I'm a musician and producer based in Brighton, UK. I've played synths, guitar, bass, trumpet and many other instruments on records by the likes of Laura Marling, James Holden, Bear's Den and Lucy Rose. My live session work has included playing with Timber Timbre, Broken Social Scene, Sarah Blasko, Olympia and Willy Mason. I also work as a musical director including arranging, scoring and programming with Ableton. Read more about me here.

Repairing a Casiotone MT-400V and disabling the automatic power off (APO)

The Casiotone MT-400V is a cool old keyboard, most notable for being the only Casio with an analogue filter. I believe it is the same as the Casio CT-410V, but smaller. I fixed up an old one and thought it’d be worth sharing some of my findings to speed up repairs for others in the future.

Like most Casio keyboards it’s not exactly a professional instrument, but the sounds on it are great so I thought it was worth repairing. I’ve used it a lot on recording projects (you can hear it on the tracks The Love We Stole and When You Break on the Bear’s Den album Islands for example). However, it’s a bit annoying for live use because after five minutes of not pressing a key it automatically turns itself off. This can result in a nice loud bang through the PA if you’ve forgotten to mute it with a tuner or volume pedal. You can disable this quite easily by connecting two pins with a diode. If that’s what you’re after you can skip to the bottom of this page.

Inside the Casiotone MT-400V

Inside the Casiotone MT-400V – click to enlarge

If you take out a few screws and take the back off, this is what you’ll see. Two large green printed circuit boards. The one on the left is labelled M485-MA1M (D) and this contains the chip labelled NEC D930G. The pins on this chip control most of the functions, including disabling the APO. It’s an 80 pin chip, the bottom left corner has a dot on it and a number 1 printed on the board below. Pins 1-24 are along the bottom, 25-40 going up the right hand side, 41-64 going across from the top right corner to the top left corner and 65-80 going down from the top right corner back to the bottom left. I found it useful to draw a square with those eight numbers on when working on the keyboard so I could quickly check the number of the corner I was counting from when finding specific pins.

Click to enlarge

Across the top you can see two sets of wires which connect this PCB to the keyboard and to the front panel PCB. We need to connect certain pins on the main chip to activate certain functions, but because the pins are so tiny it’s much easier to connect these points to each other. These points are all connected to the pins we need.

The one on the left has 15 wires and has a number 15 on the first one on the left. So numbered from left to right, 15 down to 1, here is which pin on the chip each of those wires is connected to:

15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
60 59 58 57 56 55 54 53 46 47 48 49 50 51 52

And the one on the right has 23 wires, I only found the pins I needed for the main functions, but the table below shows where those pins can be found on this one, again descending from left to right:

23 22 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
71 70 61 44 45

This table shows which pins to connect to which in order to achieve certain functions, some of which are ‘easter eggs’ that aren’t available unless you add modifications. It is adapted from the very useful TableHooters site. L followed by a number means the point on the left hand set of wires at the top of the large PCB, R followed by a number means the point on the right hand set of wires at the top of the large PCB:

 

51
50
49
48
47
46 
45
44
 
CPU pin
in L2
in L3
in L4
in L5
in L6
in L7
in R4
in R5
in / out
 
o
C1
o
C#1
o
D1
o
D#1
o
E1
o
F1
 
 
out L1
52
o
F#1
o
G1
o
G#1
o
A1
o
A#1
o
B1
 APO disable
C.
memory
mode
out L8
53
o
C2
o
C#2
o
D2
o
D#2
o
E2
o
F2
C.
casio
C.
fingered
out L9
54
o
F#2
o
G2
o
G#2
o
A2
o
A#2
o
B2
 C.
manual bass
 C.
arpeggio on
out L10
55
o
C3
o
C#3
o
D3
o
D#3
o
E3
o
F3
 
 
out L11
56
o
F#3
o
G3
o
G#3
o
A3
o
A#3
o
B3
 
key hold
out L12
57
o
C4
o
C#4
o
D4
o
D#4
o
E4
o
F4
 C.
memory
octave down
out L13
58
o
F#4
o
G4
o
G#4
o
A4
o
A#4
o
B4
transpose
on
transpose
set
out L14
59
o
C5
R.
synchro
R.
start/stop
R.
fill-in
O.
envelope 1
O.
envelope 2
O.
select
 R.
select
out L15
60
O.
pipe organ
O.
flute
O.
trumpet
O.
oboe
O.
violin
O.
bank switch
 
 
out R6
61
C.
bass 2
C.
bass 3
C.
chord 2
C.
chord 3
O.
sustain
O.
vibrato
O.
delayed
vibrato
O.
reverb.
out R8
71
R.
rock
R.
pops
R.
disco
R.
16 beat
R.
swing
 R.
latin swing
C.
arpeggio 2
C.
arpeggio 3
out R7
70

I’ve kept the TableHooters key –

“o”
 = keyboard key
underlined
 = function needs locking switch (i.e. stays active only so long the switch is closed)
R.
 = rhythm
C.
 = chord
O.
 = orchestra (main voice sound)
orange
background
 = easteregg (unconnected feature)

 

Some of the pins are inputs and some are outputs, so it’s important that you connect them using a diode. I used a 4148 diode. So to disable the APO we need to connect pin 53 to 45, which is out of L8 and into R4. The functions are activated on low, so he end of the diode with the black strip (the cathode) needs to be connected to pin 53 / point L8 and the other end (the anode) needs to be connected to pin 45 / point R4.

