MATRIXSYNTH: THE KEY-COLLECTIBLE GUITAR SYNTH

Dave Smith Instruments
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Friday, December 05, 2008

THE KEY-COLLECTIBLE GUITAR SYNTH

images via this auction
"So fasten your seat-belts & enjoy the read (and if you don't please don't tell me as I'm terribly insecure) About 15 years ago a client of the ad agency I worked for called me with an interesting question; "If money was no object (I wish!) What's the best professional performance keyboard available today--in terms of range and realism of sounds"? As I'm a part time musician all it took was a few calls to confirm it was the KORG m1. So my next question was why is the owner of well known telecom products company whose stuff was sold at every local and national retailer asking me about electronic keyboards--telephone keypads, maybe but music keyboards?!?! About six months and 3 non disclosure agreements later, I got my answer, it was called THE KEY. And it was the culmination of serious amounts of R&D time and money. The KEY was a culmination of a dream. It was designed to be an air guitar "brought to life" or an "air guitarists dream machine". Essentially it enabled ANYONE regardless how tone deaf they were to sound like the pro of their choice. Bsically the unit had "cartridges" Each cartridge was loaded with a selection of songs (usually representing a genre or artists) the guitar "part" which progressed along automatically was controlled by the "guitarist" in terms of style, rhythm, etc--in other words it was IMPOSSIBLE to play a wrong note and the variations as to how you played the right guitar parts were limited by your imagination or confidence which built along with your comfort level. If you were at all musically adept, you coud actually use THE KEY like a real guitar as the "fins" functioned as guitar strings the "rockers" on the neck functioned like the frets on a regular guitrar with the added benefit of pitch bending, classic "synth style" portimento (the note to note smooth "slide effect") and all the other stuff that was years ahead of its time. Case in point it even had "networkability: with a second KEY via a simple phone jack, plus it could even be used as a MIDI controller--right out of the box. And because the Soul of the KEY was a sound board used in the KORG M1,(which back then was over $500, JUST FOR THE BOARD) the voices are nothing short of flawless-both in solo or in full orchstral mode, Basically the unit is layed out as follows; 1)The Neck with the touch sensitive rocker frets which aside from letting you control the "tuning" of the song being played from the cartridge also make the KEY playable like a regular guitar 2) The Body which has two rows of selector buttons for; a) POWER (obvious) b) LEAD (choose the volume of lead insrtument+switch the "choice" of the lead instrument from whatever's programmed for that song to whatever satisfies our creative curiosity--imagine the signature lead giotar on LAYLA (one of the 9 songs included on the cartridge) replaced with a bagpipe , string section or sitar --all controled by you as you play it note for flawless note,,, c) SONG: How you choose the song from the cartridge d) VOLUME: self explanatory e) KEYBOARD: Guess what the "frets" can control the "strings" like a real guitar or if you want to channel your inner "Stanley Jordan" or "Andy Mcee" you can set the KEY up to play the neck as a second seperate instrument f) PAUSE: Say you get so excited by your newfound musicality you have to stop and compose yourself but dont want to lose your groove, just hit pause, take a few deep breaths, hit it again and youre back in action g) STRUMMER: Control all aspects and sounds of the action on the "fins" which is what you "strum" or pick, etc as the KEY handles the "grownup stuff" like going from note to note etc h) EXIT: How to leave program mode and start playing--'Cause people live for air guitar not air "programming" i) ENTER: How to tell the KEY what you've chosen in terms of sounds, styles, etc. Speaking of which the visual interface for the KEY is a simply elegrant red LED display--as it was designed to get you playing not programming theres no need for more confimation than the LED provides the interface and access is simple, intuitive and almost dare I say it--elegant? It was designed fot the "Master of the Universe" by day/Master of the Air Guitar by Night" so nothing mattered except for making music and the fastest, simplest way of accomplishing that--with dazzling results.In addition, theres also an "EXPRESSION" tab which is like a "Whammy bar" and a "CONTROL" tab which lets you change some stuff "on the fly" without accessing the menus. So now that you know what the KEY is and what it can do/does. here's the backstory to how I ended up with two of them; When my clients R& D team finally had the KEY to a marketable point, they realized that its $5000 ($4999.99 actually) price tag, meant it wasnt shall we say uh, Wal-Mart material. After numerous meetings, the game plan was to market it via the ROBB Report which is a magazine that targets rich folks to whom $5000 was a small price to pay when it came to realzing a dream--considering the Robb Report advertises $5000 bottles of wine, the strategy was pretty solid (even if my client and I DID agree on it!) Aside from that, the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer were shown a proto type and were more upset by the fact they couldnt get the KEY for the Christmas catalog than they were by its $5000 price tag. So here we are all revved up with a real dream product, the ultimate "adult toy" so we figured lets start the year with a "bang" and showcase it