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Category: Equipment (Page 1 of 9)

How I use the Roland A-880 MIDI Patch Bay

Fig 1. A Roland A-880 MIDI Patch Bay, in situ

I can not remember when I acquired the Roland A-880 MIDI Patch Bay. It certainly wasn’t the first piece of kit I ever bought – that honor goes to a second-hand Roland Jupiter 6 back in 1988. It had some DIN ports – In and Out – on the back for something called MIDI. It was soon followed by an Akai sampling keyboard and synthesizer rack module, which worked very well together when connected with MIDI cables. Also, you could send notes from the Jupiter to the Akai devices over MIDI, so long as you set the rack to listen on MIDI Channel 1 or 2. Shortly after that, we found a Roland MIDI Interface (MPU-401?) for our PC, and started recording MIDI sequences into a copy of Passport Software’s Master Tracks Pro.

Recap: MIDI in a nutshell

So far, so good. We had PC software that allowed us to perform patch librarian tasks using MIDI (called System Exclusive or SYSEX) on many of the devices but it requires bi-directional data transfer between the sound module and the computer, and signals in a single MIDI cable only go one way: You need two cables connecting the In and Out ports. From the computer OUT to the module IN; and also from the module OUT to the computer IN. The computer requests data; the module sends it; the computer sends more data.

MIDI messages are assigned a “channel” between 1 and 16. So if you connect a MIDI cable between two devices, a device listening on channel 1 won’t respond to any messages assigned to channels 2-16. More information here.

This allows more than one device in a MIDI chain. In fact, later keyboards and modules included a third port, a MIDI THRU that would re-transmit incoming MIDI signals to the next device in a chain, allowing layering and multi-timbral setups. Some manufacturers combined the THRU and OUT connectors.

I realize as I write this that it all sounds archaic these days, when we have digital bi-directional comms over a single USB connector, let alone Ethernet and WiFi. But back in the 1990’s, it was like magic, and no-one complained that they needed two cables for this type of two-way communication.

The problem is that the more devices you have, the more un-plugging and re-plugging of MIDI cables is required to manage all the equipment. Some sort of automated patch bay becomes almost required. Enter the Roland A-880 MIDI Patch Bay.

Fig 2. Front panel controls of the Roland A-880

The A-880 is basically a box with 8 inputs; 8 outputs; and it will connect these together any way you like. You can use it ad-hoc by selecting an input (from the top row of eight buttons) and then selecting which of the eight outputs (from the bottom row of buttons) the MIDI messages are echoed on. If you find yourself using the same set of connections over and over, you can save it in one of the 64 possible memory locations for easy recall.

The Studio Equipment

For the purposes of this article I’m using the following devices:

  • Windows 10 computer running the Cakewalk by Bandlab DAW
  • MIDISport 2×2 USB MIDI interface (ports A and B)
  • Roland A-80 Keyboard controller
  • Roland SPD-20 Drum Pad controller
  • Novation PEAK synthesizer desktop module
  • Korg M1 Synthesizer keyboard
  • Korg TR-Rack synthesizer rack module
  • Roland D-550 synthesizer rack module

All these devices have MIDI In and Out ports for sending and receiving MIDI messages such as notes, clock, and system-exclusive (data dumps and patch edits). I’ve already decided which MIDI channels each device is going to use.

Aside: Cakewalk and MIDI Echo

Cakewalk – and presumably other DAWs – has the ability to mimic the behavior of a THRU port, and echoing the incoming MIDI data from input to output. It records the performance into the active track, but also optionally echoes the notes through the computer’s MIDI output port. This lets me play the Roland A-80 whilst hearing the sound from, say, the Roland D-550.

More on this in the Cakewalk Manual: Controlling MIDI playback – MIDI Echo

Use Case 1 – Playback of a previously recorded MIDI project from the DAW

It’s an old project from back before we had the ability to record Audio tracks in our computer. It has three tracks and I need to send the MIDI out to the Korg M1; the Roland D-550; and the third track was drums and there’s a nice standard kit on the TR-Rack that will do nicely. So I need to connect the MIDI OUT from the computer to the MIDI In on those three modules:

Unfortunately, that arrangement can’t be done as-is because the MIDI cables are point-to-point: one Out port has to go to one In port. Instead, we have to daisy-chain them using the MIDI THRU ports on each unit:

That works – providing you have the THRU ports available.

