Category Archives: About Me

The Happiness Of Having No Timeline

One of my growing hobbies is synth repair.  Buying broken devices and trying to fix them.  In the early days, it was because I wanted to play these devices.  I was building my studio and I needed and wanted these devices to work right now.  Now that my studio is filled, that urgency kind of drops off and things can sit around for as long as they need to before they get fixed, if they ever get fixed.

This Kurzweil keyboard I purchased over a year ago has been waiting for a donor board for a year, and when I finally got one, it had problems too.  So now I have two unusable boards.  But, due to the lack of urgency to fix them, I’m able to take the time as a learning experience and allow myself to make mistakes and try to learn as I go.  So while the end result might be that neither of them work, I’m learning things that lead up to the final diagnosis of unfixable.

When I started, the one board sad it had bad ram and the other said it had a bad CPU.  These are not solvable problems (for me).  However, there are other problems that I can try to solve in the interim.  For example, both boards have bad backlights in their display.  I’ve discovered they use CCFL bulbs instead of EL sheets.  This is new to me, so I’ve learned about the parts and repair of those. 

After swapping the bulb, there was no real change.  I could have given up right there, but based on past experience, a symptom like that suggests a power problem.  The vast majority of electronics problems are power-related.  The extent of my knowledge on that topic is changing capacitors.  I had recently purchased a capacitor tester to support this limit of my knowledge and my tests showed that yes, a cap was bad near the backlight assembly as well as on the power supply section.  Parts ordered. Days go by.

After replacing the caps, the backlight was better, but still not perfect.  So I was on the right track, just needed more digging.  Something most techs start with, but isn’t really in my troubleshooting list is using a multimeter to test voltages.  I usually bypass this step because I don’t really what is good or bad.  I test the voltage at the cap I just changed.  It’s like 4.8 volts.  I have heard and read that most devices either use 12 or 5 volts internally, so it looks to me that there’s an underpower situation.  I probe farther back and its the same low voltage all the way back to the main power section.  I test some of the capacitors in that area and find one that reads bad. 

One of the things I’ve started doing is buying excess of any part I need, assuming that if I needed it once, I’ll probably need it again.  And sure enough, I have a replacement for this cap on hand.  When I flip the board over to unsolder it, I see the soldering points for the voltage regulator right beside it are darkened.  The pieces are starting to fit together.  Capacitors fail from exposure to excessive heat.  Voltage regulator nearby getting hot enough to discolor the circuit board.  Voltages are not to spec.  I pull the voltage regulator and order a replacement (and spares, of course).

So all this time, I have all these parts and tools scattered all over my kitchen table.  It’s a disgusting mess, but I live alone, so who cares?  If I had another spare room, I could have a workshop, but all my rooms already have purposes.  And again, this may be all for naught.  Maybe I do get the backlight working fully and it doesn’t matter because the mainboard is shot.  But the value in learning has been gained.  I did some troubleshooting steps I hadn’t done before and identified issues that I might have made me give up before.

Rack Redux

Last year at this time, I was building my studio and acquiring gear at a pretty good clip.  Some of the new synthesizers I was buying were rackmountable. and I was a little turned off at the cost of buying a prebuilt rack to house them in.  After consideration, I thought maybe I could build one of my own.  It shouldn’t be hard.  It’s a freaking box.  It’s got four sides.  You have a saw and screwdriver, you should be able to do this.

I do have all the tools you would need to accomplish this, and I had a few minor woodworking projects under my belt already.  I had built a shitty platform for my washer and dryer.  I had built a couple of sunglasses racks as well.  I think I was ready to try this.  Spoiler alert, it’s not exactly cheaper to do it yourself, but the satisfaction sort of makes up for it (that’s always what they say, isn’t it?)

And so I built my first rack.  It was 12U rack with an extra shelf.

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Oddly, the stain I chose was supposed to be a light grey (kind of like the floor) and was actually blue.  Whatever, it’s fine.  It’s not like once I started applying the stain I could just undo it.

And this rack served me pretty well for that year.  I outgrew it quickly, though, and I wanted more space.  I needed more space because I was starting to gather up rackmount effect units.  So I began making mental plans to build a second rack.  This old rack would then be dedicated to effects and the new larger rack would be all synthesizers.

The old rack had a capacity of 12U.  I decided to go big this time and bought 22U rails.  Another thing I didn’t like from v1 is that the floor and shelf of the rack are from some extra scrap wood I had around and this time I wanted the whole thing to have the same wood finish, so I bought extra panels to cut up.  I ended up using 3 of the 4 sheets, so my wood cost went up by only 50%.

