MKB-1000 customized

There’s a pic of my customized Roland MKB-1000 master keyboard! This huge, superbly playing board deserves more than that boring black look:-) The Juno-60 also got some small cosmetic surgery….

Roland JX-10 virtual controller for Logic Pro

The JX-10 is my favorite analog synth for pads and synthstrings and it also does a good job for leads and basses. The thing is (or was) that it was almost impossible to edit the sounds in realtime without the PG-800 programmer. The only way was to look up one parameter at a time in the menu and then turn the Alpha-dial wheel a thousand times to get the sound where you wanted it to be, a lot of button pushing and wheel turning! The MIDI implementation was a disaster but luckily Colin Fraser rewrote the  sysex code for the JX-10, so now it can communicate with MIDI editors/controllers, DAW’s, etc… I still got a copy of Emagic SoundDiver, and I was able to program the JX-10 using a modded JX-8P preset and MKS-70 preset, but it wasn’t really stable. Another downside was that it couldn’t be controlled in real-time in combination with Logic Pro, so I decided to give a try and build a JX-10 editor in Logic’s Environment. Last time I used the Environment was almost 15 years ago, my programming skills are very limited, so don’t expect the editor to be a work of art! I only used faders, no knobs for switching the waveforms, there’s no reading of value’s in the editor, but luckily the JX-10 display tells you what you are doing.

In fact, I build 2 versions of the editor, one that only reacts when moving the virtual faders in the Environment and one that can be controlled by a hardware MIDI controller, in my case the assignable control faders on the Kurzweil K2500. With my limited skills I couldn’t combine those two into one version without very noticeable artifacts (sloppy timing when using more than one fader at one), but you can combine them both. That’s how I use it, because I can only automate 32 parameters of the virtual controller with the K2500, the ones that aren’t controlled by the K2500, can be controlled in Logic by hand that way . Now I can record all changes made in the sound into Logic in real-time, just like you would do when using a plug-in, but now it sounds good too 😉

You can look at the JX-10 as two JX-8P’s in one box, it has literally two JX-8P boards in it. Another thing they didn’t get right at Roland at the time is the way the JX-10 saves it’s sounds. One sound (called patch) build out of 2 tones (1 tone=1 JX-8P). Those tones can be used in more than one sound (patch). So if you save a tone in one patch, other patches using that tone will also change….. If you got the M-64C memory cartridge you can do sysex dumps, so that would be a wise thing to do before you starts messing up great patches. Being two 8p’s, you can only edit one tone at the time,  not a big thing if you’re only editing a sound, but if you’re recording the sysex changes, it would have been way cooler if it could handle both tones at the same time. But still better than turning the Alpha-dial and not recording sysex at all!

I really like the sound of the JX-10, while creating the editor I finally heard the full sonic power of the JX-10. Sometimes you read that people find the JX too slow for basses, but with a few tweaks in the editor I got punchy basses with a lot of weight. It’s so much easier now to get the sounds you want.

I’d be happy to share the JX-10 environment with you. I think you can also use it with the MKS-70 module version of the JX-10 and if you can change sysex code yourself, you can also use the JX-8P (change the 3rd hex nr “36” into “35”, change sysex view into hex). The JX-10 MUST be upgraded with the  rewritten sysex code, version 2.3 (latest version) in order to work.

If you want to program your MIDI controller, please check the “JX-10 CC info” file for the CC numbers.

If you’re a Kurzweil K2500 user you can load the “MIDI_SET.K25” master file into your machine, then all 4 fader banks are automatically ajusted with correct MIDI channel and CC number settings.

Click HERE to download

Why do I like (Roland) synth’s/samplers from the 80-ties?

Nowadays you only need a powerful mac or pc, a piece of (freeware) DAW/sequencing software, some plug-ins, a decent audio interface and a couple of speakers to create some great music. Software samplers with libraries of several tens or hundreds of GB’s are no exception. With all those big libraries you can achieve very convincing, realistic results. But to my ears it’s often too sterile, too clean, too perfect.

This is where my love for 80-ties (and early nineties) stuff comes into play. I’ve got a bunch of Roland 12 bit samplers (S-550’s and S-330’s), all bought within the last 5 years. They all have tiny memories, not even 1 MB, they miss all the detail, finesse and ease of use of modern sample players/sample libraries, but the instruments and libraries created for them have one thing: character.

from top: SP-700, S-550 x 2, S-330 x 2

Maybe my love for instruments from this period has also to do with my age (1975). Around the second half of the 80-ties I started to gain interest into music technology, but couldn’t afford to buy all (or some) state of the art equipment of that day and era. Nowadays you can buy these classics for a couple of tens of Euro’s/Dollars. Back in the days a Roland S-550 would set you back about €3500,-!! The Akai S-950, my first sampler bought new in 1990, cost about fl. 4800 (+/- €2200,-), I delivered a lot of newspapers for that! But I still use it from time to time. Do you think you will use the same software you use now in about 20 years from now:-)

Two years ago I bought a Roland JX-10 for something like €300,-. This is a great synth, especially for pads or hard synced sounds. If you’d compare it with something like a NI Massive virtual synth, a fantastic plug-in, I still would choose the JX-10 soundwise. Why: character, warmness and just fat sounding. Although the NI Massive can produce trouser-flappering bass, it again sounds too sterile and clean to my ears….

Another thing that strikes me is the build quality. All my Roland gear is still working perfectly. Only trouble I had was the FX board of my MKS-20 that died, Roland Benelux did a great job fixing it. Thumbs up, they still service 20+ year gear!! Another favorite of mine is the MKB-1000. It’s a master keyboard, with a wooden keyboard, which is a joy to play. The thing is build like a tank, it weights about 50kg (100 Ibs), and is virtually indestructible. It’s a fairly simple device, but it does what it must do, and does it without problems since 1984. Another great Roland machine, the S-750 sampler (1991). Specs are 16 bit, 18 MB sample memory, the GUI monitor output/mouse (like the S-550/330) makes it a breeze to use. Fantastic DA convertors by Apogee and a very pleasant sounding filter. Again, loading samples with modern software counterparts is a lot faster, I still like working with it. There’s a great Roland library (S7x0, for S-770, S-750, SP-700,S-760 and DJ-70 (mkII)), co-created by Eric Persing, founder of Spectrasonics. Highlights of this library are i.m.o. the “Keyboards of the 60-ties and 70-ties” Vol. 1 & 2 and “Orchestral Family” Vol. 1 & 2. When they were released the Orchestral family would cost about fl.1200,- (€500,-), now you can buy it (if you are lucky, you don’t come across them that often) for something like €50-€100,-. It doesn’t have the detail of -for example- the VSL library, but when used in a mix it holds its place better than the VSL library. I often use ’em both when doing classical oriented tracks, when you layer them it broadens the sound, partly to do with slightly different tuning.

Don’t see this post as an add for Roland, I’m not a huge fan of their new products (with the V-piano as exception, can’t wait to see spin-offs of this in other products, right now I think it’s too expensive), but I want to make clear that back in the days they built machines where costs were of minor importance of build and sound quality. Of course, more companies built great equipment, but I have the most experience with Roland. Today I feel that most things (not only musical instruments) are produced to make the most profit for the company, not to create the best possible instruments. I’m afraid that you can’t turn it back. However, the good news is that you can buy these (underestimated) classics for almost nothing and -within their boundaries of technical performance- you can create some fantastic sounding music!