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Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

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Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby VOLOVIA » Thu May 19, 2011 10:19 pm

Mr. Rhodes designed his electric pianos to offer an alternative to the practising pianist and (on a shorter key version), a bass player. Both were 'not very good' at these two tasks, but at least one of them became a classic (well, the other ended up as a key sound of the Doors.. so it didn't do too badly..)

The Hammond organ was created to emulate, in a portable (!) format the sound of a (pipe) church organ. It didn't.

Roland was the worst: both the 808 and 909 were dimmed 'highly disappointing' by the buying public: as substitutes for a real drummer, they were pathetic. The squelchy, farting little plasticy TB-303 did not, under any circumstances, offer an alternative to a real bass player, unlike Roland's claims. Even the all-mighty Jupiter-8 was supposed to offer the gigging musician a viable 'orchestra' substitution, with 'brass' and 'strings' on tap and split. They sounded anything but 'orchestral'.

Finally the technology has reached a point were it is now possible to emulate successfully most acoustic instruments on a keyboard, including an excellent guitar (listen to the demos...), but people on this forum scream on sight of a Jupiter-80: "betrayal, you are rubbishing the spirit of the original instruments", are we sure about this?

With my little tongue in chick, can I ask my learned forumees to forward more examples of instruments that despite failing to deliver 'what's written on the tin', they ended up becoming classics or even help to reshape modern music?

The 'distorting' valve amps for instance? The awful 'Ovation' piezo sound? Etc. etc...
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby FreQnic » Thu May 19, 2011 10:49 pm

bugiolacchi wrote:With my little tongue in chick

Lucky girl!

Ahem.

Returning to the original question, the Chamberlin would be an obvious contender. It was originally envisaged as a "home entertainment device for family sing-alongs, playing the Big Band standards of the day", but instead became a viable instrument in it's own right and soon found it's way into the music of pop/rock musicians (much to Harry Chamberlin's dismay). It also directly inspired the Mellotron which became even more famous partly due to it's use by a certain Liverpudlian four piece beat combo.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby zenguitar » Thu May 19, 2011 11:34 pm

Nah! What makes them classics (whether intended or not) is that musicians find a way to exert their will and get something great out of them.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that great instruments result despite the intentions of the manufacturers not because of them.

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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Chaconne » Fri May 20, 2011 1:27 am

Yeah spot on really.
Every synth I ever owned comes with its own 'orchestral' pre-sets. In fact I remember first hearing the cello sounds on a Juno 1 and being impressed. Cant imagine how.
I look at the mighty JX8P, and the fact that it has the pre sets permanently marked on the pre-set buttons. Still you get three attempts at a two DCO analogue piano !! (Actually they are not bad). In side of course you can disable DCO2, and get it to squeal and rattle the windows like a 101 / 202 / 106 etc. If you want.

I remember hearing the first Akai's in Denmark street, and thinking after hearing a piano ' thats it - they have finally done it - I want a concert grand in a rack!'

I thought the same thing when I saw Yoda walking with Ewan McGregor in Star Wars - wow - digital technology has finally reached moving photo realism.

Look on the net though and a thousand stoner nerds cry "but I wanted a rubber muppet George!!!"

Its the same with the Jupiter 80. It is in exactly the same spirit as the Jupiter 8. The most advanced technology for the most advanced 'musical' sounds. What you do with it is up to you.
But everywhere on the net everybody crys "but I wanted a proper synth not digital. Roland suks man."

No - Roland are continuing that great tradition of hyping the cutting edge as being your next hit record / personal orchestra / band in a box / drummer / piano - less piano....whatever.

We buy the stuff and re-program it / put it through guitar pedals or attack with daggers and set it on fire.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Tony Raven » Fri May 20, 2011 4:34 am

Been having similar thoughts recently. While I can understand seeking for the quintessential "perfect" sound or tone or whatever, it seems like the most remarkable music comes from artists who accept an instrument's failures & wring something remarkable from it.

When I first moved out of my tiny, remote hometown, I remember how some of the off-track big-city music shops all seemed to have a dingy corner of Guitar Hell. Some clotted assortment of dusty Danelectro, Tokai, Valco, und also weiter, priced at maybe $50 & sitting in disgrace from the previous owner (or his father).

Then Jimmy Page went out with his crappy Silvertone, & the world changed. He took that classic pawnshop POS & rocked it, & the prices climbed ever upward.

I was chatting a few months back with a guy who hand-builds audiophile monoblock amps. He'd just sold his first guitar head, & was delighted. "These things are a gas!! I can do stuff that'd send my usual customers into shock, what with all the various distortions & saturations, & people will pay me well for it!!"

