The Year, In Gear
The pick of 1983's equipment releases.
Gear of the Year — a month by month breakdown of the best instruments, amps and equipment to be released this year.
The Flow Chart — see how long it took 1983's most influential albums and singles to reach the top.
In Quotes — some of the more impressive sayings of our prominent musicianly persons.
"The main problem, nowadays, is that you don't make stardom, if you like, from gigging. Certainly not in this country, anyway. The only way you become BIG is by having a lot of money put into you, publicity. That is the only way, really, unless you're very lucky."
NIK AUSTIN/then Chelsea 18.1.83
"I can honestly say that you don't have to be a musician to play the synthesiser. Synthesisers finished over a year ago, and at present, the music that's being played on the radio is just exactly the same every day, there's no new stuff."
PETER DEE/Adicts 18.1.83
Elmore James born 18.1.1918. Died 24.5.1
Gold discovered in California 24.1.1848
NOMINATION: The Second Year Running Beat The Rest Of The Bunch To The Kill Award.
REASONS: They're still one of the best bargains around.
Fender's success in launching their Japanese-made Squiers wrapped around the end of 1982. So by January of this year, the guitars were still causing a stir, winning adoring fans and shaking up the opposition who had long since dismissed Fender as egotistic stick-in-the-muds with bums resting firmly on laurels.
By the middle of the year, Fender were to raise eyebrows yet again by virtually scrapping the guitars that had made them famous over the last 20 years — Strats, Teles, Jazz and Precision basses were all given an extensive revamp and separated into mid-range Standards and high class Elites. That relaunch was not quite as startling as the advent of the Squiers. More than a few guitarists are now puzzled as to exactly what constitutes a Fender, which one is which, why, and where it comes from.
So the Squiers continued to be the most sought after low- to mid-priced electrics of the year.
Classic examples of the range would be, say, the '57 Strat with its full, rounded neck, three pickups, three way selector (as original) and meaty tone. The latter day '62 demonstrates the thinner necks and crisper, crackling tone of that era of Stratocasters, while the '52 Tele harks back to the early, three piece saddle arrangement and furry neck pickup with all the treble siphoned off.
Jazz and Precision bass versions were just as slick, though there must be hundreds of bass players praying that Fender will produce some fretless models, as do Tokai. The '57 Precision reflects the dry, reserved plonk of its forefather and features a suitably yellowed-with-age, lacquered maple neck. Five years later the '62 Jazz was to materialise with a much narrower neck (loathed by some players), a livelier, twangier tone and twin single coil pickups in a straight line in place of the Precision's lonely two-piece coils.
Tokai press on with giving Squier a fast run for their money, and actually appear in the market with more colours and a greater variety of models. Many Japanese firms produce instruments equally as well made as the Squiers — you only have to look at last month's issue of One Two on our 'All The Emperor's Guitars' page to realise there are not that many factories in Japan, anyhow, and deadly rivals in the music shops often nestle side by side on the same production line.
But there IS a magic about the Squiers encouraged by their association with Fender — even if it is sired by blueprint.
"I don't think manufacturers bother with players such as myself and anybody who's in a band that has any fame or success, they don't try to sell to us because we either get it free or get it cheap anyway and it's not a lot of money to us.
"They try to bring out these brilliant marketing techniques for your latest fangled doobrie whatever and sell it to kids, making this new footpedal look incredibly pretty with lots of lights on, and it basically does nothing.
ANDY TAYLOR Duran Duran 2.83
"I'm not happy with any of our records to date, to be honest. They all sound a bit funny to me. I think the best sounding is probably 'After The Rain', but it wasn't properly recorded... there's talking in the background of the main vocal track, Mick talking about a Chinese takeaway."
STEPHEN FELLOWS/Comsat Angels 2.83
George Harrison born 25.2.1943
"Please, Please Me" gets to No. 1 16.2.1963 (Beatles' first No. 1)
NOMINATION: Honorary Life Membership of BACKS-UP (Ban All Control KnobS — Unless Programmed) with special incrementing cluster and bar.
REASONS: Sixty-four memories. Two oscillator banks. Lots of buttons.
It was the five octave Poly-61 that put Korg back on the map. Until its release, Roland had been winning the cheap polysynth battle hands down with the Juno 6.
