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My Friend, The Yamaha CS-10 Monophonic Analog Synthesizer
by Egon Von Bark

I've been with my CS-10 for more than 20 years now and it really is like part of the family, that is, I love it for what it is even though (like all of Yamaha's gear) it has quirks that annoy me sometimes...

The simplest way to describe the CS-10 is to call it "Yamaha's version of the Mini-Moog": a medium-sized performance instrument very similar in weight, layout, and capability to the classic Moog. For the sake of argument the CS-20 might be closer to the Moog archetype, but the CS-10 is close enough: 1 oscillator & 2 filters displayed left to right on a tilted flat front panel with a 3 octave keyboard (oh, technically it's: 1 LFO; 1 VCO; 1 VCF; 1 VCA). All of the members of the CS family follow this basic configuration, the only variation being the number of keys, oscillators and filter modules available...oh, actually the CS-80 altered the concept somewhat, but that's another story...

On an aesthetic level I would say the CS-10 is much prettier than the Mini-Moog. The sleek black sexy ethos it radiated responded well to my punk-minimalist sensibilities...and purely as a design statement, I would also suggest that it was a precursor to the 'braun-style' starless and bible black look that later became fashionable and overdone in all kinds of appliances as well as most keyboards available today. The understated quiet dignity of it's look outclasses most of it's contemporaries, purely on a 'musical instrument as a work of art' viewpoint.

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CS-10 page

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Ironically, the 'understated quiet dignity' of the finely-etched luminescent gray control panel markings make it a total pain in the butt to manipulate on a dimly-lit stage...so many hours of fumbling about in the darkness for elusive potentiometers eventually contributed to my distinctive performance style of hesitantly gradually tweaked filters...but after 20 years I've reached the point where I could play it blind-folded...which is pretty well like where you would be anyway if you wanted jam with this thing under moody, atmospheric circumstances.

Yamaha also applied this sexy, black, hard-to-read design style to their reliable but even more inscrutable old MTX series multi-track cassette recorder which after many years I also still use and still curse in the darkness...

One thing I don't curse is the CS-10's reliability: it's a solid piece of work. Maybe I'm just lucky but in 20 years I've never had it serviced. It's lived in dank basements and been dropped many times, the case is scratched and battered and one slider knob came off, but the basic sound is still very clean: virtually no hum or hiss...

Compared to the warmth and fuzziness of the Moog, the CS-10 tends to have a colder, more metallic singing voice. It will tend to gravitate to that dry analytic Kraftwerkian feel, but it can be encouraged to express a more humane style by seasoning with a judicious sprinkle of reverb. Like most vintage analog instruments, it's tuning can be pretty wonky at times, but as far as I'm concerned if someone is obsessed with pitch accuracy they shouldn't be messing about with vintage analog gear, there's plenty of alternatives available. I would rarely use it to play straight harmonies, preferring it for drones, noise effects, wild portamentoey solos, and of course, as a filter...

"Ironically, the 'understated quiet dignity' of the finely-etched luminescent gray control panel markings make it a total pain in the butt to manipulate on a dimly-lit stage... but after 20 years I've reached the point where I could play it blind-folded..."

The external input makes it easy to do vocoder effects, and it's lots of fun. The VCF just loves to subtly sculpt the resonance of almost anything you could input, and it's impossible for me to even consider using a beatbox without patching it through the CS-10. I guess you could say it's just like a big bulky phaser pedal, but it's a really nice-sounding one! Unfortunately, every time I use it I grumble about the designer who foolishly made the external input/white noise switch an either/or toggle... to add them together would be lots more fun...oh well.

My CS-10 was a demo model purchased in 1979 for what at the time I thought was too much money AND a trade-in for a Yamaha YC-20 Electric Organ (see footnote). It came with a custom-built heavy wood flight crate bolted to it's frame, a feature I've never seen on any other CS units (actually, I could also mention I've never really seen the CS onstage or referred to by any of the recording artists that I've followed...oh! except Sun-Ra, yeah!).

In the late eighties I didn't play it very often and considered selling it, but of course analog gear was unfashionable at the time so no one ever really offered me anything for it. In retrospect I'm so relieved no one else wanted it. Maybe you could call me trendy but I think I started fiddling with it again more seriously before I became aware of the 'Analog Revival'...but it really doesn't matter whether I'm before or behind the times, I'm glad I have the CS-10 now!

footnote: The Yamaha YC-20 Electric Organ was like Yamaha's interpretation of the Farfisa. It was a heavy, portable stage instrument with simple easy to use controls and usually one keyboard, though I've seen a version with dual keyboards. The model we had was a bright, glossy red. One really clever and unique feature of this instrument was a peculiar touch tremolo you could get by gently rocking your fingers sideways on the keys when pressed! Brain Eno mentioned that Yamaha applied this feature to the CS-80. It was pretty subtle for the listener, but lots of fun for the performer. Aside from (I think) Philip Glass and possibly (?) Miles Davis. One performer who really set off this beast was young Barry Andrews (later of Shriekback) who toured with the early XTC and displayed the YC-20 on stage tilted backwards at an odd angle with the top case removed and all the electronic guts of the instrument exposed to the elements...it looked really cool and must have been sheer hell for the roadies. If anyone has photographs of this tour I would be curious to see them again, as I lost my old Creem magazines a long time ago. Barry's distinctive charming screeching grating style on this keyboard can be heard only on XTC's first two albums.

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