I have a small herd of used $50 amps, originally bought for cleanup & resale at a wee profit, but after putting them through their paces I'm a little reluctant to give them up, just as I'm finding their strengths. Same for my 1980s synths. And last week I stopped myself from spending $200 (!!!) on an awful Zenon guitar like the one I'd once paid $25 for. (I suddenly recalled why I hated that guitar....)

I've had the pleasure of hearing an actual Stradivarius violin, close-up. Compared to a "perfect" violin, it's scratchy & nasal & woody... yet it has a charachter that allows it to sing like an impassioned human voice, something that couldn't be achieved (not easily, anyway) by an instrument with mathematically perfect tone.

I once played a 1933 Martin archtop round-hole, a pairing that's unusual. It didn't sound like a flat-top or an f-hole archtop, & thus has surprisingly little collector value. Always regretted passing that one up. Ditto for the quirky Les Paul Recording.

As Rollo May said, "Creativity... requires limits, for the creative act rises out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits them." If you're a painter, & you've got a small warehouse with tubes of every freakin' color on the market, when do you stop comparing color-chips & start painting??? Grab a half-dozen at random & see what you can do with 'em!! Though that Zenon guitar was pretty ghastly, I'm guessing that (30 years on) I want a chance to see what I can do with the damned thing...
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Kolakube » Fri May 20, 2011 8:06 am

I hold Roland is very high regard because of the fact the synths they made created various genres.

Namely the TR808,909 TB303 and SH101. Its worth noting that none of these were ever used in the way Roland intended them to be used. And that was true drum kit replacers and bass guitar synths lol (what were they on, the 303 sounds bot all like a guitar)

To summarise I think Roland went though a period of falling in the poo and coming our smelling of roses every time. Of course there luck ran out eventually and theres a whole other thread running on that somewhere if I remember right.

To the OP - I do agree.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby vinyl_junkie » Fri May 20, 2011 9:00 am

Define failure.. Do you mean failure in terms of sales or in that these products were not very good at doing what the manufacturer intended them for i.e. TB-303 as a bass guitarist.

I don't think the Rhodes was a failure and it sold well. It was invented during World War II in an effort to create a piano that injured soldiers could play while lying in a hospital bed. Rhodes built the first model in 1942, a 29-note keyboard using aluminium tubing from a B-17 bomber aircraft.
The Roland Juno 106 was probs the most popular poly synth of the 80's, no? It was affordable, had MIDI, sounded good and sold well.

Sure 909's, 303's, 606's had very disappointing sales, they were indeed failures and it took a bunch of kids miss using them to turn them into classics.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Fri May 20, 2011 10:38 am

Tony Raven wrote:I've had the pleasure of hearing an actual Stradivarius violin, close-up. Compared to a "perfect" violin, it's scratchy & nasal & woody... yet it has a charachter that allows it to sing like an impassioned human voice, something that couldn't be achieved (not easily, anyway) by an instrument with mathematically perfect tone.


I think I know what you mean! But what you wrote gives the impression that a Stradivarius is a raw, unfinished ancestor of today's "perfect" violins. Rather, it's still the model for modern instruments. Therefore, by definition, the Strad stands unsurpassed.

Whether it's been equalled is debatable. Blind listening tests have apparently failed to distinguish one from a good modern instrument. This, of course, has led to heated criticism of the testing method! There's plenty of "vintage" b*** s*** in the classical world too :-)
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby VOLOVIA » Fri May 20, 2011 1:28 pm

As per failure I meant not in terms of overall sales (and beware, jobbed out and then second-hand lots don't count!), but not achieving their design/advertised briefs (Solina or Logan string machines claiming to "recreate the luscious sound of a full orchestra"... my boots, but still sounding nice and quirky.. with chorus).

I remember a TV program in the early 70s with a band showing their brand-new Minimoog and how it allowed that particular prog-rock band to recreate 'faithfully' the sound of an oboe and a flute! The presenter duly commented that this probably represented the beginning of the end of the orchestral soloist (what would have he made of some of today's amazing orchestra libraries, such as Vienna etc., I wonder?).

The point I am trying to emphasise here is that, yes we can praise 'Mr. Roland' for the TB-303 'acid' sounds, but the poor guy(s) wanted to create a 'string' bass emulation, and, his goal was missed. With the technology available to him at the time, the TB-303 made a rubbish bass guitar sound. A failure of its original intent? Yes.