I got by by using my 20v tools the first time, but the circular saw was pretty underpowered for the job.  More than once it stalled out cutting through the wood and it never seemed to keep a straight cut.  So this time I bought a high-power corded saw, which is an additional up-front cost, but will be used much more in the future, I’m sure.  I also have a corded drill and when I need that level of power, it’s very nice to have that option.  And the saw did a tremendous job.  i was able to cut the slant on both sides sheets at once, so they are perfectly matched.

I have wheels from a previous project that I can use, and I’m going to use pocket screws again because they seem really strong, and also because I have a lot of them on hand.  I’m going to double the number of screws I use for extra strength this time.  I’m not going to forgo the wood glue this time.  It makes a world of difference.  I have poly sealant from last time, but I didn’t think I had enough blue stain to cover the new larger size (48" high instead of 38"), so I bought some new stain.  This time, red.  Not red like cherry wood, I mean cherry RED.

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Taking some cues from Nord Keyboards, for sure.

Once this is done, as is tradition, it’s only the start of the purchases.  All the equipment from the old rack will be moved to the new one, and that will work as-is.  but when I add more devices, I’ll need to add a second rack mixer.  There’s going to be more devices to power, but I already purchased a larger power strip for install from Woot, who listed one recently, conveniently enough.

Then, looking at the population of the old rack with the effect units that are piling up in my closet, I need to buy a new patchbay to route them.  I have a power switch that I had purchased a while ago from the same place I bought the Roland U-110 and my 32 channel mixer.  And additional power will be available from the power strip already installed in it.  Other than that?  Cables.  Bunches more cables.  Cables to connect the effect units to the patchbay, and maybe some mid-length cables to route between the synth patchbay and the effect patchbay.

And here’s the new rack:

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With all the gear swapped out and organized

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Of course, like every picture, it’s always out of date.  The FX rack now has a patchbay to route to the synth rack and an improved power switch.  The synth rack now has a new entry as well.  So now it’s time to update the 2024 studio purchase log.

The Kurzweil Money Pit

A little over a year ago, my purchasing of keyboards for the studio was peaking, and I was grabbing whatever struck my fancy.  One of the things that came along at that time was a Kurzweil PC3.  It "had problems".  Professional diagnosis said that the main board was bad and would need swapped out.  So I left the device in my rack and waited for another PC3 to come along that needed repair so I could merge the two into one working device.

And it took over a year for something to appear.  This one was the PC3x, which is the 88 key version of the model I had – the 76-key version.  The description, along with demo video, said and showed that the display did not work.  And that was ok with me, because I had a display that did  work.  The asking price was $450, which is a little more than the $300 I paid for the first one, but if these things only appear once a year, I guess I have to get it and go.

I arranged to pick up the device the next day and explained I didn’t care about the screen, but I wanted to know if it had sound.  Time moved slowly and eventually, the seller said they couldn’t confirm if it had sound or not because the display problem prevented any testing.  Well, ok.  I’ll still take it.

And I really overpaid.  I didn’t get what they were saying if I wanted it, just come and get it.  And when I tried to pay them the $450, they were like, no, no, we don’t know if it works or not.  They wanted to give it to me for free.  I drove a hard bargain and gave them $300 instead.  Hindsight is painful, but I’m still ok.

First thing this morning, I started it up.  Initial diagnosis, the screen works.  There’s no backlight.  However, the device is stuck in a rebooting loop.  That’s the repetitive clicking the seller was hearing.  Later in the morning, I have it all disassembled and am running the built-in diagnostics.  The device spontaneously reboots when testing the RAM, but all other tests pass.  Audio can’t be tested because it relies on the RAM, so it reboots on that test as well. 

Ok, so let’s get device #1 and see what we can transplant.  I disassemble the 76-key version and take out the screen.  I figure it will be at least easier if I can see what I’m looking at while testing.  The backlight for the screen is hard-soldered to the main board.  Ugh.  I desolder both, then solder the working screen into the new 88-key.  I go to plug the display board to the main board and… fuck.  The ribbon cable is too short.  Because, duh, a 76-key board is not near as long as an 88-key.

