Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano in Japan

Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano
Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano

I just scored a vintage Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano Module today from a good friend in Nagoya, Japan. I’m really excited about this because I’ve been dealing with MKS-20 multi-samples for some time now with just ok results. I can now finally get busy with the real thing and do some sampling of my own if I wish. In Japan, the Roland MKS-20 is pretty hard to find and we all know it can be quite expensive to get one off Ebay. I got a very good price for this one and feel it should serve me well now and into the future. As I mentioned I have tried quite a few MKS-20 Sample sets but they always seem to be lacking to me. I also noticed that those who created the samples have never really gotten rid of their MKS-20 modules at all, so I figured samples would never really beat the real thing. Why would they keep their MKS-20 module then?

Incidentally, I recently passed up a working Roland RD-1000 keyboard for $60 bucks at a local used shop here in Nagano-city. The reason primarily was the thing was HUGE!! I mean I really didn’t have the space for this beast of a piano at all and it drove me nuts that I had to pass up such a deal, but oh well. I have acquired a lot of gear but the RD-1000 was just too darn big to have sitting in my room and I really didn’t want to put it in storage. So I passed it up and kept waiting for the day I would run into a Roland MKS-20. Sure enough about three weeks later I found one and it’s on the way! I did take some pictures of the Roland RD-1000 I found earlier and will post them here shortly for those curious about it. Currently they are on my cell phone which is out in the car.

In any event, I’m finally glad to have found the elusive Roland MKS-20 in full working order here in Japan. I really like the sound and will enjoy working it into my current setup. Samples are good, but I really think the real thing is better in this particular case. I only wish I had saved the money I spent on the samples…laugh.

Here’s a quick video demonstration of the Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano Sound Module found on Youtube.

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School of Rock Nagano City Japan

School of Rock Japan
School of Rock Japan

Recently in Nagano-city, Japan I’ve noticed a lot of young kids, especially girls, interested in performing music on stage. Having two young daughters myself and a ton of music gear I decided to donate some of my time to helping kids get bands together in Nagano-city, Japan. In most schools around Japan there are no talent shows, rock schools, school dances, proms, events, or anything special to help kids learn pop/rock music and perform on stage. So, like most things I do in Japan, I have to create my own events and then market heavily to help attract interest.

Fortunately I have become good friends with some Nagano-city area producers and bands who are willing to help out with providing stage venues and sit in where needed. In addition, we are offering lessons in guitar, synthesizer, piano, bass, drums, and vocals for those kids who need new or additional training for the stage. If there are any foreign expats or music enthusiasts in Nagano-city and are interested in some jam session fun, please contact me. Nagano city is a samll city in Japan but like most cities around the country it has a very large interest in music. The scene is mostly underground but hopefully we’ll be able to provide a means for kids to gather and perform Rock, Pop, Blues, and Jazz Music.

Furthermore, I am always interested in getting together with other musicians in and around the Nagano-city area for jam sessions, song writing, and perhaps even forming a band. I enjoy playing with musicians with all levels of experience across all sorts of musical genres. There’s no contest here, rather I’m interested in meeting musicians with a passion for music. The biggest problem in Nagano-city is the lack of communication and opportunity. Hopefully now that will change. Please feel free to contact me at the email below if you are interested in getting involved in the music scene in Nagano-city, Japan. I hope to post pictures, video, and more info very soon as we progress with this new 2012 adventure. http://schoolofrockjapan.com

School of Rock Nagano city, Japan
School of Rock Nagano city, Japan

Roland S-50 Sampling Tips and Tricks

Roland S-50 Tips and Tricks
Roland S-50 Tips and Tricks

I have been working with my newly rejuvenated Roland S-50 sampler lately and thought I would create an article here about things I’ve encountered while sampling. These may or may not be tips or techniques of a special nature, but they may help those in trying to figure out a good workflow when using the Roland S-50 Sampler. I’ll start by writing some random thoughts about my experiences thus far with Sampling on the S-50. Please comment if you have any tips or experiences of your own that may be of use for either practice or in thought.

