Category Archives: Synth

Yamaha TX-816 arrived

This mean looking Yamaha TX-816 just arrived! The TX-816 is a monstrous FM synth from the 80’s. It’s actually eight (!) Yamaha DX7s in a 4U rack.

Each “DX7” is called a TF1 module, the TX-816 has eight TF1s. Two cheaper versions were also sold, the TX-216 and TX-416 with two respectively four TF1s. Those were of course upgradable to TX-816 by adding additional TF1 modules.  When new in 1984 a TX-816 cost more than $5000. I payed less than $400 which is a bargain.

This particular unit was used on the big hit “Highland” from the early nineties. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It was a bargain anyway, got it for a good price since the second module shows error number 4, which actually is no worse than low battery. In other words, the internal battery must be unsoldered and replaced.

Roland MKS-70 firmware update

I just upgraded the firmware in my newly bought MKS-70 from 1.03 to 1.08. I’m not actually sure what the differences are, but since I have the possibility to program EPROMs there was no reason not to.

However, the engineers at Roland decided to put the EPROM in a position that makes it impossible to pull it straight out.  The EPROM is located at the mainboard in the bottom of the MKS-70 and marked with an A. The two voice cards (same as used for the JX-10) are stacked upon that. It is possible to fold away those cards, but a lot of cables has to be detached. I should mention that there each voice card also has an EPROM, these are didn’t have to be upgraded.

The TOP853 couldn’t burn the TC57256D-20 EPROM that are used in the MKS-70 and JX-10. My advice is not to buy the TOP853 if your’re going to use it for programming. The GQ-4X did it after I added a custom line to a new text file called customdevices.txt


Name="TC57256D-20",ID="9845",Class="27256",WVPP="21V",Category="EPROM",MFG="Toshiba";

 

Roland MKS-70 arrived

I know it’s a bit insane, but I got a very good deal and bought an MKS-70. The MKS-70 is the rack version of JX-10. The JX-10 contains two JX-8P. So at the moment, I have a total of five JX-8P engines!

It seems to be fully working, has a few scratches on top and the front panel looks very nice. However, when booting it and pressing the VALUE button the screen read “Ver 1.03 FINAL JX”, which is not the last version of the firmware.  Regarding “FINAL JX”, it’s kind of strange because it was not the last JX synth produced (JX-1 was the last one, though it’s not analog)  and it was not the last firmware version either. Just like on the JX-10, the firmware was very buggy on the MKS-70, but they got it all sorted out with version 1.08. I’ll have to open the MKS-70 and check what kind of  EPROM it uses.

Modifiying a Roland M-16C to M-64C and transferring the factory sounds

A couple of months ago I scored three M-16C on German eBay. My intention was to do the famous M-16C to M-64C conversion, since an M-64C costs more than the three M-16C together. Plus it’s good soldering practice.

When I got the JX-10, it had no factory sounds – the internal memory was all messed up. To solve this two things are required:

  1. A Roland M-64C cartridge. The JX-10 can only take full dumps, and those can only be done to a cartridge. Once on the cartridge however, they can be copied to the internal memory.
  2. The firmware upgrade from Colin Fraser. Here’s a post how I replaced mine.

Installing the new firmware is the easiest part. The harder part is to modify an M-16C. So if you choose the easier and more expensive path, just buy an M-64C.

Modification

I’ve found two guides the original one and another one based on the original one. The original guide has a nice description, but very low-res photos. The other one has good pictures but a not much text.

The first thing to do is to desolder the old memory chip from the M-16C and for me this was the hardest part. It took about an hour and I used a solder sucker.

Another thing was to actually understand where to solder each lead. Some are easy to see, some are not. One that shouldn’t be missed is the one that you have to solder beneath the chip before soldering the chip.  Here’s a photo from one of the guides, it’s the red lead. It’s connected to the second pin in this photo, very hard to spot, but if you look carefully it’s visible between the blue ones.

You also have to bend a few pins upwards, this is quite clear in the text in the original guide,  in the other guide you can see it in this photo.

The final thing to do is to modify the casing, one of the guides recommends a Dremel, for me a filet knife did the job.

Transfering 

There are some instructions scattered all over the internet,  sosummarized it here:

  1. Download banks and CpJX
  2. Insert an M-64C cartridge
  3. Set the Protect Switch on the JX-10  to OFF
  4. Set the Protect Switch on the M-64C cartridge to OFF
  5. MIDI Channel should be set to 1. [MIDI PARAMETER 12]
  6. SYSTEM EXCLUSIVE needs to be ON. [MIDI PARAMETER 14]
  7. Connect both MIDI IN and MIDI OUT
  8. Launch CpJX and configure the right MIDI ports
  9. Load a sysex file and choose Transmit
  10. Go to the JX-10 and push the MIDI button then push the WRITE button. The display responds with: “WRITE MIDI”
  11. Rotate the Alpha-Dial until the display responds with: “MIDI BULK LOAD”
  12. Push the ENTER button
  13. The JX-10 now should handshake with CpJX and the transfer should start. Takes about a minute, and both the JX-10 and CpJX should alert you when the transfer is done.

