Korg M1 Workstation Fulfills a Dream

Korg M1 Workstation
Korg M1 Workstation

Long ago when I was a kid I always had a dream about owning the big three 80’s Keyboards which in my mind were the Yamaha DX7, Roland D-50, and the Korg M1. All are classics and superb keyboards in their own colorful way. Today I finally broke down and picked up the Korg M1 which completes the trio for me and it’s wonderful to finally have them all to work with. Granted these are not the latest and greatest synths, but in their time they were very popular. As a kid growing up listening to music created by these machines, I knew quite a bit about them but they were of course quite expensive. The only one I did happen to buy in the 80’s was the Yamaha DX7 for a couple of grand. I later sold it after University only to find another here in Japan not too long ago. The Roland D-50 I found in Yokohama about 10 years ago and still have it with me to this day.

In my previous article I wrote about the Korg M1 for sale which is the one I went back and purchased. I got it at a lower price because I mentioned that the LCD backlight had almost completely faded. I also noticed that a couple of the red LED lights were not working brightly either so I walked out of the store with the Korg M1 and a sizable discount. When I got home I started up the M1 and right away noticed that the LCD was bright and that the red LEDs were now showing. I figured what must have happened was that the power supply in the old music shop was not working well or the power cord they used was not correct. They did give me the original M1 power cord but it was in another bag. So I’m thinking I lucked out and discovered simply that the power supply was low in the shop.

The Korg M1 is absolutely in mint shape. Apparently a girl from Canada owned it before in Nagano here and she really took great care of the workstation. The keys, joystick, LCD, buttons, sliders, and M1 casing are all in scratch free condition. I probably paid a tiny bit more than I usually do for a set of used keys, but I honestly don’t think I would have been able to find another Korg M1 in such great condition. This particular Korg M1 is not the EX version but rather the original stock model. I’m ok with that as the original presets were part of what I wanted. I see the M1 cards quite a bit in Japan and so likely I’ll pick up a few at cheap prices eventually. I also like having the keys because I like to play keyboards like this rather than having the rack module. It’s just fun for me I think and so I’m excited to have the keyboard version.

Currently I have the Korg M1 setup with my Korg X3 side by side. They are both a lot of fun to play and the sounds on the M1 are still gorgeous sounding in my opinion. Some sounds may be dated to others but for me they are brand new to my fingers. Piano 16′ and Organ 2 are house classics. I also like all of the E. Pianos and even the basses are pretty good. Of course the pads, choir, and ambient sort of sounds are excellent with the M1 as well. One of the main attractions for me to the M1 is the sequencer. I prefer to work with patterns and I love the add/remove ability on both the M1 and X3. It’s just super easy to lay down tracks instantly and groove or solo on top of them. The key bed is also really great on the M1 and it’s quite easy to quickly do runs up and down the keyboard.

For editors and librarians, I am currently using Midi Sound Quest XL 10 with my Apple iBook G4. It works perfect for transferring sounds and sequences to and from the Korg M1 and X3. There are a ton of sounds out there on the Internet and it’s going to be fun this weekend combing through all that’s out there. Finally having the Korg M1, Roland D-50, and Yamaha DX7 is a dream come true for me. I graduated from high school in 1986. When I left for University never did I think I’d be able to acquire such gear because at that time it was hard to find any used keyboards at a reasonable price for a kid in college. Nowadays there is a lot of old gear out there and they sure are a lot of fun to learn about and play.

