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Frankfurt Facts (Part 2)

Guitars, Amps + major keyboards survey.

Yet more new gear from the Frankfurt Fair! Finishing off ITs review of the Frankfurt Fandango...


(by Tim Oakes & other members of the IT Cat Hit Squad!)

Not to be outdone by all the high-tech keyboard related stuff, Steinberger made their own contributions to futurology with both their new 'P' Series models and the most exciting of the lot, the GL-2 T/-GR. What this translates into is the GL guitar fitted with the innovative Steinberger trans-trem and equipped for using with the Roland GR guitar synthesiser system. With the addition of the Roland, this must surely count as the high-tech guitar of the lot!

One guitar that we certainly didn't expect to see was the much loved Fender Esquire (in many respects a one pickup Tele), but there it was on the Fender stand, accompanied by several other reissues including Jaguars and Jazzmasters, no less! These are part of the forthcoming series of Fender 'limited issue' re-runs (see this month's Strat review). They'll be Japanese made, but that's unlikely to detract from their appeal!

Good news for HM fans is that Aria look to be steaming right up your street! Floyd Rose trems are now to be fitted to some of their Road Warrior models, while Kahlers are fitted to others in this popular range. The Road Warriors are all 'Super Strats' with 16" radius fretboards, 14 degree head pitches and so on. They look hot! But if a Road Warrior is a bit beyond your means, look out for the new Cat series (not inspired by 'you know who' we sadly gather!). See this month's NewsXtra for the latest post-Frankfurt details.

So, before we get round to this year's really big guitar news (wait for it, wait for it, you 'orrible little reader, you! — Sgt-Major Ed.) we mustn't ignore those near-legendary American Charvel-Jackson guitars. These were once the province of West Coast superstars only (although Mr. Beck is said to have used one on his superb Flash album). Now, however, they're to be made in Japan (where else?) and are due to hit our shores very soon, courtesy of importers John Hornby Skewes. They're not going to be cheap, but, judging from the brochure we've seen plus the first sample models, they seem bound to challenge the existing UK guitar market leaders. Naturally, we're currently trying to grab a review sample.

Yamaha's good looking new FX.

On to the news you've all been waiting for! This was the year that MIDI came to the guitar buyer, courtesy of two major systems — the Shadow and the Ibanez.

The West German Shadow GTM6 (to be distributed here by Barnes & Mullins) is the simpler of the two concepts, comprising an add-on hexaphonic pickup which can be retro-fitted to any guitar. Its output drives a rack mounted box which converts the signal to full MIDI status. Several manufacturers have signed up with Shadow to fit this system to their guitars (notably the just mentioned Charvel-Jackson, and also including Ovation and Takamine), but it will be available off the shelf from Barnes & Mullins. A demo of the Shadow system showed it to be virtually glitch-free (an advance on the Roland GR system, we must admit). Linkable, in theory at any rate, to any MIDI synth, the Shadow should retail under the £1,000 mark and is certain to become the first truly successful MIDI guitar system.

No, stop crying, bass players — there is a version for you too, and it's called the BTM6.

The other MIDI system to be unveiled at Frankfurt was the equally interesting Ibanez IMG 2000 guitar with its accompanying IMC 1 MIDI controller. Unlike the Shadow, the Ibanez is a dedicated guitar system, with fibreglass reinforcement in a wooden neck/body instrument. Can't say we liked its looks overmuch, but it certainly packed in the features! A right hand tuning tailpiece was just the start, because the Ibanez also offered control functions from its own advanced trem unit, including pitch modulation, glissando and more! Again unlike the Shadow, Ibanez's system is a complete package, with umpteen pre-set sounds and other MIDI delights. It's not going to be cheap, but it does come as an all-in-one package, and sounded amazing!

Marshall "Integrated Bass System" 200w. combo.

