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GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r Keyboard Synthesizers
Old 18th February 2013
  #1
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r

I'm surprised no one has started a thread about these underrated gems. (no pun intended )

There's not a lot of info around about them, and most of what you can find is either in forums you have to pay for access to or on sites that no longer exist (but exist partially in the Internet Archive).

I didn't feel I had enough info for a proper review (though I plan to eventually write one) but I think threads similar to the JD800/990 one are great repositories for info. More importantly these threads show up on Google searches and act as a beacon for knowledgeable people.

There's a lot of programming tips, upgrade and repair info that have been lost. The disk images are getting harder to find and they have been converted to now-unsupported formats when you do find them. GeneralMusic as a company no longer exists so finding spare parts is going to be a problem as time goes on.

Models: S2 (61 keys), S3 (76 keys), S2r rackmount. Turbo variants of S2 and S3, the S2r is Turbo by default.

Here's the skinny on the main features:

Pros

*Great keyboard feel. Semi weighted.
*Polyphonic aftertouch with a decent resistance curve
*Attack and Release velocity. (rare in combination with Poly aftertouch)
*Two independent MIDI buses, can be merged
*Able to read sample floppies in most formats (esp Akai and wav)
*Display backlights have extremely long life, unlike the Optrex displays in contemporaries like the Wavestation and SY-77.
*Fairly intuitive display with dedicated keys and some soft keys.
*Dedicated button to bypass internal effects quickly
*User assignable sliders which also transmit MIDI
*Two 12db digital multimode filters run in series, can be combined into a 24db filter

Cons

*Somewhat limited polyphony even for it's time (16 voices in dual osc modes, 32 in single osc with some limitations)
*No portamento, osc sync
*Daft, utterly daft patch backup. No onboard user memory in standard models, Turbo models can fit either 512k or 2MB of static RAM (which really isn't all that much). All backup has to be done via floppy. No SYSEX dumps.
*Provisions were made for SCSI but the S series was dropped by GEM before an upgrade could be released
*Turbo models have a Polysix-style NiCd battery that will leak and will kill the synth.
*Heavy for their size (some might see this as a pro)

Overall it's probably best to think of it as a terrific master MIDI keyboard with a nice synth attached. It definitely has a CS-80 vibe of sorts -- there's a reason why many of the performance presets are Vangelis-esque brass patches and dreamy glassy pads. One of the more expressive keyboards that could really shine in gifted hands -- emphasis on the gifted. Not everyone likes or appreciates polyphonic aftertouch and it takes considerable finger strength and dexterity to really take advantage of it. I have to admit that the S2 poly aftertouch has just the right amount of resistance that I don't accidentally activate it (especially when holding a chord) and has enough give that you don't have to drop a truck on it to get a useful range. Release velocity is something I'm still wrapping my head around though I can definitely see the possibilities. Not many of the presets actually take advantage of these advanced expression features which probably didn't do this synth any favours back in the day.
Old 18th February 2013
  #2
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
Here's someone who owns and uses Generalmusic S3 Turbo

It's one of the best secret weapons out there, along with my Technics WSA1. Polyphonic aftertouch is really useful here since it's quite soft and does not require that much of force (it's quite rare to have enough soft aftertouch, even among the channel aftertouch keyboards).

Perhaps I shouldn't say it out loud but practically they modeled the filter from Synthex into Generalmusic! Something like digital model is not too far fetched if you can program it. Just listen those Synthex presets! It's all synthesis engine, not samples as some people are saying! How about adding more resonance and listen then those amazing sweeps! Just need to be careful not to have too much gain which makes resonance easily to distort.

Generalmusic_S3_bandpass_Polyaftertouch.mp3

What you are hearing is polyaftertouch opening filter, amplifying VCA and adding a bit of vibrato.

Generalmusic S -series is also excellent for scifi sounds and effects:

Generalmusic_S3_bells.mp3

For me, the biggest minus is that there's no modulation matrix allowing me to route LFO speed for aftertouch! That is the secret of the CS-80!


