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The News

All the new stuff, including a special feature on the soon-come Stepp digital guitar.



KORG DRUMS



Ever onward in the search for the drummer in a box, Korg now release the DDD-1. The major advance compared to recent digital drum machines (Yamaha RX21, Roland TR505) is the fact that each of the 14 pads is touch sensitive — the harder you hit, the louder the three toms, snare, bass drum, rim shot, ride cymbal, crash cymbal, hi-hat open, hi-hat closed, cowbell, cabasa, claps and tambourine. In fact 18 sounds can be called up at any one go, with more available on ROM cards, and the pitch, decay and output level can be set before and after programming a pattern. The DDD-1 also has two extra buttons to play rolls and flams for you automatically. The sounds have separate outputs, there's internal memory capacity for 100 patterns and ten songs of up to 9999 bars can be stored on tape, RAM cards or via MIDI to Korg's own SQD-1 sequencer. That seems to have most things covered. Lastly, the digital sounds can also be fired by an audio trigger, to substitute a dodgy snare on tape with the Korg's own version, for example. Final price isn't certain, but between £700 and £800.

MARTIN AUDIO



What would the Fab Four have done with digital recording, we sometimes wonder in the small hours. Perhaps we'll never know, but we should be able to discover what George Martin can manage with the stuff as he's just ordered a large lump of it. In fact, the biggest ever order of Mitsubishi gear, destined for Air Montserrat. They've bought two X-850 32-track recorders and two X-86 digital mastering machines, using the PD format.

Martin was at the APRS show to be photographed with Mitsubishi luminaries and pass comment on the system. "I think that having 32-tracks on one inch tape, plus analogue and sync tracks gives you facility that no other system offers, and I love the sound of it." Ah, but can you cut it up and play it backwards?

DUTCH RADIO



Look — we've got too many of these demo tapes to review at the moment, so we've found somewhere else for you to send them: Geert Stadeus at (Contact Details). He runs a show called Demo Review on Radio Toestel, which covers the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, and he's asked us to give you his address.

SPEAKER TIME



Scott Sound Systems have announced new and upgraded ranges of speaker cabinets, all of which will be on display at the British Music Fair. Although they're not a hugely familiar name in rock circles, their gear has a growing reputation in the PA and disco field. Their new Modular PA System includes 15in bass units, 2x12in mid-range, plus horns, and (we are promised) gives very good value for money. Peruse at your leisure on Stand 1-30 at the BMF.

PASS IT ON



Beds and attics across the country are no longer safe hiding places for all those forgotten guitars and bits of gear. From August we will all be encouraged to dig out abandoned and unrequired instruments and donate them to Pass It On, a campaign backed by the Musicians' Union to help young, unwaged players get gear. The stuff will then be dispensed through the many youth and boys clubs in the country. The campaign kicks off at London's Hippodrome on August 6 with various pop stars donating whatever they've recovered from the tops of their wardrobes.

ACCORDION MIDI



After last month's Making Music cover, accordion mania seems to be sweeping the nation: Hohner have just announced two new models, the Vox F Midi, and the Vox 5P Midi, and a further four others are now also available with Midi. For those in the know, the Midi operates on bass, chords, and descant. All it needs is for Howard Jones to throw away his KX5, and pick up a squeeze box...

FRETLESS HOHNERS



The Steinberger-licensed Headless Series by Hohner is to be expanded by a new fretless, action version, the B2A-FL which has a lined ebonol fingerboard and comes in any colour ("as long as it's black"). Also fresh is the ST lead guitar which now has a split coil switch for the ring bridge pickup.

Lower down the price range are the Arbors with new models in Flying V and Tele shapes, but all of the six strings in the latest MX series have improved, cast-tremolo units.

BMF UPDATE



If any of you are reading this after August 3, you've just missed the biggest music show in the country: The British Music Fair at Olympia 11 from August 1 to 3 (for the public, three days earlier for trade).

For those of you reading it at the show itself... hello, isn't our stand nice?

And for those clever enough to swipe their Making Musics as soon as they appear in the shops, there's still time, so here's an update on the last minute news.

OPENING... by Edward Heath the MP and former tenant of no 10 Downing Street at 11 am on Tuesday July 29.

STAR APPEARANCES... Marillion 'and friends' (we reckon it's Steve Hackett) will be playing 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender' at 2.30 on Sunday August 3 with free tickets available from the Roland stands. If any of the 'friends' needs to know the guitar chords to 'Kayleigh' they of course need look no further than issue one of Making Music where Steve Rothery showed them to us. Imagination are appearing for Akai, and Mike Lindup of Level 42 for Yamaha. Recitals by leading classical pianists Rachel Franklin (1.00 Sunday), Peter Katin (4.00 Friday) and John Ogden (2.30 Saturday) have been arranged by the Pianoforte Manufacturers and Distributors Association who are also taking part in this year's BMF.

ADVICE... Gateway Studios who run the very successful courses on recording and instrument technology will be using part of their stand to answer questions and offer advice on recording techniques.

