Roland Lucina AX-09 Keytar Synthesizer

Roland Lucina AX-09 Keytar
Roland Lucina AX-09 Keytar

A couple of days ago I was in a local music store here in Nagano-city, JAPAN. While paying for a guitar pedal, the Zoom MS-70CDR, I turned around and saw two brand new Lucina AX-09’s for $250 on Sale for New Years. What caught my eye other than the price was the black model. I immediately liked it. I’ve always been a big fan of keytars but never really jumped on the Lucina because I wasn’t particularly fond of the white color. I also already had the Roland AX-7 in white and didn’t want to double up on color.

I then asked why so cheap, and the sales manager said they didn’t sell well and were getting rid of them. I said even the black one? He replied that the black one had always been in the back room. The white one was always on display which might explain why. He didn’t say if Roland would stop making them, but he definitely said people at least in his circle were not buying. So I bought the last black one.

I brought it home and I’m extremely happy with it. The sounds are decent, but it’s the midi out that was important to me so that I could connect to external sound modules. The weight was perfect for me too plus the smaller size body is great. Having the Lucina battery powered with on board sounds makes it fun to roam the house or studio while practicing. A lot of people don’t like the USB stick gimmick but I actually think it’s useful for throwing on a sampled track and jamming to it. Or you can music minus one a track on a song you’re creating and work out some solid lead lines on the go.

Also, if you’re into the loop thing with the Boss RC-300 or RC-505 for example, you can easily record tracks while quickly being able to get the Lucina on and off your shoulders. Or you can easily set it on a stand if you have quick strap locks.

Note that I also have and use a Roland AX-7, Korg RK-100, and a Yamaha KX-5. I don’t like the weight of the KX-5 at all really and it’s a bit tiny for my big hands. The AX-7 is nice but a little big and VERY squeaky. The plastic noise drives me nuts and it doesn’t feel very solid. The Korg RK-100 hands down is the best experience I’ve ever had with a keytar. The problem is that they are ultra hard to find and expensive generally if you do, so I don’t recommend it…laugh. Oh boy, the RK-100 is great though if you find one. I’m also a guitar player and the RK-100 is the closest to the feeling of a real guitar with the wooden body, weight, and all.

Here are is how I use and have my Lucina AX-09 setup.

1. I have the DBeam set to “CC66 ( SOSTENUTO)” so that I can hold notes and play over the top of them. I actually found I don’t use the DBeam too much but when I do that works the best for me. Any other effect and it doesn’t really quite work so well. I also found if you use something like volume it adjust the volume and I can’t get it back to normal without a patch change. I may be doing some wrong or there could be a firmware bug. Not sure. For now, the Sostenuto control is perfect.

2. The Modulation bar I have set to both Sustain and Modulate. This works best for me in that it sustains better the notes and modulation is subtle so it’s there but not overly noticeable. The sustain trails a tiny bit which is nice to so you can quickly modulate like on those electro funk tracks and it works great.

3. The Favorites section and save 12 patches. It’s actually quite easy to adjust parameters such as attack, release, etc and save them to the favorite section.

4. I attach a foot pedal for an additional Sostenuto effect control. If I can reach the DBeam, I can use my foot which works great. I sometimes change this to hold instead of Sostenuto if I need that effect. There is a dedicated filter and pitch effect for the DBeam so I don’t need to assign those to anything.

5. Midi Out works great, so you can plug the Lucian into virtually any sound module. I wouldn’t have bought it without a MIDI OUT function most definitely.

6. The sound on the Lucina have been hand picked from the collection of sounds found in the Roland AX synth. I actually feel Roland did an excellent job of selecting the better sounds and even included a bit more sounds on the synth side than the AS Synth. Thus I am very happy with the on board sounds.

7. The USB Wav/MP3 playback function works fantastic. You can alter the volume of the patch to mix it well with the Wav file. No, you can seamlessly switch to the next song, nor can you rewind to a certain section. However, for straight up jamming and playing along with a song it works very well. I use Audacity to copy and past a loop for about 10 minutes. Then I add the backing tracks to a 4GB memory stick. Works great!!

8. The key action feels like a Roland. The keys are relatively easy to play fast on, but for some reason my hand gets a bit tired after while. Perhaps the keys are a bit stiff, not sure. The keys are decent though, so no worries.