One down-side of this is latency, in that if your chain has too many hops, then the instrument at the end of the chain can take a noticeable time to respond after you press a note. Also, there’s a potential for signal degradation. If you limit yourself to 2-3 devices in a chain, it’s not a problem, and it works.

Use Case 2 – Recording a performance into a new MIDI track

Now I want to record a MIDI performance on the M1 keyboard into a new track in the project in the computer software. So I need to connect the M1 Out to the computer’s In:

Hang on, the M1 keyboard is great for some types of playing styles, but after some practice runs, I think I really want to use the weighted, 88-keys of my Roland A-80. Just a sec, I need to re-connect:

Okay, enough! I’m sure you get the idea. Let’s move all these connections into the Roland A-880. One advantage is that now, we can feed multiple In ports from a single Out port, reducing the latency and signal degradation (which in practice isn’t a problem, but hey, it’s all good):

Bank/Patch 1:7 with A-80 as controller

Making virtual connections between the ports is easy once you know how: Press a button on the top row, followed by one or more buttons on the bottom row. Then press Scan/Mix or Signal to complete the configuration. So to set it up as shown above:

  • Press In-8
  • Press Out-4, Out-5, Out-6
  • Press In-7
  • Press Out-8

Now I can send my performance on the A-80 to the Cakewalk DAW running on my computer; and in turn, Cakewalk sends the MIDI notes from the existing tracks out to my sound modules.

If I decide I’d like to record the next track on the Korg M1, I can merely switch from the A-80 by:

  • Press In-4
  • Press Out-8 (this “disconnects” the previous connection from In-7)

Now the M1 is the “controller”.

Connecting the rest of the gear

Now we go into the closet and pull out ALL the MIDI cables, and connect all the devices:

Ports 1 and 2 are accessible from the front panel of the A-880, so I tend to reserve these for “temporary” connections (although, my SPD-20 drum pad controller has been out of the closet and connected up for about a year now). Port 1 is handy when I want to integrate my iPad into the studio, or back up patches on the Line6 POD.

Now, it is so easy to lay down a new drum track using the SPD-20 as the controller:

Bank/Patch 1:2 with SPD-20 as controller

Use Case 3 – D-550 Editor/Librarian operation

I can use SoundQuest‘s MIDI Quest software to download, edit, and upload patches to the Roland D-550, and this requires that we connect both In and Out to the computer:

Bank/Patch 8:6 for SyEx/Dump from the D-550

Memory Management

We have 64 memory locations available in 8 banks of 8 patches. I can’t imagine needing all of them. I divide mine into two categories: Bank 1 is “Controller select”, and Bank 8 is “SysEx Operation”. To make it easy to remember, I use the patch number to indicate the “subject” of the configuration:

  • 1:2 SPD-20 is controller (on port 2)
  • 1:4 Korg M1 is controller (on port 4)
  • 1:7 Roland A-80 is controller (on port 7)
  • 8:2 SysEx/Dump for SPD-20 (on port 2)
  • 8:4 SysEx/Dump for Korg M1 (on port 4)
  • etc

Other features

MIDI Clock is a “pulse” or timing reference transmitted along with other data that can be used to synchronize devices. The A-880 will respect the MIDI Clock on the port nominated as “Control In”. You can set which port (1-8) is the “control” by holding down the corresponding input button during power-on. I use Port 8 as the Control In because the PC/DAW is my timing master.

I personally don’t use the Merge function but according to the manual you can merge input messages from Control In along with one other port. You can select which port to mix with Control In by holding down Scan/Mix while also pushing an input button.

You can change programs on the A-880 by sending it patch change messages on the Control In port, using the Control MIDI Channel. You set this channel by pressing Memory + Write , then one of the 16 input/output buttons. For example, to set a control channel of 12:

  • Press MEMORY + WRITE (don’t hold)
  • Press OUTPUT 4
  • Press SCAN/MIX or SIGNAL to complete.