Ok.  Plan B.  Let’s replace the backlight.  I disassemble the display and am very nervous because there’s like no wires to the screen.  It’s some kind of conductive rubber sheet that connects the circuit board to the glass screen.  Then I find out that there’s no EL sheet there – it’s just a big white box with two wires going into it.  I don’t know what that is or how it’s getting lit.  So I go drastic and cut the leads to the existing light and solder them up to an EL sheet I have.  I have to make significant modifications to the metal frame to accommodate the placement of the wires.  Lots of dremel work and hot metal.  This is spiraling out of control.  I get it all put back together, enough to fire it up and… no light.  That was a damn waste. 

Let’s step back a little bit and do some isolated testing.  I take the 76-key display and wire up the power with some extension wires.  I power up the board and the backlight comes on for a brief moment, then goes out.  Hmmm.  Maybe my old display is flaky too?  Or is it possibly a problem with power delivery?

I go back online and do more searches for replacement displays.  Like everything else PC3, there are NO replacement parts available anywhere.  But I found a post of someone who had fixed their backlight and actually provided pictures.  And the replies had even more good info.  Using this info, I bravely cracked open the box on the display board to find the light inside.  It’s not LED, it’s actually fluorescent (cold cathode fluorescent).  Weird, but you know, a lot of computer monitors used CCFL for backlight before LED became cheap enough.

I had cut the leads completely off, so I resoldered the leads back, then soldered that disassembled display to the 88-key board.  When I turned it on, I could immediately see that the bulb was only about a third lit and what was lit was extremely dim.  And like their full-size counterparts, this bulb had the telltale signs of age with the darkened ends.  This is replaceable.  And if I hadn’t found that post and the replies, I would have been simply stuck again.

A site called CFL Warehouse, stocks these bulbs, and they’re not expensive, like $11 each.  And shipping is obscenely cheap, like $2.  So I bought two.  Maybe I’ll fuck one up, and if I don’t, I can replace the bulb in the other display too.  And when parting out the remnants, that should be a decent selling point.

So for now, I’m waiting on parts, like I’m waiting on parts for two other devices sitting around.  And once that’s done, will I be able to go to the next step of swapping components or will both devices have different failures on the same board, making it all pointless?  That remains to be seen.

Studio Buying Spree Continues

It’s a new year and Brainfield studios shows little sign of letting off the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).  I filled up my rack and had 1U of space left and figured I’d add an effect unit, because why not?  And then, why stop at one?

I’d been mulling it around and never really saw anything that caught my eye until one day in mid-February at a pawn shop, I saw a Lexicon Alex for some ridiculously low price like $30.  So I snapped it up and my journey began.  No surprise, the pots were absolute garbage, blasting noise on the slightest adjustments, but a soaking of Deoxit D5 cleaned them all up.  I’m willing to bet 80% of people don’t even know about this cleaner and think when the pots get scratchy, they just have to pitch the thing.  God knows, I was that ignorant not so long ago.

Unit 1 acquired.  But that fills up my rack, so now what?  Well, as a future post will explain, you build a second rack.  But for now, it’s time to build up the inventory for this new rack.  Checking the usual places of Ebay, Craigslist, and FB Marketplace, I landed a couple of buys from FB marketplace in March.  One was a beat up, rusted guitar effect unit, the Rockton Chameleon, and the other seller had a Digitech DSP 128+ and Alesis Microverb.

The Chameleon, like the others, needed the pots cleaned, and for this device, I did a refinish of the case, which turned out quite well.  Otherwise the unit is great and sounds awesome.  The other two devices from the other seller, well…  The Digitech doesn’t work.  It has no wet signal, only dry.  I’ve submitted that to my usual repair shop for repair, because I can’t bear to take a loss on it.  I’d rather pay more for a working unit.  The Microverb works fine, but one of the buttons was superglued back into place and when I pushed it for the first time it just snapped off.  Quite annoying, but it doesn’t affect the usability of the device – just looks crappy.  So one fair seller and one less fair.  It left a sour taste in my mouth about buying for a little while.

But hope springs eternal.  Today, still in March, I went to purchase a Lexicon unit and walked away with a jackpot.  So this guy works at a thrift shop and the staff there don’t know anything about electronics and don’t really want to deal with them, so they just…  give everything to him.  And recently, someone came by and donated two shopping carts full of studio gear.  He took it all and now he’s refurbing it and selling it.  So, it’s a situation that kind of really pisses me off, but here I am anyway and can I get something out of it.  Well, the Lexicon is great, but in this pile of other gear, I see another Alesis unit and a rack shelf with another unit and a Rockman Distortion Generator mounted in it.  OMG.

