Studio Instruments

Our basement studio embraces a 1970s-80s black and wood paneling aesthetic.

Early 90s Keyboards

The Casio CT-670 (1990?) had a massive tone bank of instruments (220 in all), and a Tone Editor that allowed you to customize them a bit. This is the keyboard I recorded my first three cassettes on. Its chief drawback is that it wasn’t touch sensitive, so every note had the same velocity.
(Note that Wikipedia has this model released in 1992. There’s no copyright date in the manual. But I recorded my first cassette on it in May of 1991, and a Google Books search indicates that magazine references started in 1990.)

The Yamaha PSR-500 (1991) was a little more limited in terms of instruments (only 99 voices), but these voices are of considerably higher quality than the Casio’s–particularly the pianos–and the keyboard is touch sensitive, which makes it my current go-to for MIDI input. Also, the included rhythms are just fantastic–some of them had such a great sound that I was able to write songs around them. This keyboard has held up surprisingly well given its age.

Vintage Guitars

My first guitar came courtesy of my grandfather, who used to play in Italy when he was younger. There was a tiny little basement music shop near our house, where I had seen a sleek little black CMI E200 electric for only about 100 bucks–perfect for a beginner. He gave me the money and I was so excited as my mom drove me to the shop. We parked and knocked on the shop door…only to see it had just closed. I was wrecked. But my mom took us around to the owner’s residence (I vividly remember him buttoning his shirt!) and asked if he could open up the shop so we could buy the guitar. Thank you, music shop owner, wherever you are!

I’ve learned since that CMI was a cheap little Asian knock-off, but I gotta say, that hasn’t changed my mind in the slightest. I love this little guitar. It’s not the best quality, no, and I’ve long had trouble with fret buzz. But I love the small size that perfectly suits my small hands, and I think it looks pretty darn stylish. I took the body apart at some point and tried to “improve” it with a “2×4” style body and velcro strips that allowed me to add different body styles and theoretically other guitars at will (don’t ask). But then I ended up just going back to the way it was, restoring some messed-up electronics (who knows what I did with those) and getting it back to its original design.

And you’re wondering–so okay…but…the frets, Claud…what’s with the rainbow frets? Well, I’ve always wanted to do that with this guitar since I’ve had it…way before companies started falling all over themselves to obnoxiously virtue-signal their political correctness.

For me a rainbow on black has always just been a cool design. First, I used crayon to color frets and then taped them on. That looked awful. Then I tried painting the frets with acrylics. Better, but still unprofessional. I eventually scraped all that off. Now that I have access to a color printer, I was able to get an effect that I finally liked.

There was also a CMI bass in that music shop that I wanted to get but never did…and I’ve recently thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great to score one now? But after a bit of research, I’ve changed my mind. They are hard to find for sale, and they don’t look as good as I remember. Plus, I have had immense problems playing the bass with my small hands…and the CMI basses seem to be standard size. If I do get a bass, it’ll end up being an Ibanez Mikro, which seems perfectly suited for me and looks pretty darn sweet as well.

The Harmony Archtop is from (I think) the 1960s. These were cheaply-produced, mass-market guitars. Nevertheless, they are fantastic looking and it seems like they have really gone up in value–mine was picked up at a flea market in the mid-1990s for about $25, but they fetch prices in hundreds on ebay now. Mine had the original sunburst finish for a long time, but it was a little messed up, and at some point I figured, it’s a cheapo flea market guitar, I’ll see if I can refinish it. I stripped the original paint, then stained it a bit and then…..left it that way. For years. Decades, even.

Recently I was painting with black paints and it hit me–why not paint my archtop solid black, since my stain job wasn’t really cutting it? I cleaned it up, and added super-thin multiple coats one after another until I got a solid black. The effect was magical–I am glad I did that.

Typically, I was taking my sweet time finishing the thing when…ARGH!!…our basement got flooded in a storm and the guitar sustained some serious damage: warped and split wood. Now I’ll have to fix that before I go any further. But it’s mostly salvageable, and after I get the body patched up a bit I hope to seal it with clear finish and give the frets the same rainbow treatment my electric got.