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Korg M50 Blue Limited Edition Workstation

Korg M50 Blue
Korg M50 Blue

This was totally unexpected, but yesterday I brought back a near mint Korg M50 Blue Edition Workstation from a used music shop nearby. The guy was practically giving it away for several reasons. First, one of the keys was not working. Second, the power jack on the back was cutting out a bit. Third, he didn’t know anything about it and thought it resembled a toy in looks and feel. He also thought there was a screen problem with the M50 because he noticed some vertical lines and felt the quality was not that great. Well duh! The Korg M50 is does not necessarily win any awards for build quality. Obviously I said I’ll take the piece of crap his hands, but first I wanted to test it out and hear out it played. UNBELIEVABLE!! Wow, the M50 can sing. I really was impressed with the EPs, Organs, and many of the drum kits which many had that Urban Rnb feel. I think I spent about 20 minutes playing the M50 and just couldn’t stop. What a sweet keyboard for fun and inspiration. I had heard extremely good reviews on the M50 but had never seen one around. I also liked the blue color and realized it was a limited edition M50. That made it more fun too.

So, I picked up the Blue M50 and took it home. When I got home I found soldering the power jack was an easy fix. I also found the problem with the broken key and fixed that as well. I researched the touch screen and found it to be normal for it to look slightly funny and not so crystal clear. I personally think it looks perfectly fine and there likely is nothing wrong with it. Everything else about the blue M50 is near mint condition. I played quite a few combis and programs noticing all looked well. The Korg M50 really plays superb and I must have spent several hours today nonstop performing with it. Changing voices, drum beats, etc was a snap and it was extremely fun to create new beats with the sequencer and dual arps. I have a Korg Triton Classic and Rack so I’m pretty familiar with the Korg side of doing things. I also don’t miss at all a sampler. I have my Roland Fantom X7 and XR for that and I personally like them the best for my purposes. The Korg M50 is just great for the M3 sounds, dual arps, RPPR, and sequencer. Polyphony is enough and the keyboard is ultra light. I also think the blue is a super cool color. I have too many black and silver, so blue fits nicely.

Overall I am very impressed with the all around great performance of the Korg M50. You do have to be careful of the build quality and I also find the keys to be actually pretty decent. For those that think they are bad, just check out the keys on the Roland Fantom Xa. Those are the absolute worst keys I have ever played. The Korg M50 keys are very similar to the Korg X50 which I also like. Someone mentioned once that they are actually quite fast keys, meaning you can do runs rather quickly. I would tend to agree. My only problem with the keys are that it’s difficult to play up close in between the keys. They don’t press down easily when doing sophisticated chords up top so that will take a tiny bit of practice getting use to. For funk and Neo-Soul which I like, the M50 works fantastic. In fact, I love Gospel music and think the Korg 50 would make a fine performance keyboard for that genre. It simply can cover all types of music and very well I must add. The Korg M50 is a very pleasant surprise.

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!

Yamaha DX7IID Programmable Synthesizer

Yamaha DX7IID Synthesizer
Yamaha DX7IID Synthesizer

Happy New Year!

Well my efforts were surely rewarded today! I visited my local used music shop hoping to find something new. I hadn’t visited for about 5 days due to New Year festivities here in Japan. I walked in and pretty much saw the same old stuff, but in the junk area I found a new ( old ) keyboard sitting on the second shelf that I hadn’t seen before. I ran over and took a look and to my surprise it was a Yamaha DX7IID in excellent condition for $60 including Yamaha hard shell case! [V1.6 87.04] I couldn’t believe after all the work on the DX-7 and the couple of years of frequenting the used shop that I would stumble upon a used DX7IID at this time.

So, I picked it up primarily because I had never owned one and also because I wanted to check out the Dual and Split functionality of the DX7IID. Since I’ve been dabbling in FM stuff I thought I should check it out. The price was good too. What a find!

The DX7IID is actually in very very good condition. There are no scratches, marks, or any problems of any kind with the exception of a “Change Battery” message I am getting. Everything sounds great so the battery is probably just starting to go. This week I’ll probably crack it open and solder a new battery in there with a holder. I suspect the price was lower due to the battery message the shop owner indicated. Plus anything older than the year 2000 he tends to throw in the junk section.

Other than that it was a stroke of luck to find a Yamaha DX7IID where I live in such nice condition. What timing!! Funny.

Note I’ll likely not install an E! board in this as I don’t think I will need one. It seems to have everything I would use in Stock form.