The 61 was a shaker. It had 64 programmable memories (the Juno 6 had none), it boasted two banks of oscillators for interval and detuning effects (the Juno had a single bank only), and it looked stylish and well up to date — a vast improvement on the stuffy Poly-Six.
Even though Roland released the 56 memory Juno 60 in competition, it still had only one oscillator bank. At under a grand, the Poly-61 was making available features you would have expected for over £2,000 six months earlier.
They managed it by cutting back on controls. Each section of the synth was instead given a parameter number — 12 for the oscillator waveform, for example — and these parameters could be called up one at a time on an LED readout. You adjusted their values by two buttons — up and down — and then slammed them into the memory. It wasn't fast, neither was it particularly subtle — certain parameters had only eight divisions between zero and full on — but it worked.
The 61 offered pulse-width, square and ramp waveforms on the two DCOs (Digitally controlled oscillators, less likely to drift out of tune), plus filter resonance, cutoff, envelope amount and a single ADSR envelope generator. Missing were white noise, a programmable final volume, and any way of varying the balance between the oscillators.
The obligatory arpeggiator found its way onto the front panel plus a modulation joystick introducing pitch bend when sneaked from left to right and vibrato when pushed back and forth. Neat, but over-excited fingers could stumble on the wrong effect at a disastrous moment.
It sounded excellent—in retrospect, the twin oscillators have kept the 61 on the platform as one of the biggest sounding, budget priced polys of the year. Only the Roland JX3P (see elsewhere) shares the stage. Placed side by side, the JX3P is harder and brighter, but the Poly-61 scores better for full, warm orchestral voices. And next year you'll be able to have a MIDI add-on kit fitted to your 61. Excellent news.
"Simmons won't replace the original kit, like the electric guitar didn't eclipse acoustic guitar. It just depends what you're going for. It's like all this ridiculous MU lark about string players and stuff — if we wanted a string sound on record, we'd get a string section. Simple as that. We wouldn't get a Prophet.
"...We went to the Festival Hall before we played there to have a look around, and the guy goes: 'Oi, you gonna be bringing amps in here?' We said, 'Well, we're carrying 10K.' And he said, 'Yeah, well we have a PA in here, 400 Watts, but we never turn it up more than half way.' I didn't say a word.
JOHN KEEBLE/Spandau, 22.3.83
"The Japanese have considered the Les Paul guitar to be the standard of comparison in the last 20 years, everybody has always tried to equal that guitar. I'm not saying who I think has come close — clearly if you copy something long enough, you must get close to it.
"...We are, unquestionably, the market leader in ideas — look around at the other guitar makers.
DAVID LEED/Gibson Vice-President International, Director of European Operations, 3.3.83
Eddy Grant born 5.3.1948
Karl Marx died 14.3.1883
NOMINATION: The Roller Skate And Crowded Tube Award For Personal Multitracking.
REASONS: It's cheap. It travels.
While everyone else expanded the 4-track cassette market with better Dolby and graphic eq, Fostex stitched on a triumphant grin and swam in the opposite direction.
Not only did the X-15 halve the price of buying a new 4-tracker (from over £600 to about £299), it took the home studio out into the streets. A screw-on battery pack would keep it running for around 30 hours, and the all black unit, about twice the size of a Stowaway, could be slung over one shoulder via straps fixed to solid clips at each side.
The X-15 was an immediate success with musicians who previously hadn't been able to afford a 4-track, composers who wanted to sketch out musical ideas and touring bands needing to write and arrange new songs on the road.
Naturally the facilities of the X-15 had been slimmed down from the larger TEAC 244 and Fostex 250 machines. There were only two inputs, you could record no more than a stereo pair of tracks at once, the bass and treble eq was limited to the stereo output only and wasn't available individually on each channel, and the noise reduction was hi-fi standard Dolby B instead of the quieter Dolby C.
The X-15 also ran at normal cassette speed (1⅞in/s) with a wide range pitch control, LED metering, and an idiot proof record button. There was a built-in headphone amp and even a foot operated system of drop in/drop out recording, again an unusually sophisticated trick for the price.