9. There is no Software editor, but you can edit patches on the AX-09 itself ok and save to a favorite. I find I only need to adjust volume, release, and reverb or delay. I don’t find the cutoff or resonance work too well adjusting with DBeam or pedal so I just dial that in manually if I need to make changes.

10. The size and weight is perfect for me. I also find the Sparkle Black color to be fairly cool and sexy for a keytar. It plays nicely on a stand and it’s quite easy to strap on with the included strap that Roland provided. Strap locks can be attached if needed. The Lucina runs on batteries and has a good head phone jack. It’s a great synth for walking around back stage to practice different sections or for just warming up.

The not so bad CONS for the Roland Lucina AX-09 are as follows:

1. No keyboard split. You can do this with the sound module so it’s not that much of a problem. For example with the Roland XV5080 you can program splits easily. If you use a decent sampler you can trigger samples too. Note that the Lucina does not have LOCAL OFF, so you need to switch your volume off to trigger samples which can easily be done with the foot pedal, volume know, or DBeam.

2. No Midi In. This is minor as I really don’t need to trigger sounds externally, however it might have been nice for programming.

3. Some people might wish for more patch storage but then again that can depend on your sound module.

4. It would have been nice to have a dedicated sustain button on the back of the neck like on the AX Synth and all my other keytars, but using the modulation bar, foot pedal, or DBeam is at least an option versus nothing at all.

5. Some people might be turned off by the loop around grip which might cause them to get their hand stuck. However, I haven’t had this issue at all really and it just means one has to get creative a bit. The current design does work pretty well I think.

I’m very happy with the Roland Lucina AX-09. I’m glad I bought it and probably only did because of the price and black color. If you are looking for a reasonable priced controller to jump around with and look good, I think the AX-09 will work great.

Here’s a good basic demo of the Roland Lucian AX-09 black version.

Zoom MS-70CDR Chorus Delay Reverb for Synths

Zoom MS-70CDR MultiStomp
Zoom MS-70CDR MultiStomp

The other day I picked up an incredible little gem from Zoom called the MS-70CDR Chorus Delay Reverb pedal. This is a guitar pedal, but like many pedals it’s great to hook them up to keyboards and synths. I actually bought the Zoom MS-70CDR for my new Clavia Nord Lead 2x. Currently it’s attached to my Yamaha DX-7 which I use a lot to test effects because the sound is so dry. Simply put, the MS-70CDR sounds amazing. I mean this pedal culd be attached to any synth without internal effects. Every single solitary patch from the Zoom MS-70CDR sounds wonderful and like it was made for a synth. I think I spent about two hours last night jamming on the Yamaha DX7 mkI with new energy and life brought to the board.

The Zoom MS-70CDR gives you the traditional “great sounding” chorus effects, delays, and reverbs. What I found to be particularly pleasing with the effects were the ambient oriented effects that guitarists go for. Especially for something like the DX7, I found I could use some of the ambient reverb effects to smooth out the digital sound and almost, I say almost give the DX7 sound a more analog”ish” feel. The name of an example patch is called “Mangle Ice” and it’s terrific! The reverb moves around and it sounds pretty warm to my ears, so I really enjoyed the results. Somebody obviously took a great deal of time at Zoom to program each effect carefully. With the exception of maybe one effect, I found that every single effect worked perfectly in some fashion with the synth. The one that was a bit more crazy is called “stairway” which rattles off four notes if correct, so it’s a bit more difficult to control or arrange in a mix.

I LOVE the patch called “SmoothDLY” which is a delay sound that has a reverb feeling even though only delay is used. I also liked the “SmallClone” patch and another favorite called the “LOFI Noise” LOFI Noise was really cool. It ever so slightly and most importantly musically added noise to the sound. What I particularly liked about the Zoom MS-70CDR is that it could do two things extremely well. First it could add the Chorus Delay and Rever effect basics to your dry synth give it a new breath of life. A lot of effect pedals out there can already do this, but the second reason is what I find more rare. The MS-70CDR can also alter a synth patch slightly to the point where it actually creates a whole new patch altogether. The new patch is almost always fresh, musical, and very usable in the mix.