Also, I have collected information database of my rare instruments, including Generalmusic. I have scanned the original SOS review which is too old that it's not included for the online reviews:

Index of /~patalus/new_stuff/Generalmusic_S-series

Just take a look! Big GEM ad!
Old 18th February 2013
  #3
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy View Post
Polyphonic aftertouch is really useful here since it's quite soft and does not require that much of force (it's quite rare to have enough soft aftertouch, even among the channel aftertouch keyboards).
I agree. I also find that it's got a good amount of resistance at the end of the key travel so you don't dig into the aftertouch area by accident when you are hitting a high velocity note, yet the aftertouch is easy to activate once you are there. If you ever see video of Vangelis playing a CS-80 he sort of wiggles his fingers side-to-side to get the extra leverage for aftertouch (this is sometimes misinterpreted as the CS-80 having wiggle aftertouch like some Yamaha Electones). The GEM's aftertouch is easy to play in the way Vangelis does it.

Quote:
Perhaps I shouldn't say it out loud but practically they modeled the filter from Synthex into Generalmusic! Something like digital model is not too far fetched if you can program it. Just listen those Synthex presets! It's all synthesis engine, not samples as some people are saying!
I think the initial waveform is a sample, or at least a single cycle of the wave. After that it's all DSP. It's sort of a foreunner to the way virtual analogs approach sound generation. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to a real Synthex or a CS-80 in my lifetime!

Quote:
For me, the biggest minus is that there's no modulation matrix allowing me to route LFO speed for aftertouch! That is the secret of the CS-80!
It also doesn't allow you to route resonance to aftertouch either, though you may be able to route res to the mod wheels. It's still not the same thing though.

There are a few other synths that have this type of matrix modulation that also respond to poly aftertouch and release velocity. The Waldorf Microwave XT is almost a natural pairing with the GEM's. I believe other Waldorfs like the Micro Q and the Blofeld also respond to poly aftertouch.

Quote:
Also, I have collected information database of my rare instruments, including Generalmusic. I have scanned the original SOS review which is too old that it's not included for the online reviews:

Index of /~patalus/new_stuff/Generalmusic_S-series
I've never seen that review before. It's interesting that the reviewer opened up the prerelease model and poked around inside, noting the chipsets and types of RAM used. You certainly don't see that in modern reviews!

I've been collecting a few other odds and ends about the S series: Full schematics for the S2/S3, Turbokit details, compatible SRAM types, disks in all formats. You are welcome to any of it!
Old 18th February 2013
  #4
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Mr. Varaldo's Avatar
Ssshhhhhhh!!! heh
Old 19th February 2013
  #5
Old 19th February 2013
  #6
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
I also have something like a collection of images of every possible sample disk that is compatible with generalmusic, including all the images of original generalmusic floppies. With old DOS program (which works only in real DOS), I can copy any of them back to floppy disk and load it into my generalmusic.


Oh, hi Paolo! It was you who said that the synthex presets would be merely samples!

But yes, it's very good sign that there's not much of interests for Generalmusic because it won't get part of the hypes! Lower interests, the lower prices

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Ocelot View Post
GEM's aftertouch is easy to play in the way Vangelis does it.
Well, I can tell you, the aftertouch of CS -series is completely different to any other synths. I own CS-50 and there's no softer aftertouch on earth! They use optical aftertouch instead of pressure sensitivity. It means that there's literally a light bulb beneath the keyboard and a flap. The flap moves according to key and as much as the light is revealed, it determines the amount of modulation. The feeling is completely different when there's minimal pressure involved...

Oh yes, and I have seen way more Vangelis stuff than you can even dream about!
Old 19th February 2013
  #7
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Mr. Varaldo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy View Post
I also have something like a collection of images of every possible sample disk that is compatible with generalmusic, including all the images of original generalmusic floppies. With old DOS program (which works only in real DOS), I can copy any of them back to floppy disk and load it into my generalmusic.
May I please get copies of those disks?? Pretty please??


Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy View Post
Oh, hi Paolo! It was you who said that the synthex presets would be merely samples!
Hi but I don't remember the exchange but as far as I know, the S series is standard PCM / S+S synthesis.... sampled waveforms in ROM
Old 19th February 2013
  #8
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Varaldo View Post
May I please get copies of those disks?? Pretty please??
Let's see, perhaps I can upload them into somewhere.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Varaldo View Post
Hi but I don't remember the exchange but as far as I know, the S series is standard PCM / S+S synthesis.... sampled waveforms in ROM
You said regarding to Synthex preset: "Presumably sampled from the Elka Synthex".

That would mean (at least I presumed) that the preset is just sample from Synthex (ie. sample including filter sweep and all in the waveform).
Old 19th February 2013
  #9
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Mr. Varaldo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy View Post
Let's see, perhaps I can upload them into somewhere.
Thank you!!!!!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by AnalogGuy View Post
You said regarding to Synthex preset: "Presumably sampled from the Elka Synthex".

That would mean (at least I presumed) that the preset is just sample from Synthex (ie. sample including filter sweep and all in the waveform).
Ah, from the website.... what I meant is, they presumably sampled the ROM waveform(s) from the Synthex - I know that the filter sweeps and other programming come from the internal engine of the S2 - I have an S2R and while mine is currently at the repair store (data wheel tracking problems) so I can't check it now, I also seem to remember that there is(are) no actual waveform(s) named "Synthex", but just the usual saws, pulses, squares and so forth, and that those excellent "Synthex" programs are built upon those main waveforms
Old 19th February 2013
  #10
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Varaldo View Post
Thank you!!!!!!!



Ah, from the website.... what I meant is, they presumably sampled the ROM waveform(s) from the Synthex - I know that the filter sweeps and other programming come from the internal engine of the S2 - I have an S2R and while mine is currently at the repair store (data wheel tracking problems) so I can't check it now, I also seem to remember that there is(are) no actual waveform(s) named "Synthex", but just the usual saws, pulses, squares and so forth, and that those excellent "Synthex" programs are built upon those main waveforms
Yes, you're right. It's nothing more than just a very basic Saw waveform but i really doubt it's sampled from the Synthex... it sounds a bit too digital
Old 19th February 2013
  #11
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delaware dave's Avatar
 

The GEM Equinox was actually a step up on these series of boards. Still own two of them and it is a great MIDI controller and the Equinox Pro also has the RealPiano samples loaded in and a B3 emulator with 8 sliders to support the 9 drawbars. Demo sounds:

Equinox 61
Old 19th February 2013
  #12
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by delaware dave View Post
The GEM Equinox was actually a step up on these series of boards. Still own two of them and it is a great MIDI controller and the Equinox Pro also has the RealPiano samples loaded in and a B3 emulator with 8 sliders to support the 9 drawbars. Demo sounds:

Equinox 61
Well, yes and no. It was step-back by omitting polyaftertouch, larger screen and even sound quality. S -serie contains 18-bit DACs whereas i belive Equinox contains only 16-bit or worse. I have owned Equinox 88 pro and by comparison it was significally more darker and grainier sounding while the S -serie is much more brighter and HiFi.

While the synthesis engine was still basically same but they added something more like SCSI (optional), Groove mode, more Polyphony, more layers and so on. Take a look here where I did some feature comparison:

Generalmusic S3 turbo and Equinox 88 pro! I am in ... - Harmony Central
Old 23rd February 2013
  #13
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delaware dave's Avatar
 

I owned an alesis qs6.1. 16 bit 48khz samples that sounded like sh*t. So high quality sample rates (18 bit vs 16 bit) don't necessarily mean a thing. I used an s2 for a few months and the equinox IS a step up. And more interesting is that when i go to your link there are twice as many equinox features than the s series.
I would also disagree with your assessment of the pro pianos, especially the acoustic pianos as compared to the NE2 pianos. The NE2's acoustic pianos are nowhere close to the pro piano's acoustic piano, sorry.

Sorry, when hitting the reply button i unintentionally hit the thumbs down button and now I can't reverse it.
Old 25th February 2013
  #14
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Mr. Varaldo's Avatar
Speaking of Generalmusic S series... the wheel on my S2R was repaired yesterday and I posted a video demo to celebrate the occasion and also because there wasn't one with good line-level audio quality yet.