Moving to amps, Marshall made a point of showing their recently introduced modular bass systems. Originally launched in the USA, these have now started to appear in Europe and look destined to have the same sort of success here as they've had across the pond. The range of Marshall bass amps now stretches from amp sections (rated at 100, 200 and 400 watts respectively) through 100, 200 and 2x200 watt 'slaves', plus two combos delivering 100 and 200 watts each. Seven different bass speaker enclosures, 'combo boxes', and more make up what must be one of the most comprehensive bass systems ever to have been launched at one fell swoop. So advanced are the facilities and features offered on these new Marshall bass units that any attempt to describe them all is bound to fail. In a short overview like this, perhaps the best we can say is that just about every conceivable feature has been incorporated, including patching and linking facilities, enabling players to build up what must rank as near-ultimate bass rigs.

Moving from Marshall past KMD and Hiwatt (both lines having been covered at great length in last month's issue) and by-passing Vox (whose amps were detailed in issue 8), we next come to Ric — a fascinating joint venture between US guitar doyens Rickenbacker and Japanese makers Sony. A complete range of both effects and amps are to be forthcoming from this trans-Pacific collaboration during the next year or so, and if the new Ric power amps which we spotted are at all indicative of the quality we can anticipate from this pairing, then we expect Ric to become a major name in the future.

On the effects front, there was one real star of the show for us — the Alesis 'Midiverb' which is being distributed by Sound Technology. A 63 programme stereo digital reverb with full MIDI facilities, it's already become one of the UK's biggest selling reverbs since the show, and it's also exceptionally flexible, offering delay times from 0.2 secs right up to 20 secs, with just about every imaginable room size/delay sound controllable either from its own panel or remotely from a MIDI device. Add to this recipe nine gated, four reverse settings and an RRP of £395, and you can see why it's been so well received! Sound Technology also had the complete range of MIDI gear from Bokse — timecode synchronisers (allowing machines using different timecode systems to be linked and run together), an SMPTE/EBU timecode events controller, MIDI 'Humanizer' (giving a natural feel to rhythm machines by syncing them with the time of a real drummer), a MIDI patch selector — we'll be letting Nick Graham loose on these as soon as possible.

Boss RPQ-10 Pre-Amp/Parametric Eq.

Most of the new products shown by Roland also fall into Nick Graham's territory, but it's definitely worth your while making a note to look at their new Boss RPQ-10 Pre-amp/Parametric equaliser. With 2-band parametric Eq. offering variable 'Q', variable input and output level setting, LED overload indication and footswitch control for on/off, the low and high frequencies are controlled from sliders providing 40Hz-1kHz (low) and 600Hz-15kHz (high), with +/— 15dB of cut and boost provided on each. A unit like this can have endless uses, from PA through backline amp driving to home recording. With an RRP of just £130 it's bound to be a huge seller.

Zildjian's new hammered Z series.


Electronics (as might be expected!) were a major theme at this year's Frankfurt show, but acoustic drummers weren't left without new toys to play with — largely thanks to new cymbal developments. Monsieur Oakes reported a major promotion from cymbal supremos Zildjian, who were, he claims, directly responsible for a large part of the ear damage he experienced at the Fair! Apparently, Zildjian's newcomers commence with their Z Series, which are hammered with computer-designed shapes and patterns, resulting in some very different sounds as a result. Louder, with greater stick definition and a more cutting sound, they've got little patterns hammered in lines, radiating from their centres. The new designs include both 'pentagram' and 'hexagram' designs, and they give really unique sounds combined with fabulous looks. Prices look like being very reasonable indeed for the advanced sounds these new Zildjians offer.

Also new from Zildjian were an expanded range of sticks, a 'cymbal safe' (taking cymbals of up to 22" size) and the beautiful new platinum finish — an option for the revered Zildjian 'A' range.

Sad news at Frankfurt was that Americans Linn seem to have run into financial difficulties and a question mark has to hang over their future. On a happier note, though, Sabian appear to grow month by month, now having just launched a rather tasty flat cymbal called the 'Sabian AA Flat Bell'. This one offers a great ride sound!

Simmons finally launched their new drum amp/combo, the SDE 200. With a speaker/horn arrangement, five channels and a truly unusual wedge shaped design, it's almost guaranteed to swallow up what market there is for drum combos, if only on account of its name. Simmons, as you've probably guessed they would, have expanded their range quite considerably this year, with a true MIDI multi-channel interface for electronic or acoustic/electronic drums to drive other MIDI gear, a new voice 'expander' and a low-cost setup, the SDS1000 — a 5-pad kit with a very low price. Finally, watch out for Simmons' new MIDI converter for low-cost adaptation of existing kits, delivering full MIDI facilities for those lucky drummers who also own MIDI synths!