Final thoughts

The A-880 has remained the heart of my studio since arriving back in the early 1990’s. Keyboards come and go (a moment of silence for the Jupiter 6, alas) but the A-880 remains at the hub, probably the most reliable piece of gear I’ve ever owned.

Other useful links

New felt for an old keybed, vol.2

This post is mostly for my own reference, and also to replace and supplement information that used to be hosted at http://soundofmusic.se/ but is no longer available.

My Roland A-80 keyboard has a pretty noisy action, and after the success I had replacing the key felt strips in the Korg M1, I figured I should give the A-80 the same love and care.

According to Gearslutz, the A-80 features a Matsushita SK-688 keybed – it’s an older keybed (but it checks out) – and Syntaur have some replacement parts available, including a felt strip suitable for the keybed “lowers”, where the keys rest when they are not being played. I ordered two units, on a hunch (turns out I was right).

When they arrived, it was time to begin the service operation.

Before you begin

I highly recommend getting a copy of the service manual. I’ve saved you the bother of finding it: here it is. That’s the PDF I use, hosted on our site. (It’s not perfect but it is the best resolution and clearest copy I could find online.) I kept the PDF open on my desktop, and flipped between pages as I worked.

Secondly, you will need a key removal tool. There are instructions in the manual on Page 5 on how to make one using a paper clip, and providing you are able to match the dimensions specified, it actually works.

However, it is awkward to use, and not too robust for intensive use. (I went the extra mile and sacrificed a teaspoon for the cause. More on that later. If you don’t have access to a basic workshop, be assured that the paper clip tool does work.)

Before moving it to the work table, make a note of any connections

Wherever you move the unit to, make sure it is at a comfortable working height. I initially placed it on a “standing desk” but this was really too high. I should have just used a regular-height table. The A-80 weighs a ton. (30 kg?). Most of that weight is concentrated at the front edge (each key is weighted at the tip and that is where most of the weight comes from).

Opening the Lid

The top is hinged at the back edge and flips up like a car bonnet, once you have removed some screws from the bottom of the unit. Page two in the Service Manual has the details but I’ve got a diagram from another post about the A-80 which I’ll re-use here:

Fig. 1 – 15 screws to remove, highlighted in yellow

You either need to flip the unit on its back, balance it upright on the back edge as you remove the screws. Either way, it’s awkward and risky. (It was at this point I realized the standing desk was probably a bad idea.) Restoring it to the normal position, the lid then swings up for easy access.

If I recall correctly, there’s an earthing wire that will possibly prevent the lid opening to a useful working angle. In my unit, I’ve lengthened the wire so that I don’t have to unscrew one of the lugs, but your unit may be different. Use caution.

Now we’re ready for the next step.

Removing the keybed

If you’re only interested in removing the black keys, you don’t need to remove the keybed from the chassis: Black keys slide out towards the back; White keys towards the front (where there is no room in the assembled unit.

Removing the keybed requires:

  • Disconnecting the cables;
  • Unscrewing the keybed from the base.

Disconnect the copper shield

It’s attached to the keybed by three screws:

Unplug the “key pressure” ribbon cable

It is easy to unplug the cable from the CN8 connector on the MAIN-A board:
Mark the ribbon with a sharpie so you can re-connect it correctly later (optional). The receptacle clamps down on the ribbon edge and easily releases the cable if you tug gently on the grey section of the connector to open it:

Once open, the cable slides free

The ribbon cable is retained by a flexible clamp, and in my unit, a strip of tape holding it to the base plate.

Cable retainers also need to be released

Unplug the PCB connectors RA1, RA2, RA3

In my unit I had to snip a cable tie that was grouping all the wires together. Now that I write this, I realize that I forgot to replace it. Oh well, no big deal. RA1, RA2, and RA3 are marked on the PCB.

Connectors RA1, RA2, and RA3

If necessary, you can use a small screwdriver to loosen the connectors. They are keyed, you can only insert them one way.

Unscrewing the keybed from the chassis

There are 12 screws to remove: 6 from the inside back edge, and 6 from the underside at the front of the chassis. These are indicated as “II” and “III” in Fig.1 above.

Three of six to remove from inside

Now we can lift the keybed out of the chassis and place it on a clean padded work surface. Take care to protect the ribbon cable – it is still attached, and is fragile.