To compare, I attached another pedal which I picked up for my guitar called the Zoom MS-100BT Multistomp Pedal. This pedal is also great but follows along the lines of a more traditional guitar multi-effects pedal. I found with this pedal hooked to a synth it also worked great, BUT, many patches either didn’t work or were not very musical for a synth. Obviously heavy distortions, Wah, crazy pitch, and crunch effects are going to usually corrupt a good synth patch. Both the Zoom MS-100BT and MS-50G are excellent choices for synths, but you’ll have to do a bit of hunting and programming for the best patches. The Zoom MS-70CDR straight out of the box will make your synth sound absolutely fantastic. I should also note that most of the effects included in the MS-70CDR are exclusive to that pedal and will not be found on the MS-100BT or MS-50G which are roughly the same pedal.

I currently own all three Zoom MultiStomp pedals, the Zoom MS-50G, MS-100BT, and the new MS-70CDR. If I had to just pick one for my synths I hands down would buy the Zoom MS-70CDR. I then would buy a second one before buying the MS-50G or MS-100BT…laugh. I can live without the distortion and a few other effects on the regular MS-50/100 series pedeals. Actually the MS-70CDR does have a Phaser and Flanger effect built in. It should really be able to cover all of your modulation, delay, and reverb needs which is why I think it’s the perfect pedal for synths.

To me the MS-70CDR is a no brainer. It’s compact, pretty easy to use, and extremely versatile. For live shows or coming up with interesting sounds in the practice room it’ll definitely get the job done. I like this pedal so much I’m tempted to buy another one because I really find it’s likely be permanently fixed to the synths I use it on. Thankfully they are relatively cheap and easy to find, however they are VERY popular in Japan right now. I had to buy the floor model because it’s very difficult to find, although I did get a nice little discount.

Some will not like this pedal because it’s digital and there is a known DSP error if too many resource intensive effects are used at once. I have yet to have this happen probably because I don’t really need too many effects at one time on my synth. Rather I just need something to pull the synth out of the dry effect doldrums. Yes, the pedal is digital so it works wonders with the likes of the Yamaha DX7, Clavia Nord Lead, and even analog if you don’t mind it running with a digital signal in the chain.

Zoom has hit a home run with the Zoom MS-70CDR. If you are a synth player looking for a compact chorus, delay, and reverb pedal to add life to your old synths, it’s very hard not to consider the Zoom. I’ve used a lot of effects with synths over the years and I know well how they can just screw up the sound royally. I was amazingly surprised at how well the Zoom MS-70CDR made my synths come alive. I was even more surprised at how every single patch was usable. So much so I had a hard time figuring out which one to use as a “set it and leave it” effect. For the first time I felt like I “may” have to change effect patches along with the synth patch because there are so many good ones to choose from. Finally, I’ll say the MS-70CDR kind of brought the fun back to adding effects to synths. It’s my new effect fun box…laugh.

Here is a video of the Zoom MS-70CDR pedal with guitar. This video actually influenced me to get the pedal for my guitar. However, as I listened to the video I also thought how great it likely would work with keyboards and synths. I pretty much immediately ran out and snagged the pedal at the music store after watching the video. Boy, I’m glad I did because it was the last one!! Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from Japan!

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas this year. I started this blog in July 2009, and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost 2014 now. Time really flies and it’s been fun to record my thoughts and adventures with music on this blog from Japan. This year 2013 was a particularly difficult one for me as my mother passed away in late August from Cancer. She was 69 and so full of life at the time who always love and supported my passion with music. It’s sad she is no longer here to enjoy the music she so much inspired me to listen to and play. However, life goes on and I’m so very fortune to have found the thing I love to do and the time to do it.

So, enjoy the music you listen to and make. Play on and I’ll see everyone in 2014. Happy New Year!! Thanks for the support.

The video is of my friend and I performing our rendition of “3D Dance” by Trans-X, one of our favorite synthpop bands. My friend Kazuki and I both grew up in the 80’s and are the same age. He grew up in Nagano-city, Japan and I grew up in Seattle, Washington. Kazuki is playing the Korg MS2000, Roland D-50, and Roland XV-5080. I am playing the Clavia Nord Lead 2x with the drums and arps sequenced on the Roland Fantom X6. Vocals are run through a TC-Helicon Voicelive Touch 2. We used a Roland VS-2480 for mixing and EV speakers for all the audio and floor monitors. We manage to cram it all into my van that we tour with. We’ve been busy from late November performing in various small clubs throughout Nagano-city, JAPAN playing old 80’s synth hits. Lots of fun.

We decided not to pack around the old analog gear this time around, but we will definitely do so come Spring. Lots of places to play and time to get things sorted for those events. We enjoy it very much. Thanks again!!

