Competition! Win a Strobopick

Victor from Strobopick was kind enough to send me a couple of samples of his amazing tiny strobe tuner, so I now have one of the new 'StroboPick SMD' extra-extra small models to give away. To win, use the comments forum (or try this link) to tell the story of the first music gadget you ever bought. The best story wins. I'll post worldwide (Now I've got Google Ad millions to burn), and pick a winner on Friday after consultation with the Music Thing editorial guidance committee. PS: If you're not registered at Blogger, drop me an email to claim your post.

When I was 12, I was introduced to Kraftwerk by a music teacher who played Autobahn (the whole thing) for her class. I was enthralled. My life changed. I wanted to do that too! So I started looking around for synthesizers, hanging around looking mopey in music stores (everything had 4-digit price tags), and writing to various companies for catalogs. I still have my Korg catalog from 1985 kicking around somewhere...

Then I discovered the Casio CZ-101. It was small and affordable, and somebody with an ad in the back of Electronic Musician magazine was selling one for a mere $500!!! That was well beyond my meagre allowance at the time, but my parents liked to encourage me to do things like that by offering to pay for half of expensive things if I could save up the other half. So I asked, they said yes, and I got a glass jar and stashed it in the closet where I wouldn't be tempted. Six months later, I had the $250! And I called the store, who were far, far away from my home in Oregon. And they said, "Oh, yeah, we might have one of those still..." Turns out my copy of Electronic Musician was a good two years out of date when I first got it and they weren't selling CZ-101's any more. But lo! They had one in the back room! And it was used, but it was cheap! A mere $300!! I could afford that and still have enough left over for batteries!

Two weeks later, my CZ-101 arrived in the mail and I dove into it. The first problem was that I didn't have an amp. A trip to Radio Shack for a 1/4->RCA adaptor solved that one! I was disappointed by the presets, but quickly learned that I could tweak them into new and interesting shapes. I managed to make the drum preset into a horrible clicking sound that made people wince. I turned the beautiful CZ strings into even fatter, more beautiful CZ strings! I made the dorky horns, well, even dorkier. But hey, it was the 80's, and we liked synth horns then!

I carried it everywhere with me. I talked about nothing else. I played live with it strapped over my shoulder (while wearing a trenchcoat and ski goggles. Go me. Pictures are somewhere, and will arrive on the internet when I find them again). I took it to college with me, and one year, when I was seriously broke, I sold it for a mere $100 and immediately regretted it.

Six months later, I bought another CZ101 and fell right back into playing with it. I had learned more about synthesizers in general by then, and I could apply my knowledge of analog synths to the CZ-series envelopes and waveform modulation. I created beautiful and terrible noises with it. I played out with it, again, but this time it sat on a rack, holding its own alongside a Korg Prophecy and a Wavestation.

Then, like a fool, I sold it again.

Now I have my third Casio CZ-101, and I have decided to keep it. I also have a CZ-5000, but while it's pretty hefty and sounds good (that built-in chorus sure helps), it just doesn't have the charm of the CZ-101. The CZ-101 is tiny and portable, runs on batteries, has a nice fat buzzy tone, and is one of the most intuitive digital synths to program. And by now I've played with all kinds of things, from Korg, Ensoniq, Yamaha, Roland, old, new, everything. I keep coming back to the CZ-101, my one true synthesizer love.
okay, not the first thing I bought, but the first *new*, not used, thing I bought...

18 years old, I'm fresh out of high school, I've been slaving at a job, and I've got a used guitar and used amp. But at the time (late '80s) I was having no luck finding a used 4-track, so I decided to save up and take the plunge. I scrape together $400 for a Tascam Porta-05. So I go to my local store, Veneman's Music in Springfield, VA.

Problem is, they recognize me there... as the guy who comes in and window-shops, but never has any money. So every time I try to catch the attention of an employee,
I don't even get the "just a second" look, I get no look. I might as well be made of glass.

After 20 minutes of this, and watching people who came in after me get served, I took a position right in front of the counters, pulled out the wad of 20 dollar bills in my pocket, and start counting them, very obviously, in front of me. I didn't get past $260 before I had 5 employees, from every branch of the store, standing in front of me, asking me what I needed.

The kicker: flash forward 10 years. I've bought quite a bit of gear at a different location of the same store, where the employees were a bit more customer-service oriented. But one day I'm in a bind and can't make the 60-minute trip to that location, so I bend and take the 10-minute ride to the Springfield store. I walk in, ask for the gear, and they look up my name... and see reports of what I bought, including a 5-figure day a few months prior.

