Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver "Will You Evolve?" ad, Keyboard 2002

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver "Will You Evolve?" colour advertisement on page 128 from the September 2002 issue of Keyboard magazine.

So recently, I happened to be doing some historical research for a totally different synthesizer company and came across some of Dave Smith Instruments early synth ads. I decided to file them away in the back of my mind (and my excel spreadsheet) to blog about later. Probably when the ads had aged another five years or so.

Then, just today (I'm writing this on April 4), Dave Smith Instruments announced on their Facebook page that this year marks it's 15th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, they are asking users to send in a photo of their first DSI instrument along with a short story. Now, I have a great DSI Evolver story, but I'm saving that ditty to send in to them to hopefully win some sweet DSI swag.

Anyways, now throw those two coincidences in with my recent and totally unrelated Sequential Circuits Prophet-15 April Fools Day post and it's looking like Fate is punching me in the face.

Why fight it?

And so here we have it. Dave Smith's FIRST advertisement in Keyboard Magazine under the DSI banner.


What a humble new beginning for such a synth giant. It's a small advertisement - that's for sure - measuring in at only 2.5" x 2.25". Understandably it doesn't have the room to say a lot about the Evolver.
  • Real analog synthesis
  • Stereo processing
  • 16 x 4 sequencer
The Evolver does a lot more, but the bullet points provide a good insight into what DSI probably thought would differentiate itself from other gear at the time and/or what users in 2002 would probably gravitate to.

And that tagline - "Synthesis with attitude" is perfect.  The Evolver has *tons* of attitude.

But to me, the most interesting thing about this ad was its location in Keyboard.

Unlike many of the Sequential Circuits advertisements that came before it, the Evolver wasn't being introduced to readers through a large two-page centrefold spread. This little guy was tucked into the classifieds section of Keyboard (see right). It's clear that precious marketing dollars weren't being spent on advertising in these early early days. And, it was probably the right move since from a PR perspective, his name alone would have opened a lot of doors and created some good exposure through earned media. Better to spend those dollars elsewhere like trade shows.

In fact, if I recall correctly, it wasn't these early ads that led me purchase an Evolver so early on. It was word of mouth as news of Dave Smith's return slowly spread across the Web.

Yup - his name sold me on that synth. Sure, it was also the features of the Evolver, but back in 2002 it felt like a big risk for me to buy a synth off a Web site from another country.

His name sealed that deal.  Grass roots all the way!

(and nope - I'm not being paid in any way to promote DSI's contest or anything else)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sequential Circuits Prophet-15 spec sheet, 1980

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-15 spec sheet from 1980.

Dang! There are few things I like more than a good ol' fashion spec sheet. And this one takes its rightful place as leader of the Prophets - specifically the Prophet-5 and Prophet-10. I posted those spec sheets just a little while back.

There's no date on the actual spec sheet, but I'm guessing its from around 1980 since a Prophet-15 "Three Prophets are better than one!" advertisement appeared in the April 1980 issue of Keyboard Magazine (right). It caused quite a stir in the letter section of the May and June issues as musician unions were worried that each Prophet-15 would replace three musicians in studios and at live events.  That worry was soon put to bed as few non-unionized musicians arms were long enough to reach the top controls on the front panel of the Prophet-15.

The SCI Prophet-15 is the type of mythical beast that no one has ever played on, but everyone talks about how they *know a guy who knows a guy* that's played on one. Heck, there are at least three people on GearSlutz that have said they've seen one gathering dust in the back of the rental department at the Long and McQuade music store in Regina, Saskatchewan. But apparently the rental/tech guy won't let anyone touch it until Dave Smith's personal tech has tuned it up so he can put it back into rental circulation. And the hype around the Prophet-15 on GearSluts recently became so intense that Uli Behringer had to put out an official announcement that he wouldn't be cloning this particular piece, leading to multiple synth memes to appear on Facebook both defending and attacking the decision.

The SCI Prophet-15 is built on the same tech as its younger sibling - the dual keyboard Prophet-10 - adding a third keyboard as well as an additional five sweet sweet voices. And it was those extra voices that Jimmy "Triple Ace" Douglas was looking for when he produced Star Cruiser's third album "Super Prism". He brings up the Prophet-15 in particular during an interview that appeared in the April 1980 issue of Synthesizers For Fun and Profit magazine.
"I had the Prophet-15 shipped to the studio halfway through the production of the Star Cruiser album. It was at great expense - the thing weighs a ton. But we needed a particularly complicated twinkly sound behind the main rhythm of 'That's not a gun in my pocket', and I knew it would take three different parts from the Prophet to really bring that song together.    Mission accomplished." 
According to synth expert Marcus Vole's book My Favourite Vintage Synthesizers and How To Identify Them, the Prophet-15 kept pace with the Prophet-10's production figures with as many as 11 units being sold to larger studios in the US and Europe, as well as to one community college in northern Saskatchewan that filed for bankruptcy soon after due to the large debt incurred through its unauthorized purchase by a young Star Cruiser fan that worked in the purchasing department. I'm guessing that's how one of these rare beasts turned up at that Long and McQuade in Regina.

