Liwaco’s Casio Clones

Liwaco LW-630

The Liwaco LW-630, a Casio PT-30 clone

Everybody knows about those licensed Casio clones built by Radio Shack in the US, but few people know that there’s another cloner. Liwaco was a French electronics gadget manufacturer of the 1980s, and besides many LCD games, they also released quite a few (licensed?) rebuilds of Casio mini keyboards. Some of them come in a pretty cool, or at least unique, bordeaux-red case.

Here’s a list of the Liwaco’s I could dig up. All of these keyboards are very rare and obscure, and I haven’t got any reliable information about  any additional or left-out features, but everything I read (mostly small ads etc.) indicates that Liwaco just put the original hardware into a differently colored case — with French writing, of course.

Liwaco LW-60E: This is the Casiotone MT-11 (1982/83) in an ugly greyish-brownish case.

Liwaco LW-60E

Liwaco LW-60E

Liwaco LW-80: This is a clone of either the Casio PT-82 (1985) or PT-87 (1987); both only differ in that the PT-87 is missing the headphone jack, so… It’d be interesting to know if Liwaco also offered their own ROM-Packs?

Liwaco LW-80

Liwaco LW-80

Liwaco LW-600: This must be the most obscure Liwaco, I only found one image where half of it is displayed. Judging from it, it is probably a clone of the Casio PT-1 (c. 1984).

Liwaco LW-600

Liwaco LW-600

Liwaco LW-610: Now it gets interesting: This is the venerable VL-1 (1981), of course — ever seen a mini-synthesizer in a bordeaux case? I’d love to get my hands on one of these, to complete my collection of VL-1 clones (I already got the Radio Shack Concertmate 200).

Liwaco LW-610

Liwaco LW-610

Liwaco LW-630: This is the great PT-30 (c. 1982), one of my favorite keyboards and definitively underrated. It was an early successor of the VL-1, and doesn’t feature the synth, but it has an incredibly complex editable sequencer that stores several short patterns and allow them to be played back in any order… Also, I love the separate chord keys.

Liwaco LW-630

Liwaco LW-630

Liwaco LW-640: The last one is a clone of the PT-80 (c. 1984), again with ROM-Pack. Actually, this came before the PT-82/PT-87, and it’s still got the chord keys of the PT-30/PT-50 — I don’t quite understand Liwaco’s numbering scheme.

Liwaco LW-640

Liwaco LW-640

Today, there is a Hong Kong company called Liwaco, but I don’t know if there are any connections to this French manufacturer.

Woodgrain Casio MT-30

One of the strangest, oldest, or at least rarest keyboards in my little collection surely is possibly this one, a fake woodgrain version of the Casio MT-30 from 1981:

The Casio MT-30, woodgrain version

The Casio MT-30, woodgrain version

When I saw it on ebay, where there was only an extremely fuzzy image. The vendor also didn’t seem too trustworthy, and I was really wondering if that wouldn’t be a rip-off. But nobody else seemed interested, so I bid and got this little piece of keyboard history for a few euros.

While Casio released many of its earlier full-size Casiotones in this weird and incredibly cheessy fake woodgrain design, this is, as far as I know, the only midsize Casio ever in that style — guess that Casio soon realized that the 1980s kiddies weren’t too hot on that 1970s home organ style… Apart of that, it seems identical to the usual off-white MT-30.

Together with the M-10, the MT-30 was the very first midsize keyboard Casio ever produced. It is already 8-voice polyphonic, but doesn’t feature luxuries such as rhythm or even accompaniment. This is 1981, folks! Still, it has vibrato and sustain effects, and the main voice sound is great, warm and analog-sounding — and they’re also amazingly varied and crisp, not at all like my MT-400V.

I also own the MT-40, which has exactly the same main voice hardware, but throws in analog beats and even some mega-cool monophonic bass accompaniment.  (By the way, the MT-40 rock preset was used in that great dancehall classic Under Me Sleng Teng — one of the few hit songs the feature a Casio home keyboard. This “Sleng Teng Riddim” is also the fully electronic dancehall “riddim”, thus earning Casio its well-deserved place in music history. ) The MT-40 is a pretty cool collector’s item, quite rare and expensive, while you can get MT-30s for next to nothing — but not woodgrain ones.

