Boot Fair Find: Yamaha SHS-10R MIDI Keytar

In November 2010 I wrote about my love for my old Yamaha SHS-10 MIDI Keytar.  A couple of days ago, I dragged the missus kicking and screaming from our warm bed into the cold West London air to a bus which took us to the first boot fair of the year.  Within a couple of minutes I was pretty glad I did.  I saw the familiar box standing end-on next to a wallpaper table covered in the usual boot fair tat (Wade Whimsies, VHS videos of ‘Friends’, fake Russell Athletic grey joggers … you know the sort of stuff).  The first thing I noticed about the SHS-10 box was that it was the red model, generally sold by Dixons back in 1987.  This was confirmed upon closer inspection by the ‘centenary sticker’ that adorned the box (Yamaha was founded in 1887, if you hadn’t already guessed).  Box was a little tatty and at first I wasn’t sure there was anything inside.  The stall holder was hovering over the box, devouring a bacon roll which I silently prayed wasn’t dripping everywhere.  It wasn’t.  I picked the box up and peered inside the slightly tatty box flap.  There it was, red and shiny.  No polys sadly, and no batteries or power adaptor rolling around.  No manual either.  I found the strap already outside the box which was a nice addition.  First thing I did, as I do with all battery-powered items is a) to check whether the battery door was in place and b) whether there was any battery corrosion inside.  Happy to report the door was present and correct, and there wasn’t even a speck of dust inside the battery compartment.  On closer inspection, the SHS-10R looked like it had hardly been used.  There were no scratches to the red part of the upper plastic body, the LED display wasn’t scratched, all slider caps were intact, as were all the rubber buttons, mod wheel and the two guitar strap lugs.

“Worked last time I tried it”, the owner told me.  “When was that?” I asked, “1988?”  (Curse my stupid mouth sometimes.  I do say inappropriate things).  He said it had been working reasonably recently, and went on to explain how his kid had outgrown it, and had lived in a box most of its life.  The manual and charger had been lost in the mists of time, and batteries had never been stored in it.  He had no batteries to hand to test it, but promised me it was working.  I wanted it.  Price, I wondered.  What the hell was this gonna cost me?  Another stall had a boxed Casio keyboard which the woman wanted £20 for.  I guessed the Yamaha would be a similar price.  “Five pounds” the man and his wife chorused when asked.  I deftly paid the woman in twenty pence pieces (we always take loads of change to boot fairs – stall holders love it).  The man thoughtfully offered a free black bin bag for transport and for rain protection.

Click the images for a bigger version

If you’ve not read my original review of the SHS-10, or have no intention of doing so, you can stop reading here because I’m going to bore you with some of the main details of it.  Most of the UK models were grey.  If you lived in Japan you’d probably get a black one.  The red one, as I explained earlier, were retailed by Dixons and a few other select outlets.

The SHS-10 has 32 mini keys and a pitch bend wheel at the end of the grip.  It was six-note poly with 25 built-in sounds.  A built-in speaker allowed you to annoy the family with the arse-clenching demo of Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’.  The biggest boon of the Yamaha was the inclusion of a MIDI Out port.  It meant you could connect another MIDI device to the SHS-10 and control it with the keytar.  There was a 1/4″ output too.

Drums could be transmitted on separate MIDI channels, which was quite a powerful feature.  An external drum machine, for example, could then play a backing.  MIDI Start and Stop, plus Tempo Sync could also be transmitted and picked up by an external sequencer.  Other features included: intro, fill-in and ending buttons for the rhythms and auto-chords, vibrato, portamento and sustain buttons, tempo, tuning and transpose buttons, chord sequencer with battery-back-up, but no editing.

Sounds ranged from ‘synthesizer’ through to ‘music box’ with offerings such as ‘piano’, ‘steel drum’ and ‘saxophone’ thrown in for good measure.  There were 25 preset rhythms too, from ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to ‘Fusion’, ‘Samba’ and ‘Fanfare’.  A large red 2-digit LED showed preset and program numbers, as well as tempo for rhythms.  The sounds were quite impressive for this FM device.

The SHS-10 (and its bigger and rarer brother, the SHS-200) was a circuit-benders’ dream.  More complex sounds could be produced by hard-wiring an 8-pole DIP switch to the YM2420 chip.

I’ve loved playing with the SHS-10 again.  Manuals for it can be found aplenty online in PDF format, or can be bought for about a tenner on eBay.