COMPUTERS... hands on demonstration of their use in music will spread across the show with regular half hour shows through all three days. They will encompass more than 10 leading software packages.


ROLAND EXTRAS



As if they didn't have enough pieces for the British Music Fair already, Roland have announced more last minute products to be on view at the show. Principle among them must be the GM-70 guitar to MIDI converter. It breaks from the previous self contained guitar synths as it's just a rack mounted converter and hex-pickup system, allowing the guitarist to plug into other MIDI synths. The GK-1 is the pickup bit, aided by a small control box that sits on the end of your guitar. The GM-70 converter boasts very high speed tracking of the guitar note even when strings are muted by the right hand. A patch memory function stores 64 different settings including MIDI channel, program change, string selection, bend range, key transpose and Poly/Mono mode, and the GM-70 can divide strings to control up to four separate MIDI machines.



After that comes the JX MKS-70, a rack mounted version of the Roland Super JX synth. Proudly it stores 100 sounds, has 24 DCOs and envelope generators for its 12 voices, and is suggested by Roland as an ideal partner for the GM-70.

Meanwhile digital drum machines become ever smaller with the perky Dr Rhythm now going digital. In fact there are two version, the DR-220A (acoustic) with bass drum, snare, rim shot, clap, low, mid and high toms, crash cymbal, ride and hi-hats, backed by the DR220E (electronic) that goes synth-drummish for the skin noises, and throws in China cymbal and cup sounds instead of the crash and ride. Small pads let you tap out the sounds by hand, and the familiar grid-like LCD screen tells you where you are at. Each holds 64 rhythm patterns (32 programmable) and can store eight songs with a maximum of 256 changes to a song. Looks very good with many facilities borrowed from the TR505, but could be a startlingly winning price for a digital drum machine.

And lastly there's the RCE-10 digital chorus ensemble, part of the Boss micro-rack series. Two independent chorus units in one box but featuring a 'digital' (there's that buzz word again) modulation circuit "which allows modulation of the two chorus circuits to be completely synchronised — an impossibility for conventional analogue modulation circuits." Wonder what it does?

MODULAR MIXING



Allen and Heath Brenell combine the genius of their CMC computer driven mixers and the modularity of their Syncon desks to produce the new Sigma series. The wide choice of formats will cover set ups from 8 to 32 tracks, and the Sigma is believed to be unique in its application of MIDI. "Mixdown-muting sequences can be pre-programmed, synchronised to other MIDI equipment using song position pointers, and up to 16 different MIDI controlled effects devices can be changed for each sequence event." Cor, we said, and thought.

DRUM WINNER



Is James Williams of Reigate, Surrey. Yup, you remember that fabby competition we had in our second issue to win a Yamaha 8000 drum kit? Well, James got it, safely identifying those famous ears as Stewart Copeland, Howard Jones and Andy Taylor. Of course there was also the Making Music catchphrase, and though many of you showed Shakespearian genius, Mr Williams' was sheer poetry. "Making Music takes the paying out of playing." The kit's on its way.

CD ROM



Did you know the equivalent of 536 Emulator sound discs can be stored on a single compact disc? The CD ROM has been developed by Optical Media International as an add-on for the Emulator II. Can't record your own sounds, of course, but the 536 which are permanently stored have been prepared in consultation with Emu and can he loaded in 14 seconds.

PIPE DREAMS



Not all the research money goes into synths, y'know. The British Technology Group recently put £390,000 worth of grants into the creation of a digital church organ. The sounds of ranks of organ pipes are all stored digitally in the computer's memory and recalled when individual notes are played. It supposedly produces one of the most accurate reproductions of a Church pipe organ ever achieved. Four churches have taken the Bradford Computing Organ which has speakers supplied by hi-fi heroes Wharfedale who have likewise used computer analysis to perfect cones capable of shifting the pipe sized air.

GUITAR WEEKEND



Now here's something for you highly strung types to look forward to: from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th of November, the Barbican Centre is playing host to Guitar Weekend '86. It'll have the same format as last year, with lots of British makers showing off their wares, plus a smattering of overseas instruments. Naturally, we'll give you more details nearer the date.

HEADLESS TREM



Steinberger — "inventors" of the headless guitar — have obviously taken criticisms of their transposing trem to heart.

They've just announced their new TransTrem transposing wang bar, which comes suitably attached to the GP2T guitar. The specific improvements centre on the strings: the ability to change them "instantly, without the need for any special adjustments", and the fact that you can use "all double ball strings". You also get the standard stuff like rock-solid tuning during wild wangings, and six-step transposing (three downwards settings, two upwards). Well wobbly.

GOOD NEWS



Bad News fans will be delighted to hear that the group is reforming for a special one-off gig at the Castle Donington festival on August 16. This is their first gig since the renowned Bad News Tour (featured in a Channel 4 documentary in 1983). Vim, Colin, Den and Spider are looking forward to their first outdoor event, we understand.


STEPP TIME



ONE OF the best kept secrets in the music business comes to an end this month with the announcement of The Stepp guitar.

