bad thing is that it will bring down the value of the JX-8P obviously. Oh and did I mention….THERE IS NO FIX!!

#3 – The Aftertouch “EVEN WITH THE FIXES OUT THERE”, is not reliable at all. Yes, you can fix/clean it and I’ve fixed two already, but on the third synth it died a couple of days right after I fixed the aftertouch. Like the keys I mentioned above, it is not reliable by a long shot even when fixed. If you REQUIRE aftertouch, then either use MIDI which works great controlling the JX-8P or skip the JX-8P or just forget the aftertouch which most do I suspect.

#4 – The screw holders on the plastic sides break on all of these. You have to be very careful when unscrewing the screws on the side of the Roland JX-8P. It’s another design flaw. The weight and pressure causes the screws to crack the slots they go through. The bad part is that the plastic holders crumble and fall into many tiny pieces which get scattered and stuck around the PCB boards. I bet if you pick up 2 out of 3 JX-8Ps and shake them you’ll hear pieces rattling around inside. Those are the plastics bits crumbling each and every time you open the hood.

Fortunately despite these issues, the Roland JX-8P is otherwise solid and a great sounding synth. I like it very much even with the small issues as I don’t plan selling them, although I “may” sell one sometime. Just beware that you will eventually have issues with the aftertouch, LCD screen, and keys. It’s just a matter of when and not if. If I find solid solutions, I’ll update this article again. For now despite heavy cleaning, it’s a design flaw with the aftertouch, LCD, and keys that are preventing a total cure. However enjoyable the Roland JX-8P synth is, it is definitely a strong candidate for the high maintenance club..laugh. Enjoy!