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Hatin' on Keys


Cliffk

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I was listening to some Billy preston earlier - brilliant. There's a lot going on in his tracks and, while I dig 70s full production values often with their 'busy' mixes and multiple layers, I just wondered whether some tracks could have done without certain keyboard instruments.

 

Now thinking specifically of stand-alone independent keyboard instruments like acoustic piano, harpsichord, Rhodes, (Hammond) organs, Wurlitzer, Mellotron, clavinet, harmonium, ... er ... accordion etc., I'd be interested to know if there are any of these you don't particularly like? If not, are there any modified keyboard sounds on particular tunes that really get to you? Or with keys as our primary instrument, are we just indulgent to the point of accepting any keys instrument as long as it has those blacks 'n' whites?

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I'm not real fond of bagpipes. Does that count? :freak:

 

:snax:

 

Let me add that most instruments have thier place - even the accordian.

 

Of course, sometimes that place is in the dumpster behind the building..

 

Ummmm, if a certain instrument was to be found in the dumpster behind the building, and if you would not spend the time or the energy to rescue said instrument from the dumpster, what instrument might it be? ...Y'all?

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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... I hate DX/FM e-pianos. The ones with the chilly bell attack followed by flute/string undertones in the sustain.

 

... and Mellotron, unless it's the intro to Strawberry Fields.

____________________________________
Rod

Here for the gear.

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I've only owned two instruments I hated: Elka Strings and a Crumar T-1.

 

The Crumar would wash out when attached to a Leslie and wasn't shrill enough to be a great combo organ. And it was a tank. The vintage Korg was oh so much better.

 

The Elka was the single noisiest instrument ever created. I don't think it could be noise gated because the noise when it wasn't being played was about the same level as when playing.

 

It's all context.

 

Accordions and Cajun music? I just love it. Springsteen and Mellencamp have used it to great effect not to mention the Pogues.

 

Mellotrons for Atmosphere? OK. Early King Crimson sounded good. Like String Machines a Mellotron grows old quickly since it lacks a real sense of dynamics or feel.

 

Even the Hohner Pianet sounds good in the hands of a master -- Terry Adams of NRBQ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ahhh, the DX7 EP. First time I heard it I thought it was a really cool sound. About a year later I never wanted to hear it again....

 

Yet the acoustic piano (the real thing) stands as king.

 

And so does the Rhodes (the real thing).

 

As does the Hammond B3 (the real thing).

 

Why is that?

 

Is it because of the unique character found in each instrument? No two pianos are going to sound exactly alike, right? Same for a real Hammond B3. Same for a real Rhodes.

 

Tuning may be off a bit, capacitors may have aged in the B3, the tines may be set up differently on the Rhodes, etc.

 

What qualities does it take to make a better electronic instrument?

 

I've heard lots of people say that they liked the DX7 EP when they first heard it, but later tired of it. And sure, it was over used. Other than that, why does the character of the sound itself not become a desired classic like the instruments I mentioned above... or has it? ...will it once again become sought after - like the cheesy Farfisa and Vox organs? Could it be the association of the music that was played using this particular sound that turns people against it?

 

For ROMplers, must we dirty up the sound to give it character? Or is it that more attention should be paid to every individual note to give it character. No more of using one sample stretched across three notes. It seems to me that with the price of memory continuing to decrease, manufacturers shouldn't have to continue doing this. I guess I could be wrong; huh?

 

Or is sample playback flawed to begin with? Is this method of producing digital instruments so pristine and accurate and reproduceable that it has no personality? Is physical modeling the only way to move forward?

 

OK, so if you add more control to the controller, will that help? I remember in a Keyboard Magazine interview with Donald Fagen he lamented about the "Humanize" function on certain drum machines and how this added a randomize feature to the otherwise deadly accurate timing of the machine. But it didn't help. Randomizing the timings didn't really make it sound more human - just sloppy.

 

What else can be done to incorporate the nuances of an acoustic or electro/mechanical instrument in a purely electronic instrument and make it desireable over time - both in sound and in controller capabilities?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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...will [the DX7] once again become sought after - like the cheesy Farfisa and Vox organs?

