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!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sequential Circuits Inc. Ear-Force enamel pin, approximately 1982

Sequential Circuits Inc. Ear-Force enamel pin from approximately 1982.

Okay - its been a while. And may be a while before I post again. Life is in progress. :)

But when I came across this pin I knew I just had to write a small post about it.

The pin is one of many Ear-Force promotional items that came about from the popularity of a series of ads that were designed by John Mattos, including the following (click on the images to read the corresponding blog posts and view larger version of the ads):


The design of the pin comes directly from the Ear-Force logo found in those ads - or two of them anyways. Of course, they had a much more limited pallet for the pin, so they went for a solid green, gold, and blue within the triangle imagery. I've put the two side by side below.

Although the Ear-Force ads ran mostly in 1981, I've dated the pin at approximately 1982. This is because the promotional items that followed the ads were promoted a bit later - like this one (see right) from the end of 1982. I've included a photo of the belt buckle in this post as well just for kicks. I'm guessing the pin was a promotional item given out at trade shows. Just a hunch.

I've never seen the posters in person, but have seen them lots online, mostly behind old and new photos of Sequential Circuits' founder Dave Smith. He is apparently more of a fan of John Mattos' SCI artwork than even I am.   :)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Aries Music Inc. AR-328 Stereo Reverb and Output module "Make some space for your sounds!" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1978

Aries Music Inc. AR-328 Stereo Reverb and Output module "Make some space for your sounds" 1/4-page black and white advertisement from page 46 in the March 1978 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

It's been almost three years since I've blogged about Aries and their ads. Too long.... too long...

As I've mentioned in the past, Aries ads fell into two main categories - general ads about Aries instruments and ads dedicated to the promotion of individual modules. Aries AR-328 reverb module is the second individual module from Aries to be promoted in Contemporary Keyboard magazine. The first module showed up in the magazine four months earlier in November 1977 and interestingly was also an effects module, labeled "a first of its kind" - a voltage-controllable phase/flange module. (see image right --->)

That first module-specific ad didn't really have too much to say, but this second AR-328 reverb module ad is another story - the ad copy, over time, has become historically interesting for a few reasons.

The first is that it directly mentions the designer of the module - Ron Rivera. According to several sources on the Web including former Aries employee Mark Styles in a "tell me more about Aries modulars" thread on Muff Wigglers, Ron "started doing modifications, and then went on to design some modules" for Aries.

Ken Perrin, commenting on an August 2006 MATRIXSYNTH auction post thread for what can only be described as a mutant ARP/Aries modular monster built by Rivera, said that "Ron Rivera worked at Arp and designed many of the later modules for the Aries Synthesizer. Ron's company was called Rivera Music Services (RMS) and in addition to designing the Aries modules Ron designed a series of modifications and enhancements to the Arp 2600 and the mini-Moog". Indeed, a few RMS ads popped up in Keyboard magazine in the early eighties.

So, that's kinda cool.

Another historical reference in the ad is for a company called O. C. Electronics. "2 Cascade spring delays by O. C. Electronics are included -- giving this the cleanest and most realistic reverb we have found anywhere." A quick Google search brought up some great info on the company.

Accu-Bell Sound Inc's Web site includes a highly information "History of Spring Reverberation" page that includes some great information on the formation of O.C. Electronics from the previously Hammond-owned Gibbs Manufacturing in Jansville, Wisconsin in 1971. When Hammond moved their reverb production to another facility [called Accutronics] "employees at Gibbs decided to start their own reverb manufacturing company called O.C. Electronics, giving Accutronics major competition in the reverb market."

According to the site, O.C. Electronics was known by many service technicians because "of the popular sticker attached to each of their units stating: Made by Beautiful Woman in Janesville, Wisconsin."

Sure enough, another quick Google search brings up this slightly uncomfortable label image from an discussion thread:

Apparently there are "beautiful girls" in Milton, Wisconsin too.

Its hard to make out the actual 238 module in the ad photo. So comes to the rescue with some great hi-res photos of theAR-328 module itself, including side views with the circuit board. The site's general Aries page is also very informative.

Interestingly, the O. C. Electronics label on the reverb unit itself  does NOT have the "beautiful girls" sticker.

Maybe someone finally figured that one out.

End note: Effects modules make fun modulars.

You'd think I would have figured that out sooner considering I've had my Moog Modular with its lovely spring reverb module for a few decades or more. But honestly, in the early days I hardly ever hooked the reverb up. I was young... naive... I usually just pulled the audio into my mixer dry and sent the signal off to an effects rack. 

What can I say - I was set in my ways.

But now with my Eurorack modular (27U and growing strong!) I've started appreciating the large number of effects modules out there and how they can fit into the signal and control flow of a patch. The Moog Modular reverb module has just two jacks - input and output. But today's units are so much more controllable and I find there is something satisfying about controlling effects using control voltages.

Time to get back to the modular.