But once you'd filled your four channels with music, there was a line of eight pots at the top giving full control over balance and panning. A series of phono sockets on the left edge supplied line outs and ins permitting two track recording of the final mixdown. You could ping-pong tracks on the X-15, and while the results were more than passable for demos, you'd still want the quieter and cleaner electronics of an upmarket 4-track cassette to perfect your ideas.
It's a great catch-all machine for travelling bands — anything from listening to Talking Heads in the bus to dumping the programs from your Poly 61 or recording a gig from the desk. A musicians' tool, as they say (no slight intended).
"With the Portastudios, I'd say use your ears rather than going by the book... that way you're getting used to the studio system without actually being in the studio; judging sounds and putting sounds together.
"But terms like 'buss' still don't mean anything to me. There could be simpler words, but I suppose once you're in the world of tape recorders and stuff, it's easy to understand what they do, even if you've never heard it before. I still don't know what a 'buss' is, though — it's usually what I get home to me mother's.
PETE WYLIE/Wah, 18.4.83
First auto-change record player introduced by HMV 1.4.1928 (price £125).
LSD synthesised 7.4.1943 by Albert Holman at Sandoz Laboratories, Basel, Switzerland
Duane Eddy born 26.4.1938
NOMINATION: The "Do-You-Realise-How-Drunk-You-Were?" Commemorative Cup, presented by the Society Of Perpetually Sober Paramours.
REASONS: It remembers absolutely everything you did last night.
Many synth manufacturers have cottoned on to the idea of including some form of sequencer in their keyboards. The necessary building blocks are probably already under the front panel anyway, they're just doing other jobs.
Casio took the idea one step further by providing an unusually large lump of memory space — 7000 steps in all — and laying out the sequencer in the form of a three track cassette recorder. You could put down two melody lines — monophonic or polyphonic — plus an auto chord accompaniment, then mix them on playback. In some cases you could even bounce two melody lines together, clearing one track for further overdubs.
The music was linked to the onboard drum machine, and of course was stored not as notes on a tape but as digital instructions which 'replayed' the Casio keyboard when the appropriate button was punched, leaving you to swap sounds in mid-tune or even shift the stereo position. And BOTH of the last two 'edits' could also be stored in the memory.
The five octave keyboard boasted 20 preset voices — pianos, organs, cosmic tone, all the standards — 12 drum patterns and an auto accompaniment section that supplied chorus, bass lines and arpeggios. With patience, the final results could sound like two or three synths rather than one.
Like a tape recorder, there were rewind, fast forward, play, pause, and stop controls, plus a liquid crystal display timer to tell you where you were on the 'tape'. The CT-7000 could only store one tune at a time, but you could dump that onto a cassette and give it a file number so at a later date it could search for the desired section of music.
Everything was aimed at ease of use. There were no step-time or real-time puzzles, you just set the Casio running, listened for the introductory metronome beat, and played. The 7000 remembered everything.
The only drawback was the lack of editing. You could tack extra material on to the end of a song by fast forwarding to the right moment, pressing the record button, and tinkling away. But there was no way of correcting, rearranging or adding to notes in the middle of a piece without erasing everything that followed on that particular track.
It was bulkier than previous Casios, offering a full sized keyboard and stereo speakers, one at each end of the metallic grey front panel (which incidentally harboured an array of push buttons capable of shifting the stereo image, even swooping the sound around the room like a bluebottle on mescalin).
Sequencing as it should be — just a way of remembering, not a lesson in physics.
"I like to think of an echo machine as a mirror in some way. It can be the most difficult effect on the planet to play with because if it's even fractionally out, technically, then the whole thing goes crazy. You can sound like you're playing things you're not actually playing, but in a way you are still playing them because you've still got to master the technique of using the echo. That takes a bit of practice."
CHARLIE BURCHILL/Simple Minds 5.83
James Brown born 3.5.1928
First scheduled TV service, GEC Station 'WEY' in New York City 11.5.1928
Jack Bruce born 14.5.1943
Brian Eno born 15.5.1948
NOMINATION: The Association of Osteopaths' Platinum Splint for Preventive Medicine.
REASONS: You don't break your back picking it up.
Whoever said 'small is beautiful' obviously never clocked our wage packets which will shortly leap to five figures... 11½p being three of them. But in the case of the Pro-Amp Demon, they would have been exactly right.