Now, suddenly I'm *Mr* Housepig, and the guy is fawning all over me. As he's ringing up my $10 purchase, I commented about the customer service at his shop, and told him the story above. He was, of course, aghast at the story, and we talked of old employees that were working at that time, and how all the bad apples were gone now, and no one at his store would *ever* treat someone like that, his service ethic was such that he wouldn't tolerate that from his co-workers, etc. etc. etc.

... I didn't have the heart to tell him that when I pulled out that wad of cash, 10 years before, he was the first guy that ran over to me.

- housepig
I have a collection of strange musical toys, mostly from pawn shops. Along with my Casios, with which I play in a duo with my girlfriend, some of the better ones are a yellow stuffed blob with a great big smile on its face that laughs uncontrollably for a full 15 seconds, the "Pianosaurus" (a giant pink dinosaur with a toy piano built into its body), and something I've dubbed "the reverb stick", because it's got a spring inside, makes a tank-kicking noise when you shake it, and can work as an impromptu reverb chamber in a pinch.

But the absolute most ghastly and horrid one came about a month ago. It's called the Electric Kazooaphone, made by the brand Kool Toyz, cost 3 dollars, and was still in its original box with a manual. It's not nearly as kool as the electric kazoos you featured recently, but it's bizarre on its own merits. First off, its mouthpiece is a yellow kazoo. It's not even a great kazoo, it sounds like crap in comparison to my standalone kazoo. The body is a rainbow-colored tube with a speaker built into a horn at the end of it. It's got 4 songs on it, which are all wretched "rock" versions of children's songs, complete with gratuituous wah-wah sounds and cheesy horns. The songs are "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", "London Bridge is Falling Down", "This Old Man", and "It's Raining It's Pouring", which are all strange choices to be rockified. It also has "4 funny sound effects", which are an obnoxious version of "shave and a haircut, two bits", a discordant siren-sounding thing, a high-pitched whistling siren-sounding thing, and a downwards glissando. None of them are even remotely useful in a song, ironically or otherwise. There's also inexplicably a black button on the bottom, which kind of mutes the kazoo, but not in any interesting sort of way. It's quite possibly the most useless instrument I've ever bought, but it's fascinatingly bad. A shame, really, because it looks so cool, but is such utter crap. I can provide pictures and sound clips if you like, because it's the type of thing that's so bad it has to be seen and heard.
-Martin Gonzalez
Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Believe it or not, it was a Teddy Ruxpin from the good old Goodwill.

I was in college with a crazy bunch of kids, and our saturday nights were mostly spent screwing around circuitbending anything in sight. I got into the game late, and wanted something that was really going to knock the socks off of anyone who saw it.

So what better to use than a talking bear with gluegunned tufts of punk rocker hair and a fake leather jacket stolen from another bear.

Here's the basic build process. Teddy is an animatronic bear with his movements controlled by the right channel of the stereo tape. The left channel has the audio. There are also some specially punched out holes on the top spine of the tape, so every tape you make has to be specially modified.

The tapes we made we nowhere near as sophistocated as the original Ruxpin tapes, but they still got him moving. Well, twitching is more accurate :) I would make remixes of cartoon network shows, metallica, and drumloops in Cooledit for the speach channel. For the movement channel, I digitized an old Teddy Ruxpin tape and coppied and pasted different movements from the right channel to choice points in the songs.

So, once you have a wildly decorated Teddy all ready for his punk rock debut, and some slamming music to go with him, you just plug in the tape and watch the show.

In actuallity, like so many great circuit bending projects, we never made the "Band of Dolls" that we had invisioned. But it sure was funny to see a bear sitting in your dorm screaming out the lines from "Seek and Destroy". Or maybe you had to be there :)
The first music gadget I ever actually bought myself was a Cort Effector, back in high school, in the small town of Hamilton, Montana. If you've never seen them -- I don't think they're produced anymore -- Effectors were guitars with built-in effects, controlled via a set of push-buttons on the body. The body was a knock-off of the Gibson Explorer. Straight-up metalhead guitar, the kind that stoners the world 'round see and instantly fall in love with.

I was about fourteen when one came through the local music store for about $150. I didn't actually have the money...but oh, my Lord, I was utterly in love with this big stupid black thing that looked like a piece from a fighter plane and TOTALLY HAD DISTORTION BUILT, LIKE, RIGHT IN. I was going to be Stone Gossard before I knew it. (More like Napoleon Dynamite, but of course I didn't realize it at the time.)