Lately, I have been skipping the WAV import using the computer directly to the Roland S-50. I find this to be time consuming and there doesn’t seem to be any software that works all that great. What works for me is to use one of my old Roland SP-808 samplers to store “one shot” sounds of various analog synths. For example, I have one 100MB Zip disk divided in banks with MOOG sounds. Each bank is title something like A-B-F#-G# where each letter represents a row of SP-808 pads with MOOG one shot key samples. This helps me to set the correct root key on the S-50. I then run the SP-808 out to the input of the S-50 and record direct. You could use virtually any sampler, but I have found my trusty old SP-808 to work well. Of course I have to use the WAV converter for the SP-808 to initially store samples, but then I can really fast play a pad and record onto the S-50. Note I don’t wish to tether a computer to the S-50 at this time.

Another thing I do a lot is record with 15kHz instead of 30. Beside getting more sampling time, I find the sound difference to be minimal quite frankly. This allows me to record lots of samples into the S-50 no problem. Of course I can use 30kHz or vary the sample lengths but I have found lowering the frequency to be very helpful. Also, since I mainly record one shots I don’t have to worry about looping or recording longer samples that much.

I usually set the gain and rec level as high as possible. When I dedicate my SP-808 to the S-50 I can keep all the volume settings the same which allows me to keep the samples similar in volume. I then just pop out the zip disk run to the computer and load more samples for recording if need be. I also find I like to record and create construction kits on the S-50. Thus I may have a series of zip disks categorized by drums, basses, guitars, synths, etc and then record the instruments I want to use for a particular construction kit or song. Basically I prefer S-50 disks to contain construction kits and my SP-808 zip disks to contain specific instruments. I find it takes me about 30 minutes to fully sample a new construction kit for creating a new song. I then save that kit onto a floppy disk for later use if needed.

I have found setting loop points on the S-50 to be rather difficult. I do find the auto loop function can work pretty well at times, but it’s often time consuming to bang out perfect loops so I mainly use the S-50 for one shots and then use the envelopes for tweaking. I first figure out whether a song instrument will require a long decay or not and then sample accordingly. If my Moog sound will be short and staccato like then I’ll sample 0.4 or 0.8 (x2 @15) and then just play my bass line. If I require a long decay I’ll simply record at .8 or 1.6 (x2 @15 ) instead of looping the sound. I have found that looping the end of a sound can also lower the tone or quality of the main sample for some reason. Thus if I don’t tamper with the sample and just play it, the sound is awesome. I do like to layer or use envelopes which works very well.

Sometimes I get the message “Not Execute” which took me a while to figure out that I was either missing a parameter under record or had an incorrect value. I found my sampling time was most often written incorrectly. If you get this error it simply means “carefully” check your entered values and correct the one that is not right.

All in all, I find sampling directly to the Roland S-50 to be rather painless and quite fun. If you sample to create a song construction kit then likely you’ll be able to enjoy the S-50 right away after you finished sampling your initial samples for the song. You can then quickly create your patches and then use Director-S to record the song. Then save the song and sound kit onto an S-50 disk and you can later use it for other songs. As mentioned I also find using an external sampler for storing samples to be very useful. You can then just hit record on the S-50 and press a pad on your external sampler with tons of samples available at your fingertips. On the computer I find myself “thinking” in terms of construction kits rather than filling up an S-50 disk with MOOG bass samples. It then becomes a fun and a rewarding challenge to use that sample construction kit to create a song.

I remember back in the day people having contests where a each person would have a floppy with the same construction kit on it. They then had a month to create a song and then everyone would vote on the song they liked. That used to be really fun because it put the song writing back into music rather than nowadays where people seem to want massive sample collections. The Roland S-50 is limited by today’s standard samplers, but I personally find these limitations inspire me more to create and play songs. The Roland S-50 “can” have plenty of polyphony and memory if you accept the limitations and just get down to writing a song with what you have. The old cliche “Simple is Best” can be true sometimes.

Soon I’ll be creating some videos based on constructions kits that I sampled for the S-50 and how I use these to create fun songs or sketchpad ideas. The Roland S-50 sounds fantastic and is really fun to play. I also find that any sound I sample into the Roland S-50, I can easily convert to any other format such as the S-550, S-330, W-30, or S-760. That’s not always the case the other way around.

Stay tuned for more thoughts and updates as I dive deeper into the Roland S-50.

