Preset mono synth
In a way preset synths are hangovers from the days when keyboards were supposed to take over from entire 64-piece orchestras, operate the curtains and tell the audience where to sit. They usually had a dozen or so imitations of acoustic instruments locked inside their electronics and the owner could rapidly switch from flute to french horn, to oboe and so on.
When programmable keyboards started coming on the market, presets took something of a dive. Why make-do with the factory's idea of a realistic piccolo when you could program in your own along with 30 other self-penned sounds?
But there is still something attractive about presets like the 60P. For a start they're gloriously simple. The Teisco has the minimum of controls, just a couple of sliders for volume and portamento, switches to take the keyboard up and down an octave and a few variations on the length of sustain.
The power of the machine is concentrated in 16 colour-coded buttons across the top of the keys, all with integral LEDs and a script underneath to tell you what instrument they are supposed to represent. Each time you press a new button it cancels the sound already being used and leaps instantly to the fresh selection.
The 60P ranges from trombone, violin, vibraphone and electric bass through whistles and human voices to a couple of archetypally twangy synthy sounds; the sort that are often described as "Space" or "Funny Frog". Never ones for flights of imagination were synth programmers.
The Teisco has a three octave C-to-C keyboard that feels loose and has a noisy click to the keys. But it's also kitted out with something called second touch. That is, the entire keyboard acts as a switch — press with your normal action on a key and the note will sound as usual, but push slightly harder and the key will dip fractionally and bring in a special effect on the sound you're using such as vibrato, pitch bend, filter modulation, etc. This way you can introduce modulation without having to fiddle with a wheel or lever at the left of the keyboard — in fact there are no such gadgets on the 60P.
The disadvantage is, you can't gradually fade in an effect as you can with modulation wheels. The keyboard "switch" is either on or off. A sensitivity control sets the depth of the vibrato or pitch bend and then the second touch action turns it on.
On certain sounds it worked well, particularly silkier settings like flute or whistle where the extra pressure could bring in vibrato on just the right notes. Brassy and percussive voices didn't get much help.
The Teisco's trombone was gentle and rounded, though the sax sounded like a sick clarinet. The muted trumpet was a shade buzzy but the horn was excellent for low and fruity lines. Oboe, flute, piccolo and vibraphone were all in a section on their own and each had a sweet and churchy flavour.
Whoever was responsible for making up the 60P sounds seems to have been a nut about delayed vibrato — the effect where the vibrato creeps in a second or so after the note has been sounding. Too many of the Teisco settings had it built in and it was impossible to remove. A shame.
The violin was hideous, rasping like a pregnant mosquito, but the sitar had a sparkling tanginess to it. The electric bass was likewise a winner, an octave lower than the others and with lots of mellow, solid, slappy punch behind it. Bringing up the brilliance control gave it an edgy growl if you wanted a dirtier tone.
The whistle was excellent, my favourite, very expressive once you applied second touch vibrato and surprisingly authentic, carrying a tiny hint of white noise to recreate the breath. As for the human voice — okay if you like a singer with terminal tonsilitis and it is actually a useful, rasping sound — but not the sort of noise I'd like to hear my throat making.
Synthi I and II were popular variations on the classic wangy filter synth sounds, though neither were especially appealing.
The Teisco's strength lay in its orchestral imitations which, with a drop of echo or reverb, might catch people out, providing they had a few pints inside them. What you won't get from the 60P are those synthesiser tones that spring out with a lot of action inside them — wangs, twangs and pops.
The Teisco's sounds start and then stop once you take your finger off the key (though there is an additional button that lends all the settings an extra second of sustain to round out the decay).
It's not an aggressive synthesiser, though with the second touch it can be deceptively expressive; creating twists and shimmers at just the right place. In that sense it's quite a subtle machine, but one - which would bore many players used to World War Three when their fingers hit the keys.
Physically it has a buff coloured metallic finish, imitation teak end cheeks and the simplest of outputs at the back — just 'phones and line out sockets. The fine tune will take it over a semitone, though allow a couple of minutes for it to warm up to a stable tuning.
The recommended retail price is too high even taking into account the advantages of speedy setting up, second touch and a pleasant tone. Look for a discount shop, if you're interested.