So I found a part-time job -- at a firing range, sitting in a concrete bunker, loading clay pigeons into the machine that flung them into the air. You had to time it just right -- if you didn't get the pigeon on in time, the guy with the shotgun would be pissed. If you hesitated even a second longer than you should, the machine would whipsaw out and break your arm as you tried to load it. And God help you if you put a cracked pigeon on the machine -- it would shatter as the machine tried to launch it, sending bits of razor-sharp ceramic pigeon spraying around the little concrete hole you were in.

And it was very, very loud. Every two seconds you'd hear a redneck scream "Pull!" And then the machine would *twaaang* as it flipped the clay pigeon out...followed abruptly by the sound of a 12 gauge shotgun.

But I stuck with it. And I got the money for the Effector. I went back into the town's tiny little music store and plopped my money down. In retrospect, I think it may have actually been the first thing I ever worked to earn money for, not counting doing household chores.

I took the Effector home...and realized that it was not very useful without an amp. Luckily, my dad played a Rhodes with a speaker box, so I plugged it into the Rhodes' aux jack. I was ready to jam.

Unfortunately, I had bought the guitar without considering one problem: I'm a left-handed guitarist. Which means that the big stupid Explorer body prevented me from ever sitting down to play it...and if I got too excited as I thrashed around in my living room badly doing Kurt Cobain riffs, I'd whack myself in the scrote.

So I took a hacksaw to it and cut off the big triangular section. Which meant I now had a big, ugly, stupid-looking guitar shaped like a squared off hourglass. But I could play it.

Except, of course, that all of the little effect pushbuttons were on the right side of the guitar, next to the strings. Every time I strummed it, my elbow would turn the buttons on and off, creating an effect that, a decade later, I might have identified as sounding like something Thurston Moore might do if utterly bored.

So I took the buttons off. Which meant I had a large, ugly, stupid-looking guitar shaped like an hourglass, that didn't actually play very well, constantly went out of tune, didn't TOTALLY HAVE DISTORTION BUILT, LIKE, RIGHT IN anymore and had a row of little holes in the body with brass rings around them.

A year or so later, after I'd picked up a Hondo knockoff of a Strat, I smashed the Cort on my bedroom floor as an act of teenage defiance. Which left me with a lot of large, ugly, stupid-looking chunks of wood with cheap black lacquer and cheaper electronics, strewn across the floor.

These days I stick to keyboards. They're less irritating, as a rule.
I was age 14 (this took place four years ago). It had taken me a while to get into guitar because I started on boring ol' acoustic, but then I got a hand-me-down Washburn and an atrocious Roland guitar amp. But the Roland had loud distortion, so I was set to crank out Nirvana riffs and such.

One day, my dad brought home two little boxes he had found sitting out with someone's trash and recognized as a guitar effect pedal. One was called a Big Muff Pi (a joke I wouldn't get until later), and the other was the Electric Mistress. The Electric Mistress worked sporadically and made strange clanging noises, which I loved. The Big Muff didn't work at all. I took it to a local shop and had the guy fix it. The only problem was that the battery clip had come unsoldered, but he still charged me $25 for it, which I grudgingly forked over. I discovered to my surprise and delight that it made an even better distortion than the Roland amp. I was just starting to discover the internet, so I decided to go online and check out how much the thing was worth. Musiciansfriend said it cost $60! Wow! 60 whole dollars. Even though mine looked different from that one [the NYC reissues had just come out], I figured it was probably worth something. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was actually a vintage one, and worth $150! It's not the famed "triangle knob" model, nor the one that looks like the reissue, but the one in between. It sounds absolutely beautiful, and I'm not selling it at any price! I've used it on guitar, bass, Casio keyboards, voice, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers, just about everything I play.
I'm not sure it counts as a gadget, but I remember my first guitar. Found it at a Garage Sale for $35 bucks. The cool thing (at the time) was that it looked just like the axe Prince used in "Purple Rain". I'm thinking it was maybe 1983. I have never found a brand name anywhere on it.

This guitar had one working pickup, cheap plastic everywhere, the end jack was falling out, and two of the tuner heads were broken off. I got that and a Gorilla 10 watt amp. My uncle (only 4 years older) had been takin Piano all his life, and clued me into things like what the F I was doing. I think the first year, I didn't even tune the thing, just danced aroud the living room doing Pete Townshend windmills to music turned up loud enough to drown out my Garbage chords.

Actually, I now remember my first gadget.... The OMNIchord.

