Service Zone, Classic Organ & Piano Service
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Keyboard

Various models etc.
We have serviced many makes over the years, some have stood the test of time, others have not.

Nord Lead, service
Nord Lead at The Service Zone, Mercia.
Nord Lead, a polyphonic digital synthesiser, from Clavia DMI in Svenska. A clean, effective instrument, using technology which they call 'Virtual Analogue'. Others call it 'analogue modelling'.
4 octave keyboard, C to C. 'Resonant' digital multi-mode filter, this has its own characteristics, without the quirks which distinguish analogue types. It is a shame that they feel the need to make a comparison, digital synthesis can stand as a genre in its own right, alongside analogue. Both have their strengths & weaknesses.

The filter's modes include bandpass, notch & lowpass. The latter can be 12 or 24 dB per octave. I consider only lowpass is useful, on the models I checked out. Compared to analogue types, it sweeps, when close to oscillation, without any tendency to intermittently lock or drop out of feedback. The other modes seem less effective, especially bandpass, although some may disagree with me.

The model pictured has been discontinued, as has the Lead 2 which followed. The Nord Lead 2X is current, as is the 2X rack. There is also a Nord Lead 3 and Rack 3. These have more features. Modern digital instruments typically have a short production life, due to marketting pressures etc.

Safety.

One thing in particular I am not keen on, the hardwired two core mains lead. The instrumant has a metal case, in my opinion it needs an earth. This was not compulsory many years ago. it SHOULD BE now. Life is precious & 230 Volts is dangerous. There is room to retrofit these models with earthed IEC connectors, the way they should have been made.

This is a problem shared with a number of other Synthesisers, of various makes, also some classic instruments. I am going to start giving each a safety score, based on this feature & others.

Safety rating: '0'. It will be '2' if fitted with 3 conductor IEC plug & earth.

Star burst
Philips keyboard Does anyone recognise this little instrument? It is a Philicorda, with regards to its technology, truth may indeed be stranger than fiction.

At least when viewed from this Century.

it has a minor place in the strange history of our industry.

Two core mains lead, safety rating of "0"


Philips keyboard Here is a picture from the instrument's instruction book. Copyright belongs to the manufacturer: Philips Gloeilampen Fabrieken N.V. of Eindhoven, in the Nederlands.

Far nicer than their modern name: Philips Consumer Products. Which indicates the dead end commerce entered after those days.

The 12 master oscillators are valve, the dividers are neon triodes. Not so bad as some of its contemporaries, which use standard neon tubes for oscillators & dividers. So, not all that is old is good.

Star burst
MIDIMINI
MIDIMINI at The Service Zone, Mercia.
Studio Electronics, MIDIMINI. This is basically a hybrid rack mount, successor to the MIDIMOOG. Uses Minimoog VCF & power supply boards.

A new control board, for MIDI, with copies of the original envelope generators. The VCO board is a copy of the Minimoog D2 board. Controls are not original, nor are the printed board sockets. These are a better, gold plated flat blade type.

The MIDIMOOG, not pictured, looks pretty much the same. This uses more Moog parts, including the D1 oscillator board, original mains transformer, wiring loom, rotary controls & board sockets. As these parts are old, they are prone to intermittency problems, the compact box makes service difficult. With more original parts, Moog was included in the name.

Both models hum a bit, due to the compact layout, placing the mains transformer close to audio circuits. If this is a problem we modifiy them to resolve it. Board proximity often also causes keying clicks. Not so good overall as the original donor synth, which, after all, can have a MIDI converter, free standing or built in. If you like them, both are a reasonable buy, as long as the price is right.

If you really want a modern rack unit that sounds like a Minimoog, then you are now catered for by Moog themselves. They have introduced a rack edition of the Minimoog Voyager. At today's (26-2-5) exchange rate of 1.923 it costs 1,141.42, less than an original Minimoog D2 in good nick. Of course you have to get it over here, U.K. price is 1,299.99, not bad as transport, VAT & Customs duty are included.

Studio Electronics also fitted two Oberheim 2 or 4 Voice modules in a rack with MIDI. This is a reasonably good unit, up to a point. It just seems a shame that classics have to be sacrificed to make something a bit more modern but otherwise less.

Safety.

The Midimoog & Midimini comply with safety requirements, have an IEC connector with its earth connected. A minor point, they use a small fragile mains switch. This has a vulnerable metal toggle, if bumped in transit it can push the switch apart, possibly causing mains to short to the chassis.

This has actually happened, more than once, to my customers. The instrument in the picture above actually has this damage, that is why it was in our workshop. If you look carefully at the bottom right hand, the mains toggle is pushed in, the mains fuse & earth provide protection. Don't take the earth off to reduce hum, it's there to save your life, a bit of earth hum won't kill you.

Safety rating: '2', see comments above.

P-Five

Studio Electronics P-Five, service & tune
P-Five at The Service Zone, Mercia.
They did the same thing with Sequential Rev. 3 Prophet Fives. This is a less successful modification & does not impress me at all. It can be improved to some extent, but the controls & panel layout are poor.

It is better to get the original with MIDI.

It is not easy to consider an instrument, made by cannibalising a classic, as anything but just that. A collection of someone else's parts, in a box. Whether those parts are genuine or copies.

Clicking on the image will provide a larger one, of the control panel. This shows that the layout is modified from that of the Prophet Five. This may have been more convenient for S.E.'s designers, but is less so for a player, no longer an intuitive flow chart.

Sorry Studio Electronics, but I have to tell it as I feel it. We all must start somewhere, at least you are now making your own gear. We wish you well, in our competitive business world.

Safety.

Complies with safety requirements, an IEC connector, earthed to the metal case. The power supply is a switch mode type, better than the Sequential original. I am not keen on it having no safety cover, don't operate this instrument with the case top open, Tuners Beware.