Roland Juno-G LCD Replacement and Repair

Roland Juno G
Roland Juno G

A few days ago I picked up a used Roland Juno-G in nice shape from a local second hand music store for a hundred bucks. This is actually my second Juno-G as I purchased one about a year ago in mint shape with a working LCD screen. The LCD screen still works today which is great considering Juno-G LCD screens are breaking down like crazy now. It’s days are numbered though for sure. The second Juno-G had a failed LCD screen but the reason I bought it was because inside there was a Roland SRX-07 Vintage Keys expansion board. Plus there was a 512MB ram stick and a really nice soft case included. The Juno-G itself is in excellent condition with the only exception being the bad LCD screen. I felt it was a good purchase because those SRX-07 expansion boards are over $300 on Ebay now. I took out the SRX-07 board and put it in my Fantom X7.

After some research over the past few days I’ve come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no known or “consistent” fix for the LCD screen. This is unfortunate because the Juno-G has a pretty nice feature set that would have made it a nice synth to keep and use for some time. Here is a consolidated rundown of fixes that worked for some, but ultimately failed or will fail.

1. Replacement LCD Screen – So far just about everyone who has forked over money for a replacement LCD screen has experienced a 2nd, 3rd, and in some cases a 4th failure of the LCD screen. There is no way I’m going to spend $200 or so on a replacement LCD screen for the Juno-G knowing that it’s just going to break down again within months or even a year of replacement. That’s crazy! At this time there does not seem to be any known replacement LCD Screen for the Juno-G.

2. Ribbon Cable Fix – I’ve been intrigued about a ribbon cable fix that suggests the LCD cables need to be heated near the connection on the LCD PCB board. I’ve read an account from someone in Germany who fixed their LCD this way but I have yet to find any specific details to how this was done. There does seem to be an agreement among many technicians that the ribbon cables are the root of the problem, but we just don’t know where. Note that Roland is said to have replaced the two small interconnecting ribbon cables on the LCD PCB with a longer one, however, in almost every case the LCD resulted in failure. So I don’t think replacing two short cables with one long one fixed the problem at all.

3. Updating the OS to v2.0 – Contrary to what’s been written around the web, OS version 2 does absolutely NOTHING to fix the LCD issue. Do not believe otherwise. This is an absolute myth.

4. Other things that do NOT work are cleaning the synth, swapping the ribbon cables, working the job wheel or sliders in a frantic manner, powering off and then on after 5 minutes, or sprinkling pixie dust over the Juno-G.

Like a few other synths I’ve worked on, it seems the exact problem with LCD screen is still a mystery with the general public. I believe Roland knows the exact problem but of course they are not going to say a word. I’ve lived in Japan long enough to know how Japanese companies like Roland work so that’s no surprise. What is a surprise is that the Roland Juno-G is a decent synth with a lot of great functionality and features on board. Why nobody has cracked the the LCD puzzle yet is interesting. All I know is that I don’t plan to sell either of my Juno-G synths just yet. I really believe IF the LCD problem gets solved they will definitely get some attention again and could even become popular for stage performance.

Currently I have my Roland Juno-G with the LCD problem sitting on my work bench. I’m going to do my best to solve the problem because I believe the solution does not require an LCD replacement or a cable change. I really only think it requires understanding how those cables work and finding a way to attachment them in a more effective manner that improves the contact of the LCD. Perhaps there is a power supply problem, or maybe another issue, but I really do think the answer is in there somewhere.

Unless proven otherwise, as of the date of this post I absolutely see no solution at all right now for replacing or fixing the Juno-G LCD screen. Nothing out there works including the Roland repair. I would like to find out more about the “heat” or “solder” solution from the gentleman in Germany but that’s like finding a needle in a haystack. There is zero information in the Yahoo groups and the info on Roland Clan is dated at best. Other forums and blogs have bits of information here and there but nothing solid.

I’ll update this post as I progress and find additional information. One day I hope to solve the mystery of the Roland Juno-G LCD display.

UPDATE #1 – It’s gone!! I stripped the second Juno-G for spare parts and then chucked the rest into the garbage bin this morning. The Roland Juno-G is a lost cause with the crappy LCD screen they installed. I would avoid this synth like the plague and stick to the Fantom series instead or later Juno series synths. Luckily I didn’t waste my money in that I got a working SRX-07 Vintage keys expansion board, nice case, 512MB memory stick, and some replacement knobs. Sayonara Roland Juno-G!!