I try to stay cool about it and casually say I’d be interested in these other devices if you want to bundle them.  He asks how much they would be and I calmly say, "oh, $80-$100 each, probably".  He says he hasn’t tested them yet, so maybe $60 each?  Absolutely.  I came ready to buy one unit for $80 and I’m leaving with 4 units for $200?  And ok, that Rockman is selling online for $500 right now.  Not that I’m a flipper, but I really enjoy getting a good deal.

They’ve all been tested out and all work.  All will need major cleaning and liberal applications of Deoxit, like every other device I’ve ever purchased, but this is a great jumpstart to my upcoming effects rack.  In fact, when you add in the power strip and the patchbay, there’s only 3U left available.  That went fast.

To summarize the devices and their values so far:

  1. Lexicon Alex ($100)
  2. Lexicon LXP-15 ($300)
  3. Lexicon LXP-1 ($200)
  4. Rocktron Chameleon ($150)
  5. SRD Rockman Distortion Generator ($500)
  6. Alesis Microverb 4 ($150)
  7. Alesis Quadraverb 2 ($250)
  8. Digitech DSP 128+ (pro repair unrealistic.  Waiting on parts for self-repair attempt) ($100)

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In March, 2024, I found a listing on EBay for a Korg Poly 800 II.  The listing said some keys didn’t work.  That sounded like something I could repair so I made the purchase.  It had no problems and only needed a new battery.  *shrug* 

In April, I had been trying out the Kawai K1m that I had and was surprised that it sounded better than I first thought.  I had the idea that I could buy a K1r (the rackmount version) and sell the K1m (the tabletop version) to recoup that purchase and I could save space, too.  I made an offer on an as-is listing that said three times, "will not power on".  Got it and the listing was accurate.  It just needed a new fuse.  *shrug*

Shortly after that a listing for an Alesis Nanosynth came up.  Once again, has problems.  The seller was only asking $75 for it, so I put it in my favorites.  He sent an offer for $60, which I accepted.  IDK if I can fix this one, so it may not end up in the final list.  And finally, I got a second Kurweil PC3 and I’m attempting to merge the two broken devices into one working device.  It’s a journey.

2024 Hike Log

Last year’s hike log was a modest success, at least in that it kept track of each of my hikes.  So let’s do it again for 2024.

Date Location Distance Notes
1/13/2024 Green Swamp 4.3 mi
1/27/2024 Blackwater Creek 4.3 mi

The Road To Nowhere

“Ok, I think I’m just about done with the music studio.” – Anachostic, a couple months ago.

So that was a lie.  Let’s quickly summarize events in the studio since my last satisfaction point.

  • Became dissatisfied with power routing and decided to make alterations
  • Retrofitted new power jacks onto four devices to support standard cabling of varying lengths
  • Modified hardwired devices to have a pigtail power jack supporting  standard cabling of varying lengths
  • Purchased more cables: shorter power cables, longer power cables, longer audio cables, RCA to 1/4” cables.
  • Bought a better rack mixer, which gave me an extra available rack space
  • Added another rackmount synth
  • Modified the routing of a couple synths in the rack to go through the patch bay, giving me more rack space
  • Ditched my mini desktop keyboard for one with full-size keys
  • Decided to make a battery swap on a device known for having a non-standard battery that leaks
  • Discovered some new software that allows software control of hardware.
  • Replaced a backlight on an older device.
  • Ordered the stand for the larger devices (this was in the roadmap, so technically not a new project)
  • Finally got around to repairing a device sitting around.

That’s probably enough of a summary.  Here’s some of the details of the vague items.

The General Music Equinox has a Ni-Cad battery that is known to leak and cause damage.  Most all synths have lithium batteries, usually a 3v coin battery.  Not this one.  It’s a 4.8v rechargeable battery.  It’s literally not available anymore, so your only choice is a retrofit of something else.  I found a battery pack used by security lights that’s 4.8 volts, but I wanted to do it better than just a hard-wired fix, so I had some research to do.  The power pack had a plug on it that I learned is called a JST connector, and once I found the proper size, I ordered a cable so I could make a connectable power jack from the circuit board.  Because of course that battery will need changing in the future.

The new software is called Ctrlr, and it’s sort of a Sysex editor and librarian.  You can download control panels for a variety of synths and they will talk to the hardware and make the patch changes.  Amazingly, you can also host these panels in Cubase as VST instruments.  So you get the automation of a VST instrument out of your hardware device.  Fascinating.  Although it’s in a programming language I’ve never heard of, it’s intriguing enough that I might try my hand at creating some panels for synths that I have that aren’t represented yet.  I could convert Fexman into a panel for the MU80 and MU100.

