Roland SH-101 Synthesizer in Red

Roland SH-101 Red
Roland SH-101 Red

Well, I finally broke down yesterday and bought a used Roland SH-101 in Red from a good friend here in Japan. As many of you know I usually find pretty good deals in Japan on synth hardware and even find free keyboards. This allows me to save up a bit more for synthesizers that are quite a bit harder for me to find or acquire. Such is the case with the Roland SH-101. I paid a fair amount for this Red Roland SH-101 beauty. Actually for a red one I think I got it much less then what they are going for in mint condition so I think overall I did pretty well. I know I will never sell the SH-101 and will likely use it a lot with my other synth gear. I’m looking forward to also connecting it to my Roland SH-1 for some cool layering and to trigger the SH-1 with the SH-101 arp and sequencer via CV. That should be really fun.

Why buy the Roland SH-101? Well for me personally I love synthpop as someone who experienced and grew up listening to it in the 80’s. The basslines, melodies, and other sounds you can get with the Roland SH-101 work very well with synthpop and so I knew I had to have one. I bought the red version simply because that is what my friend was selling and the price was almost the same as what the grey version was selling for so I thought why not get the red. I actually like the red color and it will look nice up against my black Roland SH-1. I also have a Yamaha CS-10 too so it will be interesting to compare the sound. Furthermore, playing the Roland SH-101 along with the Polyphonic Roland Juno-6 and 106 will be a blast too. Creating some synthpop grooves and melodies should be loads of fun.

Another reason why I bought a Roland SH-101 is both my young daughters are getting heavily into synthesizers and synthpop in Japan. Synthpop is actually quite popular in Japan and I feel it will be unique and exciting for my girls to work with older and often easy to use analog synth gear. Note I have taught them well to respect the gear in case those cringe that I’m letting a couple of young kids use an expensive Roland SH-101…laugh. They love the Roland SH-1 because of all the buttons and sliders which allow them to learn and understand how to create the sounds. Synthpop is also rather easy to play for kids compared to classical or jazz keyboard so the kids can get into “band mode” rather quickly. Both my kids are in elementary school so I can only imagine what they’ll be doing once they hit Junior High.

The Roland SH-101 is a fantastic synth and I usually hear nothing but rave reviews about it. Sure the sound and style is not for everyone but I’m glad this Holiday season I’m finally able to pick one up. It’s kind of a dream come true for me. I’m just hoping it all works as advertised when I get the SH-101 early next week.

Here is Trans-X “Living in Video”. Later in the video you can see the Roland SH-101 is used by the lead singer. My daughters and I love this group and listen to their songs in the car all the time here in Japan. 3D Dance is another favorite by Trans-X.

Here’s a good video of the Roland SH-101 in action for those not familiar with it.

UPDATE:

Well it seems I was sold a red SH-101 with a dodgy power switch. There is NO WAY the owner would not have known about this so I’m a bit disappointed in them and will not be purchasing from them again. Buyer beware when purchasing from “akahardoff” @ http://myworld.ebay.com/akahardoff . I purchased an MKS-50 before and that transaction was good so I bought from him again, however, this power switch clearly is having problems. I should be able to fix it, but now I know why it was sold so cheap. There were problems and they weren’t clearly communicated. I’m batting 50/50 with this individual right now so buyer beware with akahardoff in Japan.

Behringer Vintage Distortion VD1 for Synthesizers

Vintage Distortion VD1
Vintage Distortion VD1

I found this neat used pedal for five bucks today called the Behringer Vintage Distortion VD1. I hooked it up to my Korg Poly-61 and found the distortion I’ve been looking for to phatten up some of the sounds. I understand one has to be careful of the build and sound quality of Behringer, but I was pleasantly surprised at how decent it sounded with my analog synths. I think the VD-1 distortion is suppose to emulate the Big Muff Distortion in some way, but since I’ve never used a Big Muff, I can’t comment whether that is correct or not. Likely it doesn’t if I had to place my bets.

Still though, the VD-1 is pretty cool for adding some flavor to your synth sounds or if you just want to dirty them up a bit while retaining the underlying sound. I found the VD-1 was not that muddy at all really. You do need to watch the reverb though as VD-1 distortion can trail a bit which can give the synth sound a bad “after taste” I like to call it. Unless you are looking for that I find running the distortion along with minimal effects on the synth voice to sound the best.

