"I do believe most of the output of the American plastics industry goes into cheese," English business writer John Michael Allsopp remarked to me in Miami Beach last November while holding a floppy yellow sheet that, if of larger dimension, would have made an excellent pad for a set of drums.
Well, in recent years, more American plastic has been going into basses and guitars. There have long been cheap plastic guitars, instruments that bore no more resemblance to their non-plastic models than American cheese resembles English Stilton, but recent plastic basses and guitars have been top quality instruments.
One of the most successful has been the Steinberger bass, which was introduced two years ago by Ned Steinberger. Now his firm has introduced a new design, Model L-2/5 five-string bass. Like its four-string predecessor (see review E&MM, July, 1982) it is made of epoxy resin reinforced with graphite and glass fibre. (Traditionally, many cheap plastic guitars and basses have used acrylic resin which produces a body that has a striking glass-like transparency but offers poor acoustic properties).
The five-string can be strung in either low B or high C tuning without risk of bending or warping, according to Steinberger, and will take double ball-end strings for instant changing, as well as conventional strings. It is equipped with two low-impedance pickups, the Steinberger pivot plate and a snap-on leg-rest for playing comfort. All these features are contained within the dimensions of a standard bass neck.
An alternate model, the L-2/5A, is equipped with Active Equalisation and has controls for volume, pan, treble boost/cut and bass boost/cut.
The Steinberger bass' appearance is unique because the neck appears to have been chopped off since the tuning machinery is at the body end of the instrument. This made it possible to increase the mass and rigidity of the neck area to improve the sound yet avoid having an instrument that is neck-heavy and off-balance. Accurate tuning is accomplished by means of a simple, threaded rod and knob which cannot accidentally de-tune.
Last January, the original Steinberger bass, which has been played by bassists with the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Cars, The Dregs, Prime Time and Miles Davis, received the Society of the Plastics Industry's blue ribbon award in the consumer market category. The same month it won Time magazine's Best of 1981 Industrial Design award.
The SPI award praised the use of epoxy resin reinforced with glass and graphite fibres which, the awards committee said, "gets the credit for the guitar's improved harmonics and acoustic dynamics, not to mention its light weight and innovative design."
Last year it won the Industrial Designers Society of America's Industrial Design Excellence Award which noted that the bass did not "imitate the look, feel and sound of its acoustic parent."
More traditional electric instruments are the Les Paul, Stratocaster and Flying V guitars. But as produced by Phased Systems, they are two-thirds size, the Series II, and three-fourth size, Series III, versions. The mini Les Pauls have a single pickup and single volume and tone controls. The Strat has two single coil pickups, a single volume control, a single tone control and a three-way switch. The Flying V has a single pick up and volume control. Suggested prices start at $195 for Series II and $229 for Series III instruments.
New materials, as well as electronics, have been coming to the percussion field, as well as to stringed instruments, as was underlined at last June's National Association of Music Merchants Expo in Atlanta.
A built-in micro computer enables even beginners to achieve professional-like sounds on the compact Synsonics Drums, introduced by Mattel Electronics. They can be plugged into an instrument amplifier or home stereo system. And, powered by batteries, they can be taken and played anywhere. A headphone attachment even makes it possible to not disturb anyone else.
Synsonics Drums features four drum pads arranged like a real drum set — snare, tom tom, cymbal and bass drum. They are played by either striking four pressure-sensitive pads with hands, fingers or drumsticks or by pressing individual control buttons, three for each drum. The drums can be tuned, the cymbal's sounds changed and a programmable record mode makes it possible to play back drum patterns individually, blended in sequence or layered indefinitely.
A new set of wood drums, the Gato Drum, has been introduced by S. E. Overton Co. They are all wood with mahogany tops, a clear redwood sound chamber and a hand-rubbed furniture oil finish.
Hand-rubbed oiled woods also are used for Camber U.S.A.'s new temple blocks, the Quintet. The system is comprised of five tone chambers of mahogany, oak and maple that fit any conventional accessory or cymbal stand.
Meanwhile the sounds and programs available to keyboardists has been expanded with the introduction of a new digital, polyphonic synthesiser from Moog Music and the improvement of an existing one by Kinetic-Sound.