Now would be a good time to take a vacuum cleaner to the interior of the chassis. I don’t know about you, but my unit was pretty filthy inside under the keys.

Reviewing the keybed

Replacing the felt “lowers” means that I’m going to have to remove all the keys. I took some time to review the keys. Each key has an identifier embossed near the hinge. For White keys, its the Scale note (except for one B key which also says “2-2”, and the first and last keys which are A’ and C’ respectively). The Black keys seem to be a random 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, etc, up to 3-6. I can’t see a correspondence between scale position and number.

The parts list on page 4 of the service manual does not give any hints about these codes. I don’t think it is significant, apart from the obvious non-standard keys at the top and bottom ends of the keybed. However, as I put the removed keys aside, I made sure to line them up in order so that I could replace them exactly the same way. I recommend that you do the same.

Removing the keys

Each key consists of a key Holder that is attached to the base, and the Key itself which hinges on the holder, and depresses when you play a note. Removing a key from the base involves reaching through a hole in the Key and lifting a catch on the Holder to allow the holder to be slid out of the base. White keys slide towards the front, whilst Black keys slide out towards the back.

Page 6 of the Service Manual attempts to describe the process clearly, but in all copies I’ve found on the Internet, there appears to be some text missing.

Essentially, the process is:

  • Depress the Key
  • Insert the key removal lever and rock it towards you so that the tooth engages the Key Holder latch (it is exposed while the Key is depressed)
  • Lift the key removal lever slightly to ensure the lock button at the base of the Key Holder is raised out of the hole in the base
  • For White keys, push at the back to slide the Key Holder towards the front.
  • For Black keys, push on the front of the key to slide the Key Holder towards the back of the base.
  • The Key + Key Holder should then lift away from the base.

Having a look at base with keys removed make this more understandable:

The Key Holders fit into the notches in the base plate. Black keys lock in from the back; White keys lock in from the front. You can see the round hole that the lock button fits into… here’s a view from the back:

Another view, from below

The key removal tool is for lifting that button out of the hole, via the tooth latch on the key holder.

There’s nothing like trying it out in practice.

One thing you may encounter is that there is a whole lot of double-sided sticky tape all over the base plate, and the key holders are very firmly held in place. It took some force to dislodge them. Sliding them out while holding the key removal lever in place was tricky.

When I started removing the keys, the holder and key would separate and the spring would fall out. Not a big deal to re-assemble, but it’s best to avoid it if possible. Knowing the mechanics ahead of time might help with this.

With the paper-clip version of the Key Removal Tool, I had difficulty lifting the Key Holder lock. Seeing as I was starting from one end and removing all keys, I could use a small screwdriver from the open side to assist in the release:

You can see how ineffectual the paper-clip is in obtaining leverage

However, using a screwdriver has risks. After two decades or so, those rubber domes are fragile. USE CAUTION! DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN:

Cue Hitchcock Psycho strings in D

That’s the D4 key. So long as I don’t poke it, I can’t see the break in the rubber, and I had to hope that the switch was still functional. If not, I’d find out later.

Things were much easier when I gave up on the paperclip and manufactured my own key removal tool.

Some well-spent time with a vice, hammer, and flat bastard file later…

The thickness of the “blade” at the business end isn’t specified, but the thinner and more polished it is, the easier it will be able to latch on to the plastic catch inside the key.

Imagine you needed a knife for something, couldn’t find one cause all you found was 10 000 spoons…. it could happen!!! And therefore you couldn’t do whatever it was you needed the knife for, and then the next day it turned out that a spoon would have done.

Ed Byrne

With all the keys removed I debated trying to remove all the old excess double-sided tape, and decided that, maybe it was there for a reason, and left it.

Replacing the key felt

This part was easy. It’s also the part where I realized that it was a good thing I ordered two units of key felt, because it took one unit just for the White keys alone.

This new felt feels a little thicker than the old strip.

With the felt replaced, we can re-insert the keys. No special tool is required for this.

Be warned that the thicker layer of felt on the underside means that there is slightly less room available when maneuvering the key into place. I took my time and tried to protect the rubber domes as much as possible from accidental shear forces as the key holder slid into the slot and locked in place.