Primary source: SUPER JX-10 and MKS-70 SYNTHESIZER HOMEPAGE

Axel F with JX-8P and Drumtraks

On the forum “99musik” where all the Swedish synth nerds hang, there was a thread titled “Axel F with different synths”. When I saw that, I recalled that I about half a year ago while drunk did a test recording with the JX-8P and Alesis HR-16. Everything was played from memory so the key is not right, the tempo is quite right.

I opened the Logic-project and realized that the drums sounded like crap. They needed to be replaced. For this I had two choices, the Oberheim DMX or my newly aquired SCI Drumtraks. Since I haven’t installed the midi mod on the DMX yet and the SCI Drumtraks kick and snare are more Linn-like, I chose the Drumtraks. My JX-8P was not connected so I decided to use the old recording and just loop it. Would of course have been more 80’s to play it live! Here’s the result:

Both the brass and bass are stock patches from the JX-8P. All drums are stock Drumtraks. Note how I test the different the different sounds on the percussive channel of the Drumtraks in the end. Claps, tamb, cowbell and cabasa are on the same channel and cannot be played simultaneously. The delay is a classic 80’s trick to get around that limitation.

The thread on 99musik

 

Roland SH-1000 bought

I just bought a Roland SH-1000 from a guy here in town! It’s Roland’s first synthesizer launched in 1973 – analog and monophonic. But it actually has presets, and a lot of not-so-modern-synth-standard knobs and buttons. It’s clear that it was aimed at organ players and not synth players. Probably because the number of synth players back then was very small compared to the number of organ players. The manual even describes the difference between a synth and an organ.

Now I can finally play “Just an Illusion” the way it’s meant to be played. More pictures and info will follow!

JX-8P and JX-10 working with BCR-2000

I just got the BCR-2000 working with the Roland JX-8P and JX-10. I found a JX-8P preset by a guy named Rainer Keizer that works fine! It’s downloadable from the bc2000 Yahoo! Group. However, it took me a couple of hours to realize that it actually works, and the reason was how Logic 9 handles incoming SysEx data. By default, Logic only records SysEx, it doesn’t send it to the MIDI out live. When playing the recorded SysEx back then it transmits the SysEx data. Very, very confusing… The key is to go to Project Settings, Midi and then tick SysEx through. Now SysEx is transmitted through Logic out to the external midi as well.

There are some settings that must be set on the synths for them to recieve.

The JX-8P requires that System Exclusive is on. Press the MIDI button, the enter 26 and set it it to EXCLUSIVE ON with the EDIT slider. The receiving MIDI CHANNEL must also be set, it’s parameter 11. The BCR template from Rainer is working on channel 16, so this must be matched on the JX-8P.

The steps are quite similar on the JX-10 but with one quite big exception. Its’ firmware has to be upgraded to an unofficial version since SysEx is broken on the official firmware! Read about it here. As far as I know, SysEx is always activated with the new firmware, no need to turn it on like on the JX-8P. I’m currently working on translating the whole BCR-2000 JX-8P preset to the JX-10, but have so far only done the filter section. It’s actually only one value that differs, namely the model number, so it’s not that difficult. It’s just tedious. By the way, the MKS-70 (rack version of JX-10) has the same SysEx model number, so this template should also work on the MKS-70.

When finished with the JX-10 modification, I’ll take on the Microwave and the K3.

Just An Illusion, Oberheim DMX + Yamaha TX81Z

A quick test playing the bass line from Just An Illusion on the Yamaha TX81Z. On the original recording the bass is from a Roland SH-1000, played manually without any sequencer at all. I noticed that the Lately bass was quite similar even though it’s an FM-synth. I especially like the “rubber” touch of the sound. Since the original was done without sequencing, I decided to do that as well. And it’s actually very hard, I’m impressed by Tony Swain’s tightness. The velocity controls the filter on Lately Bass, so it’s important no too hit the keys to soft or hard.

The drumbeat on this recording is from the Oberheim DMX, I don’t know what’s used on the original record. You might recognize the DMX sound from Into The Groove, especially with the reverb on the clap.

Effects used:
Lately Bass = Logic standard chorus plug, a bit of eq
DMX Clap = Logic Gold Verb
Everything else is vanilla. Recorded on three channels through the preamps on an RME Fireface 800.

Note that I used the Facetime cam on my MacBook to record this since couldn’t find the tripod for my Canon DSLR. Unfortunately, Photo Booth records with variable frame rate, which makes the audio/video sync unstable, especially noticeable in the last clip.

Upgrading the Roland JX-10 firmware

Some time ago I purchased the JX-10 Sysex Enhanced ROM from Colin Fraser which makes the JX-10 respond to sysex the same way the MKS-70 (the rack version of JX-10) does. It’s only £15 including postage to Europe, so no need to hesitate. Remember to buy it directly from Colin, not from other sellers on eBay. Colin has put a lot of work into this!

