They get smaller, they get cleverer and sometimes, as in the case of the CT310 they get cheaper. This is an economy version of the CT405 released last year alongside a couple of mini-keyboards incorporating similar ideas. If you didn't have sufficient akkers then, maybe you do now.
It's a full sized keyboard, based purposefully on Casio's fondness for automatic arpeggios, bass lines and chord accompaniment. But don't dismiss it as a spare synth for the home organist's bedroom. The auto bass lines can actually be inspiring, and are definitely entertaining, and there's a dozen eight-note polyphonic voice selections, most of which are sturdy, workmanlike sounds.
If one of the 'older' members of your family decides he MUST have some form of musical instrument in the front room to ga next to the gramophone, point him in this sort of direction. You'll get a worthwhile keyboard out of the deal and he'll stay happily locked away with the Eartha Kitt songbook.
The CT310 is finished in a light, metallic grey (silver, if you were feeling generous) and, slightly unusual for a device this size, runs from batteries... to be precise, six of those big, round ones which the Japanese like to refer to as Sum-2s. There's a socket at the rear for an AC adaptor.
The controls take the form of sliders and push buttons located in a strip across the top of the front panel. And to the far right of the four octave C to C keyboard, is a plastic grille covering a four inch speaker.
These built-in practice amps have come a considerable number of miles from the early half inch deep transistor radio tweeters in their own matchbox enclosure. Certainly the sound of the CT310 alone isn't as strong as you'd get feeding it through a hi-fi, or a separate, purpose built combo.
Neither do you have the ability to add effects pedals. Hang about, John, that's not a bad idea. Why doesn't somebody include a send and return effects loop in their practice amp circuit? Anyone listening? Gis a tenner and the idea's yours. Still, the original point is that practice speakers are genuinely highly useful and these days, are normally of a more than passable quality.
Starting from the right of the panel and moving left (in much the same way that the Japanese write) we're blessed with an on/off switch then selectors for sustain and reverb, plus vibrato and delayed vibrato. The reverb isn't the fully authentic springline type, but an electronic technique that involves cutting the sustained part of a note to about a quarter of its normal volume so it sounds as if what you're playing is dying away in the distance.
Then you've got yer voices. Six, grey push buttons call up the voices and a further brown button swaps between two banks — organ, piano, harpsichord, flute, trumpet and funny on one; pipe organ, electric piano, vibraphone, clarinet, horn and cosmic tone on the other.
Marks, I give you, about eight out of ten for the bright and breezy pipe organ, snappy, clav-like cosmic tone and rounded piano, five out of ten for the harpsichord (a percussive pipe organ) gentle vibraphone and nasal clarinet, then three for the rest.
The drum machine gets by with a thick enough bass drum but rapidly falls apart when it comes to the dull snare and sea shore hi-hats which woosh across the top of each rhythm.
No, the maximum amount of fun springs from the auto accompaniment. The trusty arpeggiator thrills us with four variations — up, up and down, up and down at half speed and a slightly inebriated chromatic trill. It's linked in time to the drum machine so can't wander off. The chord section will basically vamp either your own fingered chord, or an automatically selected one so the pulses squeeze between the drum beats. Again, there are four selections, but every drum box choice has a marginally different chord rhythm built into it, so the options are much wider than you'd think.
The same rule applies to the bass line. The major rat in the cheese shop is that the CT310 offers no individual control over the sections. There's a master volume slider, one for the rhythm and one for the chords, but if you want to turn up the bass line alone, or take out the chords and leave the bass notes behind... tough biscuits Mr keyboard player. Casio make no provision for what is a fairly obvious demand.
Yet, to be honest, the 310 is at its best when all hell's let loose and every last button has been pressed. The rhythms and bass lines are by no means "Spanish Eyes" jobs. The normal practice of Family keyboard manufacturers is to cram in as many notes as possible, but several of the 310's selections are open, simply stated bass lines, neatly backed up by offbeat chords, not unlike your reggae-nut guitar player. For those who STILL haven't discovered it, the backing for the Avengers Theme is on bass pattern II, with a 16 beat drum pattern to help out.
The auto chord works on a by now-well established mathematical progression. Press one key (say a C) and out pops a C major... ah the magic of a single finger. Press another, (any one as long as it's higher up the keyboard), and we shift elegantly to a Cminor, a third will give you Cseventh then one final key, this time lower than the original, turfs out a Cmajor-seventh. The CT310 will sustain that chord indefinitely, even when your fingers are off the keys, until you select a new one. Not only do you have plenty of time to perfect the melody with your right hand, but it's easy to change key, chord shape and mood and the 310 can help you come up with progressions that even the most technically accomplished pianist would have trouble performing.
So, not a great synth, not a menagerie of dazzling voices, and not a mega complex sequencer, but it strikes a convenient balance between fun, invention and pay packet.