Also, while playing both this evening I found that older DX-7 to be a little warmer and fuller sounding. Yes, it’s a bit noisier, but with a noise gate attached to the DX-7 it actually sounds really nice. I need to get better sounds in the DX7IID and tweak it a bit, so it’s likely I’ll get comparable if not better sounds from it than the older DX-7. The DX7IID is definitely quieter and the dual/split is awesome!! Both are fun in different ways. The DX7IID is much cleaner, but that old 12bit grit in the DX-7 is super as well!

Boss RC-50 Synthesizer Loop Station

Boss Roland RC-50 RC50
Boss RC-50 Loop Station

Today I picked up a mint conditioned Boss RC-50 Loop Station at a nearby used music shop for $250. The only thing missing in the package was the CD-Rom and manual which is the reason why the salesman knocked off quite a bit from the original price. It’s amazing they do that because anyone can simply log onto the internet and find that information. They really reduce the price greatly no matter what’s missing it seems. Of course thats great for getting a reduced price on some nice music gear.

For a while I’ve had the urge to get a Boss RC-50. I’m a big fan of looping, originally with my guitar, but lately with sythesizers and keyboards. I’ve worked with the Boss RC-2, RC-20, Gibson Echoplex, Lexicon Jamman, and most recently the Digitech Jamman Solo. Both the Jamman Solo and Boss RC-50 are stereo. In Japan, the Boss RC-50 has always been very hard to find for anything except paying the retail price of $500. I figured when I saw this unit for half that I realized it was probably now or never.

The Boss RC-50 has lots of problems I’ve heard, namely with midi sync and any sort of tempo adjustment. With my experience using the Gibson Echoplex, I find that you most likely will have to use the Boss RC-50 as master in order to resolve most sync or midi issues. The ONLY looper I have ever used that worked flawlessly with midi sync as both slave or master was the Lexicon Jamman. The Lexicon Jamman is “the best” with regards to midi sync as far as I’m concerned. However, linking all my synthesizers up to midi is not what I am interested in right now.

The main reasons for acquiring the Boss RC-50 were several.

1. I like the fact that it’s stereo and that the sound quality is very good sonically.
2. I think the 24 minutes of loop/sample time is adequate for my live looping situations.
3. It’s relatively easy to transfer WAV files to/from the computer via USB.
4. Surprisingly, the footprint of this pedal board is smaller than expected. It’s not bad.
5. Using the Boss RC-50 in multimode with three tracks playing simultaneously is fantastic and probably the main reason why I bought it.

With regards to midi and adjusting tempo, I don’t really need to worry about that. I also do not have any issues with timing when playing by myself or with others. I don’t know why, but I don’t seem to have timing issues in or outside a band like some people do.

Finally, I have heard great things about looping with Ableton Live. It’s probably the best way to loop “IF” you are into computers and are they type that doesn’t mind lugging your computer gear on stage and configuring it. Some people really have a system down. I am old school perhaps and I also work everyday with computers on the job, so I prefer to work with dedicated hardware at the moment. I don’t deny though that Ableton is likely the best solution if you want a ton of looping features. The Gibson Echoplex is great too by the way if you can still find one. It’s a mono looper though.

For small footprint guitar pedals, the Digitech Jamman Solo and Boss RC-2 Looper are great devices. I have both and they are great tools. I haven’t tried the Line6 M9 or M13, but I’ve heard they are great basic loopers as well. Roland I noticed has a countdown happening on their website, so maybe we’ll see an update to the Roland Looper line within the year or early next. For now though, I’m having a blast with the Boss RC-50 Loop Station with my Synth and keyboard gear. It’s easy to loop a quick drum track and throw a bass line on top of that. Then it’s great fun to kick in with a rhodes sound and practice away.

I practice a lot of jazz, funk, rnb, and gospel progressions on the keys, so it’s fun to lay down a groove to practice my chords, runs, and movements with each style. While sequencing is certainly possible, I sometimes just prefer to loop sections using the Boss RC-50 now and jam on that for a while. I can also save the WAV phrase files for later if I happen to like the groove and wish to develop it further into a song. It’s great fun.