It's a compact amp, hardly renowned for luxurious or extravagant design — an upright box, no back panel, the minimum of curves and essentials only. But it lives — its got real character, a spitfire sound and a recommended retail price of under a ton, and that includes reverb.
The major American and Japanese manufacturers are capable of releasing immaculate production line amps with the latest tricks and technology incorporated. The Demon springs from a small British company who operate at the other end of the scale by listening to musicians who wander in off the street, and then building sweet and simple amplifiers that are inexpensive yet still feature a classy tone.
Session are a further example of this Brit based skill and their 75W Sessionette combo had a great deal of well deserved success this year. The Demon is a transistor powered baby brother of Pro-Amp's larger combos, and was launched at the Frankfurt trade fair.
There's a mains switch with an integral red neon light, a single jack socket input, pre- and post-volume controls, plus treble, middle and bass eq and reverb level. The extras include a headphone socket for silent practising, and a black rocker switch to swap between rhythm and lead settings. In the second position, the Demon boosts the gain for a much heavier overdrive sound.
The 10in 25W Celestion speaker obviously isn't as tight or aggressive as, say, a more expensive JBL or Electro-Voice, but it ideally matches the Pro-Amp's soft and flutey voice.
The eq allows plenty of versatility in the tone, and there's a distinctive jump between the rhythm setting and the hotter, louder lead option — maybe too much of a leap as the volume increases so much, you'd have to be careful not to suddenly drown the rest of the band.
But overall, the Demon seems to have a genuinely warm and fat sound — something rarely found in lower priced transistor based amps. And when you do flick to 'overload', you discover a gutsy, hard edged attack, not the sort of 'fizz' you might expect from a severely shaken bottle of Tizer.
Every now and then simple elements and careful, experienced design coalesce into one knockout device that takes on a life of own. That's the Demon in us all.
"I think the important thing with effects is to use them to illustrate what you're trying to do, rather than use them purely as an effect for its own sake..."
STUART ADAMSON/Big Country, 27.6.83
"If I come in here with a riff and spend all day fiddling with it, and go on and on like polishing a turd, eventually I'll have made a fine sculpture out of this turd, but it won't be a song."
STEWART COPELAND/The Police, 18.6.83 at his home studio in Oxford
Superman comics launched in USA 1.6.1938
Reg Presley born 12.6.1943
Todd Rundgren born 22.6.1948
First musical recording in the UK, 29.6.1898 at the Crystal Palace on the occasion of the Handel Festival using Edison equipment
NOMINATION: The United Nations Peace Keeping Award For Strategic Arms Limitation.
REASONS: Fewer drummers waving their arms about.
We've tied these two for first place, but if it was a fair world, the honour of the day would go to the Drumulator. By the beginning of this year, it's just possible that a handful of goats in the Ascensions hadn't heard of the Linn — a machine which played back real drum sounds previously encoded onto digital chips. On record it was virtually indistinguishable (in sound) from a genuine percussionist, but it cost upwards of two grand.
The Drumulator brought the principles Of real-sound rhythm boxes to below the £1,000 mark — a considerable step forward. It offered 12 voices — bass drum, snare, handclap, hi-mid-low tom toms, open and closed hi-hats, ride cymbal, clave, cowbell and rim shot — could remember 36 patterns, and arrange them into eight songs.
It had a smaller memory space than the Linn and was perhaps less straightforward to use — many of the buttons had double or treble functions to save space and spending. But it sounded the part. Though you couldn't swap individual drum chips as you can on the Linn, the Drumulator factory voices were tough and punchy, and there were three tom tom recordings. The Linn had only one which could be tuned anywhere across the scale (the Drumulator's were fixed) but you couldn't, for example, hear a floor tom and a mounted tom decaying away at the same time.
And then, when it seemed as if the Drumulator had a clear path, Oberheim produced their DX real-sound machine (a follow up to their original DMX) and managed to bring it into this country at £999. Its facilities outstripped even the old grand daddy Linn in a few places... 100 sequences arranged into 50 songs, for a start.
It offered a remarkably lofty degree of resolution — that quality in a drum machine which allows human expression, timing and feel. The Linn permitted 'errors' up to 96th notes, the Oberheim went to 192nds.