Younger readers might not know this, but when the S series of synths came out in the early '90s, it was considered the best of the bunch as far as pcm-based workstations... Unfortunately, the fact that the brand "GEM" (even if it was changed to the more "professional-sounding" Generalmusic) conjured visions of tweed-wearing, hotel lounge accompaniment keyboard players and I guess it didn't go well with the general public. A pity, because it really sounded great for the time, and had cool features, like the ability to load samples.

Old 25th February 2013
  #15
Oli
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Oli's Avatar
 

Did GEM do any other poly aftertouch keyboards?
Old 25th February 2013
  #16
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AnalogGuy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oli View Post
Did GEM do any other poly aftertouch keyboards?
No, because S -serie was basically a flop product so they never continued using it because they realized no-one saw the potential for that feature.


Quote:
Originally Posted by delaware dave View Post
I owned an alesis qs6.1. 16 bit 48khz samples that sounded like sh*t. So high quality sample rates (18 bit vs 16 bit) don't necessarily mean a thing.
No, I'm talking about DA converters, not samples. They are entirely different matter.
Old 31st July 2013
  #17
Gear interested
Non-Turbo S3 and Battery

Rob

You mention the Turbo versions of the S3 have a leaky battery. How about the non-turbo versions? I have a non-turbo S3, and because it doesn't seem to remember anything, I'm wondering if it even has a battery at all. How do you open up these machines?
Old 31st July 2013
  #18
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by IndySteve View Post
Rob

You mention the Turbo versions of the S3 have a leaky battery. How about the non-turbo versions? I have a non-turbo S3, and because it doesn't seem to remember anything, I'm wondering if it even has a battery at all. How do you open up these machines?
The non-turbo models have a CR2032 lithium coin cell that backs up the global parameters like MIDI settings but patches aren't backed up and GEM expected consumers to save sounds, patches, and performances to disk. The Turbo and rack models have SRAM for patch storage (though it isn't very large, it can hold about one and a half disks worth of data). The Static RAM requires a rechargable NiCd backup battery, hence the leakage issues.

There was provision for the S Series to have an internal SCSI hard disk but GEM abandoned the S Series in favour of the cheaper to produce Equinox line. You can see a space for the hard drive when you open the unit up and the connector looks similar to a 25 pin SCSI-1 interface but as far as I am aware SCSI isn't supported in the S operating system.

If I remember correctly, to open the S2 you had to loosen the screws that run along the bottom of the front and back edges. The cover then lifts off but be careful of the delicate flat cables that go to the display. I really don't advise poking around in the S series insides unless you really have to. I had a close call or two with my display not working after I had put the entire thing back together. Any Turbo models though do need to be cracked open to prevent or repair battery damage.
Old 3rd August 2013
  #19
Gear interested
 

General Music S3 Battery and Electrical Issues

First, in response to the battery questions ... I have replaced my battery but, per the warning in the earlier post, you do need to crack open the unit, be prepared to do some soldering work and will need to be careful to put all back together knowing that the tolerances are tight (the SCSI cables sometime come loose as you reassemble). FWIW: I was able to get a battery off of eBay for less than US$10... but make sure you get the right voltage and ensure that it is the 3 prong version (v. 2 prong).

Second, need help - the reason I went down this path is because I was having an issue w/ my S3 and was hoping it was the battery preventing the BIOS to load - unfortunately not the fix I was hoping for... My unit is firing up and all of the lights (i.e. every red light on the board) light up but it does not go further. It is like it "freezes up." Has anyone experienced this - any solutions?

If I can't find solution - may be interested in selling unit for parts if anyone should be interested.

Thx in advance.

Steve
Old 3rd August 2013
  #20
Gear interested
 

Photos of S3 Locked Up

Here are photos of what my unit is doing - anyone have any ideas??

Thx
Attached Thumbnails
GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r-photo-1.jpg   GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r-photo-2.jpg   GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r-photo-3.jpg   GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r-photo-4.jpg   GeneralMusic GEM S2/S3/S2r-photo-5.jpg  

Old 3rd August 2013
  #21
Gear interested
 

Here are the specs on the battery...