At one point, I thought my rack was full.  I had everything wired to the rack mixer and was out of mounting space.  But then, I got really irritated at the noise level from the used mixer I had bought and decided to upgrade.  That gave me an extra 1U of space.  I thought maybe I could get an effects unit and wire it into the patch bay.  That made me think, the Yamaha MU80 and MU100 can be used as effects devices, why don’t I wire them into the patch bay?  And that freed up more rack mixer inputs and more mounting space.  I found a new synth to fill in 1U space: The Korg TR Rack, which is the Korg Trinity in rack form.  The later version, the Korg Triton, is a 2U box and also has sampling ability.  As the synths get newer, I get less interested.  The Trinity is more of a pure synth and as such, suits me better.

And speaking of newer devices, one of the newest that I own, the Roland Juno Di, hasn’t worked since day 1 of purchase.  Granted, I bought it knowing it was non-functional, and although I tried to troubleshoot it, it was far beyond my skill.  I had a shop in Orlando that said they could fix it if Roland would ever make the parts available.  Tired of waiting, I contacted an authorized Roland repair center and I got word that it is fixable and for $250, it would be fixed that day.  The problem was a bad mute line, which I have seen other techs repair in videos, but it involves schematic reading and skilled use of an oscilloscope, both of which I have no experience in.  So it’ll be nice adding that device to my collection.

The new stand comes tomorrow and it’ll hold four devices.  And you know what, it’s not enough.  I have more.  But I do have the 2-tier stand I can use and a couple keyboards don’t have to come out of storage, so it’ll all be ok.  I think.  I’m pushing the limits of my MIDI ports.  So that will be six keyboards on the north wall, six on the south wall, and eight in the rack.  A nice, round number, 20.  And then the two in storage still.

So awesome.  You got a shit-ton of gear.  What are you going to do with it?  Like, maybe, make some music?  I haven’t been ignoring that, really.  I have plenty of ideas jotted down that I can flesh out.  The problem is these new technologies I come across.  Ctrlr is a totally new frontier and I could lose a lot of time just learning and exploring and creating in it.  I ditched the Tuna mini controller and got an Oxygen 25.  That cost me time figuring out how to configure the Oxygen to automate Cubase.

Then there’s the problem of so many sounds.  That’s actually one of the reasons I got out of using VSTs is that there were so many sounds it was overwhelming.  And here I am, in the hardware realm, with the same problem.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to start a notebook and write down devices and patch names and song ideas while I’m browsing sounds.  Many times, I’ll find a nice sound, some up with an idea that utilizes its special elements, then move on to the next sound.  sometime, I’ll record the idea, and I have plenty of them to go back to.  But sometimes, I just hear a sound that’s like “I know what I would use that for” and when the time comes when I need it, god forbid I’d ever find it again.

So there you go, all caught up on the drama for another month.

Random Story Time–Pizza Voyeur

This story takes place in the early ‘90’s.  I was working at my first employer, a local pizza place.  I didn’t really have any experience of how work “worked”, and was just learning and growing, as young workers do.

So anyways, one day I come in to work and the I’m immediately stopped by one of the managers.  He’s angry AF.  I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was on time for work, and so the whole thing just caught me off guard.  My memory of the incident is a little hazy, but I want to say the other manager was behind him and she had not an angry expression, but had a really concerned look on her face. 

We’re still in the entranceway of the employee entrance and I don’t see anyone else in the store right then.  The manager orders me in a stern tone, “Show me your shoes.”  What?  I don’t think I actually responded but probably had an extremely confused look on my face.  He ordered me again, “Lift up your foot, show me your shoes.”  I don’t even think this second order sunk in.  It just sounded like a joke.  Maybe I laughed.  I’m just wearing black sneakers.  I just came in, so it’s not like I tracked shit around the store or anything.

Again, “I’m being serious. Show me the bottom of your shoe.”  And with complete confusion, I complied.  He looked closely at my shoes and with a somewhat relieved tone, said, “ok.”  He and the other manager went back to the office and I was left completely baffled.

And now, the rest of the story.

It turns out that a discovery was made in the back storage room.  Some bags of flour had been stacked up and apparently some shoe prints were found on the bags.  They were trying to find out whose shoes had a matching pattern.  The reason for this witch hunt was not any health or safety violation.  The bags were stacked up against the side wall of the bathroom, and the elevated position provided a viewing spot through a small crack near the top of the wall.