For certain DX voices — not all — there was a choice of three preset dynamic levels and here the Drumulator did win out, offering 15 programmable steps for every sound.
And though both devices could dump their patterns onto a cassette and reload them at a later date, only the Drumulator possessed the handy talent of being able to lay a sync code on to tape.
And each of them had at least one trick card waiting to beat the Linn. They featured a 'jamming' circuit where you could repeat one particular section of the arrangement (presumably while bleeting away with a guitar solo), then, at the press of a footswitch, return to the original song structure.
Finally, there's the question of sound. I've heard some owners say the Oberheim is harder and crisper than the competition, and others claim that the Drumulator is more laid back and... er... 'black', but either way, both offer impressive value, at least until someone like Roland comes out with an alternative at half the price next year.
"If you're a musician in any sense, whatever you play, it means you're capable of getting something out of most instruments in some way or another. You shouldn't be doing one thing — and people are branching out much more these days."
STEVE JANSEN/ex Japan, 12.7.83
David Bowie 'retires' 3.7.1973
Mick Jagger born 26.7.1943
NOMINATION: The Hands Across The Waveform Let's-All-Talk Medallion.
REASONS: Now we CAN go on meeting like this.
Difficult to say that MIDI was launched on any particular week, month or even season. The idea of a widespread synthesiser language has been around for some time. Wouldn't it be great, said the punter, if I could connect my Dogtrouser mono synth to my Wifethrasher drum machine? No, replied Dogtrouser Ltd and Wifethrasher Inc, because that would leave you free to buy other manufacturer's products.
Thankfully, today's more enlightened synth companies realised that a standard for inputs, outputs, voltages and triggers was desperately needed, and the larger firms met to beat out a solution at least 18 months before the first double Din MIDI socket appeared.
If anyone doesn't know, it stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It allows synths to talk so that for example a C on your Roland JX3P can be pressed in the confident knowledge that the Yamaha DX7 linked to the back will also produce a C. Within the MIDI system are two departments — universal data such as pitch, timing, duration etc, and system exclusive data, including memory selection, editing etc. ANY MIDI-ed synth can share the universal info, but usually only models from the same company can communicate that exclusive material. So there are still reservations within the MIDI language, but the situation is much better than it was 12 months ago, and likely to improve even further next year.
The Din sockets that make up the MIDI links have five pins each, but only two are used, and the information pumped down the line is 'opto-isolated' at the far end. Instead of the voltages being transferred directly to the electronics of the receiving machine, they are used to make an LED inside glow brighter or dimmer. A Light Dependent Resistor then interprets these lamplight messages and passes them on to the circuitry. It's a safeguard to prevent rogue signals breaking into the sensitive, digital parts of the keyboard.
The full potential of the MIDI system hasn't even been touched. It's almost impossible to stress how important it will be to every musician, not just to synth players. It paves the way for computer control by a low price micro, though the extent of that control will depend on who is prepared to draw up the software and for how much.
"Each album gets harder and harder, this was the hardest of all. Every album has to sound different, you have to be number one, you have to sound like the best group in the world.
"The feeling you tend to get from England is 'Ah, they're all washed up' but we showed them. All the bastards wrote us off and I knew I had this song, I knew it would be a number one.
Ready Steady Go first broadcast 9.8.1963
Arthur Brown's 'Fire' reaches No 1 17.8.1968
Beatles' first Apple record released "Hey Jude" 30.8.1968
NOMINATION: Dr Livingstone Camouflage Cup.
REASONS: It stayed in hiding for 30 years.
Okay, so not the most glamorous guitar released this year, but it certainly qualifies for the strangest life story. The all-plastic, Maccaferri acoustic was conceived and constructed in 1953 by the French American Reeds Mfg Co Inc — and then it disappeared.
That is until a forgotten stock of them was discovered at the back of a near abandoned warehouse. They still bore the original price and guarantee tags, and were encased in 1953 cardboard boxes — perfect material for the acoustic archaeologist. The enterprising 'Stanley' brought his find back to England and offered them to the Bakelite enthusiast or fascinated collector. If you were watching Top Of The Pops about a month ago when The Eurythmics were prancing to "Right By Your Side", you would have spotted the creature in question. Dave Stewart was giving one a bash.