 

Quite possibly. Music fashion goes in cycles, so the likelihood of

making a sprightly and robust comeback is fairly high. Remember when you couldn't give away a Rhodes for either love or money? Well, I'd take this Rhodes-led theme over Doogie every time. :)
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I still like the sound of fm rhodes. I listen to this older stuff...still sounds good to me. Of course it's a pop Jay Oliver seq and Sherwood sings his butt off, so that helps, but the vibe is still ok for me. Nice and full/wide. Fills the space very nicely.

hit me

 

 

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Only the Mellotron comes to mind. I played a real one a couple of times; to be sure, it was just restored by a tech... But despite that, it was horrible. I never played a keyboard so sluggish, slow and unpredictable in its response.

The sounds... ok, some of them are classic now, even though they were used because nothing else was around at the time. But it's easy to sample them; I just can't see why one would desire a real Mellotron these days. So when I heard that somebody had started to manufacture it again (at $5000!), I just laughed quite hard. I guess they have closed doors by now.

 

I am not really sure I understand the renewed popularity of the Wurlitzer electric piano. I owned two of them, and I was really glad and relieved when I was finally able to make the switch to a Rhodes. I don't *hate* it, however. :)

 

Oh, and the GEM organ from my childhood. I am unable to really hate it because of the good memories - but frankly, it was an horrible, awful piece of crap. :freak:

 

 

 

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There's very little performance aspect to Romplers. They just sit there in the mix.

 

The DX-7 was the begining of the end of the synth as a performance instrument.

 

Replacng the knobs with software just didn't cut it. Sure mod wheels and pitch were still there but filter cutoffs and resonance and LFO were buried as romplers were largely used to emulate electro/acoustic instruments.

 

Synths lost character. They were struggling before that (who didn't get sick of the late 70s sound that Styx typified) but some were able to breath life. The synth line for Loverboy's "Take me to the Top" was genious compared to the 'David Foster' sound.

 

It's why I like the demos of the new Nord Wave. I can hear that in a funk jazz band and it begs for human interaction.

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Other than that, why does the character of the sound itself not become a desired classic like the instruments I mentioned above... or has it?

It has. Pretty much every ROMpler has a DX-like piano in there; some even more than one.

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Only the Mellotron comes to mind. I played a real one a couple of times; to be sure, it was just restored by a tech... But despite that, it was horrible. I never played a keyboard so sluggish, slow and unpredictable in its response.

 

Some people like unpredictability, and as ITGITC suggested before - something that behaves consistently and exactly, every time, gives a feeling of sterile lifelessness, and it may well be one of the things that make an instrument stand the test of time, and be considered a "genuine" instrument, as opposed to a clone or emulation.

 

Even an acoustic piano has a certain factor of unpredictability. The slight rusting and aging of the strings, the exact position in which a hammer will hit the string, the mechanical action, nothing is ever exactly the same. A digital sample however, is always going to be the same, it's 1 or 0, it'll either work or it won't, and there's no aging or growth, there's no life.

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Of course, that is not to say that anything that is unpredictable is therefore good. Simply that "unpredictableness" on its own, should not demerit an instrument, so long as it has other appealing characteristic or attributes (which is of course subjective, and you're free to dislike it if you do not find anything else appealing about it).
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The Farfisa and Vox transistor organs leap immediately to mind for me. I've always loathed that sound, and I still do.

 

I sort of like the DX EP sound. Not all night long or anything, and I'm certainly glad it's no longer on EVERY freakin' record on the radio, but it's very nice in small doses. Just one man's opinion.

 

--Dave

 

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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Some people like unpredictability, and as ITGITC suggested before - something that behaves consistently and exactly, every time, gives a feeling of sterile lifelessness, and it may well be one of the things that make an instrument stand the test of time, and be considered a "genuine" instrument, as opposed to a clone or emulation.

