Yamaha DX-21 Synthesizer

Yamaha DX-21
Yamaha DX-21

Last weekend I landed another free synth from the local used music shop I frequent. I found a case that I need for another one of my synths and stumbled upon this Yamaha DX-21 that had a $10 price tag on it. The tag said the DX-21 was broken with no sound coming out. I asked the clerk about it and he said that the power worked but that it then freezes with the “Yamaha DX-21 Synthesizer” message on the LCD screen. Plus there is no sound. As a result of buying a case, he decided to throw in the Yamaha DX-21 for free as he didn’t think he could sell it broken. He asked if I wanted it and I said sure thing! I didn’t know a whole lot about the Yamaha DX-21 but I thought it would be fun to try and fix it.

When I got home I anxiously cracked open the Yamaha DX-21 and notice right away that the battery needed to be replaced. In fact, the battery was already starting to leak but nothing had reached the PCB board yet. I desoldered the battery and then soldered in a new battery holder as a replacement. I then did some quick cleaning of the contact areas and some parts of the PCB board that looked a little dirty. I finally put everything back together and fired up the Yamaha DX-21. Sure enough it turn on by using the reset procedure which is holding down buttons 1 and 2 while powering on the synth. The Yamaha DX-21 entered test mode and then I could proceed to load the internal ROM patches back into the 32 Ram voice slots. Everything worked perfectly and so I was excited to basically get a fully working Yamaha DX-21 for free.

The Yamaha DX-21 surprisingly is a great little 4-OP FM synth. It has single and dual modes which allows you to layer or split the keyboard. There is LFO editing, portamento, and a nice sounding chorus effect built in. The body is is very strong and the keys play nicely. It can be a tad bit noisy, but I really feel it adds to the character of the DX-21 and so I welcome the noise it makes. In fact there are some internal presets that really sound cool with a little noise mixed in. It’s all about one’s preference, but I actually like having noise mixed in with FM sounds rather than having them perfectly clean. The Lo-Fi sound of the Yamaha DX-21 is really cool and it’s been fun jamming with it today. The Yamaha DX-21 is a great find I think and definitely a keeper.

Here’s a demo of the Yamaha DX-21 in action found on Youtube.

Snagged a Free Yamaha DX-7 MkI

Yamaha DX-7 Synthesizer
Yamaha DX-7 Synthesizer

As I mentioned in my previous article about the Yamaha CS1x, I managed to acquire a used Free Yamaha DX-7 over the weekend in prestine condition. The main reason besides being a frequent customer of this particular used music store in Nagano, the Yamaha DX-7 was not functioning properly. The sales clerk couldn’t fix it so he thought it best to just get rid of it. What I particularly liked about it was the fact that it was in near mint condition. When I got home I opened it up and there wasn’t one scratch or dust bunny inside. It was virtually brand new and perhaps a bit strange to be in such great shape. Cosmetically on the outside it was in spit shined mint condition as well.

Currently I already have a working Yamaha DX-7 with the Grey Matter expansion board that I installed in it. The only problem is that cosmetically the DX-7 is really in bad shape being all dinged up and having some rust in some places. I thought at the very least I could transfer the insides of the working DX-7 to one that looked brand new I got over the weekend. I could then strip it for parts and use them when needed or simply sell the rest. The Yamaha DX-7 also came with the original case as shown in the photo which was cool.

So what it wrong with the new Yamaha DX-7? I am not sure yet. The problem is that when you turn it on, it becomes stuck with the “YAMAHA DX7 SYNTHESIZER” message in the display. Sometimes it says to insert the cartridge or that the cartridge protect is on. There is also no sound and the buttons do not respond at all. The battery in the DX-7 was recently replaced and I replaced it again just to make sure it was new. Later this week when I start transferring over the boards from my other DX-7 I plan to try and isolate the problem. At this point I am not sure what it is, but I’m sure I’ll eventually find the problem. If not, I hope to put together a near mint working Yamaha DX-7 and will likely part out the other one. We’ll see. I’ll update this article as I progress and will certainly post the problem and solution once identified. Stay tuned!

Casio CZ-5000 Synthesizer in Japan

Casio CZ-5000 Synthesizer
Casio CZ-5000 Synthesizer

Today I was out and about and I went into a used goods shop called “Santa” in Nagano-city, Japan. I was surprised to see that there was a big store wide sale and that they were possibly going out of business soon. Now I almost “never” find anything in this store other than overpriced junk but occasionally I find some computer floppy disks or some interesting toys for the kids. They sometimes have old music gear but it’s always the kind of stuff nobody wants or just musical toys. Well, today it was a different matter because sitting in the shop was a Casio CZ-5000 that looked to be in excellent condition. The price on it was $25 which made me scratch my head for a minute and wonder why. I then realized that I didn’t know much of anything about the Casio CZ-5000 and that I better run home and do some checking.