Mario Maccaferri was the acoustic designer who popularised the straight cutaway to the upper frets. Instead of a curved horn below the neck, he simply hacked off that corner of the body. This plastic version follows the rule.
The cream coloured top carried two f holes, a bridge (plastic of course) and a peculiar tailpiece that could be bronze or just about any other metal that shines and looks yellowish. Here was hidden the Maccaferri method of action adjustment. A screw concealed at the far end would crank the neck backwards or forwards when given a few twists, and the neck was (you guessed it) plastic, though to be fair, it did have a backbone of steel and wood. The dot markers could be found on the front AND back, presumably so you could feel your way to the right fret in the dark.
The main part of the body resembled a three week old bottle of Valpolicella — it was very red, and at the headstock you'd find not the average, encased machine head, but a set of 14 to 1 ratio banjo pegs.
For all that, the Maccaferri today doesn't play so very badly — differently, perhaps, but not badly. The neck is wide and flat (at the back and the front), though the prospect of slippery red plastic directly beneath the fingers can be a mite disconcerting to start with.
The sound is... ahem... distinctive. It's not unlike a Dobro, but plastic-ish instead of metallic. You wouldn't turn to the Maccaferri for a soul searching, romantic number. If you were being backed up by a set of saucepans and a washing board, then it would be in its element, which I presume to be carbon with a few molecules of oxygen and hydrogen tacked on for good measure.
"The sampling keyboards are nice because they bring back real, live instruments — sampled or not, they still have that earthiness and depth to them that normal synthesisers don't have.
"Hopefully people will start ignoring normal synthesisers. Digital synthesisers are far superior, I believe, as far as range and quality of sound goes. We've got a JP8 and a Prophet, but we don't use them much now — it's mainly the Emulator and the PPG Wave."
CURT SMITH/Tears for Fears 2.9.83
"I must admit we didn't want "Wherever I Lay My Hat' out as a single at all. We didn't think it was very representative. Apparently, there was a pregnant pause at an A&R meeting and someone said, 'What about putting out that slow one?' The guy who suggested it didn't even know what it was called, he had to sing it! It was just the ballad for the LP, and everyone did what they wanted on it."
PINO PALLADINO/Paul Young's Royal Family 2.9.83 99
Tokyo/Yokahama earthquake 1.9.1923
NOMINATIONS: The Schizoid Octopus Award (1st, 1st and 1st place) For Doing More Than A Few Things At Once.
REASONS: It's a preset. It's programmable. It's got a sequencer.
The JX-3P also qualifies as the most deceiving keyboard of the year. When first launched at a Roland press conference, it introduced itself as a step backwards. A polyphonic keyboard with 32 factory presets!! What about programmability? Where are the knobs?
In fact Roland had made one more crafty move in the price war by splitting the burden of cost. As a keyboard in its own right, you could program in 32 of your own sounds by seconding the 20 memory-select switches into another level of operation. It wasn't easy, but it could be done.
But for another £195 — when the piggy bank had recovered from the initial outlay — you could purchase the PG-200, a separate box of controls connecting to the JX-3P's rear panel via a DIN lead. This was the programming unit. In short, the knobs come separate.
In practice, many shops now sell both sections at a street price cheaper than the recommended retail of the keyboard alone, so maybe the scheme wasn't that successful. But Roland do have a ready-built programming unit that could be used with later projects, say, guitar synths.
Anyway, soundwise, the JX-3P was a significant advance from the Junos. There were two banks of oscillators for a start and the bonus of a polyphonic sequencer. It had a far from massive memory of 128 steps and could only be programmed in metronomic step time, BUT Roland had incorporated an additional trick which made it the most novel in-built sequencer of the year. You could build up six part chords by overdubbing them a note at a time and that made for many imaginative and inspiring riffs and rhythms.
The factory presets took care of the standard synth voices — clav, strings, brass, etc — and the JX-3P sang out with the familiar bright, piano-ish and clean Roland throat. There were another 32 spaces for your own creations.
The DCOs fronted up with sawtooth, square and pulse-width waveforms, there was an extra high pass filter on the VCF, cross modulation (stealing a march on the Korg Poly-61), and a chorus unit. For sheer variety of sound, the Poly-61 had finally met its match.
