The Casio VL-1 synthesizer

When I was a child, I inherited a Casio VL-1, which I always considered a "toy piano." What I didn't realize was that I had in my hands the first commercially available digital synthesizer in history.

A Casio VL-1 piano

The VL-1 was a combination of a piano, sequencer, and calculator. It featured six sound presets: piano, fantasy, violin, flute, guitar, and ADSR. I never quite understood what ADSR meant, as it came into my possession without a manual.

Although it was a monophonic piano (capable of playing only one tone at a time), it allowed for background tracks, tempo adjustment, and even tuning by adjusting a dial with a screwdriver.

I was always amazed at how such a seemingly simple piano had so many features. Perhaps that's why I occasionally recognized its distinct sound in certain songs, like "Da Da Da."

Indeed, the singer is carrying a VL-1 in his jacket pocket.

Since all the notes corresponded to some number or symbol on the calculator, which was labeled on the piano, I transcribed many melodies into a notebook using that notation.

In addition, I discovered that storing a number in the calculator changed the ADSR instrument's sound. I spent many afternoons experimenting with random codes and noting down my findings in the same notebook.

Theremin     3 9 9 9 9 9 5 4
Oboe         6 1 0 7 9 1 3 0
Human voice  0 0 1 2 3 1 2 3
Banjo        2 0 3 4 2 0 0 0

When I finally got internet access at home, I managed to download the manual, and I finally understood the logic behind these codes. It was a digital synthesizer that allowed taking a base instrument and modifying its parameters, something that had never been done commercially before.

Pages about ADSR of the Casio VL-1 manual

The way to combine so many functionalities into something so simple and crude in appearance has turned this Casio instrument into a cult object, similar to their classic wristwatch F-91W.

Today, it's possible to find countless guides to modify the synthesizer, emulators for musical software or covers of songs. This seemingly modest piano has had a significant influence on modern synthesizers.

OP-1 image in the One (Your Name) music video


Ricardo Reply
Solía tener uno de estos cuando era niño, me sorprende que ahora tenga tal estatus de culto 🙂
Bassi Reply
its got plenty of Kraftwerk vibes going on! (I read it with google translate)
Juan C. Roldán Reply

Replying to Bassi:

Thanks Bassi, I'm thinking of adding an English translation of the blog once I finish the PhD next month
Pitoyazi Reply
Y cordophonia pa cuando?

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