What’s your favorite looper?

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Roland W-30 Music Workstation Found!

Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation
Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation

Yesterday I picked up a “mint” condition Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation from a used audio shop here in Nagano City, Japan. The W30 was in mint condition with all the manuals, system disks, and sounds disks. Not only that but the manuals and disks were practically not even used as they were in pristine condition…amazing! Also included was the KW30 SCSI kit manual and floppy disk. Inside the chip was indeed installed. A case was also included. The entire package I bought for $80 which I thought was a great deal considering the KW30 chip was installed with all accessories. The manuals were in Japanese of course, but I can read Japanese so no problem there.

At home I was able to scrounge up an old 4.36GB SCSI hard disk which I was able to connect and sure enough, the Roland W-30 was able to communicate with the HD. I then was able to format the HD which took about 30 minutes and it indeed formatted to max capacity of 80MB. I then tested saving and loading various sounds and everything worked very well. I also tested an IOMEGA 250MB Zip drive with a 100MB zip disk and the Roland W-30 would not communicate with it at all. Some have had success with the Iomega Zip 250 drive, but from my experience it doesn’t work. I saw a Fujitsu 100MB SCSI Zip drive at the same used audio store for $5 bucks so I’ll probably pick that up for testing. I’ve heard that SCSI 100MB Zip drives will work fine.

The Roland W-30 boots fine with the Floppy Drive, but since I had the Hard Disk working I thought I would try to boot from the HD. This did not work despite following all sorts of instructions and trying different methods. After research and testing, it appears I need to find a different HD that can boot the W-30. Although my HD works for saving and loading sounds, it does not work as a boot drive.

I also was successfully able to tape the left hole of High Density Floppy Disks and format them as DD disks without any problems using Windows 7 Professional. I used the Sdiskw software to then load and create sound images from sources on the internet. I was able to establish a very simple workflow to transfer soundsets found on the internet to the Roland W-30 using the Sdiskw software. The only issue however is that I have yet to find a way to load and transfer WAV files. Most likely though I will simply sample directly using the inputs of the Roland W-30. The computer drives me crazy with regards to music and so far the Roland W-30 has been very simple to work with on it’s own.

Why did I buy it? The price was a bargain for this popular 1989 Keyboard Workstation. The sound is really ( I mean really ) good with the right samples and their is some functionality you can’t get on some of the newer samplers to date. For my purposes, the Roland W-30 is a real gem. For example I found a great Hammond Sample today and it was a blast playing that on the Roland W-30. Yes, the memory is limited, but honestly if I want backtracks I just use my SP-606, Roland X Series, or Korg Triton to do that. I basically wanted a keyboard that I could sample sound bites and then have fun editing and playing them expressively on the keys. There is so much you can do with the keyboard, sequencer, and editing functions.

The Roland W-30 is such a joy to play. Everything on my W30 works flawlessly and the condition is mind boggling. Somebody must have just locked this up in their closet for the past 20 years. Japan is such a great place to find used vintage gear I must say.

As I discover new uses and techniques for the Roland W-30, I’ll be sure to post comments to follow-up this article. Right now I would like to find a Hard Disk to book the Roland W-30. I would also like to have a Zip drive that works as well. With that said though I do have an HD that is saving and loading sounds. Plus my Floppy drive works great with the possibility that I might pick up a backup drive from Route66. I also would like to find a work flow for loading my own wav files from the computer, but for now I’ll just record direct. That should suffice for now and it might even be the best and fastest way to do things.

Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to comment or email if you have any specific questions about the Roland W-30 Music Sampler Workstation. I am so glad I bought it!

Does the SD Card HxC Floppy Emulator work on the Roland S-330 and W-30 Samplers?

Roland S-330 – YES!
Roland W-30 – YES!

Check out Synth Japan forums for more discussions.