Kinetic-Sound's the Prism, which was first described in these pages last December, has a new flexible 8-track, 8,000-note sequencer that enables a performer to record up to eight different passages on different tracks and then, if desired, play back any or all of them at entirely different speeds. Track transposition and tempo change are totally independent of each other. A recorded passage can be played back as any of eight instruments. And the playback speed can vary from 25 per cent to 400 per cent of recorded speed without pitch or timbre change.
Tracks can also be edited note-by-note and mixed together to produce one perfectly balanced performance. Further, one or more tracks can be designated to automatically repeat completed passages. There is also a tempo cue that enables one to program an eight-pulse downbeat with time intervals from a tenth of a second to 10 seconds.
The improved digital bubble-memory offers built-in roadability with no moving parts to jam, break or become misaligned, no batteries that can fail, no floppy disks to get damaged or lost and no possibility of dirt or stray magnetism corrupting sounds.
The Prism, as before, has 24 voices, expandable to 40 and two five-octave, 61-note keyboards.
Moog's new Memorymoog is a six-voice programmable polyphonic synthesiser with each voice employing a signal path similar to the Minimoog. Each voice has three oscillators with adjustable and combinable waveforms routed through a mixer to the Moog filter. The filter and the voltage-controlled amplifier are each controlled by four-part contour generators.
The 61-note keyboard has several selectable keyboard modes that, depending on the mode selected, allow long notes to complete themselves uninterruptedly or let repeated notes be sounded by the same voice. The hold function memorizes a chord of up to six voices and enables that chord to be played by one key.
The Memorymoog has extensive voice modulation capabilities, several unique contour options and can store 75 patches or programs that can be recalled by entering the number of the program directly into the system controller. Further, 20 program chains of 10 programs each can be stored and recalled with a footswitch. Two programmable footpedal inputs can control pitch, filter cut-off frequency, modulation amount, sync sweep and volume.
Meanwhile, portable combo organs continue to add new features and sound capabilities.
Music Technology's new Crumar T3 organ features two four-octave manual C to C keyboards. Sounds available include organ, electronic piano and strings. The string section can have independent crescendos for each key depressed and has a built-in phase shifter which can be swept automatically or locked at any phase angle.
An assortment of pedals allows various sections of the T3 to come under pedal control. Multiple outlets let the player amplify each section separately, and a signal out function is also supplied for processing sounds through devices such as phase shifters, the Master's Touch wind controller and other devices.
Automatic accompaniment of bass, guitar and piano effects are supplied with the T3 and an optional rhythm accompaniment section whose sounds include cymbals is available.
The Crumar T3 lists here for $2,950 with the rhythm accompaniment unit and for $2,350 without it.
The number of battery-powered, mini-amps continues to grow. Kaman Music Distributors has just added a new battery-powered mini-amp to its Memphis line. The PS-200MB Memphis AC/DC mini-amp measures 7½ inches by 7¼ inches by 4 inches and weighs only 3¼ pounds. The unit has a 4 inch 8 watt speaker, separate volume and tone controls, high and low input jacks, a line out jack and a three-way switch — off, AC, DC. It operates on either eight AA batteries or 115 volt AC.
Small size also has come to mixers and Boss's new KM-04 Micro Mixer measures only 5 inches by 3½ inches by 1½ inches and weighs less than a pound. A support bar under it prevents it from being tipped over by the weight of the four input and one output plugs.
Each of the four inputs is varied by individual channel volume controls and the overall volume is varied by the master volume control. A peak level indicator warns of potential distortion causing conditions. The high input and output impedance make the KM-04, which carries a list price of $70, ideal for line mixing applications, multikeyboard use, drum miking and many other uses.
Manufacturers and Companies mentioned:
Boss Division, Roland Corp., (Contact Details)
Roland UK Ltd., (Contact Details).
Camber U.S.A., (Contact Details).
Kaman Music Distributors, (Contact Details).
Kinetic Sound, (Contact Details).
Mattel Electronics, (Contact Details).
Moog Music, (Contact Details) & (Contact Details).
Music Technology Inc., (Contact Details).
S.E. Overton Co., (Contact Details).
Paiste America Inc., (Contact Details).
Phased Systems, (Contact Details).
Rogers Drums, Fender/Rogers/Rhodes/Squier, (Contact Details) & CBS/Arbiter Ltd., (Contact Details)
Steinberger Sound Corp., (Contact Details) & Soundwave, (Contact Details).