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The Specialists Speak

Hi-Tech Servicing, Part 1 By Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson
Published March 1996

Disaster strikes! Your most essential piece of gear dies on you mysteriously. What should you do? Take it to the professionals, of course. In the first of a two‑part feature, Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson talk to some of the engineers who service with a smile — and find they have some amazing tales to relate from the inspection pit of the music industry.

The last thing you want to think about when you buy a new hi‑tech instrument or studio gadget is what you'll do if it stops working the day after the warranty period expires. But despite the increasing reliability of modern musical and recording equipment, things still go wrong, and even if you're lucky enough to get away with owning a breakdown‑free studio, certain items need a regular service to keep their performance up to scratch. This is where people like Mike Swain of Panic Music, Bill Wheeler of Central Sounds, David Croft of the Synthesiser Service Centre, CIMPLE Solutions' Cliff Whitehead, and Graham Bryant of Aspen Media come in.

Though Britain is a small place in terms of surface area, it's rather bigger as a 'service' area, with thousands of hi‑tech musicians, from amateurs right up to top professionals. These people take their ailing equipment to a surprisingly small number of hi‑tech service centres. Large retailers often have their own service facilities, and manufacturers with UK distribution and support operations naturally deal with much of their own repair and servicing. But the number of independent centres equipped and approved to deal with a wide range of hi‑tech music brands and problems is pretty small — perhaps because the right kind of expertise isn't easy to come by, and because these really are a special breed of people, willing to undertake the time‑consuming and often monotonous tasks involved for the satisfaction of eventually tracking down an elusive fault and bringing a dead instrument back to life.

We had a fascinating time talking to the heads of the above‑mentioned service centres about their day‑to‑day experiences as problem‑solvers and troubleshooters, and came out with renewed respect for their skill, perseverance, and humour.

Key Questions

If you're a regular reader of SOS, there's a good chance that you're a keyboard player, or at least own a keyboard. And there's a lot of you out there — almost all our service specialists revealed that the most common type of equipment they encounter is keyboards. If you're now wondering why service centres see so many synths (and are looking nervously at yours and asking yourself if it's about to blow up), let's find out if synths go wrong more often than other hi‑tech gear. Our specialists don't seem to think so. It simply seems to be a question of numbers — Mike Swain: "There's an awful lot of keyboards out there: a lot go into the home market, as well as the professional and semi‑professional market. There's a huge interest in making music, right throughout education."

So what tends to go wrong with them? Bill Wheeler: "Mechanical failure — misfiring notes are quite common, and things being tipped inside... beer, coffee, sea water..." David Croft maintains that "You get a whole range of problems, but I wouldn't like to say what's the most common. Misfiring keys seem to be more prevalent these days in keyboards that use rubber contacts. It seems that the rubber contacts age and perish, and it doesn't depend on whether you use them a lot, but purely how old they are. Fixing this kind of problem is theoretically straightforward — you replace the contact — but in practice there's quite a lot of work in just disassembling the machines these days: they're all crammed with layers of things to dismantle, whereas with older keyboards you just take the bottom off to get at the keys. It can take you at least an hour's work to get a keyboard carefully dismantled".

Cliff Whitehead agrees that apparently small faults can still be relatively expensive to repair: "Some customers bring us the keyboard and say 'my C key's gone', and they don't understand why it's going to cost £80 or £90. But when one key starts going, the rest are sure to follow. Key contacts are made up with about 12 or 13 in a set, and if you replace one, you replace 12 or 13 of them. And if you're replacing that many, there's only four or five contact strips across a whole keyboard, so you may as well replace the whole lot, once you're in there. Otherwise, the customer may be back in a couple of month's time replacing another one, with another 'X' amount of labour..."

Mike Swain also sees a lot of home keyboards and organs, which often come in with a different fault. "With home keyboards, it's power problems. The plugs of the little AC/DC adaptors protrude from the back of the machine; they get quite a bit of careless handling and the connector gets pushed through the back. So, the two main areas are keying problems, where Coke or something has been tipped over the keyboard, or broken DC jacks and smashed PCBs [Printed Circuit Boards]. With synths, you have the usual key contact problems and, again, beer on the keyboard, and so on. The worst one we had was from a holiday camp. A guy phoned up and said 'I've got a problem with my keyboard. Can you have a look at it?' Turns out he'd upset one of the punters, who had then urinated in his keyboard!"

'Liquid Ingress'

'Liquid ingress', as the cognoscenti call it, seems to be a more common problem than we had realised, and as revealed by Mike Swain's anecdote, the type of liquid isn't always what you'd expect. Bill Wheeler has seen his fair share of these cases too: "We've removed frogs, seaweed and spirogyra — green algae — from keyboards." You might well be wondering how that got in there. Bill is blunt: "A lot of the damage we see has been done by a woman — inflicted on her boyfriend's pride and joy. We've had combos with axes stuck in them, and keyboards and monitors thrown in the sea, which are found floating about and picked up by yachts. We've had candle wax poured into hard drives, and we've removed the wax to save people money. That was the worst. They must have had an altar candle, the amount of wax that was in there." Central's administrator Heather chips in with another amazing example: "We've had glue poured into the keyboard. A couple had fallen out, and she decided to get her own back..."

Even liquids less obviously destructive than glue can cause serious damage to delicate mechanisms, with rapid corrosion resulting from liquids such as Coke, orange juice and urine — of both the animal and human variety. The annoyed holiday camper's retaliation caused the unfortunate keyboard player mentioned by Mike Swain quite a lot of hassle. Mike: "He brought it to us the next day, and we had to take it outside and literally hose it out, and then disinfect it. It had already started to corrode the PCBs — uric acid is very corrosive if you don't catch it quickly enough. Coke is the worst. The acid in Coke does a wonderful job of etching through the key contacts."

Pets Mean Problems

It would seem that when it comes to instruments, Pets Mean Problems. David Croft: "People's pets misbehave — not toilet‑trained, or whatever. Guinea pigs, cats... The problems in these cases can be quite severe and can actually write off the instrument if it's left too long. Tracks corrode, but you can't see the corrosion, and you can't judge the area of damage." Mike Swain remembers a similar example: "It was a Sansui WSX1 multitrack. Our part‑time engineer opened the box and noted that it smelt a bit strange. Then he opened the unit up and there was this terrific stench of ammonia! We phoned this guy up and he said 'Well, yes, my cat did have a habit of sleeping on it, and it was incontinent...' That machine was actually a total write‑off".

If something similar befalls you, Bill Wheeler has some useful advice for minimising damage after liquid spillage, before taking the instrument to a service centre: "Unplug the keyboard immediately, tip it on its edge, slightly backwards, to let the liquid drain out, keeping it away from the mechanics of the keyboard. Don't leave it flat where it is and dive for a towel to wipe it off. That's the worst thing you can do. Tip off the surplus quickly, get it on its side and let it all drain off, avoiding the keyboard. From our experience of instruments suffering from an ingress of liquid, it's the common sense thing to do."

If, despite emergency first‑aid, liquid does affect your synth's keyboard contacts, it often means a repair job. Mike Swain: "You have to replace the [keyboard] PCB. A lot of the PCBs now are what we call 'flexis'. [Mike produces a long, slim, flexible PCB, from a synth which had had orange juice spilt over it]. Components are placed on top of these flexi strips, and the contact pads [pairs of small, raised ovals of a graphite material which connect with rubber key contacts when a key is pressed] are also on there. The tracking on these is conductive ink, and that can be etched off. So you have to replace this and the contact rubber."

Losing Contact

Mike showed us how the orange juice had partially removed a graphite contact pad. The only solution here was a whole new board, just because of the loss of one pad. And the cost of a new board? "About £20. Different manufacturers have slightly different boards, but this is the basic principle of modern contacts. And for synths with this keying method, it's the main area of failure."

Liquid isn't the only thing that can affect keyboard contacts. Mike shows us a strip of grey moulded rubber, with multiple pairs of black rubber contacts which connect with the graphite contact pads on the flexi PCB. "That's a contact rubber which goes underneath the keys. They use this method for detecting velocity, for velocity sensitivity. The two contacts are arranged in a pair, and you can see that one is higher than the other. That's the back contact, the one that starts the timing process. The microprocessor measures the time taken between that one contacting and the front one contacting. Then it says 'that's so many microseconds, and therefore the note should be played that loud'. But since the front one is the one that actually produces the note, if the back one becomes dirty, the note always plays at full volume, because the contact that helps the microprocessor decide how hard the note has been played isn't functioning. And if the front one becomes dirty, there will be no sound at all. The most common fault is that some notes play louder than others. And that happens throughout all manufacturers."

You might wonder whether any manufacturers are working to produce a different contact system. Mike's son and co‑worker Adam reassures: "They did change the design moderately. They used to have little vents in the top of the rubber contact strip, to expel the air when the keys are pressed. But they changed the design to stop all the muck from sucking through the vent and dropping onto the contact."

Mike: "When that rubber is sitting in place, it forms a seal, so these vents act like little air pumps. Originally, the contacts were top‑vented, so that the air was squashed out through the little holes on the top. Of course, when the air was sucked back in, it sucked all the dirt and everything through. So they changed the design, put the vents through the PCB, and a little filter strip along the back to stop most of the dust. This one's a top vent, and we still have to use those, otherwise it's an expensive repair — you have to change the PCB underneath. To change the contact style, you have to change the board completely."

All this means that if your synth has the old type of board, it'll have to have the old type of replacement rubber contact — unless you want to splash out on replacing a PCB which may be perfectly OK!

Modern Times

If you let your incontinent cat snuggle up on your multitrack, or balance your Kronenberg on your keyboard, you've got no‑one to blame but yourself when something goes wrong. But even if you handle your instrument with kid gloves, problems can occur. As we've already seen, manufacturers are keeping an eye on what tends to go wrong with their instruments and refining their designs continuously; do our specialists think that modern instruments are consequently more or less reliable than their vintage counterparts? You'll be pleased to hear that their replies are a resounding vote of confidence for the manufacturers. Mike Swain: "The more modern machines are more reliable, without any shadow of a doubt, because the component count is less. Also, with the new techniques that are used for producing devices like ASICs [Application Specific Integrated Circuits], the wafer fabrication is so much better than it was 20 years ago, so the chips themselves are much more reliable." Bill Wheeler agrees wholeheartedly: "They're far superior. Because there are less components. With an old synth, you have discrete components to do everything. A modern synth does everything an old analogue would do and more, on a small board. It's more reliable, although certainly not serviceable‑friendly." David Croft joins in the general chorus of approbation: "You have a vastly more complex system compared to what you used to, but I would say that they are much more reliable. Admittedly, we are inundated with repairs, but there are far more keyboards around than there were, say, 10 or 15 years ago. I'm sure we get a smaller proportion going wrong."

That seems pretty conclusive: modern synths are more reliable. But are they easier to repair and service? Replies to this one were more equivocal. David Croft: "I don't think you can really compare the two. One of the things that modern gear has, which I quite like, is surface‑mount chips. Before, the conventional devices were ICs with legs on a tenth of an inch pitch, which went through the holes in the board and were soldered in place. Now, the legs have a pitch half that, or less, and are actually soldered onto the surface of the board. Some of these devices now have at least 100 pins, and it is quite a specialist operation to get those on and off. With the conventional IC, there was actually quite a lot of work in de‑soldering every pin separately, carefully, and then detaching them. It meant that the board was prone to damage, especially if an engineer didn't have exactly the right tools.

"Now it's a different method of assembly, and I prefer it. We design with surface‑mount devices and you can fit a lot more into a smaller space. I'm happier to de‑solder and re‑solder those devices than I am with the earlier type. I think you also get a lot more for your money these days — things are far more integrated, and perhaps less over‑engineered than they may have been in the past. Things were made over‑strong. Some instruments now have a cheaper construction, and in some cases they're perhaps too cheap, and do break quite easily. But you get good equipment for the money you pay. You get a lot of technology."

Bill Wheeler also singles out modern surface‑mount technology for comment: it doesn't present any special problems for qualified engineers, but "the customer has to pick up the tab for the extra time that has to be spent in lifting off 100‑pin surface‑mount ICs. It's not that it can't be done — it just takes more time to do it, or at least to put it back on to check." Bill also concurs with David's comment about the build of modern synths — perhaps the pendulum has swung too far away from over‑engineering? "Comparing an old synthesizer with wooden end cheeks to a modern one that might have plastic end cheeks, the old synth would probably take a good smack on the side; the modern one would probably not. The move to plastic means less robust equipment, but it is cheaper and faster to produce — a plastic‑injected form is far cheaper to produce than a piece of wood that has to be tailored."

Component Quality

While there might be reservations about the outer construction of new synths compared to old ones, Cliff Whitehead has none about the quality of what's inside them: "On the pro products, the Akai and Emu stuff, it's all really well made. The circuit boards are really high quality. Where chips are put into IC sockets, there are several types available: the best are the turned‑pin DIL socket, which grip all four sides of the pins. All the Akai and Emu stuff uses these sockets."

Mike Swain has little hesitation in affirming that modern synths have many advantages as regards repair and servicing: "I suppose it is easier. Because the modern synth or keyboard is now using ASICs, the component count is less, so you can say that the fault is probably in one or two of the larger components. So from the diagnostic point of view, it can be easier — though not always, because you don't know what's going on inside some of the ASICs. It can be a bit of a black art, because the manufacturers don't tell you what happens inside each device. You know what sort of signals are coming out, but manufacturers are trying to protect their own proprietary designs, so nobody really divulges exactly what's going on in their chips. You have to just replace the chip. The component count is less, but it's more difficult to service, because you've got to remove these parts — if you have to change one of the larger chips, it can take you two hours to remove it and fit the new one. And remember that the cost of one of these ASICs can be £200‑300, and nine times out of ten when you remove one of the surface‑mount chips you damage it, because of the heat you have to use. So, you've got to be very sure that the one you're removing is the one with the problem. But yes, the more modern synth is in some respects easier to repair."

Our four professional engineers had so much to say that one article just wasn't enough, so tune in next month for the truth about vintage synths, some valuable inside information about buying second‑hand, plus lots more useful tips and behind‑the‑scenes stories..

The Synthesiser Service Centre

Location: Unit 3, 6 Erskine Road, London NW3 3AJ.
Telephone: 0171 586 0357.
Fax: 0171 568 7651.

Recommended service centre for: Akai, Emu, Roland and Yamaha. Other makes serviced and repaired to the same high standards. SSC also undertake MIDI retrofits, gear modification and customisation.

Company background: SSC was founded 17 years ago by David Croft. David first studied electronics at university, then gained experience working on musical equipment for a hire company. SSC recently moved from smaller premises, which the company outgrew, to their current workshops, with about 1200 square feet. At the moment the company employs five people (see picture), including one whose main job is development of the Design Laboratories Prologue MIDI‑to‑CV convertor [reviewed in SOS November '95]. Design Laboratories is SSC's sister product development company.

Hourly rate: "Our nominal hourly rate is £35, but we always find that we work for more hours than we charge for. If we look back and think we should have spotted a fault earlier, we amend the charge. We have a minimum charge of the first hour, so if something takes 45 minutes, we do charge an hour. If people are concerned about costs, we can spend an hour on their equipment, and give an idea of what it should cost."

Guarantee: Work is guaranteed for 28 days.

Central Sounds

Location: Unit 46a Godiva Industrial Estate (off Cross Road), Coventry CV6 5SP.
Tel: 01203 665665.
Fax: 01203 666669.

Recommended service centre for: Emu, Akai, Roland and the Roland Owners Club. Other makes serviced and repaired to the same high standards.

Company background: Central Sounds has been established for around 12 years. Proprietor Bill Wheeler got started with radio, TV and video servicing, but found a significant demand for instrument repairs and servicing, and Central Sounds in its present form was born. Central moved into new larger premises in autumn 1995, and now occupy 1500 square feet of neat, well‑organised workshops on a Coventry industrial estate with easy access from the M6. The company currently employs seven people, and is usually "pretty busy". Bill Wheeler has his eye on future expansion plans, but these are secret at the moment!

Hourly rate: £28. Central offer a very convenient diagnostic service. Bill Wheeler: "We work differently to anyone else. If you ring us and say 'I've got this bit of kit here', we'll say 'put it in a box and we'll pick it up'. We pick it up for you and give you a quote before we start. If the customer doesn't want to go ahead, they pay £25 to have it back. That covers the carriage back and the packing. We have to substantially pack things, because they often arrive here just wrapped in cardboard. When they know how much it's going to cost, it's either a yes or a no. If it's a no, they send us their money and have their gear back. If it's a yes, they don't pay any more, and they know exactly how much they'll have to pay for the repair. It works. We feel that it's probably a bit of a plus."

Guarantee: Work is guaranteed for three months.

Panic Music Services

Location: The Old Bakehouse, 7 High Street, Swavesey, Cambs.
Tel: 01954 231348.
Fax: 01954 231806.

Recommended service centre for: Roland, Yamaha, Akai, Emu, Tascam, Sansui. Other makes serviced and repaired to the same high standards.

Company background: Founder Mike Swain has been in the music business for almost 30 years. He started out as an electronic design engineer with an interest in music service, and repaired equipment for local musicians. The business grew from there, and now repairs and services practically anything found in the recording studio, as well as undertaking on‑site studio maintenance. Panic also specialise in maintaining valve equipment.

Panic is a real family business, with Mike and his son Adam both full‑time service engineers. Panic also employ a part‑time engineer, and follow BS5750 procedures for all work; in addition, every item is given a full leakage and insulation safety test before it leaves the premises — Panic even check mains plugs and replace them if they're not up to scratch, or put in the correct fuse if appropriate!

Hourly rate: Panic don't have an hourly rate, charging instead in 'units'. As Mike Swain says: "We have a unit charge, because for some of these jobs you couldn't charge by the hour. It could take you a week to repair some synths, and there's no way you could charge for that by the hour and be fair." A unit has a value of £49.50, and "It depends on the difficulty of the instrument as to how many units a repair might be." As an example, a small effects pedal repair might be worth half a unit, and a complete keyboard overhaul two units, while a complete service and line‑up on a 24‑track would be three or four units.

Guarantee: Work is guaranteed for 28 days.

Cimple Solutions

Location: Unit 2/17/3, Wembley Commercial Centre, 80 East Lane, North Wembley, Middlesex HA9 7UR.
Tel: 0181 904 4141
Mobile: 0973 723033.
Fax: 0181 904 1200.

Recommended service centre for: Akai, Emu, Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Oberheim, Zoom, Opcode, Studio Electronics. Other makes serviced and repaired to the same high standards.

Company background: Owner Cliff Whitehead has been in electronics for several years, initially with various companies in Gloucester. A move to London with his band later resulted in Cliff becoming service manager for Turnkey. Then an opportunity arose in early 1994 for Cliff to buy the established East Electronics. Cliff moved the business to new premises in Wembley and has seen it flourish, with the help of former East Electronics engineer Errol Shepherd, who himself used to work in Akai's service department. CIMPLE also employ a part‑time engineer and are looking for another full‑timer — "all CVs gladly received!". The company produces a MIDI output expander for the Atari ST, for use with Steinberg and Emagic software.

CIMPLE's premises comprise a workshop and office area, plus another area which is to become a studio. They're located 200 yeards from North Wembley station on the Bakerloo Underground line.

Hourly rate: CIMPLE don't have an hourly rate. Cliff: "We don't charge by the hour. If we see that a job is going to cost more than £70, we stop and give an estimate. Anything less than that, we just go ahead and get it fixed as quickly as possible. The cost is based on the merits of the machine or the job. If a keyboard's battery had gone down, we'd charge, say £20, plus the battery, plus VAT. If a disk drive had gone down in an Akai sampler, we'd probably charge £40 plus the price of the drive, plus VAT."

Guarantee: work is guaranteed for three months.

Bill Wheeler's True Stories

What's the strangest problem you've ever had to fix?

Bill Wheeler: "You could write a book from the things I could tell you. We've had to straighten up keyboards after being in aircraft holds — a D70 bent like a banana."

What did you do to rescue that?

BW: "Bent it straight!"

Did it cause a lot of internal problems?

BW: "Well, we had to take it to bits, of course!"

Was it worth the customer's while in terms of the cost?

BW: "Of course. It would have cost the customer a lot of money for a replacement. It was just put in a black plastic bag and shoved in the aircraft hold."

Was it much the worse for wear when you'd finished with it?

BW: "No. You wouldn't have noticed it. It's what we specialise in. The owner didn't know the difference."

Aspen Media

I used to think that error messages on my multitracker were just there to confuse me, or because I'd made a mistake pressing buttons. But they do actually warn of impending trouble, and if ignored, they don't just go away. The chances are that if you don't get your recorder serviced, it will stop working just at the moment that an important new client you've borrowed from the studio round the corner walks through the door — only to say "adios", and go back round the corner again.

I sought the advice of Aspen Media Ltd, whose Technical Services Manager, Graham Bryant, helped Alesis to formulate the service requirements for the ADAT when it was introduced. Graham reckons that 75 percent of 'faults' are a result of lack of regular maintenance, and it's really not advisable to have a go yourself — cleaning tapes get nowhere near the heart of the problem, and cotton buds can do inordinate amounts of damage, as they leave fibres behind, which wrap themselves round head cores, inducing static‑related and spurious errors as well as poor tape‑to‑head contact.

Graham recommends a service after every 500 hours of recording time. You can bring the total figure up on your ADAT's display by holding SET LOCATE and pressing STOP, or by holding STOP and PLAY and powering up on a Tascam DA88. According to Graham, the commonest warnings that all is not well are messages such as 'noFo', 'Full', 'Error 7', and an intermittent 'Error 2'. These are usually an indication of dirty switches or mechanical problems, the main reason being a slipping transport drive. There are two 'read' and two 'write' heads; if the 'read' heads develop faults, it isn't the end of the world, but if the 'write' heads do, nothing can erase any nasties that go on to the tape. The worst scenario is a chewed tape (usually a master, naturally).

One problem is that these machines will carry on working even with faults, because the error‑correction circuitry masks the problems. Then, just as that important session begins, they pack up. This says a lot for design, but doesn't help you when it happens!

Aspen tend to charge a maximum of £100 for ADAT repairs, and parts tend to be at most £50 (plus VAT, in both cases). The DA88 is slightly more expensive, costing at most £150 to repair, with parts costing at most £130 (once again, plus VAT). So what do you get for your money? Firstly, an evaluation to check what problems are present. Next, a thorough cleaning of all tape paths and mechanical parts, followed by tuning of the power supply, and a check that the loading alignment is spot on. Tape torques are set to the specified tension, and servo control and head voltages are checked for accuracy. The shape and amplitude of tape signals must conform to certain levels, so a host of measurements and fine‑tuning now take place. These can also highlight faults elsewhere in the machine that need to be rectified — one element out of order can throw the whole system out. Finally, there's a full line‑up to minimise error rates, a check on formatting, punch‑in, and all other main functions, a segment test, and then a final check of functions.

The whole process is usually completed and your machine delivered back to you within three days, but, if your requirement is really urgent, a one‑day service is possible — at a premium, of course. Neville Wake

Testing, Testing...

All our service experts are firmly of the opinion that you can do more harm than good by poking at the insides of your gear if it refuses to work, unless you really know what you're doing — but CIMPLE's Cliff Whitehead has one bit of advice if your synth is misbehaving...

"Every single modern microprocessor‑based instrument has an internal test programme, accessed by a few button presses on the front panel. The test checks out the RAM, the ROM, MIDI, the tape I/O, and so on. It's especially good if someone's buying second‑hand, because if they know the test mode, they can go in and test all the functions. One particular test that confuses most people is the MIDI test: they go into test mode, test the MIDI and then get an error or failed report. They immediately ring us and say 'My MIDI's failed...', and we ask them if they've plugged a MIDI lead between the MIDI In and MIDI Out. Because the test is sending data out and expects to receive it back, it fails if the user doesn't complete the loop. Another thing is that some test modes are destructive, so you'll need to back up your data before testing."

And how do you find out what starts your synth's self‑test routine? Cliff notes that this kind of information can be found on the Internet, but the net‑less should be able to obtain these details by consulting with a manufacturer's product specialists.

"You'Ve Seen Nothing Till You Work Here For Six Months..."

Some equipment faults have been exacerbated, or even caused, by the owner. As Mike Swain relates, people do the strangest things... "Connecting the outputs of power amps to the inputs of mixers — that causes quite a bit of hassle! Trying to dump the wrong SysEx data into a unit — one manufacturer's SysEx into a module from another manufacturer. They don't like that very much..." Presumably, it causes a crash? Mike: "Yes. But it can cause fatal problems. It can cause CPU failures, because the CPU is trying to do something it can't do: it runs around in a loop and then locks up, and that can actually cause micro‑component failure. This does not compute!"

Adam Swain continues: "The other thing that can cause a problem sometimes is if customers have tampered with the unit and made the fault worse themselves."

Mike: "We've had a few of those this week. They'll squirt WD40 in the key contact, or oil down the capstan bearings — and generally there are no user‑serviceable parts inside, the whole thing is static‑sensitive, particularly a modern synth, and you only need to put your finger inside, to touch the circuit board, and you could literally wipe out the board. So much damage is done by people having a go themselves."

Adam: "Plus, they put themselves at risk if they don't know what they're doing, particularly with units that have built‑in mains power supplies."

Mike: "Even on some of the synthesizers that use external power packs, if they've got electro‑luminescent displays, you can still get an electric shock of 100‑150 volts from the EL panels. So even battery‑operated gear can still be quite dangerous — people just don't realise how dangerous some of the equipment is. Power amps are the worst. If you have a 1000W power amp, the amount of energy that's available from the speaker output, or the power rails... There have been several accidents with power amplifiers, really severe burns from the speaker outputs."

Bill Wheeler is also familiar with problems caused by foreign substances being injected into equipment. How harmful is this? Bill: "Depends what they squib in. We've had stuff with hair lacquer inside..." But why on earth would someone do that? Bill: "Because it's handy and goes 'psssh psssh'! You've seen nothing till you work here for six months..."