Problem #1

A side goal of this whole adventure was to take a close look at C#5 which has always been a little “sticky”. It never quite bounced back as quickly as it should, and very occasionally stuck in the depressed state. Sure enough, when I re-inserted it into the base, the same behavior – actually worse – was observed.

Process of diagnosis:

  • I tried swapping the grey plastic guide with one from a known “good” black key position, and observed the same problem.
  • I swapped the key itself with a “good” one and, again, observed the sticky bounce-back.
  • I removed the guide completely, and the key bounced back freely – nice – but with a lot of unacceptable “slop” from side to side.

I decided that either the guide post itself must be bent (not visually apparent), or the key holder slot slightly out of alignment (I find that hard to believe).

The solution I settled on involved removing the grey plastic guide and shaving the sides down a fraction, then re-lubing with a slight amount of grease. Fortunately this was sufficient and the re-installed C#5 key now returned to the upright position snappily. Success!

Reconnecting and Testing

With the keys restored to position, I lifted the keybed back into the chassis and screwed it in place; Reconnected the plugs and ribbon cable, and copper shield.

Anticipate the worst

  • You’re going to need to connect the mains power and a MIDI out cable;
  • You’re going to need to test every key on the board, with a sound source that is responsive to velocity;
  • You’re going to find out that something isn’t working;
  • You’re going to have to go back in to the keybed and try to fix it.

Alternatively, just screw the lid back on and heft the A-80 back into your normal position in the studio, and hope for the best. I chose this second option. I recommend that you suppress your optimism, and assume the worst. Get the A-80 into a place where you can test the MIDI output and still investigate keybed issues.

First good news: I found that the D4 functioned normally. That damaged rubber dome switch isn’t affecting the key response. Phew!

Problem # 2

However, G#4 seemed WAY too sensitive, belting out a velocity close to 127 no matter how gently I pressed the key. Ugh.

There’s nothing for it, but to open the lid and remove that key and examine the rubber dome switch.

Pro Tip: If you are diagnosing a Black key, then you do not need to unscrew and move the keybed from the chassis.

I unscrewed those 12 screws, and moved the keybed back towards the rear of the chassis to get clearance at the front; then raised it up an inch or so on wooden blocks so as to give all keys a clear travel path when depressed.

Then I realized that I didn’t need to do any of that, because I was only interested in one Black key. And they pop out from the back of the keybed, not the front.

After removing the key, I pressed the rubber dome with my finger. It seems that it was possible to emit notes with a wide range of velocity values. The dome switch did not appear to be at fault, but it is hard to judge sensitivity with a finger.

I tried carefully re-installing the key, to see if it was just debris or dust, but it didn’t make a difference. I also tried swapping over to a different Black key to see if it helped. It made a slight difference but still not acceptable – it was just too hard to get softer notes and compromising playing technique for that one key is not really feasible.

Testing in place with Pianoteq 7

I examined the black plastic key at the point where it pushes down on the rubber dome switch. You can see from the schematic further back in this post (Fig.3) how the key, when depressed, impacts the dome switch at an angle. This causes the switch to close two sets of contacts in quick succession, and the time difference between the two circuits closing is translated to “key velocity”. It’s pretty accurate, when working correctly.

For whatever reason, this specific rubber dome was closing the two switches almost instantly, regardless of actual key depression rate.

In desperation, I took a file to the key and very carefully induced an angle in the flat underside of the key, such as to accentuate the timing difference in how the key impacted the two parts of the rubber dome. I don’t have a photo of this unfortunately (I wish I did, but I’m not opening up the A-80 again to get one).

Installing the key and re-testing demonstrated that my hack had made a difference. The velocity response on G#4 was now closer to that of the other keys. It’s not perfect but it’s very usable. It is still a “sensitive” key. I can live with it.

Conclusions

On the whole, the operation was a success. I think I dodged a bullet with the torn rubber dome on D4, and taking a flat bastard file to a key component to fix the problem on G#4 isn’t ideal by any means, but it seems to have worked. C#5 is no longer sticky.