The jump in synthesizer technology that came about with the Prophet-15 created a domino effect in the synthesizer manufacturing industry, as Roland soon after announced plans for their three-keyboard Jupiter 24, and Korg quickly debuted their Poly-18.

To this day, scientists at Yamaha are still working on their fully analog three-mini-keyboard CS-03.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Rivera Music Services (RMS) "The RMS Modified Minimoog" brochure, 1981

Rivera Music Services "The RMS Modified Minimoog" brochure from approximately 1981.

It takes a fair bit of equal parts motivation and curiosity to get me to sit down and write a blog post lately, and I gotta say the perfect storm happened recently. Motivation came in the form of alcohol, while curiosity came from last year's reissue of the iconic Minimoog and the recent urge to get my own '80s Minimoog modified.

And so, meet one of the original mod'sters of the synth world - Rivera Music Services out of Boston. They modded a few different synths in the late 70s and early 80s, and some of their most well known surgical procedures were done on the one and only Minimoog.

This brochure provides a great "wish-list" for anyone wanting to get their Minimoog modified, and theoretically, if the innards of the old and new Minis are close enough, any mods listed here should be able to get done on your brand new re-issue'd Minimoog as well. But - I have no data to back up this claim - just musing is all.

But evidence of this claim comes from the new Minimoog itself. It appears at least one similar modification was already included in the new reissue - the addition of a dedicated LFO (called LFO 4 in this RMS brochure). Nice!

Before I go any further into specifics on the RMS mods, I just gotta say something about the brochure itself. And in particular, about the folding used.

The 10 page brochure uses a double gate fold, but because of the extra page (five "pages" a side), one side of the gate has to have an extra fold to make it work. That way, when the brochure is fully closed for mailing, the photo of the modded Minimoog appears on the front (page 4) and the address label appears on the back (page 3).

Then, when someone received the brochure in the mail and opened it,  page 5 ("Introduction" page) and page 2 ("In summary/A special note") would have been the first "inside" pages they saw. Flipping it out the rest of the way (one flip on the left and two flips on the right) then reveals all the details of the mods that are written on side two of the brochure.

Mind blown!

It's an interesting fold and a designer would definitely have had to have known their folding options to make it work properly. Kudos!

Okay, enough about the folding. Let's get to the meat of this brochure. As stated earlier, the brochure provides a great overview of the main mods available for the Minimoog.

RMS divided their mods into four categories - with a page devoted to each. All mods are available individually as well, as priced out on the last page of the side two.

Curiously, the first category is best described as other mods - or as RMS refers to them "In a class by themselves...". These mods include:
  • Fine Tune control  - with no backlash (ie: there is no tuning drift when your hand lets go of the knob)
  • LFO 4
  • Keyboard Multiple/Single Trigger Select (allowing the CG to fire whether or not the previous key is lifted)
The second category are referred to as "Tuning" mods that all directly affect the turning of the oscillators in unison or separately.
  • Chromatic Transposition
  • Beat tune (visually tune your Minimoog while the band is playing)
  • Dead band on pitch wheel - increasing the "dead" zone in the middle of pitch wheel. 
The third set are referred to as "New Sounds" mods, that are designed to "increase the timbre range of the Mini by providing new modulation and control capabilities.
  • Sync for Osc 2 and 3
  • Contour control for Osc 2 and 3 - apparently super cool for drum sounds
  • Pre-amp mod - produces a unique type of distortion similar to a ring modulation
  • Distortion - a "cleaner and smoother" distortion than the pre-amp mod
Finally, the forth set of mods fall under the "Interface" category, providing even more unique functionality.
  • External control voltage assignment (control each Osc individually!)
  • Individual outputs for Oscillator 1, 2 & 3, and filter (Wowza!)
  • Keyboard control voltage and gate outputs
  • V-trig input jack - so your Roland sequencer can now control your Minimoog WITHOUT an s-trig converter - sweet!
That is some dang good history hiding out in those pages! Definitely take the time to read through the brochure for more info on the mods. And keep reading, because the best was yet to come - the price list!


When reading the prices, remember that these mods are in 1980s dollars. The "full package" was originally priced at $1,087.95 - or about $3,150 in today's dollars.

Costly. Maybe. Worth it. Definitely.