One thing I’m not sure about is whether this pedal is analog or not. I just got it and a quick search on Google didn’t turn up any info. If I find out I’ll post an update here. Overall the Behringer Vintage Distortion VD-1 is pretty decent for synthesizer use. Please feel free to add your experiences with this pedal and synthesizers.

Diatonic Tenths and Today’s Synth Pop Music

I find in today’s pop music the use of Diatonic Tenths is increasing. What are Diatonic Tenths? Check out the video below and a good bass player who knows his theory will tell you all about them. As a guitar player myself originally, I learned about Diatonic Tenths in college. Little did I know that in today’s pop music you’d be hearing it all over the radio. Listen carefully to what this gentleman is saying about Diatonic Tenths in the video and think about how you could apply this to synth pop and dance music today. You can create some really cool melodies and bass lines with the use of Diatonic Tenths.

Sometimes you’ll find the secrets of music today are not really secrets. Rather they are just ideas crafted from little known ( or sometimes well known ) concepts in musical theory. It’s also important to reach out to other instruments like the bass and guitar and see how you can apply approaches to those instruments to your synth and keyboard playing. When you find yourself running out of ideas or inspiration, dive into some musical theory and try something new.

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.

Roland MKS-50 Synthesizer 80’s Nostalgia

Roland MKS-50 Synthesizer
Roland MKS-50 Synthesizer

Today I finally found a used Roland MKS-50 Analog Synthesizer that I’ve been wanting for a quite some time. I’ve heard these are quite easy to find, but unfortunately I haven’t had much success acquiring this synth until now. The Roland MKS-50 is a nice synthesizer module from the mid-80s and is the rack version of the popular Alpha-Juno 1 and 2 synthesizers. The SynthFreq on Youtube uses the Alpha Juno 1 in most of her synthpop compositions.

As a kid who grew up in the 80’s a lot of stuff was made with the Roland MKS-50. One group in particular was Depeche Mode who if correct used the MKS-50 on their very early recordings which I like better than their later material. I’m kind of a synthpop fan and adding the Roland MKS-50 to my other 80’s synths will be fun. I currently have a Roland Juno-6, Juno-106, Korg Poly-61, Roland D-50, the Yamaha DX-7, and a few other synths, drum machines, and effects from the 80’s. Of course there are plenty of other big names synths of the 80’s that I’ll continue to dream of having one day like the Roland Jupiter 8, but for now, I’d say the synths I have will keep me plenty busy creating and emulating some of my favorite synthpop bands of the 80’s.

It’s likely I’ll first attempt to use my Roland PCR-800 to control the Roland MKS-50. There was a video on Youtube with someone using a PCR-500 and it sounded really great. Another couple of options might be to use SoundQuest or check the Yahoo User Group for another option. I don’t think I’ll ever get a Roland PG-300 Programmer due the rarity of those and the high prices they are fetching on Ebay.

Synthmania has a great list of MP3 audio demos of most of the famous preset sounds from the Roland MKS-50. http://www.synthmania.com/mks-50.htm

Here is a nicely done demo video of the Roland MKS-50. Immediately you get that 80’s synthpop vibe which is cool.

This demo was made with the Roland MKS 50. All sounds from the MKS, except the BD, SD and the claps ( LinnDrum ). And a little wirily sound from 1:18 – 1:35 was played by the Korg MicroX. As always multitrack recording + some effects.

Korg Poly 61 Synthesizer is the Grit!

Korg Poly 61 Synthesizer
Korg Poly 61 Synthesizer

Today I found a used but in near mint condition Korg Poly 61 Synthesizer for $50 at a used music shop located a short drive from my house in Nagano-city, Japan. I must admit that I know very little about the Korg Poly 61, but for the price which included a hard case, I had to plug it in and give it a whirl. All of the presets were in the synth and after about 30 minutes of playing it, I couldn’t find one thing wrong with the synth. The sound for the most part was fantastic. I say for the most part because some of the presets were just ok, but with some tweaking I’m sure they would sound great.

It’s hard to pinpoint with just a short time playing this synth, but there was something about it that I really liked. It was a bit annoying about the lack of knobs for editing the sounds, but quickly I was able to figure out how to program what I wanted. The Joystick is an absolute DREAM!!! I love it! That joystick alone can crank out some wicked sound variations. Plus the arpeggiator is a blast as well. Everything about the synth felt good and just felt for $50 bucks I could have a lot of fun with it. I should also note it’s not the “M” version which has the MIDI connections, however, that doesn’t bother me. I rather enjoy playing the keys straight and recording in real time so I actually don’t use midi all that much in my other keyboards to be honest. It would have been a nice addition, but I certainly can’t complain. It’ll be nice to hook this up alongside my Juno 6 or Juno-106 for sure.

