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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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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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