Come on. I'm not talking about that level of artistic "choice of not choosing", which Eno, for example, has referred to on occasions. I'm talking about depressing a key and being reasonably sure to encounter a certain type and amount of resistance, and that the sound will start in a predictable amount of time. These are *not* choices that I want to leave to an instrument, unless on special occasions, *I* program those umpredictabilities into it. Would you like to have your piano introduce Mellotron-like delays to your playing? Me neither.

The Mellotron responded in a bad way because of inherent limitations and inevitable mechanical complexities in its design. If you happen to like it, more power to you; as for me, I won't play one onstage for love or money.

 

Even an acoustic piano has a certain factor of unpredictability. The slight rusting and aging of the strings, the exact position in which a hammer will hit the string, the mechanical action, nothing is ever exactly the same. A digital sample however, is always going to be the same, it's 1 or 0, it'll either work or it won't, and there's no aging or growth, there's no life.

I know that *very* well, and I never intended to defend digital samplers against analog instruments; I'm a pianist and analog synth fanatic. The Mellotron, however, is one of the few cases where I prefer a (good) sample to the original (try to tell the difference in a recording!). In fact, I have several Mellotron samples, and I had some fun by processing them with a bit of synthesis, to adapt them to particular songs; a commodity which the original didn't have.

Also, I hate playing badly regulates pianos, where some of the notes respond in a different manner. ;)

 

Of course, that is not to say that anything that is unpredictable is therefore good. Simply that "unpredictableness" on its own, should not demerit an instrument, so long as it has other appealing characteristic or attributes

I'm curious at this point to ask if you have played a real Mellotron. What I'm criticizing here is just its keyboard response, not the sounds - which, as I said, I use sometimes, but are too easy to sample to ever bother with the original.

 

And yes, I think that *excessive* unpredictability is a strong negative point in a musical instrument intended for performance.

 

you're free to dislike it.

Thanks! ;)

You're free to like it too... :D

 

 

 

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I still like the sound of fm rhodes.

 

 

Same here. In the right hands, it's an incredibly expressive sound. I think the commonly held disdain for this sound has more to do with the bombardment of crappy 80's music that abused it. Guilt by association.

Reality is like the sun - you can block it out for a time but it ain't goin' away...
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Come on. I'm not talking about that level of artistic "choice of not choosing", which Eno, for example, has referred to on occasions. I'm talking about depressing a key and being reasonably sure to encounter a certain type and amount of resistance, and that the sound will start in a predictable amount of time. These are *not* choices that I want to leave to an instrument, unless on special occasions, *I* program those umpredictabilities into it. Would you like to have your piano introduce Mellotron-like delays to your playing? Me neither.

The Mellotron responded in a bad way because of inherent limitations and inevitable mechanical complexities in its design. If you happen to like it, more power to you; as for me, I won't play one onstage for love or money.

 

Fair enough, and I realized now that I was accidentally attributing an earlier post to you ("no Mellotron unless it's Strawberry Fields"), and that was the opinion I was partly addressing. I can see now that your main beef was with the action and response, and that's a fair call of frustration.

 

On the other hand, I still think that's part of it's charm. It doesn't make it a very good performance tool, which is what you are measuring it for, but for me, it's more of a songwriting tool. Something to play to inspire a song, or an arrangement or part, when you don't necessarily have a solid idea in your head, where the awkward mechanical features cause a strange phrasing that you wouldn't have otherwise come up with yourself. There's value in that. It's just a matter of picking the right tool for the right job.

 

I'm curious at this point to ask if you have played a real Mellotron. What I'm criticizing here is just its keyboard response, not the sounds - which, as I said, I use sometimes, but are too easy to sample to ever bother with the original.

 

I have played a real Mellotron, but only by itself, and not ever in a performance. I can imagine it would be frustrating if you needed to comp a part and play along to a pre-determined rhythm for example, the delay in the tapes and all require a fair amount of compensating, and could drive you batty. But I only play it solo (or before a rhythm or part is predetermined, in which everything else works around the Mellotron part!) and it's great in that way, in which it forces you to play in a way that you wouldn't otherwise. I enjoy that aspect of it.