In consequence, it is one of the few keyboards I could sell without missing a single sound — but, hell, this woodgrain case is just too cool! And I also like to think it is super-duper-rare… Is it really? Has anyone ever seen another one of this — or another woodgrain MT? Pray tell.

History of Casio Keyboards, Part II: 1984-1988

Some Casio keyboards of the mid-1980's

Some Casio keyboards of the mid-1980's

Following the first part of my History of Casio Keyboards, this is the story of the years 1984 to 1988, when Casio unsuccessfully tried breaking into the professional music market, unfortunately neglecting the home user business. While Casio’s first years are marked by constant innovation, this innovation started becoming rarer in the mid-1980s.

While their first attempt to build a professional instrument (the Casiotone 1000P in 1982) didn’t meet with success, Casio tried again when they released the CZ line of synths, their first fully digital machines that emulated Yamaha’s FM synthesis with Casio’s house-brewerd PD (Phase Distortion) synthesis. The CZ quickly were a big success. Unfortunately, all attempts to repeat this success flopped — either due to bad marketing, or to overcomplex user interface; additionally, Casio still suffered from their “pocket calculator company” image reinforced by its first great success, the VL-Tone 1. Even such sophisticated instruments like the FZ-1 sampler didn’t gain recognition.

While, as I said, Casio neglected the home user, they released at least one groundbreaking instrument which is as famous as the VL-1: Released in 1986, the Casio SK-1 is often claimed to be the first low-budget, lo-fi sampler. Also interesting were the “Super Drums” keyboards, where you could switch between different rhythm variations. But Casio’s masterpiece of this years appeared in 1984: The MT-400V, and its fullsize brother CT-410V, combined the flexible accompaniment variations of the D930/D931 hardware family with an analog resonance filter that could even be applied to rhythm and accompaniment — no other keyboard of the 1980s has this mighty feature, making it, in my eyes, the single most fascinating and powerful home keyboard of the 1980s. Unfortunately, instruments like these increasingly became the exception. Most keyboards were just clones of earlier hardware, mostly with stripped-down features.

Another trend among Casio’s keyboards of these years was the digital revolution. While Yamaha had completely switched to digital in 1983, Casio still used semi-analog hardware, that slowly began to be replaced by digital technologies. From 1985 on, the percussions became digital; finally, in 1988, Casio exclusively started using wavetable synthesis for their keyboards. This, however, was pretty much the end of Casio as producer of wonderfully weird keyboards. The new instruments completely lacked effects and rhythm or accompaniment variations. Even worse, Casio started literally flooding the market with even more, and even more identical, clones. From 1988 on, you have to look hard for innovations in Casio keyboards.

Finally, not only did the features of Casio keyboards get more boring, but also their designs. While many of the earlier keyboards are really beautiful, Casio now put less emphasis on design, most of the keyboards are boring black or grey boxes. Well, it’s a matter of taste, I know, but still.

But let’s start in 1984, and see what wonderful instruments Casio built in the year of Big Brother…

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Stevie Wonder’s keyboard for Haiti

A few months ago, I stumbled upon this hilarious/horrible piece of hypocrite charity: Stevie Wonder donates a keyboard to Joseph Romel, a survivor of the Haiti quake. Watch:

Stevie Wonder gives keyboard to quake survivor

I mean, of course it’s nice of Stevie Wonder to donate his instrument — or rather, one of the probably dozens of instruments. But why does he have to do it on TV, for all the world to see? It gives the whole thing a bad taste. “Look at me”, it sounds, “I, Stevie Wonder, do something good to some poor soul.” That’s something that makes me sick.

The worst part is the following, this self-righteous laugh of the CNN man:

(download)

While this is more or less disgusting, the hilarious part is Stevie Wonder’s musical message:

(download)

Great, Stevie! Finally, I know why you’re considered an artist.