Sexual Healing TR-808 drum pattern – by SynthManiaDotCom

Sexual Healing TR-808 drum pattern - by SynthManiaDotCom
Sexual Healing TR-808 drum pattern - by SynthManiaDotCom

Sexual Healing TR-808 drum pattern – by SynthManiaDotCom

This is a GREAT transcription of the “Sexual Healing” Tr-808 drum groove done by Paolo at SynthManiaDotCom. I thought I would post it here in case anybody is interested in this pattern. Paolo also created a video and it’s pretty much spot on. Fanstatsic!

A tutorial on how to recreate the Roland TR-808 two-measure pattern from the classic hit “Sexual Healing”, by Marvin Gaye

It would be wonderful to own a Roland TR-808 by the way!

Here you go, friend. I originally programmed my TR-808 by ear listening to the song, so I can’t guarantee that it’s 100% (this pattern is so awkward and can play tricks on your mind, and also the heavy ’80s reverb and loud volume of the clap makes it harder to discern the single instruments) but it should be fairly accurate. I will also make a YouTube video with the step-by-step programming of the 808 since I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.

Yamaha SPX900 Digital Multi Effects Processor

Yamaha SPX900 Digital Multi Effects Processor
Yamaha SPX900 Digital Multi Effects Processor

Last week I found a mint condition Yamaha SPX900 Digital Multi Effects Processor. These effect processors are extremely difficult to find in Japan. The Japanese love guitar effects and so when you see one of these you really need to make a quick decision because it likely will be gone shortly thereafter.

Recently I also picked up a vintage Yamaha FX-900 and really fell in love with it. I’ve heard the Yamaha SPX-900 is similar but also different. I use these Multi Effect Processors mainly for keyboards and vocals, but of course they work well with guitar too. It is quite true that the effects in the Yamaha SPX900 are all outstanding with the exception of the distortion effect. Everyone I heard claims it really sucks and I must agree, however, for synths it’s useable. With that said, I also must admit I am new to the SPX900 and to get a decent distortion it’s likely with tweaking you can achieve this.

The Reverbs, Delays, Chorus, and Symphonic sounds are all fantastic. I also like the Freeze effect and all the different types of detailed reverbs you can get. There are many patches with multi effects and they are all very useable and quite good. The multi effects with distortion may require you to “turn off” the distortion part, but all in my opinion or very good especially with synths. As I mentioned the stock distortion may require lots of tweaking or replacement with an external effect. The distortion in the Yamaha FX-900 is much better to me in comparison.

A lot of old vintage synthesizers and keyboards do not have built in effects. I like picking up these old vintage processors because they really add a lot of spice and help to rejuvenate the sounds of these old synths. I remember pulling my Yamaha DX-7 into the Yamaha FX-900 and WOW! What a difference effects make on the DX-7. Effect processors are also very useful when using with the old Roland S-Series Samplers because I usually sample dry to conserve memory. You can then use the SPX900 to add effects and take the sound to another level. It’s great.

https://jimatwood.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/yamaha-fx900-dx7-effects-processor/

Here is a video found on Youtube showing different shots of the Yamaha SPX-900. Unfortunately there is no sound demo here but it’s a nice basic description nonetheless.

Korg Wavedrum Mini cheap in Japan

Korg Wavedrum Mini
Korg Wavedrum Mini

Today I along with the Michael Schenker signature I found posted in an earlier article, I picked up a used Korg Wavedrum Mini for really cheap … $100 bucks! The only thing missing was the adapter but it looks like a standard Korg DC9V so it shouldn’t be a problem finding one around here. This is the third Wavedrum Mini I’ve seen for that price at used music stores here in Nagano-city, Japan. I am not sure why people are giving them up and why they are going for so cheap but I thought it would be kind of cool to work with so I picked one up.

My thought is to initially use the Korg Wavedrum Mini along with the Boss RC-300 loop station as a way to create grooves on the Wavedrum and then record onto the RC-300. I could then save the loops onto the computer from the RC-300 since the Wavedrum mini will not allow you to save patterns. Loop recording these days is pretty good so you can create whatever you want on the Wavedrum Mini and dump it onto a sampler quite fast and easily. You also can’t edit the sounds but you can add effects and you can also vary the sound with how you play a little bit too.