Later I discovered it was potentially a nice 80’s oriented synth that I could have some fun with. What I was also excited about was that on Yahoo Auction Japan, the Casio CZ-5000 was selling between $350 to $450. I thought Wow! I could at least buy it and sell it later to maybe make some extra cash. I raced back to the used shop and brought it up to the counter. The gentleman immediately told me it didn’t work. I said ok that’s fine but can I at least plug it in and check the power? He said sure and knowing this shop might not have headphones I brought my own which he was surprised to see.

The Casio CZ-5000 powered up nicely. Indeed the synth didn’t seem to want to make any sound. I then figured out how to access and change the patches. Now I got sound coming through my headphones and it sounded pretty decent. Like with previous synths I’ve purchased at used shops in Japan, the sales staff usually don’t know anything about these keyboards. In addition, when a Casio CZ-5000 is mixed in among other Casio kids keyboards they start thinking all Casios are the same. I don’t know why the clerk said the keyboard was broken, because it sounded great to me.

Finally the sales clerk let me have it for $10 perhaps feeling sorry I don’t know. Even though there was a big sale going on, I guess he just wanted to get rid of it. For whatever reason I was more than happy to take it off his hands. As I drove home I realized that I didn’t really have a chance to check if everything indeed worked. I started to worry a bit, but then realized that this was only 10 bucks.

Later in the evening I powered the Casio CZ-5000 up again and had a ton of fun jamming on it for about two hours. The Casio CZ-5000 is a really fun synth to play around with. I found that the sequencer worked great. In fact all of the buttons, volume, chorus, etc. worked as they should. I ran the CZ-5000 through the Korg A1 effects processor I recently picked up and boy did it come to life. I noticed that bumping up the on board chorus while adding some portamento made the sounds much more analog sounding. I particularly liked the vibrato effect as well. I then did some basic tweaking of the presets and even created a few new sounds. They saved nicely into the internal memory.

All in all, the Casio CZ-5000 plays beautifully and it’s just in fantastic condition. It should fit in nicely with my current 80’s synth setup and I’m looking forward to seeing what else it can do.

Roland JP-8000 Synthesizer Memory Damaged and Fixed!

Roland JP-8000 Synthesizer
Roland JP-8000 Synthesizer

Back in 1998-1999 I purchased a second Roland JP-8000 and JP-8080 Combo at a used Music Shop called Ishibashi located in Yokohama, Japan. I still have both today and find them to be very fun to work with. I have also just about every commercial and non-commercial patch set available as I’ve been collecting everything I come across since then. It’s a great synthesizer and even as a new Roland SH-201 and SH-01 Gaia user, I still find the JP-8000 and JP-8080 a bit more useful for me. Plus it just has a fantastic sound for everything.

Well today, while checking out a used music store in downtown Nagano-city, I found a used Roland JP-8000 sitting on the shelf that the clerk just got in the previous night. He had a price tag of $120 for it. I had to do a double take because I couldn’t believe the price. In my mind I was thinking “OK, What’s wrong with this JP-8000?”. I check the condition and it was near mint. All of the buttons, knobs, and sliders felt solid. The body was not scratched and did not have any blemishes. Along with the Roland JP-8000 there was the power cord, manuals, and special JP-8000 softcase that was issued with them when I bought mine in the 90’s. Everything “looked” great.

So I asked the sales clerk if I could fire it up and give it a test run. He set me up with some headphones and I turned it on. Almost immediately I got a “Memory Damaged” message. I thought “Ah Ha!” That’s why he’s selling it cheap. He thinks it’s almost toast due to the memory message. I know this sales clerk and if it had said “Battery Low” he would have had a higher price. This was a new message and foreign to him. The JP-8000 then went into internal preset mode and I was able to play it even though there was memory damage. It sounded perfect! All of the original patches were there with some user ones garbled but understood that was because of the battery.

I then Hmm’d and Haw’d finally saying “Ok, I’ll take it” knowing full well I just “MAY” have stumbled upon a gem. When I got home I spent some time carefully opening up the JP-8000 until I finally got to the battery. I replaced it with a new one and “presto” the memory damage message disappeared and everything was working as it should perfectly. Amazing! Now I have a second working Roland JP-8000, but I’m not sure what to do with it yet. I just knew that the price was incredible and if anything I could resell it and make some extra cash. I may however, opt to have my two daughters use it to learn more about synthesizers. They both play piano and recently my eldest daughter loves listening to the song “Pop Goes the World” by Men Without Hats. I figure the Roland JP-8000 would go well with that song and provide my daughters with some synthesizer fun.

What I really like about the Roland JP-8000 besides the sound is the functionality. I find the ribbon controller, RPS, Sequencer, Split/Layer Keyboard, and of course all the knobs, sliders, and buttons to provide a treasure trove of live performance fun. The effects are decent, especially the chorus. I know it’s digital and a VA synth, but I’ve always maintained that if I had a choice between the Roland SH-01 Gaia, SH-201, or JP-8000/8080 it would be the Roland JP-8000. I’m a performance player who prefers to do everything with my hands. To me the Roland JP-8000 allows me to do slightly more with actual playing than the other two. With the Roland JP-8000, I don’t need a computer hardly at all. It’s fun and of course all the synths I mentioned above are great but the Roland JP-8000 is just special to me.