Premier, perhaps unexpectedly, also joined the rush to launch electronic kits with their new 'Powerpack' 5-channel analogue unit. It looked good, but the price (more than that of the newcomer from Simmons) seems to be a bit prohibitive. Mind you, Premier also contributed to the acoustic drummer's choices of gear, but we've covered their news in this month's NewsXtra, so we won't duplicate that info here.

Trying to report back on a show as big as Frankfurt is a daunting task. However thorough you try to be, you're bound to miss countless new items, and we certainly wouldn't be able to claim to have covered everything that was there. Either way, it's now down to you to pass the final verdict — to buy or not to buy. And don't forget that you'll be able to see all this new gear and a lot more at Britain's own BMF show in August at Olympia 2!


Not just a Frankfurt round-up — Nick Graham completes his definitive guide to what's best in electronics, with an eye on all the new introductions.

Synths over £1000

Right — now read about the mouthwatering goodies that you probably can't afford! Like Sequential Circuits' new VS synth, due to retail at about £2,500 (or more?)! From what I can gather, the Prophet VS pioneers a technique known as 'Vector Synthesis', which allows a high degree of real-time control and manipulation of sounds. It's 8-note polyphonic, and each voice is composed of four digital oscillators, the frequency of which can be controlled independently using any one of 128 stored digital waveforms. Any of these waveforms can be mixed using a joystick to provide new waveforms — which can then be stored and utilised as a completely new sound source... ad infinitum.

The degree of control possible from the Prophet's 5-octave pressure/touch sensitive keyboard is staggering, and includes variable split point, continuous panning, voice osc. mix and/or chorus depth controlled by pressure and key velocity/position control of voice placement anywhere in the stereo field. Phew! What's more, when used via MIDI it can become two completely separate 4-voice synths, and since its MIDI is impeccable (Sequential Circuits did, after all, more or less invent MIDI), it will be a long time before this instrument becomes obsolete.

Another American company, Oberheim, showed their new Matrix 6R expander version of the 5-octave Matrix 6 synth. As you might expect, this machine has all the power of previous Oberheim models; each of its six voices can be constructed from 2 DCO, 3 ENV, 2 VCA, 2 LFO, plus that famous throaty Oberheim 4 pole VCF. The envelopes are the Delay-Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release (DADSR) type and, using their patent 'Matrix Modulation', any source (i.e. control parameter) can be routed to any destination, making possible some astonishing sounds. Of course, if you really want mega-power the Matrix 12 is still the guv'nor hybrid synth, combining all the control features of the Matrix 6 with the FM/Analogue sounds of the Oberheim X-Pander, doubling all this to 12 voices and costing around £5,000 or so.

Roland's JX-10 — the future standard?

One thing that surprises me about both Sequential and Oberheim is their standard 5-octave keyboard (on all models). I've always found 5 octaves to be a limitation on my own Jupiter 8/DX7 setup, and if I was to re-equip from scratch I would choose at least a 6-octave instrument, which can then be used as a mother keyboard. From this point of view, the Roland JX10 looks likely to set a new standard with its weighted, touch sensitive keyboard of just over six octaves (E1 — G8), featuring variable split with separate MIDI assignment and a built-in sequencer. I suspect that the JX10 is basically a 12 voice version of the JX8P, because it uses the same optional programmer and as such should have the same distinctive sounds as its underrated little brother. Certainly it has many added features, including 'Chase Play' which allows two different patches to one sound after the other, according to keyboard velocity and/or after pressure. Parameters on the JX10 are selected and edited using the now standard Roland Alpha dial, and each voice has 2 DCO/2 ENV. When used in Dual mode it becomes a 6-voice synth with 4DCO/4 ENV per voice — very powerful indeed, and in Split mode it can function as two completely separate 6-voice synths. A four channel chorus completes this new package from Roland, which is to be priced at a reasonable £1899 RRP.