 

you're free to dislike it.

Thanks! ;)

You're free to like it too... :D

 

Cheers ;) It's great that we allow each other this promiscuity in our relationship :D

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I like digital, sampled based instruments.

 

If you work with the provided ingredients you can make some very good sounds. And satisfying in a unique way because only you would have made them. An expression of yourself and not just the machine. It's what Eno has been doing with every synth he has had ... but in particular, synths with a large timbral pallette lend themselves to this. Like romplers and samplers.

 

There are some things these instruments do well. Pitch envelopes (with velocity control!) aftertouch as a mod source, crossfades etc. Complex envelopes.

 

And there's other stuff where they really don't shine, like resonant filtersweeps or bass. With these instruments ... one can think that just because there's a sample for it it's going to sound good. It's not. They have sweet spots and ugly spots. Just like any other instrument.

 

There is a very good reason sampled based technology has not left a mythic instrument in our hands. Unlike the piano and b3, it hasn't reached it's height yet.

 

Jerry

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Love the sound of Mellotrons, not so much their playability. Love the sound of the RMI in Genesis material, but was pretty much horrified when I played one for real.

 

Hated, hated HATED the DX7, to the point where I quit playing keyboards in bands and started to play bass. Noone wanted a Hammond player in their band, wanted that DX7, and that sound was everywhere. I still won't play a DXrhodes patch, although I've been known to swing a mallet or two.

 

Just prior to the DX7, I was lusting after the CS80: Jons Just Music in Chicago (before it was bought by Guitar Center) had one, and I used to take a bus 20 miles from my house every Saturday to play it. $5000 in 1980 money, but man did THAT make a S O U N D! Wobbly brasses that still sound better than any ROMpler, big organ sounds (not b3, but still huge) and synth leads....I still want one!

 

CP30 was a weird one...I kind of dug it at the time, but....

 

Did I mention I HATED the DX7 and still do?

Hitting "Play" does NOT constitute live performance. -Me.
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The DX-7 Rhodes and variation, update, or reprogramming thereof. I can't even imagine in liht of the real Rhodes that sound ever having a footing to gain popularity in the 80's and early 90's. I was never a fan of transistor org's either...

Yamaha (Motif XS7, Motif 6, TX81Z), Korg (R3, Triton-R), Roland (XP-30, D-50, Juno 6, P-330). Novation A Station, Arturia Analog Experience Factory 32

 

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A lot of the instruments from the sixties and early seventies were crap. Not necessarily the sound, but the construction, weight, and functionality. I thought the Moody Blues did an admirable job in the use of a Mellotron on their records, but I agree with Tonysounds and others that hated trying to play them. As the disks got older, they got noisier and where unusable for recording. Slow action, short playing. An expensive piece of crap.

 

RMI pianos were a lousy electric piano with an organ action. But at the time, it was one of the things that was available, so I bought one. It cut through a rock band better than a Rhodes. Not sure I liked what I heard that was cutting through. :sick:

 

Vox organs were also crap. Poor quality, and the one I had didn't hold up to Pennsylvania winters. I didn't keep it very long, I started using a Korg CX-3 as soon as they came out. It was sheer punishment going from an old Hammond B2 to "compact" transistor organs. Farfisa organs sounded cheesy, until they introduced the Farfisa Professional series, which sounded closer to a drawbar organ and not its predecessors.

 

I wasted thousand upon thousands of $$$ trying to get an instrument that was playable and dependable. That didn't happen until the late seventies. Its one of the reasons I'm so poor now. :freak:

 

 

Mike T.

 

 

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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RMI pianos were a lousy electric piano with an organ action.

 

Somebody name a better all-electronic piano that was available at that time.

 

In its defense, the RMI was built like a tank. Each note had its own oscillator instead of borrowing from the top octave like other organs.

 

Although the action was an organ action (like the DX7 and other five-octave keyboards of today), it was an excellent organ action - again, very well built. It was not velocity sensitive. (Interesting enough - the Kurzweil PC2X programs taken from RMI piano samples are.)

