One Two Tourist Stephen Anthony has been lounging in Tokyo. We dragged him off his futon long enough to visit Japan's major instrument show and report on next year's fab gear.
Every two years the Japanese Music Trades Association displays its wares at the Tokyo Music Show.
Since Japan is one of the largest investors and experimenters in new instrument technology, these are three very important days out of 730. Primarily it's a trade event but with a slight retail flavour which results in a rather confused overall image. Old products appear alongside the latest secret developments as manufacturers cannot decide whether to demonstrate their goods to the business or to the public.
Which is why you get the early models of £300 programmable polyphonic synths, £175 keyboard computer controllers and 68 memory programmable guitar synths knocking around. Read on and you shall learn.
There were many new products but the one definite conclusion is that keyboards can no longer be kept away from computers. Casio, Yamaha and Roland all displayed keyboards which interface with micros and utilise software which encourages both beginner and and accomplished musician.
Some of the programs could play a tune on the keyboard and at the same time display a colour picture of a piano playing the notes. Other more complex programs allowed for sophisticated arrangements in the same way that a letter could be written on a word processor.
An extension of this idea was displayed by Yamaha with their CX5 system. This revolved around a central unit which is essentially a microcomputer with a MIDI interface linking with a keyboard, an FM sound generator, a TV monitor and other computer-type accessories.
You can select sounds, compose arrangements, print them out, or store them for later use. Price? Ah yes. New technology doesn't come cheap and although the CX5 central unit will sell for only £175 in Japan all the necessary attachments for the whole system could set you back considerably more.
Still on keyboards, Korg have definitely come up with a winner in their Poly-800. This is a four-octave polyphonic programmable with 88 memories. A sound can be set up by selecting a value for each parameter and writing it into the memory (similar to the Poly-61). It's a beautifully simple system to use and is certain to prove very popular.
The price in Japan is under £300, but as with all other eastern products, you have to add shipping, importing and distribution costs before arriving at a UK bill.
Powered monitors were shown by just about everybody as were small Rockman-style guitar headphone amplifiers, giving visions of leagues of musicians all practising in earnest silence in their respective bedrooms. In case anybody has not seen this sort of gadget before... I describe. Imagine a unit the size of a Walkman with a jack input for a guitar, a headphone output socket plus extra line outs. The whole thing is powered by penlight batteries and most of those on show in Tokyo featured built in effects such as chorus, overdrive and echo. You can use it on its own or as an effects unit/preamp for your main amplifier. Prices varied slightly but a good one in Japan would be £50 to £70.
Yamaha had an excellent display which included the previously mentioned CX5. Top of their present keyboard range is the DX1 which is the most elaborate of the new programmable algorithm synths, including the DX7 and DX9. Also new is the KX1 which is a remote 'over the shoulder' keyboard designed to be used with the DX range.
New Yamaha guitars swarmed everywhere including, curiously enough, Fender and Gibson copies. A fresh range of combo amplifiers also found its way into the catalogues.
Casio were showing their Symphonytron 8000, a dual keyboard with multiple voices, tone mix and auto harmonisation. There was the MT-200 which can interface with a computer and the rest of the new stereo range including he MT-800, CT-610 and the multi-track CT-7000.
Roland had unpacked their entire product line which has been growing at a colossal rate. They demonstrated a totally new guitar synthesiser, the long awaited GR700. The shape and design is extremely futuristic but what mattered most was the sound which was powerful and biting.
Roland were being a bit coy, but it's said to have 68 programmable memories onboard, with the possibility of another 68 using a RAM pack. Strewth! With luck it should be available soon.
Computer peripherals are now sold under the Roland label instead of Amdek, which is a sensible move, and several new products were available from the Boss sideline. Worth a mention is the DE-200 rack mounted digital delay which sells in Japan for £175.
Pearl were displaying the latest in electronic drums with a kit based on practice pads and a central effects unit, something like a budget priced Simmons. However, budget is the word, because the basic kit (four pads, bass drum and a central controller) will sell on eastern shores at £370.
Optional extras are plastic cymbals with pickups and stands. Sound quality was very good and it should do well, presuming the price holds. A similar idea was displayed on the Riverhead stand but here the pickups and this central unit were available on their own — you have to buy your own practice kit.
Riverhead are likely to become rather well known for a different reason, however, as they have just introduced an electric six string guitar and two bass guitars springing from the Steinberger design. Priced at £265 for the six string and standard bases and £295 for the active bass version, these models are bound to become popular simply because of the fine value for money. Body and neck are made from resin and all are available in six different colours.
Talking of guitars, where would we all be without Fender? Recently they took the intelligent step of making their products available to the masses by producing a lower cost, made-in-Japan range called Squier. OK so far? So, in the UK you can buy a Fender Squier Strat or Tele or Precision Bass etc OR you purchase the American version of the same thing (extra ackers, obviously).
Fender also introduced their 'Vintage' series (made in USA) so you could buy a Strat just like Mum used to make. Still with me? You've got determination.
Because, wait for it, in Japan you can buy the aforementioned three examples plus the Japanese version of the 'Vintage', along with eastern versions of some Fender amplifiers and even other American models as well. Let's face it, if you want something, Fender have a price for it.