MATRIXSYNTH: ACE TONE CANARY S-3 One of the few remaining units on the planet

Saturday, November 19, 2022

ACE TONE CANARY S-3 One of the few remaining units on the planet

via this auction

This appears to be the same one listed back in September. You can find a small handful of posts mentioning the Canary here. "One of the very few remaining Ace Tone Canary S-3 on the planet. Despite being a 60 years old machine, this unit works like a charm and it's in spectacular cosmetic conditions -- it looks much better than the unit exhibited at the Roland Museum, actually.

History Designed and built by Ikutaro Kakehashi (founder of Ace Tone, Roland and Boss) in 1962 during the Pre-Roland era, the Ace Tone Canary S-3 is an early monophonic synthesizer inspired by the Clavioline, a forerunner to the analog synthesizer invented in 1947, but implementing several technical improvements and revisions that make it a unique instrument. In 1964, Ikutaro Kakehashi decided to take the Canary S-3 along to the NAMM show in Chicago but, despite receiving interest, he did not receive any distribution deals. So the Canary S-3 ended up being distributed in Japan only and quickly became a rare instrument even at that time.

Sound When you listen to this machine, the reason of that unsuccessful mission at NAMM quickly stands out: the sound of the Canary S-3 had nothing to do with 60's music, it was not a simulation of classical instruments. The Canary S-3 sound was quite agressive, warm and extremely rich in armonics, totally in line with nowadays electronic music standards and so far away from the 60's vibes. It's pure electricity generated by military-grade germanium transistor oscillators and filters, a machine that can easily be used as main/only instrument in modern music productions.

Germanium Instead of using a vacuum tube oscillator as the Clavioline, the Canary S-3 implements a solid state circuitry totally based on germanium transistors. Widely implemented in vintage guitar fuzzboxes and amplification and exceptionally in synthesizer circuitry (such as the VCA section of the EMS VCS3/Synthi A), these transistors have a warmth and a granulity as pleasant as the tube sound, without being the same. The sonic grain of germanium is generally a bit rougher than the tube grain, and radically less flat and plain than classic silicon transistors. -- As far as I know the Canary S-3 is the only synthesizer ever built using germanium transistors as sound generators.

Architecture The Canary S-3 can be organized in 3 main sections: Sound Generator - Tone Color - Controls. The Sound Generator features 4 parallel octave dividers that output super fat saw waveforms in 4 different octaves (Bass - Tenor - Alto - Soprano) ranging from F0 to F4. Then the resulting waveform is passed through a germanium filter bank that separates the input signal into 5 components, each one carrying a frequency sub-band of the original signal. The 5 bands (obtained using HP and LP filters) are controlled by 5 combinable switches under the Tone Control section (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5). The mix of the 4 Sound Generators and the 5 Tone Colors delivers a total of 496 different settings/sounds ranging from fat basses to rich organ and raw lead sounds. In addition to the main sounds the Canary S-3 features also two noise generators controlled by two unusual momentary push buttons designed to perform abstract rhythms in real time. The sounds can be modified using the knobs and the bizarre knee lever designed to perform volume variations in real time. The Control Section includes also two knobs for (pitch) Vibrato Speed and Depth, the global Tuning knob (+/- 2 semitones) and a master Volume knob used also tu on/off the instrument. Lastly there is the Rhythm Volume knob to set the volume of the two noises.

The Ace Tone Canary S-3 is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind instrument, an amazing piece of retro tecnology, an avant-garde machine born six decades ago that still has something exclusive and unique to say."

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