The Original Korg RK-100 in RED!

Jamming on the original Korg RK-100 in red. I bought this about a year ago and I love it. There is a new RK-100s out, but I actually like the original because of the three mod wheels. I am running the Korg RK-100 through a Korg EX-800 which originally was also paired with the RK-100 when released in the 80’s. They make a terrific analog synth combo and I think it sounds great. In this video I recorded some drums and EX-800 loops into the Boss RC-300 on the floor. I then created a custom EX-800 patch for the jam. The RK-100 size, weight, and shape are just perfect for me. Yes, some might think the RK-100 is heavy, but coming from working with a Gibson Les Paul Custom for some years, it’s definitely much lighter than a Les Paul. I don’t mind having a bit of weight on my shoulders anyway. I’ll upload more videos over the next couple of weeks with the original RK-100 from Korg. I’m still a tiny bit rusty with it.

Here is the Korg RK-100 and Korg EX-800 in my studio.

Korg RK100 and Korg EX-800

A post shared by Jim Atwood in Seattle | Japan (@jimatwood) on

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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.

Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine 90’s Vibe

Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine
Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine

Today I was going through some used music gear at a nearby second hand shop in downtown Nagano-city, Japan. On a shelf I discovered three Yamaha RY-20 drum machines. One was for $150 and the other two were $10 each and labeled as broken. I took the two that were broken and tested them at the shop and sure enough they operated just fine with one exception. When you pressed play on either one, the patterns would not play. I scratched my head a bit and was wondering why both machines had the same problem….strange! I figured I would gamble a bit and decided to buy both Yamaha RY-20 drum machines mainly because they sounded AWESOME!! I mean, the RY-20 is loud and many of the patterns swing really nice, ala New Jack Swing! I couldn’t stop playing with the drum pads which really felt great and the sensitivity was just excellent. If they indeed were broken I could at least use them for sound modules.

So, I bought both drum machines and they even came with the adapters. When I got home I decided the first thing to try was a “factory reset”. I looked for a PDF manual online and found the reset procedure. You have to press both the -1 and +1 keys at the same time while powering on the unit. Unbelievable! Both Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machines kicked into high gear and started to work beautifully. I later found out that both machines were in MIDI sync mode and wouldn’t play because they were expecting an external midi command. The guy who sold them to the used music store probably left them in MIDI Sync mode. The sales clerk thought they were broken and dropped the price to $10 each. Amazing!!

This evening I spent an hour playing the Korg Poly-61 along with one of the Yamaha RY-20 drum machines and it was a lot of fun. The drum sounds are really nice and you definitely can get that 80’s or 90’s vibe with it. I believe the Yamaha RY-20 was released in 1994 which was a year after I originally moved to Japan. It was quite extraordinary to find the RY-20 drum machines. I can’t believe how great they sound and if I new they were this fun to work with I likely would have bought one earlier. The Yamaha RY-20 drum machines sound much different than the Rolands. I like how loud the RY-20 is and for Synthpop or that New Jack Swing sound it’s just fantastic. There is a special sensitivity or live feel to the drums that sounds much different than most other digital drum machines I’ve heard. I may be stretching it a bit, but sometimes I actually feel like the drums are alive. I’ll have to read more about it, but the Yamaha RY-20 really has a wonderful sound. Stay tuned for future updates as I dive into the machine more.

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.

Korg EMX-1 Electribe – The 80’s Time Machine

Korg EMX-1 Electribe
Korg EMX-1 Electribe

With a stroke of luck I finally found a mint condition Korg EMX-1 Electribe for a stunning $160 bucks at a used music shop here in Nagano-city, Japan. The version I bought is the old one with the Smart Media card instead of the SD type, but I already have quite a few Smart Media cards so I didn’t really mind. I also heard that the EMX-1 Smart Media version is identical to that of the SD version so I’m pretty excited about it. The price of the EMX-1 in Japan is actually quite high, especially for used ones but I strongly believe that the sales clerk had no idea how to price this. In fact, this is the same place where I bought my second Roland JP-8000 which I posted an article on below. I’ll definitely be frequenting that spot quite often as it’s kind of a hot bed for popular gear with great prices.

I’m a growing fan of “Synthfreq” who uses the EMX-1 quite a bit in her 80’s oriented compositions. I find the sound of the Korg EMX-1 and the fact that it has five synth sequencer tracks great for putting that 80’s sound together. Of course the Korg ESX-1 would also be great for loading up 80’s drum samples, but I feel the EMX-1 already does a pretty good job with it’s stock PCM sounds. It can also sequence basslines and melodies very easily which I like as well. Do check out Synthfreq’s youtube channel for more examples of how the Korg EMX-1 can work well as a drum/synth sequencer workstation.

In the video below, Synthfreq is using the Korg EMX-1 for the drums. She and her sister are playing the other parts on various synths. Also check out that wonderful Roland Jupiter 8!!

Update: I’m now looking to upgrade my tubes in the Korg EMX-1 with something like the Sovtek 12AX7LPS ECC83, JJ 12AX7 ECC83S, or GT ECC83-S Gold Series Eletron Tubes. Any ideas? Thanks!

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.