*UPDATE*

I managed to sell the SHS-10 for thirty times what I paid for it!

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Review: SAS-4As 4-Voice Poly Synthesizer for iPhone & iPod Touch

On one of my frequent trawls through the App Store, I came across this.  It’s one of three apps designed for Apple devices, the others being for the iPad.

Here’s the quick spec for you:

  • 4-Voice
  • 2 Oscillator
  • 24db/oct Low-Pass Filter
  • ADSR Filter
  • ADSR Amp
  • LFO
  • Auto Arpeggio
  • Delay
  • Mono/Poly Alt
  • 32 Programme
So, four-voice polyphonic with storage for 32 programmes.  Two oscillators per voice, and two ADSR Envelope Generators per voice.  Low Pass Filter with Noise Generator and Sample & Hold.  Just added are an auto-arpeggiator and a digital delay.
I’ll be honest and say that it makes some good noises, the controls are very useable, the keyboard is nice and responsive (as far as a phone display is responsive).  You can hold down a note (or notes) on the keyboard and slide left or right to move up or down the keyboard range.
There is a built in help-screen if you get stuck, which, frankly, you’re not likely to.  The colour scheme of the UI is pretty fetching, in a sort-of orange and grey Roland livery.  The digital sounds are very clear with no crackling (at least none that I perceived).
You get a pitch bend strip too, which is handy for mashing up high and low notes.  You can lock the keyboard too if you’re happy being restricted to one octave.  There is also a portamento function which is fully editable.
I must admit that the small number of sounds that come with the app are a little same-y, but you can fiddle about with them to your hearts’ content and save the result for mucking about later.
The scrollable Manual tells you what all the functions are, which is handy.
A brief review, yes, but I like it.  It’s cheap too – £1.19 in the UK, and well-worth a go, I’d say.  The developer has made a video demonstration too, which is a little twee to start, admittedly, but gets better.  iTunes link is HERE.

Music Profile: John Beagley *UPDATED 8/4/11*

You know how it is.  You’re sitting there on Facebook minding your own business, cringing at the number of dumb farm-related games people want you to play, when all of a sudden there’s a ray of light.  A kindred spirit of the synth world appears and says, “give my music a listen mate, will ya?”  And of course, I’m more than happy to.  Especially when I’ve listened to nothing much more than The Cure and Brian Eno for the last three years.

John Beagley is another lucky sod who appears to hail from London, or thereabouts.  Already gaining airplay in South Africa and Australia, John cites a Howard Jones influence which is why he contacted me.  The tracks on his ReverbNation page don’t have a pure Jones sound, which is good.  I found myself making notes of the six tracks.  ‘Conspiracy’, the last of the tracks, I thought sounded the most commercial and had a very good vocal.

Looking through John’s list of influences, I see a lot of artists that I’ve followed over the years, besides Mr Jones – Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, Human League and Jean-Michel Jarre to name a few, plus a few that I can see I’m going to have a few words with him about, namely John Lennon, INXS and U2.

The wonderful news is that John is a Mac user running Logic 9.  In the 90s he was part of the group ‘So It Is’, and at that time they had a fair number of synths, drum machines and rack-mount modules.  Sadly, the group disbanded after eleven years, and John himself stepped away from the music scene for a few years more.  In 2004 he was able to purchase a Yamaha AW16G 16-track hard disk recorder, a Korg N1 and a second-hand Boss DR-660 drum machine.  Sequencing came via Master Trax Pro running on Atari’s 1040ST.  One of those earlier tracks, ‘That Was Then … This Is Now’ appears on John’s SoundCloud site (see link below).

There’s the promise of an on-line and CD album this year, which is very good news.  On the back of the half-dozen tracks I’ve listened to so far, I’d say that it won’t be too long before John gains more airplay or is picked up by an independent label and given a deal.  His six songs have already received over 7700 plays, and his ReverbNation page has had over 4600 hits to date.

John Beagley’s ReverbNation Page

John’s YouTube Page

John’s SoundCloud Page

*UPDATE 8/4/11*

John’s new album, ‘Flying From a Hillside’ is available for download NOW via this LINK.

Found! PPG Wave 2.2 Synth Manual

It was big, it was heavy, it was mostly blue, and it had a nastier keyboard than an ARP Odyssey.  Yes, it was the PPG Wave 2.2!

