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Playback - Autumn 85

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Brian May

Article from International Musician & Recording World, December 1985

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This article was also published in Electronics & Music Maker, November 1985, and first available on mu:zines here:-



EVER since Day One, Queen have built much of their phenomenal success around guitarist Brian May's very individual sound.

How did that come about? Over to Brian.

"I got my first guitar when I was eight — a three quarter acoustic that I built a pick-up for myself.

Once I'd got to grips with chords and so on, my dad and I set about building an electric guitar.

It eventually cost us the princely sum of eight quid and took us two years to make.

We used all sorts of junk in the body to keep costs down — bits of fireplace, an out-size knitting needle, a saddle bag supporter, that sort of thing. But when it came to getting the sound I was after, that was another matter. The only way I can describe how we went about it, is 'scientifically.' By that I mean we approached everything very logically, very meticulously to ensure we got exactly the warmth and clarity of sound that the guitar's since become famous for.

When we were developing my Signature guitar just recently, we thought long and hard before choosing a company to produce pick-ups that could match my original's and we eventually picked Di Marzio.


They've always been regarded as the best, but on this project they surpassed themselves. They worked really hard to get the sound I wanted.

Amps, like guitars and pick-ups have their own personalities and sounds. I was very lucky when I was looking: a friend let me have a go on his Vox AC30 and that was it — I was hooked for life. As far as I'm concerned, there is no other amp that can match the AC30. It has a lovely, clear, warm sound that's ideal for recording work and on stage.

What would you use if you had a one-off guitar like mine?"


During the past 20 years, Julian Colbeck has played keyboards for such bands as Charlie, and just recently John Miles.

He's been Musical Director of several theatre shows, and has written features for Sounds, One Two Testing, Kerrang, Music World, Sound Engineer and International Musician.

Over the past ten years, he's covered almost every keyboard produced, and in August '85 Virgin published his first book: "Keyfax" - a complete guide to electronic keyboards.


With their DWGS Digital Waveform Generator System it seems that Korg solved a problem that I've had sculling around my brain for a couple of years now; namely that while mid 80's ears are most certainly attuned to digital sounds, mid 80's brains remain firmly rooted in analog procedures.

Since a certain well-known mid-priced digital synth burst on the scene in 1983, bristling with clean-cut, edgy, harmonically brilliant sounds, classic, warm analog synths began to take on the demeanour of yesterday's men.

Almost overnight, 'classic' became 'old fashioned'; 'warm' became 'muddy'; 'analog' — 'overtly electronic.' Though aurally the new breed of digital synths proved spectacularly successful, in terms of programmability they have, almost without exception, proved miserable flops.

"Who needs to be able to program when we can just swipe sounds from anyone's instrument, or even record!" comes the cry from the even newer breed of keyboard samplers. Well that's true up to a point, but even the latest batch of our thieving friends are still not cheap, and, as most owners will testify, loading disks, finding looping points, and generally managing samples are all time-consuming and fiddly affairs.


Korg's answer for their latest range of synths has been to combine certain elements from all three protagonists in the Great Synthesizer Sound Source contest.

The DWGS is a complex digital synthesis technique whereby samples of acoustic or electric instruments have been reconstructed by additive synthesis, and the results then being stored on a pair of 256k bit ROM chips.

The thinking and technology behind the DWGS may well be high powered and equally as confusing to understand as FM, but Korg neatly side-step the issue of possible brain damage by presenting the DWGS on their instruments, in the most simple way imaginable.

Instead of the normal analog routine of equipping a synth with a pair of oscillators and a choice of sawtooth, square, and triangle waveforms, Korg have equipped their new instruments with a selection of these digitally encoded reconstructions of 'real' sounds.

And what this means in practice, is that far from starting off with a rather lifeless square wave, from which you then subtract sundry elements in order to finalise yoursound, your starting off point is already a complex, harmonically rich structure.


The DWGS first appeared on Korg's DW6000, on which there are eight such digitally stored waveforms. Each note can select and harness two different oscillators, so even without using the filters or envelope generators you have 64 waveform combinations at your fingertips.

But having made your choice of waveform, you are then free to use the wide range of familiar and easily-defined controls such as low pass filter, 6-stage envelope generator, etc., etc., in order to complete programming.



Launched at the 1985 British Music Fair, the DW8000 is Korg's latest DWGS offering, which not only boasts 16 digital waveforms for a staggering 256 possible combinations, but a built-in digital delay (along with the customary editing parameters) whose effects can be programmed into each individual sound.

This is a first, and in many ways even outstrips a dedicated MIDI digital delay, since all 64 programs on the DW8000 can be stored with their own specific delay settings. There's no need then to worry about the possible limitations of memories or MIDI channels. What Korg's Digital Waveform Generator System does, is provide you with an exceptionally high quality level of basicsound.

These sounds are rich and complex because they are based on actual samples of 'complete' instruments. And when you consider that this system is merely your starting off point, it's no wonder that the DW8000 — with the added attraction of a touch sensitive keyboard and built-in DDL is an attractive proposition indeed.

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Dec 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

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