The keybed is about 50% quieter and feels smoother. I did not replaced the “down” felt because it is aligned with the polyphonic after pressure sensors and I wanted to avoid messing with those. But much of the noise was due to “bounce-back”, and that has been reduced a lot.

The Black keys seem unaffected by the new felt with respect to key travel, but the White keys have a reduced “throw”, and feel…. tighter. This must be because their resting position is slightly closer from where it used to be, due to the new felt strip. I expect the new felt will compress a little further as time goes by, but the difference isn’t bad. It feels like an improvement. So, yay.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tale from the workshop, and maybe even found some information that helps you out in your projects. Drop me a line if you have questions.

Under Pressure

Following on from a previous post, I wasn’t happy with the touch response on the Korg M1 since upgrading the keybed felt. The Yamaha FS keybed supports “aftertouch” or “channel pressure” which means that you can alter a sound by pressing down after the initial depression of the key. Nice for, say, opening the filter or adding vibrato, or some other musical change in the sound.

After the felt upgrade, the “feel” was great, but the response to additional pressure on the keys didn’t seem smooth or playable.

Fortunately, the Korg M1 has two tiny variable resistors you can tweak to fine-tune the pressure response. The down side? They are inside the chassis and you can’t get at them without turning the unit upside down, and removing the bottom panel. At which point, playing the instrument to check the results of the adjustment is problematic.

Remove all the screws except the ones holding the rubber feet

After removing the bottom plate and taking a look, the pressure adjustment controls are very easy to spot:

Right in the middle of the photo

Each control sets a different aspect of pressure sensitivity:

  • The one on the right sets the level required to start sending “channel pressure” signals.
  • The one of the left sets the level required to reach “maximum”.

Obviously these levels are very subjective and need to be tuned to match your playing expectations, along with how firm the newly installed felt is. And over time, these may change – the felt will break down and become softer; and your technique as a performer may also change.

I decided I’d quite like to make it easier to access these adjustment controls with the keyboard assembled and set up for performance, so I measured the location and drilled a couple of holes in the under plate.

The location of the centers of the holes are 176 mm down from the top edge of the back plate, and 198mm and 226mm in from the left edge, respectively.

6mm holes

With the back plate screwed back into position, and the keyboard restored in the upright position in the stand, I plugged it in and temporarily edited the default I08 “Pan Flute” patch so that the AFTERTOUCH Pitch=+12, for calibration purposes. This means that “maximum pressure” should raise the tone by one octave.

I then used a Philips head screwdriver to reach under the chassis and adjust the levels to their mid-point. Pressing a key and listening to the onset of the change in pitch, and how heavy I needed to push in order to raise the pitch, allowed me to adjust each of the two levels to optimize the response of the keyboard to pressure.

Refurb FX Unit

I’m not a hoarder – at least, I try not to be – but there are some items of equipment I’m not using and probably don’t need to keep. They are either in storage, or mounted in a rack, taking up space but providing passive heat sinking.

One of these items is my venerable Digitech GSP21-Pro. This is a very capable guitar effect processor and I think it could go to someone who would actually use it rather than just leave it sitting around. I brought this over from New Zealand, so it required a 240V mains supply. About 50% of my gear has been running on a grunty 120-240 mains transformer, so I’ve never bothered to take a close look at the power supply on this unit. However, if I am to pass this on to someone else, it will really need to run on a 120V supply.

Given my recent success with my Korg EX-8000 , I figured I’d open it up and see what was needed to convert the power supply. It turns out that it couldn’t be simpler:

The internal transformer supports 100-240 volts via a simple fuse plug

The easily switched voltage plus the standard appliance socket means that it was trivial to switch it over to 120V. Embarrassing! I could have done this years ago and not needed to run it on the big transformer.

However, I did have a problem: The GSP21 had forgotten all of the custom programs I’d set up over the years, and when turned on, goes to patch 01 instead of the last used setting. Typically this behavior is due to the internal memory backup battery being dead. If I was to sell or gift the unit to someone else, I wanted to be confident that their own patches would be retained in memory while the unit was switched off.

The internals are easily accessed by removing a series of screws from the chassis. The backup battery is identified quickly, tucked away neatly at one side of the PCB. I expected a coin-style CR-2032 but it’s quite different:

Energizer No. 523 4.5 Volts

That battery lasted at least 20 years before giving up. Impressive.