Kind of like an electronic auto-harp. It was really funky, hard to hold onto, and sounded really cheesy with the onboard speaker. You pushed the chord buttons (M, m, 7) and then used the little touchpad to play notes. I recall the model I had having a little drum machine in it that had maybe 8 styles. The usual crappy "Rhumba", "Waltz", etc The touchpad was reaaly only useful for running your finger up and down, you just slid 'til you found the note you might want, and then slid some more. If I had to describe the sound, imagine a Harmonica and an Accordion concieving a child at a satanistic orgy and turning it over to a yamaha drum machine for care.

Long story short, I sucked, the OmniChord sucked, and we sucked together. We made cheesy covers of 80's new wave tunes and committed them suckers to c-90s.

I remebre seeing Daniel Lanois playing one of these, and I know Dave Stewart played one on "Love is a Stranger".

Looks like these are also big with the circuit benders, I guess I'll have to see if I can't dig mine out of the attic.
I can't remember my first music gadget, though depending on how you define "gadget," the honor would probably fall to a Yamaha PSR-400 I received as a gift (by specific request) when I turned 13, having had piano lessons since I was five years old and wanting to expand my horizons.

This was the first electric keyboard I'd ever had which had velocity-sensitive keys, a reasonable number of built-in patterns, a cheezy sequencer, and, most amazingly (at the time), a full set of digitized PCM samples.

The first night I had it, I was so incredibly giddy with how realistic it all sounded that I couldn't stop playing it, between exploring the possibilities and being floored with how easy it was to create music with it. I annoyed my parents by playing it way past my bedtime; when they told me in no uncertain terms to go to bed, I did so, but then fifteen minutes later I got back up, quietly plugged in some headphones, and got back to exploring it.

Of course, in retrospect I realize that the songs I "composed" on it were really just cheezy riffs on top of the built-in music patterns, but I had many years of fun, composing and improvising, recording songs in real time against the cartoons on TV, pretending that they were animated music videos for the songs I was writing.

I brought it with me to college, but played it less and less, and my senior year I finally bought a used Korg 01/W. I no longer used the PSR-400, and after I graduated it simply started to collect dust in my parents' garage.

I finally rescued it a few years later when I was in graduate school, intending to use it as a source of cheezy samples and loops, but it just ended up collecting dust in my own home instead.

Through a friend of mine, I met a pianist who'd had something of a self-inflicted hard life, and spent some time improvising and jamming with him. He was a bit out of touch, and he thought that the PSR-400 was the most amazing instrument he'd ever set his hands on, and although he was in his 50s he still saw it with the same wonder and giddiness which I had when I was 13. When I finished graduate school and prepared to move again, I gave it to him. He was extremely grateful.

I hope he's still getting some use out of it. It's more than half as old as I am, now.
i think it's no longer friday but i'll post anyway. I have two, one bought and one given as a quasi-gift.

before I had an instrument of any kind, when all I had was a computer, a crappy stereo, and a demo of Reason, I (for some reason that escapes me) bought a pedal.

This was a small, gray, piece of crap 10 band graphic equalizer pedal that I ran eighth inch plugs with quarter inch adapters into and wondered why I got a godawful hum between stereo and computer (answer: stereo plugs and stereo adapters on a mono line, among other problems).
It's still here someplace. I believe I fried it by disconnecting it before turning it off?

My first piece of quasi-stolen music gadgetry was my Technics SL1500-MK2, filched from my old college radio station.
problems with this dandy:
- clumsily cut and rewired audio cables that still need to be replaced and have dents on the left output's metal casing
- raise-lower lever on the tonearm long busted
- covered in brown stuff that is not rust but unidentifiable as anything else, as well as stickers and etchings identifying it as university property.
- it's DIGITAL! How the heck are you supposed to adjust speed with a digital readout, much less justify paying the insane amount it must have costed in 1977?
Keep up the good work on this blog. Informative and very interesting. I have an interesting web site at and you are welcome to visit. It is about online web design Thanks!
Post a Comment

<< Home
Music Thing on Twitter
    follow MT on Twitter

    Music Thing Hits:
    Music Thing Heroes:
    Music Thing Friends:
    My music gear for sale
    DIY Modular Synth
    Matrix Synth
    Create Digital Music
    Analog Industries
    Boing Boing Gadgets
    London Video Production
    Wire to the Ear
    Palm Sounds
    Noise Addicts
    Retro Thing
    Analogue Haven
    Music Thing Massive
    About Music Thing:
    Send tips to Music Thing
    About this site
    Music Thing Massive
    RSS Feeds

    Problem with the ads?
    Please let me know