at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas...For those of you who dont know, CES is the ultimate playground for anything in gizmos, gadgets and great technology goodies. Not surprisingly the Key was a critical and consumer geek sucess. How sucessful? Let's just say that twenty out of 25 production samples were sold during the three days of the show--all at "full retail". Fast forward to 2008 my basement. As I said in the opening of this rather rambling read, aside from being an advertising creative type, I'm also a musician and over the years--like many part time musicians, with a "day gig" Ive accumulated all kinds of interesting gear and equipment, Anyway, Ive been clearing out my basement and there wrapped carefully in foam lined, road cases was not one but two--yep two KEYS. Why two? One was the reference model I was using to create the Robb Report ad and the other (based on the packing slip) was a unit sent to a member of the media--either Popular Science or Electronic Musician magazine who saw it at CES and was so taken by it, he was chomping at the bit to be the first reviewer to cover it and introduce it to the world. So why is the only place you've ever heard of the KEY in this listing? Turns out when the folks at KORG saw what magic had been done with their sound chips, they suddenly came up with all sorts of reasons why they couldnt live with the relationship --as I understood it, their egos couldnt live with being a mere chip supplier while the folks behind the KEY would get all the glory. And while there were other sound chip vendors out there, it means re-designing a goodly portion of the guts and more $$. So that locked the door on the KEY. NOTE: If you google "LONESTAR" &"THE KEY", you'll get media info about a "follow up" product that was shown at the following year's CES. Aside from using a way lower grade sound chip, the unit also employed a "stripped" down version of the technology all for which made for a lackluster experience for aspiring "air guitarists". The one's being offered here are the ones that targeted the ROBB REPORT reader and wallet. I had the follow up model as well and gave that to my nephew years ago, he liked the ultimate "air guitar" experience it provided so much that it inspired him to study trumpet...'nuff said! So here we are 2008 and I'm seeing how games like "Guitar Hero" are taking the planet by storm and I realize they're just that GAMES...Clealry not something a musician or serious collector of one of a kind"Guitar-a-bilia" can get behind and be tempted to sell their soul or first born man child in order to add the KEY to their collection. Then, to confirm, my suspicions, I ran the KEY by a gentleman named "Carmine Damico" (feel free to Google him, to see why he's the ideal guru of all things "guitarish". So after about 10 minutes it was love at first fret. Once Carmine "transposed" his years of grammy and platinum album winning talents and mastered the mechanics of the KEY, it was all I could do to ask him for it back. Did he make me an offer? Yep. But it was based on his selling some other stuff to make room for these, plus hes relocating to the West Coast, etc and much as I love musician types, I know its easier for them to part with a family member than one of their "axes", hence I said I'd look elsewhere, so here I am. Bottom line; I'm selling both as package. Based on research into similar one of a kind (or in this case two of a kind) fully functional performance-ready prototypes, the reserve is rather fair, as theres very few collectors whose collections wont be "rounded out" by the addition of these. When you compare this to whats out there today and what they sell for, the reserve on my 2 KEYS isnt gonna be cheap, but the fact that these have no comparable products, is a statement unto itself.
Re the technical stuff; both units work, the "action" on the fins and frets is flawlessly fine and the units include one cartridge (pictured) which is programmed with the following songs; LAYLA, HEY JEALOUSY, VASOLINE, ONE, IN MY LIFE, ALL APOLOGIES, THE RIVER OF DREAMS, BASKET CASE AND COME TO MY WINDOW. They work with a standard 9 volt adapter as well as 6 D cells, plus have a built in speaker that sounds pretty impressive. Aside from all this, you'll make anyone with a Guitar Hero fetish, feel very sily indeed (and sound even sillier!) As the KEY reads MIDI files, I have to believe if you google around the net (use the terms LONESTAR and KEY and take it from there), enough you'll find some video gaming related company that can sell you blanks for you to downlaod midi files on line and use the KEY like a jukebox or karaoke jukebox except with this karaoke youre playing along not singing along and its IMPOSSIBLE for you to hit a wrong note. Plus you know youll be the ONLY kid on the block whose got the KEY to taking their passion for air guitar to the next level"
via Major Babes.

Update via Mackenzie in the comments:
"I have one of these. Its in a video i put on youtube. Check it out, its kinda cool. Comes in around 38 seconds."

6 comments:

  1. I was slightly intrigued, then saw something shiny and couldn't finish reading that crazy description.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'll just wait for the movie version.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm going to use it to jam with my Beamz Music Performance System™

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have one of these. Its in a video i put on youtube. Check it out, its kinda cool. Comes in around 38 seconds.
    Youtube

    ReplyDelete
  5. cool. I put a post up on MATRIXSYNTH-C here.

    ReplyDelete

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