Thursday, 3 December 2009

Juno 106 Sine Wave - Possible

I should start out by saying that my instructions in this video are not very clear at all, so I'll explain how to do it in more detail here.

First of all, make sure that all of the main DCO functions are muted, including the noise and sub sliders.

In the VCF section, turn the cutoff frequency right down and put the resonance right up. Set the KYBD (keyboard follow) slider to full and the LFO and ENV sliders to zero.

Make sure that VCO is set to gate, or if you want to use an envelope, set it so that the attack and release are at zero and the decay and sustain are at full.

Now, hold down middle C and gradually raise the filter frequency slider. The keyboard should begin to make a sound. Keep moving the slider up until the tone you hear is just below middle C. Lower the RES (resonance) slider slightly to sharpen the tone.

If you've done it right you should have a sine wave at roughly middle C. Check it against a tuner, or another keyboard.

It's not perfect, but it's a neat little trick. I said in the video that you could do "all kinds" with it - which in hindsight was a bit of an exaggeration. You can apply the LFO to it, or use the envelope to create Atari-like laser gun sounds. If you invert the envelope you get some pretty interesting sounds too.

Not sure if this works with other analogue synthesizers, I'd be interested in finding out if somebody's willing to try this.
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Thursday, 29 October 2009

Dark Clouds - Juno 106 Demo

This is a piece of music I started writing, based on two "moody" chords played on the Juno 106; Dsus4/G and Bbsus4/Eb. I created a patch using a very slow LFO to sweep the filter cutoff frequency up and down.

After playing those chords for a few days I decided to see what i could do with them. I added a simple drum beat using the Juno-G, and then added a pulsating bassline.

The photos are just some shots of the 106 from various angles.
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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Juno 106 and Microkorg XL

Just a quick and dirty demonstration of the two working together, alongside the Juno-G for drums and MIDI clocking.

This is a cover of "Enola Gay" by OMD, using the Juno for the lead lines and the Microkorg XL for the bass line (using the arpeggiator).

Recorded really quickly on a small digital camera.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Hohner Pianet T

In my last post I mentioned that I would be gettign a Hohner Pianet T

Well, it arrived on Wednesday, and I've been working on it ever since.

Most of the keys were in tune, though the action was a little off on most of them (probably happened in transit). A quick google search told me what I'd need to do to remedy the problems, and I've done what I can.

For those who don't know, a Pianet T is a type of electric piano, with a similar sound to a Fender Rhodes, although thinner. It works by holding a metal reed in tension until you press a key and release the reed. They are effectively plucked by a sticky rubber "hammer".

The metal strips with the copper coil round them are the pick-ups; each reed has it's own. They're passive, so there's no need for an external power supply.

The keyboard itself is quite portable in comparison to the Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, although it is still about 20 kilograms. I walked up from my house to my college with it on Thursday (a relatively short walk) and by the time I got there I was in agony. However, these are ideal for gigging if you have a car. Once I got it to college I plonked it on a table in the hallway and plugged it into a practice amp. An idiot could set one of these things up.

There are two main drawbacks to owning one of these over the bigger EPs; the first being the lack of a sustain pedal. This might not seem like a big deal, but it's surprising how much you want it when it's not there, especially for ballady numbers.

The second is that it has no tremolo effect, although you can add this with an effects pedal. I've got mine to sound great by running it through the Juno's MFX system, the tremolo chorus setting adds a lot of depth to the sound.

Overall I'm very pleased with this keyboard. Once it's tuned I'll start taking it out on the road, maybe do a few open mic nights with it.
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Monday, 5 October 2009

The Want List

Everyone has a list of gear they want, and usually a reason for wanting each item. I’m no exception; in fact my list is quite long. Here’s a few items that I’m after, and why I want them.

Item: Yamaha CP-70/80

Chance of getting one: Slim to None


Well for starters, I’ve always admired the sound of them. Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel (of Genesis fame) have all used them effectively, and it’s become one of the piano sounds I hear on a regular basis. It’s close to a real piano, as it’s actually a miniature grand piano with a set of pickups, although the strings are shorter and there are fewer of them, so it can sound a little thin and “clunky” towards the bottom end. I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if I never got one, but it’d be nice to get one in the future.

Item: Minimoog

Chance of getting one: Slim if it’s an original, though I might be able to afford one of the modern models sometime in the future.


There have been hundreds of imitators, hardware and software, but nothing can come close to the original. One little instrument had a huge effect on so many areas of music. Whether it’s prog rock or 1990s electronic music, this little keyboard has added new dimensions to the music.