Yup, there was a voyeur in our ranks.  While my memory of the female manager is a little spotty, I clearly remember that at the time we had recently hired two other females to work phones and register during busy nights.  Otherwise, the place was all dudes.

It didn’t occur to me then, but looking back at it now, I wonder if I should be offended that I was accosted that strongly.  Was I that much of a suspect?  Or maybe everyone was treated like that?  I have no idea.  But, after the full story came out, there was one person that was the first suspect in everyone’s mind:  Bruce.

Bruce was the son of Jack.  Both Bruce and Jack worked at the store as delivery drivers.  Bruce was about as awkward and different as you would expect a peeping tom to be.  For what it’s worth, Jack was a Baptist minister in the town, so no telling what kind of upbringing Bruce had.  Although he was only the prime suspect in everyone’s mind, Bruce never worked there another day after that event.  An official ruling was never made.  The rumor was that his dad called him and told him not to come in, which is pretty outrageous, but nowadays, seems like it would be just normal.

And it was never discussed again.

Where From Here?

After updating my studio buying log for the last couple months, I thought I should take a moment and reflect on the journey so far and what the road ahead looks like.

The good news: I have not lost interest in the reconstruction effort for the old tracks.  Even though I’ve been working on them on and off for months now.  And the progress is fairly steady as well.  So far 29 tracks have been reconstructed, which I think is amazing.  There’s only maybe 8 left to do and of those, maybe 3 may have lost data or sounds that are impossible to source or recreate.  The progress is substantial enough that I purchased the device needed for yet a different recording from the era, done on gear not in the original studio.  Gear that was cutting-edge at the time but now is cheaply available.

And that’s sort of the roadmap for this month and next month.  This month is sort of paused on spending since homeowner’s insurance was due and it just feels prudent to keep my expenses level month to month.  But, there is a plan for the next phase.

The next phase obviously is new creations.  I’ve got a massive selection of new devices to work with now and there should be no wanting for any sounds for inspiration.  In order to make that next phase happen, I need to get all those dives out of the closet and set up for play.  That means I need a rack, maybe multiple racks.  There are ten keyboards in the closet right now.  I have my eye on a rack that will hold six of them, which might just be fine.

As far as repairing devices, I’ve done alright.  Most devices that I take in only need little changes.  Like the U220 on the table right now.  It had a completely dead battery and the power button got stuck in when I power it on.  After disassembling it, the plate that held the MIDI message light, which was also the frame for the power switch had become detached.  Just needed superglued back into place.  I think someone though the MIDI message light was a button and pushed it so hard it detached it from the frame.  The Kurzweil was a mystery that I returned to a couple of times and by random chance I seemed to have fixed it by changing the default startup patch.  My suspicion is whatever the previous default patch was had some bad configuration data in it and when it was loading that faulty patch, it caused the sound output settings to get botched.  The wonder of fully software-driven devices.  My Alesis QS8 started exhibiting audio problems after it warms up, so it’s relegated to a MIDI controller right now.  And the faders are still nasty, spewing garbage on the MIDI channel, so its time may be short altogether.

So in summary, the travel has been smooth and the road ahead looks clear and bright.  Barring any unexpected events, the year is looking positive.

Numbers Keep Going Up

As everyone is painfully aware, the cost of everything keeps going up.  And one day I wondered about credit card rewards.  We still get the same percentage in rewards, but we’re spending more, so we’re getting more rewards.  But I guess it’s a wash because everything still costs more.  Unfortunately, the cost of rewards has also gone up.  I used to be able to get a $200 gift card for 20,000 points.  Now it costs 25,000 points.  That sucks.  but anyway, I’m sure I’ll get there quicker with the way everything is going.

So anyway, Capital One has been bugging me that I should apply for a credit limit raise.  That’s probably about due because with everything costing so much more, my credit utilization is actually affecting my credit score.  I had considered researching another card, and I still might, but just to get these guys off my back, I figured I’d have a try.  It was a quick and simple form, but I much prefer to imagine I was talking to someone about the increase, because the end result is much funnier that way. 

So Mr. Anachostic, if that’s your real name,  why do you want a credit increase?

Well, shit costs more now.  But you don’t want to hear that, so… my credit line does not meet my long-term needs.

I see.  And tell me about what you do for a living.

I’m a programmer.

Uh huh.  So big money man.  And what do you pay for your mortgage, Mr. Warbucks?

$720.

I think you made a typo.  No one pays $720 for a mortgage.