Thus for first impressions, I rather like the Korg Poly 61. I heard it’s really cheap, but honestly I have never seen one in Japan. If I check Yahoo Japan Auction, I do see one listed for over $200, so I feel I got a great price on mine. There seem to be a lot of Roland Juno Synths around, but I really don’t see any Korg Poly 61’s so I for the moment, it’s a rarity in my book. There’s only one “working” Korg Poly-61 on Ebay right now as well for $500. Wow, that’s quite a bit.

There are quite a few Youtube videos highlighting the Korg Poly-61 Synth. Below is a video that I think is one of the best I’ve seen of the Korg Poly-61 Synth simply because the guy knows what he’s doing with regards to synths and he pushes it to the limit.

This video showcases more of what the Korg Poly-61 can do.

The Kawai K4 Synthesizer ROCKS!

Kawai K4 jimatwood.net

Today I found a used Kawai K4 in the local used music shop and I must say it absolutely ROCKS! Oh my, what a gem. I already have a Kawai K4r and that is basically the same thing as the keyboard version, however, the synth version has some very good features that are had to pass up. For $50 bucks, I couldn’t pass up this beauty.

The Kawai K4 can split up to 8 different sections at once. For live performance this is fantastic. In addition, you can have up to 8 different tone layers. There is also a “link” function which allows you to program a queue and change patches on the fly during a performance. This makes moving from one patch to another seamless. Plus there is velocity switching, so you can have different sounds play depending on how hard or soft you press the keys.

The Kawai K4 is a 61 key with attack, release velocity, and aftertouch pressure. It’s a digital powerhouse monster and frankly I couldn’t stop playing with it when I was testing it in the shop. It was so much fun to play and sonically, it beats the crap off a lot of good gear I have. Lots of reviews cite the Kawai K4 as a very good synth for Industrial, Synthpop, DnB, and Hardcore/Breakbeat/Chemical synth style music. I agree 100% and then some. I simply can’t believe nobody else either has or promotes this synth. I did hear that only a limited number of them were made, so perhaps that is one reason why. It is a “VERY” digital sounding machine, BUT it does have a very warm sound to it and with some patches it sounds very analog”ish” to me. Thus I could care less if it’s digital in that it simply rocks my socks off! This leads me to believe that with effective programming the Kawai K4 can improve even more which is hard to imagine because I already love it.

Without a doubt, I recommend the Kawai K4 over the K4r for one simple reason. The keyboard version is just so much fun to play live and peform with. You really need to have easy access to layer, split, and program the velocity switching on the fly so that you can really get the most out of this beast. MIDI implementation is exceptional and with my Kawai Q8 sequencer it should be a blast to program some good drums and sequences. It all integrates seamlessly even with the Kawai K4r. Along with the Kawai K4 I was able to snag a DC-16 Memory Card which was a huge bonus because I’ve heard these are near impossible to find. In addition, there is an effect processor in the Kawai K4 synth version which is actually quite nice. The effects on the Kawai K4 absolutely make a world of difference to the sound and edginess of the K4. The Kawai K4r does not have effects.

Seriously, if you ever find a Kawai K4 sitting on a shelf for a decent price, I wouldn’t hesitate one second to pick it up. In fact RUN, don’t walk! If you are a synth band who is looking for some unique synth sounds that will cut through almost any mix, the Kawai K4 will hold the job of “secret weapon” nicely. Even the guy at the music store thought the Kawai K4 sounded better than the other keyboards I played and/or purchased before. “Wow!” he said in Japanese, “That synth really has a lot of character! BOOM!” As soon as his eyes opened up to the capabilities of the Kawai K4, I new I had to wrap it up and get the heck out of there with it. It is a diamond in the rough for sure!

Note that the photo above was graciously borrowed from a gentleman on Flickr. If you click the photo it will take you to his photo stream where you can see other shots of the Kawai K4. The one I bought is equivalent in quality and condition. It’s practically in mint condition despite the age. Now back to some jamming fun on the Kawai K4!