Varta
Ni/Cd
3/V60R
3.6v 60mAh
14h 6mA
Old 3rd August 2013
  #22
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
Hmmm. One thing I would check is the keyboard connections, which I believe are on the output board. Most polyphonic aftertouch keyboards are so complex that the keyboard usually has it's own dedicated processor. If that processor isn't reporting back to the main computer during bootup it could cause the whole thing to hang.

The strange thing about the S2, S3 and rack is that they all have their own OS. The S2 and S3 are essentially identical other than the size of the keyboard and you would think that it would be easier to write one operating system that covers all three units -- ie the S2 keyboard is a subset of an S3 and if no keyboard detected then you must have a rack unit, etc. The result of is that each unit is VERY picky about the components it detects on bootup. It's the weakest part of the S series, especially since spare parts are scarce.

A couple of other things to check -- the floppy drive connections and also the jumper block for the SRAM selection (if your turbo unit has SRAM). A mismatch between the jumper setting and the SRAM that's there might also cause the unit to hang on bootup.
Old 3rd August 2013
  #23
Gear interested
 

Thx Rob - Maybe I will have to crack it back open ... Strange thing is that it froze up without every leaving my studio ... thus, hoping fix = replace battery and, once that was done, I had it fire up fine (both in test before reassembling and after) and then it froze up again. Maybe there is another connection that "wiggled" loose??

Also, for those wanted to explore the innerds of the S3, this link should give you an idea of what to expect and shows the Ni/Cd Battery:

GEM S3 Turbo Generalmusic S2 S3 S2R Turbo Memory Expansion @ deep!sonic

Last edited by sgrudolf; 3rd August 2013 at 08:16 PM.. Reason: spelling...
Old 3rd August 2013
  #24
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
I've replaced my NiCd with a 120 mAh NiMH stack that's normally used for cordless phones and that seems to be working (been six months now, but I wanted to wait on reporting this). They are easier to track down than the Varta NiCd and in the long run I find the NiCd's aren't reliable if the keyboard is going to be idle for long periods of time. They WILL eventually leak.

That's not to say NiMH are all roses and honey. They have a limited number of charge/discharge cycles and then they are toast. The jury is still out on the long term reliability but they likely wont leak.
Old 20th September 2013
  #25
Gear interested
 

General Music Equinox Info?

Hey Rob!
I just bought an Equinox76 that's been sitting in a music store in Texas for the last 13 years. Never been out of the store so basically new! As expected the battery is extremely low. I think I have found a few options for the battery but I need to back up the keyboard as I'm sure I'll loose everything once the battery is removed. I have found a SCSI card and an internal Hard Drive but no cables to go with them. You seem to be knowledgeable on General Music Synths (and I'm discovering that not many are!) so I thought I'd reach out and see if you had any ideas on how to back it up or where to find parts. Thanks!
Jim
[email protected]
Old 20th September 2013
  #26
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Rob Ocelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigfootjim View Post
Hey Rob!
I just bought an Equinox76 that's been sitting in a music store in Texas for the last 13 years. Never been out of the store so basically new! As expected the battery is extremely low. I think I have found a few options for the battery but I need to back up the keyboard as I'm sure I'll loose everything once the battery is removed. I have found a SCSI card and an internal Hard Drive but no cables to go with them. You seem to be knowledgeable on General Music Synths (and I'm discovering that not many are!) so I thought I'd reach out and see if you had any ideas on how to back it up or where to find parts. Thanks!
Jim
[email protected]
Hi Jim,

I'm not as familiar with the Equinox as I am with the S series, and even then I decided to find out as much as I could about S's out of necessity.

The Equinox's internal hard drive and SCSI option intrigue me. Most keyboards with a SCSI option also have an internal SCSI bus for a hard drive (or at least one can be adapted to the internal bus), but the HD kit of the Equinox uses an IDE drive. It's like GEM knew that finding large SCSI drives would be nearly impossible in the future.

