News from the front
the rest of the instrument news
The Synclavier Digital Guitar system, which we spotted in America a couple of months ago, has made its way to Britain, courtesy of Turnkey. The Synclavier keyboard could not be described as cheap — an eight voice system (the smallest) with a 64K memory cruises in at 19,147 dollars and for that you get a 16 bit mini computer, a 5in double density floppy disk drive, a control keyboard and a year's free software updates, plus diskettes including 128 pre-set timbres, sequence storage and diagnostics, so says the book.
Famous people buy Synclaviers – Sting, Martin Rushent, Trevor Horn etc. What they get is an FM based system of digital sound creation and a 16-track digital memory recorder.
The new guitar system gets you into this lot via one box, and one familiar six string. Synclavier have chosen the Roland G303 guitar controller as base camp in their assault, using the Roland's hex pickup to collect the vibrations from each string.
A complete Roland guitar synth would then convert that pitch to a voltage the synthesiser could understand. The Synclavier interface (costing 5117 dollars) instead splits the signals into digital representations of pitch, note duration, vibrato.
This does mean, however, that the Synclavier is open to the same problems of glitch, misinterpretation of string information and muddled fingers as a Roland system would be, since the original information is still coming from the same hex pickup. These are the problems which Synthaxe claim to have cured via their direct fret contact method.
It's a delight to be able to trigger the Synclavier's magnificent digital tones from a guitar, and for that matter have access to all its music composition capabilities – up to 16 different instruments playing 16 different lines on 16 tracks, each one individually overdubbable, and you can still bounce down at the end.
But you do still have to be wary of your guitar technique to avoid confusing the system with too many fast notes, and the Synclavier doesn't seem to react instantly. It depends on the sounds you choose but there always appear to be split second delays between belting the string with finger or plectrum and hearing the mighty intelligence of a computer converted to music, leaping out of the speakers at the far end. Are you prepared to accept the problems of a £2000 analogue guitar synth when they're repeated by a 5,000 dollar interface system BEFORE you start paying for the Synclavier?
There should be more of the Canadian-born Vantage guitars around soon. They're designed in the land of the maple leaf, and built in the far east with prices that should compete against the popular Westones – £149 for copies of certain American six strings, and £139 for their own shapes.
Always good fun thinking of nouns for crowds... a fret of guitarists, a gaggle of businessmen and now, it would appear, a Paiste of percussionists. The Swiss cymbal company recently organised a five-day meeting of 14 of their top instructional percussionists to "exchange ideas and experiences". Part of the meeting seemed to involve dragging them half way up a mountainside in a cable car for no readily apparent reason, but Paiste maintain that this meeting of minds "will benefit drummers in far reaching corners of the world." You have been warned.
From Thriller to Pasta... Court Acoustics' massive GE60 graphic equalisers recently won two more converts. They are now being used by the Italian Broadcasting Network and on the Michael Jackson tour.
More MIDI madness. Electromusic Research have linked up with Britain's distributors of Korg keyboards to market their new MIDI composition packages. The first, at £159, includes a MIDI interface which can be externally synced to a drum machine, and a cassette or disc based program that enables music composition on up to six tracks with a capacity of 7000 notes. Complete compositions can be saved or recalled on disc or cassette, and any combination of track and channel assignments can be selected to control up to six MIDI instruments. It's written for a BBC B micro, and is being distributed via Rose Morris.
Unusual combination from British Music Strings in Newport. Their Londoner L100AC amp has inputs for lead/rhythm guitar at one end of the control panel and bass/organ at the other. The 120W combo has two 12in speakers, a reverb and a parametric eq for the guitar side. Retails for £199... maybe it's because it's a... yes, well you know the rest.
After many years of dragging ears and eyeballs down to Shaftesbury Avenue, the Rose-Morris shop have upped and moved to a new location. Last month they opened up a four-floor showroom for percussion, guitars, amplification and keyboards at the Charing Cross Road end of Denmark Street. Interesting that over the last five years it's Denmark Street that's become the West End's most closely packed 'instrumental' highway, taking over the title from Shaftesbury Avenue. Yet in the same time many of London's best shops have escaped from that traditional patch and set up in Camden, Paddington, Ealing, etc. All very different from the WC1 Seventies which our Dads come into the office and tell us about from time to time.
Anyone interested in a secondhand Roland SH101 — some small repair required? On the 72nd date of his 72nd date tour, Thomas Dolby picked his red 101 up by the scruff of its modulation neck and smashed it into tiny shards on the floorboards of the Dominion Theatre's stage. And it hadn't even done anything wrong. "I don't know what came over me," said the contrite keyboard player. At one point the Dominion looked like a back issues page for One Two since Thomas (March front cover) was joined by Howard Jones (April front cover) for the final number. Fortunately the demolition ceased before either of them got too close to the Fairlight.
In case Korg's new moves don't quite make it to our Namm report up the front of the book, here's a sneak of the info that filtered back to the UK before the fair. First, an updated Poly 61 with MIDI already fitted. Next, the EX800, a slave to the Poly 800 with all the electronics but no keyboard. Its MIDI link will patch it to another Poly 800 or any suitable synth, even the upcoming Korg RK100 remote keyboard, for that matter, The EX800, at a guess, should cost around £350. And while Korg are in an all syncing, all dancing mood, there's news of a black box that will sync drums machines to MIDI, plus two new digital drum machines with the emphasis on low price. Three chord computers join the already established Super Section, one for guitar, one for keyboards and another for straightforward stave writing. And leaving the synths alone, there are a handful of new pedals in the KMX range including an octave divider that goes 1, 1½ and 2 octaves down, and 1 octave up, ALL of them mixable, and a waveform shaper that promises to do strange things to your guitar.
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