I do.  Same house for almost 20 years.  Never upgraded.

Well, well.  This sounds all good then.  So, how much did you want to increase your limit to, sir?

Uh…  I didn’t think I really had a say in that.  I’ve been at $10k forever.  Hmmm.  Well, if you’re going to ask, how about $20,000?

$20,000?  No, we can’t do that.  That’s just way too much.  We can make you a lesser offer, though.  How about $19,500?  Is that sufficient?

I’ll make do.

Thank you sir, and enjoy your new credit line.

Studio Buying Binge Log

Since this ongoing acquisition of music equipment shows little sign of slowing, I figured I would begin a record of my purchases, because I’m sure at some point, I’m going to want to look back at this period with a sense of awe and confusion.

For the longest time, I had somewhat the bare minimum of keyboards in my studio.  The Roland RD-600 and the Casio CZ-1.  The former because it was a workhorse and the latter because it was rare enough that I said I’d never get rid of it.  And as I’ve said before, I do regret every piece of gear that I’ve ever gotten rid of, and now, I have every bit of it back and much more.  So lets recap.

The impetus for this journey was a desire to re-record a lot of my old recordings in a higher quality.  And to do so, I would need the original instruments.  A lot of the newest music was done with software instruments, so that was a little tedious tracking down those bits of software.  Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact version of some of them, so the sounds are slightly different in the redos.

Going back a little further in time, one of the devices I had was the Yamaha SW-1000 – a computer sound card.  In studio form, this was the Yamaha MU-100.  I didn’t fully know that at the time and mistakenly thought I needed its earlier version, the MU-80.  So I bought an MU-80 in June, 2021 for $124 and began my work.  I then found out that device did not have the exact sounds I needed and that I really needed an MU-100.  10 days later, I purchased an MU-100 for $199.  There’s still a happy ending, because there were songs from even earlier from when I had the Yamaha SW-60 sound card in my computer, which was, in studio form… the MU-80.

Now, as I was reworking songs, there was a device that was needed and was a pain in the ass to find, the General Music Equinox.  I did finally purchase one in December, 2022 for a whopping $1200.  Its rarity sort of justified its cost and it will be a thorn in my side forever that I sold off my own 88-key version for so little.

And I think that’s when things really started to snowball.  Because now I was working on songs from an even earlier era – the classic 90’s version of my studio.  The only thing I had from that era was the MU-80, which replaced the SW-60 of its time.  Problem was, gear from that era isn’t all that cheap.  In January 2023, I located an Ensoniq ESQ-1 for $475.  This was the bedrock of all the songs from that era.  However, back then, I had all but one of the factory sound cartridges, and those cartridges remain impossible to find today.  Research led me to a mega-cartridge containing all the ESQ-1 sound libraries.  I bought one from a seller in Italy for around $130 in February.

Now it was time for another major purchase.  I had an Oberheim Matrix 6R back in the day.  I think I paid $650 at the time for a used one.  But it’s one of the worshipped devices that has appreciated over time.  They run $1200 or more, now.  I found a Matrix 6R that “needed work” and bought it for $800 in February, 2023.  After fixing it, playing with it, and discovering it didn’t have any of the same sounds I used to have, I purchased its cousin, the Matrix 1000, on a whim for $800 – again “needing work” – hoping it would have all the sounds I’d need.  This purchase is still waiting for parts for repair.  In the meantime, I’ve been using Sysex dumps on the Matrix 6 and making progress.

Drums in that era were handled by the cheapest drum machine available – the Yamaha RX21.  I found one for $100 in March, 2023.  The buyer took a week to ship it, then when I got it, it didn’t have a power supply and was packed terribly.  The good news is, it did work well.  The bad news is, it’s not the right model I needed.  This machine does not have all the sounds I need.  Additional research shows me I needed the RX17, not the RX21.  Lower model number, but more sounds?  Sounds about right for the era.  So the RX21 is cleaned up and once I get a power supply (not going to fuck the customer like I got) it’ll be ready for resale. Hopefully I can break even on it.  In the meantime, an RX17 is soon to be coming.  As a postscript, all of this drum machine business was unneeded, because the Groove Agent VST in Cubase already has the samples for the RX17 as a patch called “Legacy”.  Whatever.  My studio is planned to be physical and not virtual anyway.