Note that you have to have an M64-C cartridge to be able to load the original patches with sysex, the firmware upgrade won’t change that. When the patches are on the memory cartridge they can be copied to the internal memory.

The new EPROM arrived in a static bag attached to an important note informing that inserting the  EPROM the wrong way will damage it. It also had a non-clickable link to the installation instructions.

I did exactly as in the instructions, but with the following three exceptions:

  1. I checked the versions before and after by pressing H while turning on. This was most for fun.
  2. I unscrewed the two screws underneath before the ones on the sides (note: in Colin’s instructions the screws underneath are described as “two larger bolts” – on my JX-10 they were screws).
  3. I did actually not have to loose the flat cable. It was long enough to give the space needed for the ROM swap.

Repairing an M-Audio Venom

I’m actually not very interested in virtual analogs. With an all digital audio path you could as well use software instruments. One good feature though is that some of the oscillator waveforms are sampled from real classics. The Venom also has classic drum machine samples from 808, 909 and more. This review is quite nice:

Anyway, a couple of months ago I pickup a (not that) used Venom for about 1000 SEK / $150. My plan was to use it purely as a midi controller since it has four assignable knobs that sends midi CCs, so I thought why not.

After a few hours use, suddenly the A3-key started to squeak every time I pressed and released it. It’s hard to describe how utterly annoying that is, I was near reinstalling my Roland PC MKII that has been turned on and worked flawlessly for 17 years (and still going strong=quality) and sell or trade the Venom for a Behringer BCR-2000. Also, there was something lose in the Venom that rattled everytime I moved it.

With not too much too lose, I decided to try to fix the Venom. The first thing was to open the damn thing. When I looked underneath it, I was chocked to find 42 Philips screws! Insane! Not knowing which ones to unscrew to open the case, I googled for a service manual but couldn’t find one. This had to be done the hard way…

Luckily, it turned out that it wasn’t very complicated, but rather time consuming. What you have to do is simply unscrewing all the of the 32 screws that in “rectangular” holes. The 10 screws in round holes (marked by a red square) are holding the keys to the bottom part of the case. We’ll get to these later.

The red square marks the screws that holds the keys to the bottom. All other screws must be unscrewed to open the case.
The red rectangle marks the screws that holds the keys to the bottom. All other screws must be unscrewed to open the case.
All of the 32 screws that needs to be unscrewed to open.
All of the 32 screws that needs to be unscrewed to open.

So I started to unscrew. After that, the top part could be lifted a couple of inches. The only thing left to completely detach the top from the bottom was this lead that connects the keyboard to the motherboard.

The lead that connects the keyboard to the motherboard
The lead that connects the keyboard to the motherboard
The motherboard and other circuit boards are attached to the top piece. The arrow marks where the keyboard lead is connected.
The motherboard and other circuit boards are attached to the top piece. The arrow marks where the keyboard lead is connected.

As soon as I opened the Venom, this little piece of glue fell out of it. This was also the piece that caused the rattling.

It was this little piece of glue that made the Venom rattle.
It was this little piece of glue that made the Venom rattle.

The next thing was to locate what made the key squeak. An interesting and quite confusing thing is that all white keys are marked E1 to E7, plus the C6 key that is marked E8. All black keys are marked C4.

For some reason all white keys are marked with and E and a number between 1-7. The most upper key, the C5, is marked E8. All black keys are marked C4.
For some reason all white keys are marked with and E and a number between 1-7. The most upper key, the C5, is marked E8. All black keys are marked C4.

You can also see the key spring. To remove the key, the spring must first be removed. Removing the spring is a no brainer, just lift the spring in the bottom or the top. As soon as I hade removed the spring from the squeaking key, the squeaking disappeared. I put the spring back and then the squeaking returned. I tried to swap the spring with one from  another key, but that made no difference.

To remove key, first remove the spring (notice that the spring is still there in the picture), and then push the key in the direction of the red arrow
To remove key, first remove the spring (notice that the spring is still there in the picture), and then push the key in the direction of the red arrow

I figured I had to remove the squeaking key and one other key to compare them and see if there was any visible difference. The simplest way to remove a key is to push it towards you, the same direction as the arrow in the photo. It doesn’t take much force. Putting it back isn’t hard either.

Two removed keys
Two removed keys

Looking at visual differences, there wasn’t any, other than the low quality plastic stuff on the edges left there from manifacturing. You never see stuff like this in an old vintage Roland synth…

Next thing to try was to swap the squeaking key with another non-squeaking one. The bad boy was the A3, so I decided to swap it with the A5 key. To my surprise, the A3 stopped squeaking and so did the A5. Don’t ask me how, but this was the solution! I put the Venom back together, only using a third of the screws just to make sure that it still worked. Which it did! Case closed!

BONUS:

During my investigation I also removed the key circuit boards to see if the error was there. Looking back, this was totally unnecessary. I took some photos, so I thought I might as well post them here.  Have a look at the gallery below.