 

If you look at the RMI and compare it to the other all-electronic electric pianos on the market at the time, it's the best of the bunch. Remember, RMI - Rocky Mount Instruments - was a subsidiary of Allen Organ. Allen produced the best-sounding pipe organ emulation of its time. If a church couldn't afford a bonafide pipe organ, the Allen church organs were the next to be considered. They were the best of the best in that category. They pushed the technology envelope by being one of the first to use digital circuitry along with IBM punch cards to program their sounds. Allen church organs sounded great.

 

Of course, the RMI Electra Piano wasn't perfect. At the time it was introduced - around 1973 - technology just hadn't progressed far enough to give us what is needed for a better quality piano sound.

 

And that's why the Rhodes and the Wurlitzer electro-mechanical EPs were better choices for most people in most situations.

 

Rocky Mount Instruments' factory was built in my home town. I knew the guys who worked there - the technicians, the sales guys, etc. It blew my mind to take a tour of the factory and see how the boards were made and the Tolex was applied. I had never seen a wave soldering machine before. And I was told that the Tolex was glued so tightly to the plywood that if it was applied wrong, you couldn't get it off. You would have to throw it away and start again. The stops were all engraved - just like the Allen organs. Like I said, the build quality of the RMI keyboards was excellent. They were simply ahead of their time in trying to get a realistic piano sound from analog circuitry. Anyone who has ever tried to program a synth (subtractive synthesis) to get a realistic piano patch - with all its nuances - knows that it can't be done. Even with sampling and physical modelling everyone here still disagrees on what sounds good.

 

I think the folks at RMI were doing the best they could with the technology they had in their day.

 

KLONK for Allen Organs

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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So...it was solidly built. So was the Edsel. In it's defense I will say that RMI's only all electronic competition was the Univox electronic piano and it not only sounded terrible but was built badly as well. Ironically, that proved to be a good point. One didn't feel bad about taking it to the curb. Taken all in all, I'd put the RMI in the landfill and use the Univox to cover it.
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RMI pianos were a lousy electric piano with an organ action.

 

Somebody name a better all-electronic piano that was available at that time.

 

In its defense, the RMI was built like a tank.

 

OK, OK hometown fan boy, so it sucked infintessimally less in build quality than other available options. ;) It WAS built like a tank - a heavy, 20 ton tank. And the lute stop made an interesting noise. But you couldn't play piano parts on it without gritting your teeth.

Moe

---

 

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Quotes by ITGITC:

 

"Somebody name a better all-electronic piano that was available at that time."

 

A Fender Rhodes? Ok, that's cheating. :/

 

"I think the folks at RMI were doing the best they could with the technology they had in their day."

 

Yep, agreed. Though the action on the RMI drove me nuts. You are right Tom, the RMI was built like a tank. Never had any trouble with it.

 

After the RMI I bought a "portable" acoustic piano, called a Lawrence Audio. It had pickups in it and it was a pretty decent acoustic piano that I could plug into an amp and play. But it was a heavy beast. I used the furniture mover's carrier that I had used with my Hammond to transport it, and it took four of us to lift it in and out of the equipment truck. :P

 

I knew what I said about the RMI would strike a chord with you Tom. I enjoy fun'in with y'all.

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Hey! I remember the Lawrence Audio! I think also Lesage made one too, briefly. Had to take tuning hammers to every gig. Someone I knew had one and a Conn strobe tuner just for that.

 

Regarding the Mellotron, I used to play one. It was like playing an 8-track.

____________________________________
Rod

Here for the gear.

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Hadn't heard of Lawrence audio but sure remember the Lesage. In the mid 70's I played with a keyboard heavy outfit that had a pianist who used the Lesage (actually sounded pretty good too. Better that the Yamaha electro-acoustic IMHO), a lead guitarist who doubled on the Korg Duo and later ARP Odyssey and Vako Orchestron (remember those?), and me holding down Hammond C3 and clavinet. I suppose these days we could qualify for a grant as a museum. Still, some pretty nice old keys most of which have stood the test of time.
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