PS. Actually, Romel got even two keyboards by Stevie Wonder, see this live interview between Stevie Wonder and Romel Joseph. He also got a violin, this time by R.J. Storm, however.

JVC/Victor Concert (“Konsatobikutoron”)

Ever seen such an incredibly cool-looking organ?

The Victor Concert

The Victor Concert

What a design! Like right out of a science fiction movie! I love it.

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History of Casio Keyboards, Part I: 1980-1983

Early Casios

Early Casios

This is the first in a series of three articles where I retrace the development of Casio keyboards from 1980 to the early/mid 1990s. Instead of listing all keyboards, I’ll concentrate on the innovations that makes the world of Casio keyboards of that time so exiting and weird, and I’ll of course present such legends as the VL-Tone 1, SK-1, KX-101, and Rapman, as well as some other wonderful crappy cheesy Casio’s home keyboards that I consider often vastly underrated.

I’ll start with the story of the early years, 1980 to 1983. This definitively was Casio’s time of innovations and experimentation, where Casio made its first experiences creating musical instruments.

Mainly because of their lack of experience, some of their designs are just plain stupid and totally flopped — the “sine-wave disaster” is a great example.

But at the same time, it is this exact lack of experience that led to some of the most wonderful keyboards during its early years, with great, weird, flexible, easy-to-use features that were never seen before and after, as nobody who knows anything about it would even think of features like “Harmony Arrangers”. All of the keyboards of this time are just great fun to play with and are worth owning; some of them (especially the VL-1, the PT-30, and the MT-65) belong to the greatest home keyboards ever.

Unfortunately, Casio was a quick learner, and from the mid-80s on, they concentrated less on innovations and started building more or less boring keyboards with pseudo-realistic sounds and less fun features. Many of the best features were dropped when Casio (in its attempt to imitate Yamaha?) tried to become “professional” or even “user-friendly”.

Apropos user-friendly: One lovely thing about the early, (semi-)analog keyboards, both Yamaha’s and Casio’s, is their intuitive user interface. Everything is controlled through knobs, sliders and switches, and every change is immediately reflected by the instrument. This lets you create really weird shit by quickly switching rhythm variations or tones. I was appalled when, after knowing the MT-400V, I got a CT-660 and realized that rhythms are only switched at the end of each measure — no “samba-waltz-disco-swing-rock” fun any more! Even later, they forbid tone switching fun by forcing you to punch in numbers…

Anyway, were not there yet, let’s go back in time to the year 1979. Everything started when…

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Casio Keyboard Manuals

Casio PT-30 manualRetro home keyboarders of the world: Rejoice! For I am making available for download my collection of manuals for crappy 1980’s and early 1990’s casio home and mini keyboards.

Unlike Yamaha, Casio has only very limited support for older models — the only official way to find a few manuals is over at Casio New Zealand –, making some of these manuals hard or impossible to dig up. While most of these keyboards are so simple that manuals aren’t really needed, for some models, a manual is definitely needed for squeezing the most out of your ole, trusty tablehooter.

In order to correct this grievance, here are the user manuals for most keyboards of the older Casiotone / CT / MT / PT / SK / SA and VL-Tone series, and also those for some esoteric weirdosities like the mythical KX-101 and the insane VA-10. I also included some manuals (such as for the PT-30) that Yours Truly made himself.

All of these manuals are PDFs; most of them are in English. Where I could only find a manual in another language, I included it — better a Spanish or German manual than none.

As for the missing keyboards, in most cases, there are very similar keyboards whose manuals can be used — many Casios use the same or very similar hardware. I am planning to write a history with a useful “genealogy” of Casio’s 1980s keyboards in later posts, so stay tuned.

Great big thanks to J. (you know who you are!) and to Tim for providing missing manuals (check out his homepage — he’s the world’s leading expert on Casio ROM-Packs :)

I’m still looking for manuals not listed here, so if you have one, please share it! (Easiest way is to write a comment, giving your e-mail; I will contact you, and nobody else will be able to see your address).

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