The mains swith is plastic, better than the Midimini. It does however have an integral LED, connected to the instrument's low Voltage rail. In my view this is a potential hazard, if the switch breaks down (switches do fail, frequently).

Safety rating: '2', see qualifying comments.

Starburst
ensoniQ

ESQ'1 ensoniQ's ESQ'1 is a wavetable synthesiser with analogue filters. A hybrid, following in the tradition of the PPG Wave & Sequential VS.

A capable & good sounding machine. Reliability problems & lack of maker's support prevent it being a classic. The 5 octave keyboard is an Italian Fatar type, also used in the Mirage, their earlier sampler. Its plastic key-frame is prone to breakage & no spares are available. ESQ'1

Silver plated wound spring contacts & plain busses. This type suffers from tarnishing, causing intermittency & contacts sometimes break.

It was followed by several variants, such as the SQ'1 & SQ'80. All in the same category, with the same problem regarding support.

Later models have floppy disc drives, enabling data loading without needing a custom cartridge. These often have their own problems, see section on floppy based machines. Those after the SQ series & the earlier Mirage models class as samplers. O.K. I know I have said this site does not include samplers & sample players. We are all entitled to change our mind occasionally.

They did produce a digital piano, the SDP. Despite its timing, this was not a political statement.
Electronic piano servicing It stands for Sampled Digital Piano, not David Owen's Social Democratic Party.

They both came out in the same era, this one made rather less of an impact.

76 note keyboard, E to G. 10 voice polyphony, 12 preset sounds, Grand Piano, Bright Piano, Honky-Tonk Piano, plus tuned percussion & bass. Transposition with one octave range, plus one octave down shift for the variable bass split section.

A capable enough machine for the period, and with 12 bit samples, WOW. Not enough bits for a piano though, recorded from what sounded like a very average acoustic instrument. The characteristic weak impact response, from all strings when high notes are played, can't be handled,. Resulting in a distorted noise halo around the high end. Together with a distorted tail on sustained notes, not the greatest sound.

I have heard worse though, now let's think, where was that? Oh yes, from the 8 bit Mirage's Piano sample, strangely enough from the same maker, well well. No ensoniQs are classics, they are not sought after.

Digital sampler service

Talking about the Mirage, here it is, this is the later model keyboard, followed by the later model rack mount (DMS). Complete with flickering LED display, yellow on the DMS, & 8 bit sample playing. This allows a whole 127 steps of different waveform amplitude, so all sounds can be turned into a digitally repeatable staircase, quite something.
Electronic sampling keyboard service

128K (yes K) of sample memory, so several short staircases can be stored. A sequencer with quite a few steps & a special feature. Due to limited processing power, if many keys are played, the flickering LEDs go out & the sequence stops.

Catching up to correct time with a rush, on key release, quite funny.

Electronic rack sampler service 8 Voice polyphony, analogue filters, 61 keys. Keyboard, made by FATAR, has a plastic frame, prone to break, like the similar type on the ESQ'1. Pitch bend & modulation wheels. Not of course on the rack model.
These were sold as samplers, for most people however, they were sample players. Even with the extra goodies, available for the 2nd version, owners could not get samples as good as the factory library. The story going around was that the factory actually recorded their library on a Fairlight. It may have been true, the Mirage was very much cheaper, $1,395.00 plus tax.

I quite liked them, they were fun, if not taken too seriously. We made some money out of servicing them for the makers, which was not bad.

Safety.

ensoniQ instruments,at least those with metal cases, comply fully with relevant electrical safety requirements. There are no safety issues, they are as safe as possible. Top marks. Safety rating: '2'.

Sample player servicing

When ensoniQ first appoached me in '86, to sort out their entire servicing, I was working from our first floor maisonette in Bow, London. The day after the deal was signed, there was a rumpus in the street outside. I don't think the company realised I was working from home, they had sent several container lorries loaded with faulty Mirages.

They had addressed them to ensoniQ U.K. Limited, Service Department. The poor drivers were looking for me in the factory opposite our estate. After sorting this out we took delivery, our large maisonette was packed, on both floors. There were also boxes on each step of our stairway, so no pressure to get them fixed & out quickly.

That seems a long time ago. Business generally has become far too dull & humourless these days. We try to maintain the old spirit, with some success. The maisonette worked O.K. for a while, but school holidays were approaching. I could see disaster looming, with three noisy young boys in the house.

This was also the year we took control of our Council, implementing a promised draconian redesign of the local Civil Service (Full decentralisation). We were busy, a search for business premises culminated in our North London Partnership, successful for nine years. All the ensoniQs were ferried to Primrose Hill & a new era started. During that first year we picked up several other exclusive service agencies.

Throughout the nine years I missed the old home run business. In 1995, a year after moving to Kent, we restarted, pressure on the new house again got extreme. We had moved back into Hammond organs, Wurlitzer & Rhodes pianos etc., the heavy stuff. Hence the next move, to our Mercia setup, not quite a home business, but almost.

Our London headquarters is a historic listed building, in trendy Islington. So we have not deserted the capital.

Analogue & digital instrument service

All LOGOs, Brand & Model names are Trademarks and/or Copyright of their respective owners.

All opinions in this section are those of the author, Ron Lebar.

Information given is generally brief & is based on our experience. If you spot any factual mistakes or 'typos' please feel free to let us know. We are not quite perfect & promise not to sulk over constructive criticism.

If you need more information on models listed or can suggest another instrument to add let us know & we will do our best. From time to time we may include comprehensive details of specific models.

For Technical queries, advice on operational problems etc. you are welcome to E-Mail us.

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Others. Updated on the 13th of June 2008. Ron Lebar, Author.