As per the Rhodes example, I am fully aware of its intended purpose (as a rehabilitation tool, exc.). But there again, as far as I am aware, it represented a failure since it did not sound remotely like a piano (try and play 'fur Elise' on it!), it was too expensive (for the purpose), and... yes, it was a 'failure'. By the way, it is one of my favourite instruments of all time, so I am not certainly 'dissing' it!

If I develop a mobile phone and then it became a very sought-after door-stop, would this make me a 'failed phone-maker' or a 'genius designer' of home accessories?

The whole history of keyboards and synthesiser has been led (mostly!) by middle-aged engineers employed to design electric or electronic contraptions (inc. Leo Fender!) to approach as much as possible the sound of acoustic instruments.
They mostly failed (given the technology available to them at the time), but musicians took their designs and concocted new sounds and styles out of them.

This opens a new thread in my head... if Mr Rhodes had succeeded in designing a truly portable piano with a sound very close to a real one (as a contemporary rompler), would the world ever 'missed' the sweet bell-like sound of a... Rhodes? But here we are entering the realm of parallel worlds and chaos physics...
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Grantsos » Fri May 20, 2011 1:41 pm

I have noticed that attempts to emulate have often given us very interesting new options. If not THE most interesting.
The state of technology and our exposure/experience play a role too. I guess someone thought the Wurli was really quite close to a piano at one point.

I also wonder sometimes, if we had not had sampling, modeling tech and cheaper ram/cpu power come along when it did, what other electro-mechanical or analogue wonders may have arisen... Oddly, as tech gets more capable and sophisticated, I can't help thinking it gets more boring too - less chance of "mistakes" maybe?
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Richie Royale » Fri May 20, 2011 2:10 pm

You have to remember that some of these instruments were (probably) made only for the sonics; it was the marketing department that made them out to be something they weren't. Was the 303 (for example) supposed to sound like a bass guitar, or was it simply made to create basslines by sequencing? Only when the marketing men came along did it then have to fit a purpose in the predominantly guitar based world of music, hence the marketing as a bass guitar replacement (possibly).
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby jellyjim » Fri May 20, 2011 11:26 pm

I think sometimes people invent stuff and have one intention with it ...

... and the marketing men go "Nah! They'll never go with that angle, we'd better say it's such and such" ...

... and then the musicians ignore both of them because they find a nice sound and ...

... the audience go "Yeah that sounds damn sweet!"

And legends are born!

Nobody has a clue really.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Tony Raven » Sun May 22, 2011 6:56 am

I once saw an Apple Lisa made into a fishtank. It was a very cool fishtank.

The Commodore 64 was a HUGE success -- whether it IS a success is an interesting philosophical question -- & the company went bankrupt a few years later. The damned beige boxes are still trading steadily on eBay, quite often for creative abuse by youngsters cranking out energetic "chip-pop" 8-bit music.

An electric guitar is not merely a louder Spanish (steel-string acoustic) guitar. A guitar amplifier is not merely a bland, neutral volume-enhancer.

The Hammond was supposed to emulate the pipe organ. It's terrible at that!!

In the brief, scattered, amazing "Rocket Radio" (Rolling Stone, 15 June 1989), William Gibson famously said, The Street finds its own uses for things -- uses the manufacturers never imagined. He went on to add wonderful thoughts, like when he got a new audio system: "But I'm not sure I really enjoy the music any more than I did before, on certifiably low-fi junk. The music, when it's really there, is just there. You can hear it coming out of the dented speaker grill of a Datsun B-210 with holes in the floor. Sometimes that's the best way to hear it."
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby johnny h » Sun May 22, 2011 2:11 pm

I think the difference is that, despite the rather stale intentions of the instruments, there was a lot of imagination and progress going into new methods of synthesis.

Roland seemed to have got stuck on its very dated PCM technology and show very little sign of progress. Their attempts to market their outdated and unambitious new workstations by using its impressive history is quite grating, and that's why they've got so much criticism for it.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Adam Inglis » Mon May 23, 2011 2:08 pm

vinyl_junkie wrote:Define failure.. ..
The Roland Juno 106 was probs the most popular poly synth of the 80's, no? It was affordable, had MIDI, sounded good and sold well.

Really?... I would have thought that the DX7 and the D50 both outsold the Juno. And neither were considered failures....
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby vinyl_junkie » Mon May 23, 2011 6:03 pm

Adam Inglis wrote:
vinyl_junkie wrote:Define failure.. ..
The Roland Juno 106 was probs the most popular poly synth of the 80's, no? It was affordable, had MIDI, sounded good and sold well.