Finally, I must mention the Yamaha DX7 and its FM family. These synthesisers are still leaders in their field, and still regularly appear in musical situations which range from the pit orchestra of the local amateur dramatic society pantomime to top selling commercial recordings! Yamaha remain firmly committed to FM synthesis, and the immense popularity of the Yamaha keyboards stand at Frankfurt, plus the large numbers of peripheral products on show based round the DX series (editing software for every micro-computer, many makes of ROM and RAM packs) showed just how right they have been. Starting with the DX7, which sells for about £1250, their whole range of upmarket synths and expanders represents state-of-the-art synthesis which can still surprise with its phenomenal range of sounds.

Electronic Pianos

Without a doubt, one of the best and most realistic electronic grand pianos shown at Frankfurt was the Roland RD1000 Digital Piano and its rackmounted counterpart, the MKS20. Based on a newly developed method of resynthesis called Structured/Adaptive Synthesis, this instrument will become a standard by which others are judged, and at £2500 RRP for the complete 88-note keyboard version, or £1200 RRP for the rack mount, it's going to give the Yamaha CP80 and CP70 electronic grands a run for their money! Since a review of this amazing instrument appears elsewhere in this issue, I won't go into details here. Just suffice it to say that in a live situation most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the RD1000 and a miked up grand!!! And it's available now!

By the looks of things there is a race on among manufacturers of electronic keyboards to be the first to supersede the real piano. This isn't likely to happen completely, because pianos are very complex instruments — for example, they are 88-note polyphonic, and for every different chord struck (and there are millions of possibilities), different combinations of sympathetic vibrations are triggered in all of the 220 or so strings! To mimic this effect exactly would take a massive computer sampling device, programmed to react in exactly the right way to every possible combination of notes and the way they are struck. However, it is possible to approximate the effect of a piano where, for many purposes, it's good enough. This is what Roland have done so successfully with their RD1000, while keeping the price to a realistic figure.

Another company to show an extremely good electronic grand were Technics. Their PX1 is definitely a very professional instrument, and again I've no doubt that for live use especially this full-size piano will be seen in increasing numbers, replacing more conventional instruments. It is a true sampling piano using PCM technology, and has an onboard sequencer, optional disc drive and six instrumental sounds: two grand pianos, two electric pianos, harpsichord and clavinet. The PX1 is also fully MIDI compatible, and would make a very good mother keyboard for a complete MIDI system. Full control over the characteristics of the sounds, envelope shape, 3 band Eq and chorus is possible, and all this and more will set you back a mere £3600.

Ensoniq's handsome SDP-1 sampled piano.

At a more affordable level, the Ensoniq Sampling Piano should be available soon at under £1000. It features a 76-note weighted keyboard and, judging by its price, it probably uses the same 8-bit sampling as the Mirage. I heard it at Frankfurt and it sounded good, but other than that I know very little about it, as precise technical information is hard to come by. Similarly, Korg's 76-note Sampling Grand, the SG-1, is due for release sometime soon, but information is vague. This too sounded good at Frankfurt, and includes 4 different piano sounds and a full function MIDI weighted keyboard suitable for use as a mother. No indication of the sampling technology used, or RRP, was given.

Moving away from 'real' piano sounds, Yamaha launched two new MIDI electronic pianos; the PF80 and PF70. These instruments effectively replace the extremely successful but non-MIDI PF15/10, and both offer a choice of 10 FM preset sounds. The PF80 (RRP £999) has 88 keys and the PF70 (RRP £899) has 76 keys, and this would appear to be the only difference between them. Both keyboards are weighted and have internal speakers, three band Eq, tremolo and chorus, and can be used as MIDI controllers. As is usual with Yamaha products, their touch sensitivity and general feel is excellent, and they are sure to be a success.


A large selection of computer software was on show this year, and although much of it was for the rather old-fashioned but reliable Commodore 64, there were significant moves towards other computers. Several expensive but extremely professional software packages were being shown for the Apple Macintosh, and included the Sound Designer, which I described in the section on sampling. (Incidentally, this package is also available for the Kurzweil as well as the Emulator and Prophet 2000/2002.) Other packages for the Mac were Southworths 'Total Music', generally accepted as the composition/notation programme, and the Opcode Systems 'Midimac' range, which includes patch editors and libraries for almost any synth you can name plus several MIDI recorders, one of which syncs directly to SMPTE code. Both companies offer related hardware to match.