As I worked through the songs, it was comforting to see that the MIDI file could give me hints as to what device and patch was used for the track.  I could count on MIDI channel 2 being the Roland Alpha Juno 1 and channel 3 being the Matrix 6, channel 16 being the drum machine, and 6-10 being the ESQ-1.  But at some point, tracks with channel 4 started showing up.  What was that device?  The only other module I recall owning from that era what an Emu Proteus 1, but I don’t actually remember doing any recordings with it.  However, my memory must be faded, because there’s some patches that I know don’t exist on either of the three other devices.  So, a Proteus 1 is now being shipped.  It cost $135 and it’s from a store I purchased something from back in the 90’s.  Can’t remember what it was; it might have even been the ESQ-1.

So the studio has been rebuilt, but that is in no way the end of the purchases, because I’m not only trying to reconstruct old songs, but I want to do new stuff as well, and that means fresh gear for fresh sounds.  So I’ve been opportunistic and buying whatever I think seems cool, and I gotta say, there’s lots of gear out there.  At this point, I’m just going to use this post as a continually-updated log of the gear I find throughout the year.

One device that I picked up pre-pandemic (it’s a historical landmark now) is the Alesis QS-8.  I bought it at a thrift shop and it never worked right, but I only paid $100 for it and it just sat in my closet for years.  I did actually bring it back to life as detailed in another post, but its purchase was long before this buying frenzy.

In January 2023, I got a Korg DW-8000 on craigslist for $400 and a Roland D-70 from a pawn shop that needed significant work for $250. 

In February 2023, I got a Roland Juno Di at a pawn shop for $80 that doesn’t work and needs professional repair.  It’s sitting in my closet waiting for the shop to call when the parts come in.  Another pawn shop had a Kawai K3 for $300. 

In March 2023,  EBay tempted me late at night with an auction that was getting no bids.  That resulted in a Yamaha SY-35 for $175.  One night browsing at the mall, I happened across an unwanted Roland U-110 in a resale store for $100.  I also found a nice deal on a Kurzweil PC6 on craigslist for $300.  That one was sold as having problems, which I confirmed.  I poked around at the disassembled guts a few times and then somehow I changed the default startup patch and it started working and wouldn’t go dead anymore.  So that was a fortunate fix.

In April 2023, I found an Alesis QS6 at a pawn shop, originally $300, down to $150.  I got them to bring it to $120, because there was something loose rattling around inside. (It was a paint marker)  Because it wasn’t the 6.1 version, the sounds were anemic, so I decided to flip it on EBay.  It sold for $275 a month later.  I also made a small purchase of an obsolete Edirol UM-3 MIDI interface to extend my MIDI connections to 6 in/6 out.  I will still probably need a MIDI Thru box eventually.  It was a whopping $23.  I can support chaining one more UM-3, but the only other one for sale right now is over $60.  Pass…

In May 2023, I made the purchase of the Roland U-220 to continue the work on legacy recording reconstruction.  It was $130, which is a little under the going rate for that model.  It has a dead battery and needed a small amount of repair.  For something new, after I sold the Alesis, I poured that cash back into a new, rare, device, the Korg DSS-1.  It was $279 at a thrift store a couple hundred miles away.  I made the road trip and picked it up.  I’m stealing someone’s comment on the device and its nickname is “the aircraft carrier” because it is a comically large size.

In June 2023, I found an obscure synth, the General Music SX3 on Craigslist for $250.  I also made the decision to get rid of some items: the Matrix 6r and the U-110.  The Matrix 1000 and U-220 are suitable replacements for them.  When the Matrix 6 finally sold for $1k, I discovered I actually lost money on the deal.  After I had paid the tax and shipping to get it to me, then paid for shipping and sellers fees ($130!) to get it from me, it was about $100 loss.  Whatever.  Moving on…

With the funds from the Matrix 6 sale, I purchased a Roland MKS-50, which is a rackmount Alpha Juno for $700.  The VST Juno just was not stable enough to continue working with and it wasn’t as exact as the original.  That fills in 1U of the 3U vacated by the Matrix.   With the remainder of the funds, I finally made the leap and purchased the keyboard stand that will hold six of my boards, as well as a MIDI thru device to split the signal to all of them.  The stand was about $350 and the MIDI thru box was about $75.

More online purchases to support the full integration of all the components: A vintage Casio TB-1 MIDI thru box for $65, a Behringer PX3000 patchbay for $90, and cables, MIDI and audio for a crushing $300.  Also needed two more power strips – $50.  And someone made me a $45 offer on a 3rd UM-3 unit, so I wasn’t going to disappoint them.

I’ve stopped totaling my spending and device count.  It’s past the point of mattering.

Stay tuned for more madness…