Here is a video showing the problem with the Roland Juno-G LCD Screen. The video does NOT provide a working solution.

Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator Repaired

Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator
Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator

This week I bought a used and broken Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator off Ebay. I saw it on Ebay being sold from a friend here in Japan and decided to bid on it. The Oberheim Cyclone had the classic “freezing” issue where after you played a few notes it would lock up. You then have to restart the Cyclone or like some have done toss it into the garbage. I decided to take the challenge and see if I could fix it. The problem though was that I got into a bidding war with one other person interested in the device. I lost because the price got to a point were I couldn’t justify the purchase, so elected to stop bidding. Well, the other day ( a month later ) I received a “second chance” email from Ebay about the Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator. Apparently the highest bidder bailed on the purchase. They had automatic bidding setup and perhaps didn’t realize someone like myself was also interested. I suspect the price got too high and they said forget it. Anyways, I got a second chance and bought the Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator for a nice price.

Upon powering up of the Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator, I noticed that just after two minutes of operation it went nuts and locked up. From that point on I got blinking LEDS, constant freezing, and all sorts of things going haywire. My first impression was a power issue of some sort. The construction of the Oberheim Cyclone is absolute crap and I was very surprised at how small it was. I was thinking it would be much larger but I could actually rest it on top of my synths very easily. That was pretty cool. So, I went to work and discovered the following which may help others.

1. Factory Reset – I first decided to do a factory reset which is to power up the Oberheim Cyclone while pressing the “Enable/Enter” button. This indeed initialized the Oberheim Cyclone, but it didn’t fix my problem. I new then the Oberheim Cyclone needed surgery.

2. Battery – The Battery is soldered into the device and likely is for the purpose of saving the user settings when powered off. I unsoldered the battery and replaced it with a holder and replaceable the CR2023 battery. That was not the cause of my issues of above, but I thought I might as well change the thing to at least eliminate the battery being a remote possible cause.

3. Chips – I then proceeded to pull and re seat the main two chips in the Oberheim Cyclone. I noticed while doing so that I had a firmware chip version 1.02 or 1.2 sitting in there. It was hard to read, but it definitely had the number 2 in there. I believe this is the latest OS version of the Oberheim Cyclone.

4. 7805 Voltage Regulator – I read online that several people with similar issues had changed the 7805 Voltage regulator with success. I knew from experience with a couple of other music devices that this could completely solve my issues as it happened to be the problem. I recently bought a big bag of 7805 regulators and was happy to take a new one from the pile. I soldered in a brand new 7805 and then again reset the Oberheim Cyclone upon power up. PRESTO! The Oberheim Cyclone worked beautifully.

In fact, the Oberheim Cyclone has yet to hiccup at all since replacing the 7805 Voltage regulator. It has performed flawlessly and I even spent an hour throwing everything I could at it in order to try and create an issue. NOT ONCE was I able to trip up the Oberheim Cyclone. I now have what I would call a VERY reliable Oberheim Cyclone sitting on my desk and it sure can do wonderful things.

My advice if you have a broken or unreliable Oberheim Cyclone is to do one of the following:

1. Replace the 7805 Voltage Regulator. It likely will be the cause of all of your problems. There are other mods that you can add to this that will further enhance the regulator, but since I’m carefully using the correct adapter, I just elected to test with a basic 7805 swap. IMPORTANT!!! Make sure you use the right adapter. If it’s incorrect, you will have problems as there is no protection inside the Oberheim Cyclone.

2. PCB Board Swap! – Yes, this works. You can find a used Oberheim Strummer and simply swap boards inside and add your Cyclone chip. It’s a more expensive way to fix the Cyclone but I can confirm it works just fine. I think you can do the same with the Drummer version as well. They are all the same board which just different OS chips.

There you have it! The Oberheim Cyclone is a fantastic machine that although not well construction can be made reliable. It also simply sounds fantastic driving any synth with midi. The Arp patches are amazing and it really is fast, hands on, and instantly gratifying. Note that around the internet, most reviews are negative mainly because of the rarity and unreliable performance people are experiencing with their unit. It’s likely now that most of these units are plagued with bad 7805 voltage regulators. OR, I am in the minority and simply just have a lucky unit. In that case, you can sell me your Oberheim Cyclone and I’ll fix the regulator and be on my way…laugh.

Here is a great video showing some of the factory patterns and settings of the Oberheim Cyclone Arpeggiator.