Really?... I would have thought that the DX7 and the D50 both outsold the Juno. And neither were considered failures....

Sorry I meant analogue poly synth.

Indeed the DX-7 was a hit but the M1 was the bigest seller I think up untill the Micro Korg.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby MarkOne » Thu Jun 02, 2011 1:48 pm

johnny h wrote:
Roland seemed to have got stuck on its very dated PCM technology and show very little sign of progress. Their attempts to market their outdated and unambitious new workstations by using its impressive history is quite grating, and that's why they've got so much criticism for it.

And yet, despite the aged technology underlying the PCM samples, their 'SuperNatural' technology is actually pretty clever, taking what you play and adding performance nuances you couldn't manage yourself.

Playing some of those sounds is musically satisfying, in a way that pfaffing with keyswitches and wotnot on what are considered much more accomplished multi-gigabyte sample sets simply isn't.

And for me that is where hardware instruments still score over huge virtual instruments. And that's that they are designed to be played. by a person. Not a programmer. And Roland, for all the criticism they get for not being more 'out there' in their developments, still make instruments for playing.

Isn't that what it's all about?
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby TheChorltonWheelie » Thu Jun 02, 2011 2:09 pm

johnny h wrote:Their attempts to market their outdated and unambitious new workstations by using its impressive history is quite grating, and that's why they've got so much criticism for it.

What utter nonsense.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby zenguitar » Fri Jun 03, 2011 1:36 am

Of course, what I really want to know is...

what current failures are going to be future classics.

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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby johnny h » Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:42 am

MarkOne wrote:
And for me that is where hardware instruments still score over huge virtual instruments. And that's that they are designed to be played. by a person. Not a programmer. And Roland, for all the criticism they get for not being more 'out there' in their developments, still make instruments for playing.

Isn't that what it's all about?
Well of course it is, yes.

Roland I suppose are making reasonably sensible decisions, considering the fate of companies such as Alesis and Hartmann who have invested in pushing boundaries and fallen into financial trouble. Less money in recorded music combined with rampant piracy in the VSTi market doesn't help at all.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Frank Rideau » Wed Jun 08, 2011 4:34 pm

Of course, what I really want to know is...

what current failures are going to be future classics.


Well, there's a lot VST classic synth emulation that have been reviewed like being "not really sounding like the original but offering many new possibilities over the original", the PolyKb for instance, so maybe the day we will start looking at these little piece of software in another way than an emulation, some new classic sounds may appear.

Oh and does someone mentionned Autotune, that was designed for pitch correction ?... (but not a failure in this aspect tho)
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Zukan » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:42 am

Frank Rideau wrote:
Oh and does someone mentionned Autotune, that was designed for pitch correction ?... (but not a failure in this aspect tho)

Being the sad bastard that I am I watch a lot of science programmes and I watched one about autotune and its inventor. Dude and his missus were obviously over the top joyous at the success of the software bearing in mind it was designed more as a hobby from a scientist to correct poor pitches.

It has now taken its place as a 'classic' simply on merit through use on classic tracks (if I may be bold as to suggest there are some).

I am off to invent a software that can make people like Mick Hucknell appear to own a six pack. I am hoping it takes the same course as Autotune.
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Jun 09, 2011 1:38 pm

Zukan wrote:I am off to invent a software that can make people like Mick Hucknell appear to own a six pack. I am hoping it takes the same course as Autotune.

Ah of course - that's entirely fair, because you've taken his six pack for yourself (I've seen the photographs )


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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Darren Lynch » Thu Jun 09, 2011 3:25 pm

It is so often the case that the true value of an instrument lies not in its intention, but its corruption. 808, 909, 303, S900 were not designed with House, jungle, techno in mind. Hell, valve amps only got bigger in an attempt to defeat distortion with higher headroom, not create it. The interesting question is what will the tools we use as the manufacturer intended at the moment end up sounding like when some cheeky young'uns get their hands on them...
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Re: Are most classic instruments... just past failures?

Postby Scramble » Fri Jun 10, 2011 6:57 pm

Well, just look at the comb. And the Kleenex tissue. Both are shoddy, unimaginative failures of products that no right-thinking person would otherwise be seen paying for. But put them together and you have magic in your pocket, an unrivalled portable mini-studio that enraptures audiences the world over. Mr Kleenex and Mr Comb. must be eternally grateful to those unknown musical innovators who have enabled their manufacturing abortions to continue to sell in their millions.
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