Music software is beginning to appear for the IBM PC, and Roland showed their superb MPS composition/notation package for this computer. The advantage here is that cheap compatible clones of this most successful of personal computers are freely available at very competitive prices, and I predict a massive increase in the use of these machines for music. Roland also market an intelligent MIDI interface for the IBM PC, the MPU401; and in America this has become more or less the industry standard interface. As far as I know, the Roland MPS (Music Processing System) is the only IBM music programme actually available in the UK, but look for Stateside imports from Passport, Octave, Plateau and Mark of the Unicorn in the near future.

One thing I must tell you — watch out for developments on the new range of Atari computers. The 520ST (512k) and the 1040ST (1 meg.) both retail at under £1000 and come complete with monitor, disc drive, mouse, Gem software package and graphics, onboard ROM operating system and standard MIDI interface. They feature better resolution graphics than the Apple Macintosh, the same Motorola 68000 processor, and are a lot cheaper (about a third of the price). To my knowledge, two major music software houses are at present perfecting highly sophisticated programmes for this machine — Hybrid Arts in the States and Steinberg in Europe, and I'm sure that many more will follow suit.

Sequencers & MIDI Recorders

Although I saw several new sequencers working at Frankfurt, it's impossible to assess such machines just by listening to them. Somebody presses a button, and music comes out — even if you know the specifications (which themselves can be quite misleading), the only way to evaluate MIDI recorders is by using them over a period of time. However...

Briefly, Korg showed the SQD1; not new, but very effective (and reviewed in last month's IT). Roland launched the MC500, a successor to the MSQ700. Available about now, it's priced at around £800 and provides you with 30,000 events, real time or step time entry, complex note editing from a numerical keypad, and storage of data on an integral 3.5" disc drive (50,000 events each side of the disc). The MC500 has four recording tracks which merge to produce performance data for all 16 MIDI channels, and features a special rhythm track which will allow programming of drum patterns when linked to a rhythm sound source.

Akai showed what must rate as their answer to the Yamaha QX1; the CPZ1000 MIDI Recorder and System Controller, the RZ1000 programmer keypad, and the MZ1000 monitor. Capable of 50,000 notes on 16 tracks, this MIDI recorder again has complete editing facilities, all parameters being displayed on the VDU. Featuring auto punch in/out, sync to SMPTE and MIDI, real time and step time recording, and storage on 3.5" disc, this package may well become popular in the Audio-Visual markets, as there are plans to make an optional PCB available for the VTR and MTR control. This product should be available about now, and will retail at £1699.

A product which is definitely available now at a much reduced price is the Yamaha QX1; an 8-track, 16 MIDI channel machine capable of recording a massive 80,000 MIDI events. Although it's a bit long in the tooth, the QX1 is in fact still an extremely viable MIDI recorder, with excellent editing facilities and storage of data on extremely cheap common-or-garden 5.5" discs. Don't miss it!

Yamaha QX21

At the other end of the scale, Yamaha introduced the QX21 at Frankfurt, which is a 2 track, 16 MIDI channel budget MIDI recorder selling for £250 RRP. Intended as a replacement for the QX7, this machine represents excellent value for money but is in for a patchy career. Competition from sequencer/MIDI recorder programmes for microcomputers was fierce at Frankfurt, and in some cases it's as cheap (and far more cost-effective) to buy the computer and the software as it is to buy an equivalent dedicated machine. Take note all you sequencer addicts!

Series - "Frankfurt Facts"

This is the last part in this series. The first article in this series is:

Frankfurt Facts
(IT May 86)

All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing)

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Sound Advice

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Free Entry Competition No. 2

In Tune - Copyright: Moving Music Ltd.


In Tune - Jun 1986


Frankfurt Facts

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing)

Show Report by Tim Oakes, Nick Graham

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> Sound Advice

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> Free Entry Competition No. 2...

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