Item: Hohner Pianet T

Chance of getting one: Likely, they appear on eBay from time to time at reasonable prices, and I saw one at a car boot sale not too long ago.


A lightweight electric piano, with a mellow bell sound that is similar to (though not as expressive or rounded as) the Rhodes. I like the tone of the instrument, and having a portable EP would be handy. While my Juno does the Rhodes and Wurly fairly well, and it is portable, it doesn’t recreate the feel of them (I’ve played both, but that’s a story for another day). These things never really had any impact on the recorded/pro music market, but they’re a great introduction to electro-mechanical instruments, and they’re a fraction of the price of a Rhodes or Wurly.


Since writing that I’ve managed to get a hold of one. It’ll be arriving sometime this week, and I’ll get a video up as soon as I can of it in action – provided it doesn’t need a great deal doing to it.

Item: Roland Jupiter 8

Chance of getting one: Slim


Over the first half of 2009 I worked with a Juno 6 in college (we used it on several songs for our end of year show – an 80s themed gig) and I got to love it – even if it did have a few problems. I liked the sounds I could get out of it, but I wasn’t keen on the fact that it had no patch memory. Sure, the Juno 60 came along and added that functionality, but after hearing the Jupiter in action I decided I’d rather try to find one. They’re much more versatile, and have a much more complex sound to them (I liked the Juno, but it was quite a simple machine really). The pads you can create with these things are great, even if they are a bit of a cliché.

Item: Roland TR-808

Chance of getting one: Slim to none, considering their popularity with electronic acts.


I’m not a huge hip-hop fan, nor am I desperately into electronica, but the TR-808’s distinctly synthetic sound has always interested me. I’ve used samples of them before, but it’s just not the same as the real thing, mainly because every element of each sound can be changed, and getting samples of every individual setting is very difficult. I’ve not got my heart set on one, but it’d be nice to have, especially for my forays into electronic music.

Item: ARP Pro Soloist

Chance of getting one: slim to none – I’ve never seen one come up for sale, and I’ve been looking for a long time.


Well this is an easy one – I want to have THE Genesis synth! This was the first synth keyboard Tony Banks used with the band, and it was used on such classics as “The Cinema Show” and “In The Cage”. It might only be a preset keyboard, but it had aftertouch (the ability to modify a property of the note, such as its pitch, simply by changing the amount of pressure you apply to the key) – something that was revolutionary at the time.

* * *

I promise there will be more videos coming soon, I have a few in the works, but college has started up, so I have less time on my hands. I have some new gear that I’ll be talking about, as well as a proper VSS-200 tutorial, and a review of the TX-802.
Keep checking back!

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Effects and Processing

Attention - The file hosting service I used for the mp3s below has removed the files for some reason, so until I find them and re-upload them the players won't work. Sorry folks =(

Half the fun of playing the keyboards for me is tweaking and developing new sounds. There are several areas to this, from subtractive synthesis to the creative use of sampling. There is one area that can be applied to any area of music, not just keyboards and synthesisers, and this area was probably the first to interest me; signal processing.

There are any number of ways to process a signal these days; there are traditional effects pedals, generally used by (although not exclusive to) guitarists, rack-mounted DSP hardware, software plug-ins and electro-mechanical devices (such as a plate reverb, or a Leslie rotating speaker) to name a few.

There are three in particular that I have found useful lately. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you some idea of what kind of things you can do.

Delay is commonly used in many areas of music, from automatic double tracking of vocals to The Edge's famous guitar sound. Using my Juno-G's on-board MFX system I've been able to produce various different types of delays, but my favourite is this.

What I've done there is used a multi-tap delay to create that "bouncing" sound, using an electric piano sound as the starting point. I've found it especially effective when used in the background of a mix.

Phasing is useful for creating very spacey sounds, adding movement to a sound. It can be applied to almost anything, from vocals through to drums. Jean Michel Jarre used an Electro Harmonix Small Stone phaser in conjunction with his Eminent 310 to create a sound not unlike the one below.

I've used samples from an Eminent 310 and phased them with a software plug-in. The principle is the same, although purists will tell you that it's not as good as the real thing. When it comes down to it though, there are some damn good free plug-ins on the internet, and if used correctly they can produce some stunning sounds.

Wah-wah is an effect that increases or decreases the filter cutoff frequency, either by means of a pedal, or by following an LFO or envelope (in the case of auto-wah). The effect is so called because it is designed to mimic the human voice. It is used a lot by guitarists, but has also been used with electric pianos and synthesisers.

