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Deep Purple sound on a Casio SA-46 kid's keyboard

A few months back I bought a Casio SA-46, for the reason I wanted a small, dirt simple synth with some cool sounds in it. My reason for getting it originally was because of one sound, a square wave like you'd hear on those old synths of the 1970s. But of course it has organ sounds in it, too. What multi-sound synth wouldn't?

Something like one or two weeks ago I fed the SA-46 through the Zoom R8's distortion patch. Good, but I couldn't do much with adjusting how much distortion via the keyboard's volume slider.

This time around I tried plugging it direct into my DigiTech GSP 1101, amp simulator on, cabinet simulator on, etc. All of that stuff - meant for guitar, mind you - on.

Me likey. 🙂

While it was a little "whiny" on the top end, yeah I got a decent Deep Purple sound. I added in some hall reverb for that Made In Japan album sound.

Accurate? I can best answer that with "as well as can be expected", meaning I wasn't expecting a perfect Jon Lord sound from a cheap keyboard. Combine that with the fact I'm limited to just 32 mini-sized keys (you can see me struggle with that in the video) made it a bit of a challenge. But I made it work.

"You play keyboards?"

I've been playing keyboards ever since I was 6. Way longer than I've been playing guitar, which I didn't start on until I was 15.

Quick poop on why I don't do keys very often

Modern synth workstations for the most part suck. Very few make synths with keys that feel right, fewer make workstations with interfaces that actually make sense, and even fewer can operate on their own successfully without being connected to a computer...

...which is part of the reason I decided to buy an SA-46. It connects to nothing. No memory card slot, no MIDI. It doesn't even have stereo sound. When you play one, you are forced to deal with it as-is, so you have to come up with ways on your own outside of the synth to make it sound better.

Things keyboard players don't want to hear

The Jon Lord "beast" tone is nothing but a straight Hammond B-3 organ signal into a Marshall guitar amp. That's it. No magic involved. No special whiz-bang crapola involved. You take the raw signal, wire it to a guitar amp (preferably with a Celestion speaker), juice it up, and that's it. After that, it's all in the fingers...

...which is where most keyboard players fail and fail hard.

A lot of synth guys fall into the same trap guitar guys do, where they think if one throws enough money at technology, they will magically get that super-duper-pooper Deep Purple Jon Lord tone.


Synths have been able to accurately recreate Hammond organ tone since the 1990s. Digital technology made that possible. Everything after that is all just useless bells and whistles.

Yeah, that does mean you can take an Ensoniq SQ-1 or Korg M1 or Yamaha SY99 from the 1990s, run it through a Marshall or just about any other guitar amp, and ta-da, "beast" tone with a plain ol' digital organ patch.

It also means you could get a new Casio CTK-2300 (it has full-size keys) and do the same damned thing.

When you want Jon Lord beast tone, you have to think like a guitar player. An electric guitar on its own sounds like crap. Plug it into an amp and add a few effects, and it sounds great. With distorted organ tone, same frickin' thing. It's not rocket science.

After tone is achieved, it's about expression

Roland Jupiter-80

Give a crappy guitar player a brand new, perfectly-set-up Gibson Les Paul USA Standard, and guess what you end up with? A crappy guitar player with an expensive guitar that still sounds like a crappy guitar player.

Give a crappy keyboard player a brand new Roland Jupiter-80 (which by the way is one amazing badass synth, seen above), and he'll still be a crappy keyboard player with an expensive synth that sounds like a crappy keyboard player.

It's very common to see keyboard guys dump many thousands of dollars into synth gear. I did the same back in the 90s. My Ensoniq SQ-1 Plus was three grand when new. Yes, really. I know what it means to spend big money on expensive gear, so it's not like I haven't done it. The last big purchase I made was for the Alesis Fusion 6HD, which I still have. That cost me a cool grand. It has a nice big ol' layer of dust on it now from being unused and sitting in a corner.

No matter what big money is spent, it means nothing without the ability to express yourself on the keys. If you tighten up when you play, can't get loose and can't express notes with fluidity, no amount of money spent on gear will fix that. Not now and not ever.

I can express notes even on a dinky little Casio SA-46 run through an amp simulator, and pull off one seriously big, in-your-face sound...

...and so can you. If you play keys, it's not about the tech and hasn't been for a very long time. It's about the expression. You learn that, and you'll find you can get "beast" tone out of just about any synth, even with one that has little mini-keys on it that runs off 6 AA batteries.

Published 2014 May 15

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