The cable for the internal drive should be a standard flat 40pin IDE cable. Judging by the one grainy picture I've been able to find it doesn't need to be too long. They are usually grey with black (or sometimes blue) connectors. It will look similar to the floppy drive cable but will have more pins. The connectors can only go into the board one way. You might have to set the jumper blocks on the drive to make it a 'Master' drive rather than 'Slave'. most drives will have a sticker showing the jumper settings. I'm not sure if the HDD kit comes with an IDE power cable -- the service manual mentions a mounting kit and a separate power kit - I assume the power kit has the necessary power cable -- usually red, yellow, and black wires with white plugs (3.5" IDE drives usually need both 12 and 5 volts).

Does the SCSI kit have a cable to connect from the internal board to the SCSI port on the back? If not you'll need another grey flat cable, and judging by the picture it's a 50 pin cable.

Basic SCSI lesson -- SCSI chains can have up to 8 (named 0 to7) devices with your main device (computer/keyboard) usually being device 0. All the devices need an identifer, which is usually selected on the device itself. The ends of the chain need to be terminated -- device 0 usually has it's own terminator so you dont have to worry about it. The last device in the chain also needs termination. Some device like Zip and Jaz drives have a switch that can turn on termination. Otherwise you'll need a physical terminator which looks like a little cap that fits over the external 50 pin bus (different from the internal cables). Dealing with SCSI can be a joy and it can also be a nightmare. My own experience has been generally positive but there are times where a little voodoo is required -- things that should work mysteriously don't and things that shouldn't work (no termination) sometimes inexplicably do. Cable length and interference also play a role.


Unfortunately I can't help you with the SysEx but I'll keep my eyes peeled for documentation. The regular manual and the service manual don't have anything on it which is a shame. It seems that GEM's assets are now owned by Peavey so it might be worthwhile contacting them.
Old 21st September 2013
  #27
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delaware dave's Avatar
 

I own the 76 as well as the 88 Pro series and changed the battery on both about a year ago. To backup the non-pro 76 series, which it sounds like you have, the user programs can be backed up onto a floppy disk. If you haven't created any user programs then there is nothing to backup because the delivered programs are stored on a ROM chip and won't disappear, i.e. they are not battery backed. I also have a soft version of the owners manual if that helps you.

The original battery looks like a mini barrel. Those batteries are prone to leakage and GEM switched to a battery pack which looks like three AA batteries shrink-wrapped together. The spec for the batteries is 4.8vdc, 600 mah and they are nickel cadmium. Radio Shack can probably create the pack for you with the spec above. The batteries take about 16 hours to fully charge. I turn on the keyboard and leave it on for about 3 hours every two weeks and this ensures that the batteries stay fully charged. Also, GEM went out of business so there is no technical support nor parts, so you have rolled the dice. I also have the technical service manual so in the event of repair a good electronics tech could probably figure out the problem.
Old 21st September 2013
  #28
Gear interested
 

Thanks for the great info! I really love this board and am anxious to get more familiar with it. I'm sure I'll have many more questions but the info you guys gave me gives me a place to start. Thanks tons!!!!
Jim
Old 30th September 2013
  #29
Gear interested
My S3 (non-turbo) had been stored out of use on end for about three months, working fine when put up. I put it back on the stand and plugged it in, turned it on, and everything was fine for a few minutes, then when I looked down, the display was just lightly flickering, and when I listen in there was just pulsing low noise. Any thoughts on what it could be?
Old 30th September 2013
  #30
Oli
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Oli's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sgrudolf View Post
If I can't find solution - may be interested in selling unit for parts if anyone should be interested.
Sorry to hear of your issues. I am actually looking for spare keys for an S2 (with turbo upgrade). Mine didn't survive transport, and arrived in pieces. I'm not with it atm, but from memory, a couple of octaves of keys have been smashed into small pieces, as well as the end cheecks. I haven't had the heart to look at it yet. Was a bit upset, as it was in pretty good shape before, and I was mainly buying it for the keys/aftertouch.

Does anyone know where I could get spare parts? I'm guessing spares are not common.
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