You've probably already seen the ads. If you're one of the fortunate few who travelled to the recent NAMM trade show in Chicago, you may even have caught a veiled glimpse of the device itself. But unless you're one of the investors who's placed £1.5 million behind the project, or one of the rare guitarists who's been asked to take part in the 'sea trials', you'll know nothing.

The Stepp is "the world's first digital guitar", state the designers. But though it's raison d'etre is to let guitarists drive synths from the fretboard chief instigator Stephen Randall is at pains to point out it's not the average guitar synthesiser. For however many technical tribulations they've had to overcome in the last four years the steepest hurdle is yet to come. They'll need to convince guitarists that not only does the Stepp work, but it's here to stay.

In the four years Stepp have been working on the project, half a dozen other devices have been fanfared as the future of the electric guitar and have subsequently either failed to come up to scratch or down to affordability. The mist around Stepp rises from the inventors' resolution that nothing about the project should appear until production models are ready to lay on the table. The blot of the Bond guitar still visits nightmares upon the entrepreneurial end of the instrument industry - a year and a half of prototypes and promises delivering a final product excellent in some respects but dogged by side-effects the average guitarist just wouldn't stomach.

But what is the Stepp? If you see magazines carrying reviews of the guitar in the next couple of weeks, raise an eyebrow. Very few people have played it. Our private view was on the understanding that we could look, learn the theory but not touch. The designers are dubious of prototype reviews before the production line output is hanging on the shop walls. (A few other worthies could learn that lesson.)

Still, as we said, what is this thing? It's nearest cousin in concept would be the Synthaxe - a synth/guitar system which works by direct electrical contact between string and fret rather than analysing the pitch of the struck string and converting that to a voltage. But from this point onwards Synthaxe and Stepp part company.

For a start the Stepp is not just a MIDI controller, but has its own onboard synthesiser voicing circuitry - an analogue/digital hybrid offering two oscillators per string, the standard array of Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release envelope generators, and 100 memories. They're called up on a series of membrane touch switches near the top of the guitar's body, and modified using a continuously rotating control knob - the Alpha dial system if you're a Roland adherent. So you will find yourself with a fully self-contained instrument that need only be shown an amp. The more elaborate Synthaxe starts around £8,000 but makes no noise itself. You need an exterior polyphonic synth.

The Stepp looks very sexy. The curved, moulded body is more graceful than the rectangular description implies, and the padded, tubular knee rest genuinely adds to the sleakness. It weighs somewhere between a Les Paul and a Strat, a feat achieved by siting most of the voice boards and power supply in the stand.

The neck is traditional, unlike the Synthaxe's uptilted, equal fretted arm. The Stepp's actually narrows near the 'headstock', and frets are normally spaced up to the octave after which they keep to the one spacing. That's probably because squeezing them ever closer together, as on a normal electric, simply wouldn't leave space for the components mounted away from sight on the underside of the fretboard.

From which you will have gathered that what comes out doesn't pay great heed to any notes the strings themselves are twanging. In fact all six strings are of the same gauge - sort of B-ish - and are tensioned only to give the right feel. Electrical contact with the fret material is made regardless of the niceties of tuning. If the Stepp shares any path with the Synthaxe, it's here. Both have two entirely independent sets of strings - one for the left hand, another for the right. They only appear to be connected beneath a cover at the end of the neck.

The right hand set detect the plucking action, reacting to the how hard you hit them (it's a very dynamically expressive device). Maybe even more importantly they can be damped. You can mute the sound and envelope of the synth sound by resting the edge of your right hand on the strings, just as you would on a real guitar (similar detection techniques apply for left hand damping). Notably, Stepp have found a way round one of the banes of the Synthaxe by producing a one piece fret.

Stephen Randall emphasises the expandability of his creation in two distinct directions. One is that other Stepp based products will follow. Naturally. But the other, a more esoteric expansion, this, is that guitarists will be the ones to find what the instrument can really do even down to its misbehaviour. There was a time when feedback was viewed as the greatest curse the guitarist had to face. Now it's an art form.

So what will this new generation of guitarists find? First of all, an instant response... the speed of electrical contact instead of the present delays in pitch-to-voltage guitar synth controllers. The wait for the electronics to analyse and convert the frequency is often as long as a slap back echo. You strike a string, you hear a sound, no waiting. Second, it translates the habits the guitarist already has such as damping and vibrato, into equivalent effects on the synth sound. You don't have to be re-educated into footpedals and buttons. Thirdly, it can sound like a guitar. Strange, you may say when people are supposedly paying good money for it not to, but for me that was the most impressive part of Making Music's private view - a convincing nylon strung guitar sound created not by the playback of a sample, but by programming of the onboard VCOs coupled with the everyday use of your fingers on the strings. It's from that comfortable reference point that a guitarist can go on to explore synths, programming, MIDI and the developments the keyboard player has taken for granted during the last five years.

The Stepp still has much to prove, and 90 per cent of that battle won't be fought until it appears in the shops apparently around September. But if the 'next generation' of the electric guitar at least starts by behaving like the last one, maybe someone has thought it all out properly after all.



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Korg DSS1 Sampling Synthesiser


Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

 

Making Music - Aug 1986

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