It had a five octave C to C keyboard with tight and tidy triggering — less sweat for the fingers — plus a pitch bend lever and a modulation button, akin to the Jupiter 8. AND it was fitted with MIDI. A clever device.
"I've learnt a bit of piano in the studio this time... but I'm not going to learn the piano, like I didn't learn the guitar. So the songs will sound different. I'll never learn instruments properly. When you know the instrument, you know where to go: you can't help nicking things, too."
NICK HEYWARD 6.10.83
Eddie Cochran born 3.10.1938
Oregon becomes first US state to decriminalise cannabis 5.10.1973
Elvis Presley and Priscilla divorced 9.10.1973
NOMINATION: The Flexible Friend Silver Cup for Unwavering Wavering.
REASONS: It stays where it's put, and it puts like a dream.
Two hundred pounds is one astronomically large chunk of money to pay for a tremolo system. The Kahler is worth it for two ironic and opposite reasons. When you touch the gold plated arm, the strings bend effortlessly in either direction with the lubricated grace of a Rolls-Royce. When you don't, they won't. The guitar stays in tune, and doesn't suffer from the creaking, slipping and shifting afflictions that hit so many other trems.
The Kahler was invented by a Brit — Dave Storey — and produced by an American — Gary Kahler. The bridge assembly is an involved piece of engineering, resting inside a solid brass frame. The more sophisticated version incorporates a fine tune tailpiece with the ball ends of the strings dropping into finely geared mini-machine heads, not unlike Gibson's TP6.
This is a part that rocks backwards and forwards, held under tension by two springs beneath the mass of brass. But to ensure the silkiest of travels, each saddle has its own roller bearing over which the string passes. It's still fully adjustable for height and intonation, but the minimum of friction is applied to the string, so there's the least chance of it sticking.
There's scarcely any part of the Kahler that isn't adjustable. You can set the tension of the springs, the angle of the arm, even how tightly that arm is held in place — do you want it to flop downwards as soon as you let go, or stay just where you left it? Yet it can still be mobile enough to slide to a new position at the touch of a little finger.
At the headstock end is the only less-than-elegant example of Kahler hardware. A string lock is mounted behind the nut. Allen keyed grub screws grip each string, isolating it from the rest of its length which is wrapped around the machine head — the part most prone to stretching so ruining the tuning. It's a rock-solid deterrent against unwanted wavering, but rules out rapid string changes in the case of an on-stage breakage.
There are various versions of the Kahler to fit the stud mountings of a Les Paul or the flat top of a Strat. You can even have left-handed versions, or bridge assemblies with palm controls — short stubby levers that you press with the heel of your hand when the fingers are too busy holding onto the plectrum. Fitting requires the removal of a few channels of wood from your guitar during which process it is best to lie down or get very drunk. Leave it to an expert.
I can't pretend that the Kahler is cheap, nor that the idea of a tremolo system is especially innovative — it just does the job SO well.
"The reality of Compass Point studio in Nassau is that there are no windows, like most studios, so you don't actually realise that you're in a pleasant place. In London when you're recording, you're on a big album session, you might have half an hour off in the middle of the evening — and what you do? You sit in the studio cafe drinking coffee. Whereas at Compass Point you burst out, across the road, rip your shirt off, dive in, and scuba around for half an hour. It does make a difference."
TOM BAILEY/Thompson Twins 3.11.83
Steve Miller born 5.11.1943
Joni Mitchell born 7.11.1943
Roy Wood born 8.11.1948
Scott Joplin born 24.11.1868
John Rostill died by electrocution 26.11 1973
Randy Newman born 28.11.1943
John Mayall born 29.11.1943
NOMINATION: The Independent Broadcasting Authority's Challenge Bowl For Adventurous Programming.
REASONS: More repeats than Channel Four.
Those of you who wisely purchased the November ish of One Two can flip the page and press on to December since you would already have seen the above device(s) thoroughly reviewed.
Sorry to come back on ourselves so soon, but the SDEs established themselves as the best digital echo bargains of the year. The SDE-3000 offered eight programmable memories and a 4.5 second maximum delay time at £799, while the SDE-1000 featured a shorter delay max (1125 milliseconds) and more limited memory functions, but at the reduced price of £399.