The Korg Wavedrum mini is still new and I’m sure when I think outside the box a little more it will be quite cool to keep hopefully. I also thought the Korg Wavedrum mini would be a good addition to the drum set I already have as well. Another nice thing about the Wavedrum is that it takes batteries so you can create patterns on the go. You will need to bring some sort of portable sampling device to record your newly created loop patterns, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to find with the current sampler gadgets out there. I actually have a Boss Micro BR recorder that would work well most likely and is very small. With the Boss RC-300 Loop station or something equivalent, I think the Korg Wavedrum mini will work very well. Currently I’m developing a music school in Nagano, Japan and the Korg Wavedrum mini I’m sure would work well in that environment. There are lots of possibilities.

Here’s a promo video from Korg which talks about the sensor clip, sounds, effects, rhythm patterns, overdubbing, and looper.

ESP Edwards E-FV-95 WB Michael Schenker Flying V Model

Edwards E-FV-95 WB
Edwards E-FV-95 WB

Today I found a mint condition ESP Edwards E-FV-95 WB Flying V which is the Michael Schenker Signature Model only sold in Japan. Honestly I don’t know when this was sold exactly and there is also another ESP Edwards model called the EDWARDS E-FV-95 WB DOT version which had dots on the fret board. I actually prefer the rectangles so I was excited to see this in the used music shop. I bought this with the original ESP black case for $120. That’s right… $120. The sales clerk said it was brought into the store the day before by an elderly woman. The clerk had no idea about the guitar because it had no name on the head stock. I kind of rolled my eyes and said to myself “your kidding!”. Of course if the sales clerk doesn’t know anything about guitars, he might have a point. Usually guitars have a name on the head like “Gibson” or “Fender” but this one didn’t which I suppose to many means the guitar is cheap. However, on Michael Schenker’s guitar, the head on a couple of models he had are the same with no name written.

Furthermore, the guitar wouldn’t make any sound when he plugged it in for me to test. I tried and tried and I kind of just let him fumble with the amp and guitar. Finally he gave up and said if I still wanted the guitar he would cut me a deal but ultimately it didn’t work. Again I kind of stood there in amazement a little bit. I said that’s ok I can take a look at it at home. With that said he charge me $120 for the guitar and case and I was on my way. The Flying V is absolutely in mint shape along with the case. When I got home I plugged her in and the guitar sounded awesome. I can only figure that the amplifier in the store was not setup correctly. There is nothing wrong with the Edwards V and so I felt kind of lucky to get such a nice guitar.

ESP Edwards E-FV-95 WB Flying V
ESP Edwards E-FV-95 WB Flying V

Whether the ESP Edwards E-FV-95 WB flying V is all that great I am not sure yet considering I’ve only had it for a day now, but so far I’m very impressed with the quality and tone. It’s very lightweight and built really well. The neck is thick near the body which I’ve heard is normal for some of the older Gibson V but I’m fine with that because I have big hands and long fingers. No problem.

I’m also a HUGE fan of Michael Schenker and you probably have to be to come home with a guitar like this I suppose. Some people are not fans of signature guitars such as this which I understand, but as a kid growing up I always enjoyed MSG and learned quite a few of their songs. It will be really fun to jam with this. It was a blue flying V played by someone during the 7th grade that first attracted me to playing the guitar. Flying V guitars are not every guitar players cup of tea, but for me it will always be something cool and special.

I don’t have all the facts and figures of the ESP Edwards E-FV-95WB other than what I’ve found on the Youtube video below, but I do know it was released only in Japan and it is supposed to faithfully copy one of the original Michael Schenker Flying V guitars. It also is equipped with two Seymour Duncun pickups which sound great.

Here is a photo of me holding the Michael Schenker Signauture Flying V Guitar from ESP Edwards sporting a rock pose….grin. Rock on!!

Michael Schenker Flying V Guitar
Michael Schenker Flying V Guitar

Edwards E-FV-95 WB
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Fretboard: Rosewood, 22 frets with white binding
Radius: 305R
Scale: 24.75 inch (628mm)
Nut: Bone (40mm)
Inlay: Pearloid Block
Joint: Set-neck
Tuner: GOTOH SG301-01
Bridge: Old Type Tune-Matic & GOTOH GE101Z
Pickups: (Front) Seymour Duncan SH-1n
(Back) Seymour Duncan SH-5
Parts Color: Nickel

Here’s another guy on Youtube with the exact same guitar. Please note that if I’ve made any errors in specifications please feel free to write a comment with any corrections. Thanks!