It's particularly effective when used in Funk music, especially when iused with an electric piano or a clavinet.
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Friday, 21 August 2009

Vocoding a Drum Machine

Using Cubase's vocoder to modulate my Juno-G's internal drum machine onto the TX802. I used a handy little plug-in called Elottronix to keep the loop going.

I like this effect, it's an unusual way of slicing a synth. Depending on the drum loop used, and the drum samples played you can achieve many different effects and sounds.

I'll post the instructions for how to set up the vocoder and the loop in Cubase next week. It's very simple, but the instructions in the video are a bit vague.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Yamaha VSS-200

Let me start by taking you back, way back, to the beginning of my synthesizing career. As a child I was given a Yamaha VSS-200 sampling keyboard - one of the fantastic but basic PortaSound range. I loved it, it was new and exciting. The onboard sounds are generated using FM synthesis, the same method used by the Yamaha DX7 and it's successors, although this little synth sounds nothing like it's big brothers. It lacks any form of FM programming, the patches are badly written and there's not even a sniff of MIDI.
I didn't care about realism though, I wanted weird sound effects and harsh buzzing sounds. I didn't care that the keys were the size of matchsticks, or that the internal speakers were tinny and harsh. What impressed me the most about this tiny little thing was that if you pressed a little red button near the top, you could record a snippet of sound using the attached microphone. You could then apply a whole host of effects to it and play it back using the keyboard. The overwrite function was useful too, I spent hours as a child making formula 1 noises into the mic and creating layers of sound. Ah happy days...

Sadly, while moving back from South Africa to the UK, my beloved VSS was broken. I was gutted, nothing could replace it. The sampling feature alone seemed to be unique to it (not a single one of the Yamaha keyboards I came across while looking for a replacement had the feature, and the Casio SK1 was unknown to me).

Years later I was online and I stumbled across a familiar looking keyboard. Someone had circuit-bent a VSS-200 and were selling it on ebay for £70. I was ecstatic, i finally knew what i was looking for. Every so often I checked eBay but nothing came up. Eventually I found an advert in a local newspaper for one and responded quickly. My second VSS wasn't in great nick, the speakers didn't work, there was a broken key and some of the buttons didn't work. After a bit of cleaning and soldering though, it emerged almost as good as new.

About a week later I was trawling eBay and I found another VSS, also not working. I bought it, and upon getting it home I discovered that all it needed was to have the speakers re-soldered to the main board. This one was in even better condition. The keys were whiter and intact, the speakers sounded fresher, the buttons didn't stick and the microphone sounded less fuzzy.

I have them both, and I have gigged with them both at one time or another, just to prove they were up to it I suppose. One of them became somewhat well known when I sampled my lecturer's voice and played tunes with it.

So there you have it! While it's not the most technically advanced synthesizer/sampler out there (1.9 seconds of 8-bit audio is hardly luxury), the VSS-200 will always be special to me. It's the keyboard I first began to learn on, and it's unique sampling capabilities even have their uses today, 21 years after it was first released.

Just a quick note, I wrote the VSS-200's Wikipedia article, which can be found HERE
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Let me introduce myself...

Hello keyboard fans!

My name is Matthew Harrison, I'm (currently) 19, living and studying in Durham, England. I'm a massive fan of progressive rock, and everything to do with keyboards. I've grown up with three passions; technology, old stuff and music. I'm a big computer geek, I love fiddling on and seeing what I can make my machines do next. As a child I took things to pieces to see how they worked, and build new things from things that didn't work. I love old technology too, I have a big record collection, and plenty of gadgets from the past lying around my flat. Some of these things happen to be keyboards, or things relating to them.

When I was a child, I heard Pink Floyd's masterpiece "Wish You Were Here". I vividly remember hearing the opening passage of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and thinking to myself "I want to make those noises". The drone of the ARP string ensemble was mesmerising, completely different from anything else I'd ever heard before. Not long after I was presented with a toy keyboard, and then a Yamaha VSS-200. Before long I'd taught myself how to play some simple songs, and was picking up snippets of tunes by ear.

Since then my tastes have expanded beyond Pink Floyd, and the technology I have access to has increased in complexity. I don't have my original VSS-200, but I have two others, as well as a Roland Juno-G, a Yamaha TX-802 tone generator and a Roland F-100 digital piano, not to mention the stacks of VSTs and samples I have access to. This blog will cover what I have been able to do with those instruments and software, as well as talking about the music and musicians who have inspired me, keyboardists or otherwise. It's basically a palce for me to ramble on about my somewhat geeky hobby, and if anyone happens to read it then so much the better!

I aim to be posting twice a month. Sometimes it'll be more, sometimes it'll be less. I have a few things lined up for the future though, so there should be plenty of activity.

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