After some research I found that it is actually very difficult to find a No.523 battery of this type. One possible replacement is A21/A133 4.5 Volt Alkaline Battery which can be found at BatteryMart.com under the item code BAT-A21PX.

Mind the gap…

It is almost a perfect drop-in replacement except for a 1mm gap. I tried bending the battery socket arms inward to eliminate the gap but it wasn’t really possible without potentially stressing the PCB. It’s not really designed to be bent – it’s quite strong spring-steel.

My solution was to use a paper clip. Really low-tech but seems to work well:

Simple but effective

It closed the circuit and the battery is firmly held in place. Turning on the unit for the first time showed “restoring factory patches….” for a second, before making patch 01 available. The second time I powered it up, the patches were available immediately, and it remembered which patch I had selected prior to turning the unit off. Success!

I cleaned the exterior of the unit, and offered it on NextDoor.com along with cables, the footpedal unit, and a ragged photocopy of the user manual (which is all I had). And now it is in someone else’s hands, hopefully to give many more years of effective use. I highly recommend the UltraVerb reverb algorithm; it’s very good.

A Refurb’d Reverb.

New Felt for an old Keybed

The KORG M1 synthesizer uses a well-respected keybed manufactured by Yamaha. It’s solidly built and comes apart “easily” for maintenance. I’m replacing some felt strips and adding a few more for mechanical noise suppression, but it turns out that in order to do that, you really do need to remove the keys. While I’m at it, a clean and re-grease is in order.

Walter Nicholls, I’ve found quite a lot of your hair, if you want it back.

Also, a shout-out to BustedGear.com for the excellent support on fixing dodgy key contacts.

Adjusting the pressure response (trim pots)

Also, this is a good reference for adjusting the aftertouch/pressure response.

Guitar Amplifier Simulators – Introduction

The “Producer” tier of Cakewalk’s SONAR has included bundled 3rd party plugins over the years. Some of these were “limited” editions, and some were full products. It’s had some kind of amplifier simulator plugin ever since version 8, I think it was Guitar Rig 3 LE (limited edition).

Most recently prior to Cakewalk’s BandLab acquisition, it included a special “Cakewalk edition” of Overloud’s TH3. Now that Cakewalk (formerly known as “SONAR”) is distributed at no charge by Bandlab, it does not include any bundled 3rd party plugins.

At some point I installed IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 3 which could be downloaded for free back in 2011. (It’s now at version 4.)

Since then I must have taken advantage of one of the periodic bargain upgrade prices for Guitar Rig, because on my DAW, the full version 4.0 was installed. This week I upgraded Guitar Rig to version 5.

These are all good products, but I haven’t really explored them in detail because I tend to use hardware FX for guitar and bass recording, specifically the Line6 POD 2.0, with which I’ve always obtained good results.

But creativity is fostered through experimentation and playing around, which brings me to this month, in which I re-wired my bass in stereo, and started playing around with amp simulator plugins. Specifically, parallel effect chains for the stereo bass signal.

I got interesting results with the time-limited demo of the full version of TH3, but the Cakewalk edition that I have installed is too feature-limited. The full version TH3 is no longer supported, and it costs more money than I’m comfortable with to get to the current offering, TH-U.

I’ve had more luck with Guitar Rig 4, partly because it is a “full” product. When I checked the Native Instruments web site, I saw I could upgrade to the latest version 5 at a very nice price, so I did – even though it hasn’t been updated since 2011.

Guitar Rig (like its brethren) provides a container in which you can build a series of virtual effect units and amplifiers and speaker cabinets into a customized signal chain. This is pretty cool, but it does lack the interactivity of a physical pedalboard, unless you pair the software up with a special hardware controller, such as the Rig Kontrol:

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This physical pedalboard plugs into your computer via MIDI or USB and can talk to the virtual effect rack. You can enable or disable effects in the chain, or manipulate volume or wah pedals.

Unfortunately, it is no longer supported, although you can find them on ebay, reverb, etc.

On the plus side, if you have a MIDI controller in your studio (such as a keyboard with an expression pedal) then you can use that instead. Which is what I’ll write about next.

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