And I have other docs that show these weren't the only Minimoog mods RMS provided.  So lots more to come from RMS shortly. And by shortly, I'm hoping in less that four months...  :)

So, who has the guts to attempt these mods to their new Minimoog? Or have you already? Let me know!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Passport Designs Soundchaser "Bring your computer to your senses..." ad, Keyboard 1981

Passport Designs Soundchaser "Bring your computer to your senses..." 1/4 page black and white advertisement from the bottom left side of page 13 in the August 1981 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

This ad may be small, but its deadly. It represents a key turning point in technology that spelled out the slow beginning of the end of the Fairlight era.This is one of the earliest, if not *the* earliest, Soundchaser ad to appear in Keyboard magazine.  Every new company has to start somewhere and this one started with a 1/4 page black and white ad with some of the smallest text around. I had to take out my reading glasses to get a good look.

If you follow me on Twitter,  you may know that I'm a bit infatuated with older computers and software sequencers. Atari 520/1040 ST and Commodore 64 in particular, and Amiga hardware and software have also been floating my boat a little bit.

When curiosity took over and I decided to take a look back in the magazines and get a better idea of what was happening at the beginning of the home computer-studio revolution, I suddenly found myself deep in pre-MIDI-land. What became interesting to me was the time period when systems that used relatively cheaper home computers started to steal turf from larger systems that used proprietary hardware.

Sure, keyboards that piggybacked on home computers still cost a lot back in 1981 - you did need to buy the home computer as well - but, they were still way under those larger systems that relied on what I presume was custom hardware.

According to Roger Powell's July 1982 Keyboard article "Practical Synthesis - A Quick Tour of Digital Synthesizers, prices for larger custom systems were in the $15,000-50,000 price range. That includes systems like the Fairlight ($27,750), Prism ($49,000), Con Brio ADS 200 ($28,500) and Synclavier II ($13,750).

Now, compare that to home computer -ased systems and you begin to see my point.

This included set ups such as the Casheab Music System based around an S-100 computer ($6,000). That thing came with dual 5" drives, 5-octave keyboard and sequencing software. Already got the computer? No problem - you could get the two-board hardware for $1,095.

Side note: Yeah, I'd never heard of the S-100 computer either. According to the Web site "these computers were the first home computers people used before IBM-PC, Apple etc. computers existed." And about 20 manufacturers made these things by the thousands, including kits. Interesting stuff. 

Probably more familiar that the Casheab system is the Alpha Syntauri that was based around an Apple II home computer. The computer, with disk drives and CRT monitor cost $3,020. And then the keyboard, including interface card and eight-track software would run between $750 - $1495. The system used Mountain Computer's Apple II sound card (I think they ran about $350-400) to give the system a whopping 16-note polyphony.

And then of course, there was the Soundchaser system by Passport Designs - the subject of this ad. If you've been around long enough you might be familiar with Passport Designs. My first Apple IIe MIDI sequencer was Passport Design's Master Tracks Pro.  But one of their earliest products promoted in Keyboard Magazine was Soundchaser.

Like the Alpha Syntauri system, the Soundchaser system used an Apple II computer and according to this ad,included a 4 track sequencer. There was also Note-writing and education software packages available. The ad also gives us pricing - a single 3-voice card went for $1000, and their 6-voice (two cards?) for $1350.  The ad also states they created a Soundchaser package for the mountain computer sound card that I already mentioned above. Nice!

More on these systems in future posts!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Moog "The finest new Moogs you've ever seen" family ad, Keyboard 1982

Moog "The finest new Moogs you've ever seen" black & white advertisement including Memorymoog, Taurus II and DSC (Digital Sequential Controller) from page 55 in the January 1982 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Just in the process of filling in a few embarrassing holes in my early 80s Moog ads - and this is a big hole. 

It all started when I woke up the other morning and was reading the Synthesizer Freaks Facebook group. Someone had posted this Moog advertisement and I got excited to add my 2 cents because I recalled that it was actually the first in a pair of ads - the second "reveal" ad appearing in the following February issue. I went to the blog and found the second ad, but oddly, that post didn't reference the first ad. When I went too find this first ad it became apparent that I NEVER POSTED IT!!! What the heck?!?!

Well, fixed that! And glad I did. I enjoy this short series of ads a lot.

First, looking at the both side by side you can see they have that Wizard of Oz thing going on - first ad in black & white - second ad in colour. Like Moog has just dropped their new products onto the Wicked Witch of the West.

Next - the descriptions for the three hidden items make me drool as much now as it probably did when I read the ad the first time. Especially the low-cost pedal synthesizer with DETACHABLE electronics. Yum.

Also, the reference librarian in me likes any advertisement that specifically references other events occurring around the time the ad is published. In this case - Winter NAMM show, Booth #409, February 5-7. 

Well, happy to tie off that loose end!