I’ve just unearthed a PDF file of the original Owner’s Manual dating from 1982.  It’s not likely that many of us own one, but a lot of us DO own the VST of said product, and the manual could in some way help towards programming the soft synth we own – or at least get some interesting sounds out of it without relying on those hundreds of presets all the time.

Here it is.  Enjoy!  LINK

Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument) iOS App! *Update 22/10/11*

The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) is a digital sampling synthesizer. It was designed in 1979 by the founders of Fairlight, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, and based on a dual-6800 microprocessor computer designed by Tony Furse in Sydney, Australia. It rose to prominence in the early 1980s and competed in the market with the Synclavier from New England Digital.

The Fairlight CMI was very well built, assembled by hand with expensive components and consequently it was highly priced (around £20,000 for a Series I). Although later models, adjusting for inflation, were getting comparatively less expensive as the relevant technology was getting cheaper, competitors with similar performance and lower prices started to multiply. For some years the CMI was sought after by those who could afford one, but competition made life increasingly difficult for the company. Fairlight managed to survive until the mid-1980s, relying more and more heavily on its revered name and its products’ cult status for sales.

Fairlight went bankrupt a few years later owing to the expense of building the instruments – A$20,000 in components per unit. As a last-ditch attempt to salvage some revenue, the final run of machines were marketed as word processors. Peter Vogel said in 2005, “We were reliant on sales to pay the wages and it was a horrendously expensive business … Our sales were good right up to the last minute, but we just could not finance the expansion and the R&D.”

Vogel subsequently set up Fairlight ESP (Electric Sound and Picture), a company which sold the Fairlight MFX range of post-production audiovisual workstations. These were initially based on the CMI III, although later versions were entirely independent developments.  In August 2009, Peter Vogel launched a new company, also called Fairlight Instruments, with the objective of developing a ‘retro’ CMI-30A (30th Anniversary). This system is supposed to have the look and feel of the 1979 CMI but will use the latest ‘Crystal Core media engine’ developed by Fairlight.au.

And now, of course, there is an App for that!  The legendary Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument – in your pocket! Listen to the actual sounds used to create that instantly recognisable sound of the ’80s. With the Pro upgrade, compose music the way the major artists of the ’80s did: Alan Parsons, Brian Eno, Pet Shop Boys, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder and so many more.

APP SCREENSHOTS

Main Menu Page
Sample waveforms can be viewed in 3D by tilting your iOS device.
MIDI import screen (Pro Version ONLY)
Notation screen
Keyboard and waveform edit (editing in Pro Version ONLY)

The CMI’s Page R was the world’s first screen-based rhythm sequencer. Today every sampler, digital synthesizer, sequencer and audio workstation can trace its lineage back to this legendary machine. Now you can have, in your pocket or on your iPad, a piece of history developed by Fairlight staff who worked on the CMI in the ’80s.

BUILT-IN FEATURES

– browse and play the entire original Fairlight CMI IIX Sounds floppy disk library – 32 disks containing 564 voices.

– display voices graphically using the iconic Page D, and change your viewpoint by tipping your iPhone/iPad.

– play built-in Fairlight CMI Page R compositions.

– import and play Page R compositions and instrument collections sent to you by others.

– authentic Fairlight CMI user interface experience, including floppy disk sounds.

– on-screen music keyboard.

– use an external Core MIDI keyboard to play the CMI voices. (Note that the in-app page incorrectly says that this is a Pro feature.)

Worth noting that the basic App is £5.99. This version is quite limited, but it does let you play with a lot of original samples.  You can’t edit the sounds without going Pro.  If you want to upgrade to the full version, you’ll need to fork out £23.99, and here’s what you get for that:

UPGRADE to PRO VERSION

Use the in-App upgrade process to add these features for an additional £23.99:

– gain access to the CMI III voices library.

– create instrument sets that store settings for all 8 channels, including the voices, pitch shifts, volumes, release times etc.

– use Page R to create songs that can be used with any instrument set.

– use the on-screen keyboard or external MIDI keyboard to record new notes while your composition is playing (minimum iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch 3G or iPad recommended). Line6 MidiMobilizer and Akai SynthStation are supported.

– play back your masterpiece, essentially as it would sound on a real CMI!

– export MIDI files from Page R, with General MIDI instruments for each channel specified by you

– import MIDI files into Page R, with all the notes ready to be edited.

– import audio files to be used as voices in your instrument sets and compositions.