They looked good — slick, slim back front panels, rack mount and comprehensive green LED readouts — and they behaved impeccably with impressive signal to noise figures and, in the case of the SDE-3000, unusually fine tuning of the delay time.
The latter permitted the SDE-3000 to arrive at chorus, flanging and ADT effects that could be matched precisely to your needs. Flanging, in particular, could be trimmed to precise harmonics and resonances — odd, it was, and evil eyed.
You set up or edited your sounds not by control knobs but by pushbuttons, and the 3000 must be the proud possessor of the most cunning switches ever devised. For example, take the oblong tab that determines the feedback amount. Press it at the top, once, and the level will rise by 'one' in the readout. Touch the bottom and it will fall. Hold your finger down and the level will continue to ascend or decline, then shift your pinky towards the centre of the tab, and the speed of that change will accelerate until the numbers in the LED are whipping by. Fast, medium or slow adjustments in either direction, all from one switch.
Both SDEs have sync sockets so they can be strapped together for special stereo effects, working from the same internal clock. There are the usual tricks such as hold where the last echoed signal carries on for ever, and Roland have introduced a facility called Playmate which allows you to alter the delay time from a remote control footswitch. Hit it once and the time begins to shoot up the scale; hit it again and it freezes at a new, higher figure. Have to be speedy with the tootsie, however, as the time moves damn fast.
And though we never had a chance to look at it, there's also the Boss CDE-2000 echo which was previewed at this year's NAMM show in Chicago and promptly labelled the gadget of the fair. Not only could you load in a riff or a chord and set the machine on hold so it was repeated indefinitely but you could trigger the echo with a drum machine so it bounced out of the Boss' circuits in time with the drum pattern. That's something which the world and his tax inspector will be building into next year's echo units.
"WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF 1984, who better to turn to than George Orwell? Our man in the land of Big Brother foresees a machine called The Versificator which apparently composes the lyrics of popular songs "without any human intervention whatever". Course, George, that could never happen."
Jim Morrison born 8.12.1943
Earliest sound on film picture shown by Dr Lee de Forest 13.12.1923
Fats Waller died from alcohol poisoning on the Santa Fe Superchief train 15.12.1943
Keith Richard born 18.12.1943
Orwell and good for 1984.
What does 1984 have in store for us all? Well it looks like Roland are going all out for world domination. Flash stuff in a minute: first some new chaps in the Boss range. There's the Heavy Metal pedal which is (surprise, surprise) a distortion unit. Down at Roland they reckon this is going to sound like "15 Marshall stacks." You'll have to make up your own mind about that claim; it'll go for about £49.
The Handclapper and Percussion Synth are also new to Boss. The Handclapper, as you'd expect, is a synthesised hand-clap generator which can be played manually or triggered externally, and also features a reverb control. Both units will cost £63 (from January).
Dr. Rhythm's bigger brother is the new TR909, with a hybrid of real and analogue sounds. The cymbals, for instance, are digitally stored whereas the actual drum sounds are analogue reproductions. It has a 96-pattern memory and can store 1,972 bars into four songs. This will be available from March for £999.
It's the MIDI interface (see elsewhere) that everyone's talking about: Roland's new sequencers have this MIDI capability for you to sequence stuff on plenty of modern synths. The JSQ60 is a new low-cost sequencer that can be programmed in real-or step-time, it can memorise patch and preset changes, and can hold up to four tracks of information. Its memory holds 2,500 notes; 250 notes is what it will cost you from February.
But it's the new Roland GR700 programmable guitar synth that's startling us, despite our exclusive preview in 'Show Gone' last month. It's a six-voice polyphonic synth, with two oscillators per string. It has 64 programmable memories and the potential for more via a new cartridge memory system. It must be seen and heard to be believed — and with the MIDI connector, any number of poly synths can be played by the guitar. There's a new guitar 'controller' for it which looks like a futuristic lyre. The team will be out and about in April; synth £1200; controller £600 (approx).
Those of you who are put off guitar synths because you can't use your trusty Strat (or whatever): your problems are over. Roland have struck a deal with guitar-maker supreme Doug Chandler, he can fit the necessary electronics to make your guitar a polyphonic synth.
Previous article in this issue: