When it comes to cars and keyboards, I
like ’em classic, and I like ’em powerful. Even with so much cool stuff on the
market these days, there’s still something so visceral and exciting about
playing or driving one of the true classics, and on a true classic vintage
synthesizer, sometimes all it takes is a single note, and you instantly realize
why that keyboard is so highly sought after. Hi, I’m Sam Mims with Syntaur, and when I
get a chance to restore one of the true classic synthesizers, I’m all-in.
Sometimes it’s a bumpy ride, but it’s a fun ride all the same, so come along with us
as the Syntaur team rescues one of the very first analog polyphonic
synthesizers. Here at Syntaur, we live to bring old synthesizers back to life. We
find vintage keyboards wherever we can, and our crew restores them back to
their original splendor. We also supply parts to tens of thousands of customers
all around the world, so that they can restore and repair their own keyboards. At
our shop in Texas, we have on hand parts for the synths used by pros from the 1960s
all the way to today’s brand new keyboards. Our inside and out knowledge
has made us known as the Synth Wizards. I’ve gotten several analog synthesizers
from Russia over the years, and I’m really intrigued by them. The first I got
was an Аэлита, which is somewhat similar to a Minimoog with its three
oscillators, and it sounds really phat. There was even a blurb about this one in
Keyboard Magazine back in 1995. Next, I got a Ритм – 2 monosynth, and its sound
was uniquely edgy and aggressive. I even had an offer at one point to buy several
hundred of these, still new in the boxes from the factory, but it involved
shipping a container across the ocean, and then by rail, and putting a lot of
trust, and a lot of money in people on the other side of the globe whom I could
only collude with from a distance. I eventually had to
say нет to that one. Finally, I got a ТОМ 1501 string machine, and like all of
these Russian synthesizers, it sounds quite good, but the construction is a bit
flimsy. Right now, for instance, the Аэлита no longer powers up, and the TOM 1501
only plays brass sounds, and nothing else. Owning a Russian synth is pretty cool in
my book, but if you’re gonna do it, be prepared to spend some time and money on
upkeep. One other synth I got from Russia, though, is a different story. It’s a
Roland Jupiter 4, a Japanese-made classic from way back in 1978 that
helped kick off the era of polyphonic synthesizers. And unlike the powder blue
leisure suits of that era, the Jupiter 4 is still magnificent. The JP4 is the
first of the holy trifecta of Roland Jupiters. The Jupiter 6 was released in
1983, and the Jupiter 8 is from 1981, and owning any of these synthesizers will
make you the envy of keyboardists everywhere. Neither is a scaled-down
version of any of the others – they are all three very different and very
desirable. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of the gods, and all three of
these Jupiter synthesizers are true to the namesake. This Jupiter 4 came to
us from Russia, and it’s set up to use 220 volt AC input, and so what I want to
do is convert this to be able to use it in the United States, and so not only am
I going to replace the power cord, but I’ve pulled out the power transformer, and I’m
going to replace that with one that I actually found in a Yamaha keyboard,
and it’s got, it’s designed for 120 volts input, and then the outputs should match
the same as the original Roland transformer. So I’ve got the new
transformer sitting in place where the original Roland transformer was, and two
of the mounting holes match up perfectly. The other two are spaced a bit
differently, but all this mounts onto an aluminum base plate, so I just need to
drill a couple of holes and then it’s a bolt and
nut that holds each of these corners in. So I’ve got the input of the transformer
wired up to the power switch, so we’re ready to send power into this, and I’ve
changed out the AC plug for a US-style plug, so then the next step I’m gonna do
is remove this connector because these wires will be soldered, and then I’m going to test the output
from these wires just to make sure everything is copasetic as far as the
voltage we’re getting out of this, and one other thing I might add is that I
have all of the outputs from the power supply unplugged, so when I do hook this
up it’s only going to be running the power supply, nothing else powered as far
as the synthesizer goes, and that’s so that I could test the actual output
voltages of the power supply board and make sure everything is 100% correct
before I hook it up to the rest of the circuitry of this expensive and
collectible synthesizer. The blue wires should have about 12 volts AC coming out,
the red wires should be about 40 volts between the two reds, and each red
against the black should give you 20 volts, so we have 13.3
volts there, so that’s perfect. I want to make sure these don’t touch
each other. And on the red wires… so there’s 40.7 volts. Perfect. And 20.4 volts on the center tap, so that’s
perfect. So that’s exactly what we’re looking for, and so now I’ll go ahead and
wire these up to the power supply board. Okay, now it’s sort of the moment of truth.
I have the output wires from the transformer soldered on to the power
supply board, so what I’m gonna do now is power on and then hopefully we don’t
blow any fuses or anything, and I’ll just measure the output voltages here on, on
these connectors from the power supply. This is what feeds the rest of the
keyboard, so these have to be exactly right, and these are going to be DC
voltages. We measured AC voltages coming off the transformer, but now after going
through the power supply and getting rectified, these are going to be DC
voltages. Let’s turn this on. Powers up. So let’s see what we got here. Everything is hooked up now, but for some
reason I’m not getting any voltage when I measure the power supply outlets. Have
I done something terribly wrong? Suddenly I get nothing. I don’t know what
the crap is going on with this thing. After doing some detective work, it turns
out the culprit was the freaking power switch. Right in the middle of my power
supply modification, the power switch dies. Crazy. So this is a double pole
switch, it’s got four solder connections, and so when you push the switch, when you
turn the power on, basically, this pin connects to that pin,
and on a separate circuit this pin connects to that pin, and what happened
with this switch is, half of its working, half of it decided not to. We don’t have
the exact same switch to replace it with, but we do have a double pole switch here
that has the same basic layout, and it fits fine, so we can solder this one in
and see if we can get down to business. So now, with the switch replaced, we had
to replace this one fuse with a different rating, just for the new
voltage, and now we’ll test the output voltages from the power supply.
Plus five volts, plus 15 volts, and minus 15 volts. That’s perfect.
Finally, with the power supply performing as it should, it’s time to mount the new
transformer permanently, so I hand the Jupiter off to Gerald to get the new
holes drilled and get that heavy transformer securely attached. As the
owner of Syntaur, it’s exciting to see the company grow, but a very real part of
growing is growing pains, and the worst of them is our constant battle with
emails. We get so many emails each day that we simply can’t keep up with them.
Our company philosophy is that we’re going to give top-notch customer service,
so it drives me bananas when I see that we’re buried in unanswered emails, and
it’s especially disturbing when I find that a customer reported some sort of
problem, and his email simply went unanswered for an embarrassingly long
time. Yeah, but the issue is that his email was never answered. Yeah, he’s not placing blame.
We’ve tried just about everything we can think of to manage emails better, and
we’re supposed to give top priority to anything that’s a problem with an order.
We also get lots of emails with questions about parts and repair issues,
and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to answer all of these. Cody
proposed the idea of setting up our own forums, so that we could steer many of
the tech questions there, and that way, instead of answering one person
privately we could publicly answer a question that other people might also be
interested in. Besides, many of our customers are repair techs, and they
might have even better answers than we do. I think it’s a great idea! We decided
to give it a go. Cody really comes up with some good
ideas, things that old geezers like me don’t even think about. We know there’s a
lot of Syntaur fans out there, and we’re hoping we can bring them together to share their
knowledge and hopefully create a good community. After a bit of work, Cody got
the new Syntaur forums off and running, and it’s been really cool watching the
action. Come and join us! We’d love to see you there. Thankfully, this Jupiter 4 was
in pretty good cosmetic shape when we received it. It does have a few issues,
though, besides the fact that it ran on 220 volts, and we’re about 100 volts
short of that here in the old US of A. One of those issues is the bender.
On Roland synths like this, the bender lever is attached with a set screw, and
it needs to be positioned correctly on the potentiometer, otherwise it bends by
different amounts in the up and down directions. I have it dialed in to bend
up an octave with the full travel of the lever… but when you bend down fully, it goes way
beyond an octave, so that’s something we’ll need to fix, and just like on most
old keyboards that we get in, dirty switches and slide pots can make it seem
like something in the circuitry is broken.
For instance, we thought something was broken with the bender at first because
it wouldn’t bend at all. It turns out that it was just dirty
switch contacts. A quick spray of DeoxIT into the bender switch, followed by a bit
of exercise, solved the problem immediately. The Jupiter 4 has been used
by a ton of artists, from Duran Duran to Depeche Mode. In fact, on the Duran Duran
song Rio, the Jupiter 4 is used for the fast arpeggiator line that runs
throughout the song. I was curious how Nick Rhodes got that arpeggiator pattern
in the song Rio, because it doesn’t really match the modes of the
arpeggiator on the Jupiter 4. You have up, you have down, up + down, or random, and
the pattern doesn’t match any of those. Here’s the up and down pattern. That’s a
good starting point, but it doesn’t really match what goes on in the song, so
a little experimenting and I sort of found the answer: if you use the hold
button, then you can play some notes and end up with a pattern that’s not
straight up or down or up and down. So I’m guessing that’s the technique that Nick
Rhodes used to get the arpeggiator pattern in Rio. The Jupiter 4 is a vintage synth worth
getting excited about, but every now and then, we get the chance to get really
really excited about a keyboard. That’s why I took the family on vacation to
Utah, where we would just happen to drive back through Arizona, where there just
happened to be a guy named Cameron who had a keyboard of interest. Well folks,
we’re here in an undisclosed location in Phoenix, Arizona picking up some kind of
special keyboard that’s not working at all.
It is a special keyboard, it’s the holy grail of polyphonic synthesizers. It’s a
Yamaha CS-80, and yeah, we’re spending thousands of dollars to buy a keyboard
that doesn’t work. It’s the biggest purchase we’ve ever made for a single
keyboard, but on the other hand if and when we get it refurbished and working,
it’ll be the biggest sale we’ve ever made for a keyboard, so it’ll
bring the highest dollar, and these are very rare and very wonderful, so I’m even
more excited than Cody is. The Yamaha CS-80: first made in 1976, the year I
graduated from high school. Only about 2,000 of these were made, and they are
one of the most desirable, and one of the most expensive polyphonic synthesizers
you can find. That’s if you can find them at all. I was surprised to come across
someone who even owned one, even a broken one, and then outright giddy that he was
open to the idea of possibly selling it. It took about a year of subtle
negotiating, but Cameron eventually decided to sell me his after it started
smoking the last time he plugged it in. It was not easy for him to part with his
“Sadie”, which he purchased brand-new, but he knew it deserved to be repaired and
sent on to a new home. So we packed up 220 pounds of analog
goodness and wheeled this beast to the Synthmobile, where it would start its
journey back to Texas, and hopefully soon back to health. Thanks again. Good to meet you. Good to meet you, Robbie. Good to meet you, too. We’ll see you through the etherwaves and I’ll send you
some video. Sounds good! Yeah, it’ll be fun. Then I’ll really bawl when I hear it go “roar”. Now that this Jupiter 4 is fully
repaired and sounding great, it’s time to think about whether we can do some mods.
So I always like to think about what we could make a keyboard do that it didn’t
do originally, but it would make it really cool if we could make it do that. So, a
couple of things come to mind, and let me also state that with a keyboard like the
Jupiter 4 or something vintage and really cool and collectible like this I
hate to even think about mods that require drilling the panel or changing
the outside appearance, so if we can do something that makes it stay looking
exactly like it does and it would even be reversible if someone wanted to go
back and make it, you know, fully, fully original again, that’s the, that’s the way
to do a mod. First thing that comes to mind is, wouldn’t it be cool if it had
aftertouch where you could use aftertouch on the keys to trigger vibrato on
a note or to open up the filter, something like that?
Man, that would really be cool. The other thing is on the Jupiter 4 bender, it’s
unlike the Juno-106 for instance where you can, you can bend up and down of
course, but on the Juno 106 you can also push it forward and that can trigger mod
or something like that, so those things are absent on the, on the Jupiter 4 and
I’d love to have something that’s a little more expressive like that for
when you play it, so yeah, aftertouch on the keys or add that bender mod somehow,
those are the things I’m gonna check into. I’ve been anxious to take a look at
the keybed of this thing because I’m hoping that underneath here there’s a
flat surface where we could maybe put a aftertouch strip instead of, instead of
just the normal felts that are there we might be able to put an aftertouch
strip and make this keyboard do some things that it wasn’t designed to do. So
I’m gonna remove a key or two. Yo! We start by pulling the key return spring
off. Once you do that you can just lift the key up and back a little bit. Oh,
that’s nasty. Okay, and then we can see right here that
there is a felt strip that runs the width of the keyboard, and the, and the
perfect thing is that the black keys and the white keys press down equally on
this felt strip, so that means that if we can find an aftertouch strip that has a
felt the same thickness of that, then we can basically put a resistor under each
key where pressing harder makes that resistance change, and then we can use
that to open up the filter or add vibrato or something like that, so this
is looking real good. Adding aftertouch to the keybed seems
like a much better upgrade than adding a modulation switch to the bender, and it
looks like mounting a strip under the keys will also be far easier than
modding the bender. But we still need to figure out the electronic end of things.
My notion is to make the key pressure always add vibrato. That means routing
the LFO directly to the oscillators with the depth controlled by the resistance
of the aftertouch strip. By doing it this way, we’re not having to change anything
about how the LFO is being routed and used otherwise, we’re adding a feature
and not having to sacrifice anything, so we embarked on a bit of R&D, which
basically means staring at schematics and doing some poking and prodding and a
lot of head-scratching. It don’t do nothing. Nada? Of course, this is kind of a weird… That is very weird. You don’t have just a piece of wire? It’s the only thing I could find. Yeah, I’m just going to go get the plain roll wire. Instead of 12 pieces of wire joined together with paper clips and masking tape. I can’t. Our results are tenuous at
best. After a few false starts, we finally hit on the right setup. Voila! Pressing on the strip finally made the
sound wiggle – success! We stayed pretty late figuring out how to build in the aftertouch, and I couldn’t wait to get back the next day and start getting it put
together. Gerald removed all of the keys on the
Jupiter 4 and made them look as pretty as possible. Rubbing alcohol works well
for getting off surface dirt, and for getting off tougher grime and rubbing
out scratches we use Syntaur’s KeyRenew key polish. We want the keys of this
classic beauty to look as new as possible before they go back on. The felt
strip under the Jupiter 4’s keys just happens to be the same dimensions as the
aftertouch strip used on many modern keyboards. The strip from an M-Audio
Axiom Air 49 is the perfect fit. It’s already the right length for 49 keys. But
in case you want to do this and you only have a longer strip, just snip it to
length. That’s all it takes. There are two wires that lead to the
strip, and when nothing is pressing there’s infinite resistance between the
two. Once pressure is applied, the resistance drops according to how hard
you’re pressing, so it’s like we’re sending the LFO through a valve. The
valve is normally turned off, but by pressing on a key the valve opens up and
lets the LFO signal through. Now that I have the aftertouch strip installed, I’m
finding out we have a couple more problems that we need to deal with. First
of all, the aftertouch seems to only affect the pitch in a negative direction,
at least the way we have it currently wired in, so we’re gonna have to find a
better wiring scheme, a better way to hook this up electronically,
because what’s happening is when we apply a sine wave to the pitch, it’s not
making it go up above pitch, it’s only making it go flat below pitch, so in
essence, we get a, the pitch at a plateau, and then it dips, and then it goes back
up to the plateau, and then it dips. I’ll show you what I’m talking about. I’ll
install this black key temporarily. So you can hear it plays the pitch, dips,
plays the pitch, dips, that’s not too good a vibrato. So, we’re gonna need to figure
out a better way to hook in our aftertouch strip. I don’t think that’ll be a
problem. The, the bigger problem is, though, that when I looked at these keys, I
looked at the white key and I saw it’s a perfectly flat surface on the bottom and
that we have one strip going across the keyboard, and I assumed that all keys
would be the same pressing on that strip, but now that I’ve got them all off and
looking closer, the black keys actually have a little protrusion here. The black
key reaches down a little farther, and so the black keys work fine on this aftertouch
strip; the white keys aren’t really doing anything. Our sales manager at Syntaur is
Eddie Perez, and he also manages our recording studio. How can I help you? A
nicer guy you will never meet. But I was a little surprised just how friendly he
got when we were texting about something not long ago. Here’s how it went.
Eddie sent me a text saying he’d be working at the studio for a bit and his
buddy Ray John might be stopping by to take care of a plumbing problem we
were having there. Cool! I texted him back to let me know if Ray John had any
questions. I guess Eddie was having two conversations at once, and probably got
me mixed up with his wife, because his response to me was, “K love you”. I got
quite a kick out of that, and texted him back, “Love you too man!” And, of course I
throw a “Love you!” onto the end of our texts now and then just to keep teasing
him. Ah, Syntaur, we’re like a family! One other interesting thing about Eddie: he’s
been a major player in the Tejano music scene for years, and most notably he
toured and recorded extensively with Latin superstar Emilio, and now, Eddie’s
up for a Latin Grammy. I worked on an album with the group
Alamo out of San Antonio. I recorded some instrumentation and some engineering. And
I’ve been recording with them for like 18 years, so, yeah, pretty, yeah. Pretty excited.
Yeah, that’s great! One week away. In the end, Alamo and Eddie did not take home
the Best Tejano Album award, but Eddie walked the red carpet in Vegas, and
brought home a swanky medal for being an important part of that Grammy-nominated
album. After doing a bit more staring at both
the schematics and at the Jupiter 4’s guts, I finally figured out the best way
to hook in the aftertouch strip, and it’s really pretty simple.
We’ve already tapped off of the LFO with this wire connected to the module
control board, and we just need to add that wiggly signal to the tuning pot.
That’s all it takes! To solve the problem of the white keys
not pressing on the aftertouch strip, I noticed that the bottom of the keys have
some rectangular pockets just above where they contact the strip, so I searched
through all of our thingamajigs, winger-wangers, and doo-wa-ditties until I
found something that fit snugly into that opening and protruded down far
enough to press on the strip. It’s a little bit tedious getting each white
key outfitted and adjusted correctly, but the result is very expressive. Finally,
the last key went on, and we had the world’s only Jupiter 4 that responds to
key pressure. How cool is that? With the key pressure working nicely, we
decided to add one more element to it: a switch to disable it. I realized this was
necessary in playing the factory presets, many of which don’t use the LFO as part
of the sound. When we then kick it in with key pressure, we found that it’s
very much the wrong speed, either way too fast on some programs or
drunkenly slow on others, and since these presets cannot be changed, it’s safer to
be able to just disable the aftertouch. It’s a simple thing to accomplish, it
just requires a switch, but it puts me in a moral dilemma.
I can’t mount a switch without drilling, and I sure didn’t want to drill the
panel of this rare synthesizer, so I talked it over with Gerald, and we came
up with a good compromise. We’ll mount a switch on the bender panel, instead of
having to drill the main panel, and I’m using a switch that’s identical to the
other Jupiter switches, so it’s going to look just like a factory installation.
It’ll have an aftertouch on position, an off position, and a third “bump” position
where you can momentarily kick in the aftertouch when it’s otherwise off,
similar to pushing the bender forward on a Juno-106. I think it’ll be really cool!
All Gerald has to do is drill a hole in the bender panel that has to be oblong
instead of round and look perfectly like the other switch holes. I’m sure
he’s got an oblong drill bit somewhere! The boss man got aliens on the brain, he
done lost his mind, he goes- Look at that! It’s perfect! I knew he had
an oblong drill bit! Now we just need to label this, so I’ve ordered some dry
transfer letters that we can rub on there, and then we’ll just spray a
protective coating over and we should be good to go. We recently hosted an event called
Synthomania where we had an insane number of vintage synths on display, as
well as performances and amazing door prizes from our amazing sponsors Korg
and Reverb, and the event wrapped up with a Gary Numan concert in the same venue!
One of our performers was Moonray, an Austin duo that relies heavily on
synthesizers for their sound, and they mentioned to me that they were on the
lookout for a Jupiter 4, so as we were wrapping up our mods here, I contacted
them to see if they might be interested in checking out this unique Jupiter, and
they jumped at the chance. Just in the nick of time, the dry transfer lettering
arrived, and it looks like a pretty good match to the original screened lettering.
Getting this bender panel finished is the last thing that needs to be done
before we’re ready to show this beast off to Moonray. Finally, with all the
pieces back together, this customized Jupiter 4 still sounds as great as ever,
but with the unique aftertouch response, it’s so much more expressive to play. Hey! Hey, Moonrays! How are you? Good! How are y’all doing? Great to see you! Yeah! Good to see you! Good seeing you! What’s up? Hi. How are you? Good. Cool! Hey, how are you doing Cody? *whistles* Nice! Yeah, this is pretty. Oh yeah! Ooh. Cool work, man, that’s really good! So, the aftertouch and then bump it, as if? Okay, so. Ah! Oh, I like that a lot. That’s crazy! It’s like the Juno-106. We picked up a rare Jupiter 4 from a
contact in Russia and swapped out the power transformer to convert it to North
American use. A few additional repairs later, and we had it back to its original
analog glory. Yeah, and I know you, you ain’t gonna leave well enough alone, are you? Heck no! I wanted to make this Jupiter truly unique, so we converted the keypad to add vibrato when
you press harder, and we added a switch to control it as well. Yep, now it’s the
only Jupiter on earth with this cool feature, and it’s going to Moonray right up
the road in Austin, Texas. We also found a Yamaha CS-80 and brought it back from
Arizona. I was pretty overwhelmed by this new find, and Cody was, well he was just
whelmed. We’ll be working on that one soon, so check back with future Syntaur
on Synth Wizards. I know what happened to the bossman. Aliens
got up in his brain!