– send and receive songs and instrument sets by email.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve only gone for the budget version so far.  You’re gonna need some extra hardware to fully utilise the MIDI capabilities, which will probably mean purchasing the Camera Connection Kit from Apple.  But even the budget £5.99 version lets you play a lot of sample sounds.  As I stated earlier, the Pro version comes with a whole library, and you can edit the sounds and loops too.

Loader screen is accompanied by the grating noise from an old floppy drive!
Make sure you flick both those switches to the right, else you get smoke rising from the display!
VDU loader screen, again accompanied by grating disk drive sounds.
Some of those original Fairlight samples.
Some samples come with historical 'info' tabs. Nice touch.

There is a video that’s been put out by Fairlight.  I’ve watched it a couple of times, and it’s a bit ropey.  Doesn’t really show you all that the App does, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

*UPDATE 26/3/11*

I’m bloody famous, me!  Just found a link to this page on Fairlight’s Website!  Winner!!

*UPDATE 2 APRIL 11*

Fairlight has had an update to version 1.0.1

*UPDATE 22 October 2011*

App updated to work with iOS5.  Here’s a full list of new things:

Howard Jones: Free Music Book PDFs *UPDATE 6/11/2011*

Delighted to receive an email from Howard Jones this morning announcing that four of his music books have been made available for FREE download from his site.  You can get your hands on Human’s Lib, Dream Into Action, One To One and Cross That Line HERE.  From that link you’re also able to download FREE five tracks entitled ‘Music from HowardJones.com’, which includes:

1. Overture
2. Collective Heartbeat
3. I Don’t Hate You
4. No One Is To Blame (Rupert Hine 1985 Remix)
5. You’re The Buddha (Robbie Bronnimann Remix)

Some nice wallpapers and graphics are also available.  I’ve been a huge fan of Howard’s since the beginning of his career, and if you’ve not been previously introduced, I think now’s the time to check out his music.  A good place to start would be his website at www.howardjones.com

*UPDATE 22/3/2011*

Howard’s just updated the site to include the ‘Action Replay‘ music book and the music to ‘Like To Get To Know You Well‘ with the excellent suggestion of making donations to the Japan Earthquake appeal.

*UPDATE 6/11/2011*

Howard’s website has just had an overhaul.  You can order the new live DVD and look at lots of new photos.  It’s HERE.

Yamaha SHS-10 MIDI Keytar

Standard Grey SHS-10
Dixons Store Red SHS-10
Japan Black Edition SHS-10

I had a grey SHS-10 back in the late 80s and I adored it.  I found a boxed red one at a boot fair in 2002 for a pound and bit the seller’s hand off.  I seem to recall it made over £100 on eBay.

The plastic keytar was released by Yamaha in 1987.  The majority of them were grey, but Dixons exclusively sold the red ones.  There was a black version of it too, and I believe it was produced for the Japanese market.

The SHS-10 had 32 mini keys plus a pitch bend wheel at the end of the grip.  The FM synth had 25 built-in sounds, was six-note poly and had an internal speaker.  The big plus of the SHS-10 was the MIDI Out.  It meant you could plug the device into another MIDI unit and control that.

The drums could be transmitted on separate MIDI channels, which was quite a powerful feature.  An external drum machine, for example, could then play a backing.  MIDI start and stop plus tempo sync could also be transmitted and picked up by an external sequencer.  Other features included: intro, fill-in and ending buttons for the rhythms and auto-chords, vibrato, portamento and sustain buttons, tempo, tuning and transpose buttons, chord sequencer with battery-back-up, but no editing,

Sound ranged from ‘synthesizer’ through to ‘music box’ with offerings such as ‘piano’, ‘steel drum’ and ‘saxophone’ thrown in for good measure.  There were 25 preset rhythms too, from ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to ‘Fusion’, ‘Samba’ and ‘Fanfare’.  A large red 2-digit LED showed preset and program numbers, as well as tempo for rhythms.  The sounds were quite impressive for this FM device.  It was let down by the demo song – a rendition (sic) of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, which I present here:

Listen:  WHAM – LAST CHRISTMAS – YAMAHA SHS-10 DEMO TUNE

The SHS-10 (and its bigger, cheesier, nastier & rarer brother the SHS-200) was a circuit-benders’ dream.  More complex sounds could be produced by hard-wiring an 8-pole DIP switch to the YM2420 chip.

Download:  ORIGINAL MANUAL IN PDF FORMAT