Because one of these points is on the left set of wires and the other is on the right they are quite far apart. I followed the traces and found points closer together that are connected to the same places. I checked for continuity with a multimeter. You can see the two points below – the connection disabling the APO is the top yellow wire. Ignore the five wires below, they are bridging a small break in the circuit board. And please ignore the poor soldering! I just wanted to get the thing working and then re-did it neatly later.

FullSizeRender (2)

Click to enlarge

 

So basically if you found this page just looking for how to disable the automatic power off “feature” on the Casiotone MT-400V, zoom in on the image above to see the two points you need to connect via a diode. Make sure you have the diode the right way round – though if you don’t, don’t worry too much, you’ll just notice that when you play the second or third octave of the keyboard you get extra notes. Desolder, turn the diode around, resolder!

UPDATE: Benoit Lachaise got in touch with me and confirmed this mod also works on the Casiotone MT-100 which uses the same D930G chip. He sent these photos to show the points he connected. Thanks Benoit!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Volca Keys MIDI Out Mod – step by step

Adding MIDI OUT capability to the Volca Keys means an already great little (and cheap) instrument can also be a really hand tiny MIDI controller and sequencer, so you can use the Volca sequencing to control any sounds you like.

There is a bit of information about this easy modification online but not much that relates specifically to the Volca Keys rather than the Bass or Beats. The electronics involved are really simple, the more complicated bit is making a midi socket actually fit somewhere on this compact little case!

Here’s a video showing my modded Volca Keys controlling Logic’s EXS 24 Sampler Instrument – but you could use it to control any MIDI controllable hardware or software. In this case the sampler is playing samples of my vibraphone. You can see me use MIDI Monitor to show the incoming MIDI messages from the Volca Keys – this is a really useful free program.

See below for how to do the mod yourself.

What you need:

  • a 5 pin MIDI DIN socket (such as this one)
  • some wire
  • a drill to make the holes in the front panel and preferably a step drill bit
  • two small nuts and bolts to hold the MIDI socket in place
  • a needle file, small screwdriver, soldering iron, solder…
  • some heatshrink tubing if you like

Remove the batteries and unscrew the three countersunk screws across the top, the three across the bottom and the one in the middle. They’re marked in this photo with yellow circles:

1

Now carefully open the Volca Keys as the four wires connecting the batteries and the speaker to the PCB are a bit fragile. Don’t worry if you do break them from the PCB though – I did this a couple of times and it’s easy to reflow the solder and stick the wires back in. It will look like this:

2

Now we can see the three points that we need to connect to a 5 pin MIDI DIN Socket – just underneath the brown and orange wires you can see points marked TX, VD and GND.

3

Use a flathead screw driver or something similar to tease the white plug all those brown wires are going into out of the white socket and unscrew all the screws on this PCB marked with a white circle.

Remove the mode and footage/octave selector knobs from the front panel and the PCB should come apart from the front now.

I want to put my MIDI out socket next to the MIDI in socket but there is limited room between the panel and the PCB to squeeze it in so I’ve made a spacer using an old plectrum, it’s about 1mm thick. I drilled three holes for the MIDI socket in it and trimmed the outer edge. It would be easier to just use a washer or spacer, I think 16mm would fit around the DIN socket, but I couldn’t find one lying around so knocked this up. You could use anything, you just need to raise the socket slightly up above the front panel.

4

Next I marked and drilled the large hole in the top panel for the MIDI socket. I used a step drill bit – these are REALLY handy for making holes like this, check them out here. I think the hole is about 16mm but with step drill bits you can just keep going until you get to the right size – very useful as it saves having loads of slightly different sized bits.

Next I filed down that raised plastic lip to make room for the two holes for the nuts and bolts that hold the midi socket in place, then drilled the two holes, fixed the socket in place and bent all the legs slightly – again just to make it fit between the front panel and the PCB once we put this thing back together.

5

Cut three lengths of wire to go from this socket to the points on the PCB we saw earlier. I used this 0.6mm solid core wire because you can bend it and it will stay in place, which makes soldering the connections easier. I also used heatshrink tubing over the connections, partly to make sure we don’t get any short circuits but mostly to appear professional in this blog post. The lengths of wire need to be about 15-20cm long I think – best to give a bit of extra length so things are easier if you want to open the Volca Keys up again in the future. I’ve labelled which wire will go to which connection on the PCB below:

6

Now slip this back into the front panel and put back all the screws in the holes marked with white circles. You need to remember which of the three wires is attached to which of the three legs on the MIDI socket. You could use different coloured wires or mark the loose ends of the wires.

Now solder the three wires to the three points we identified earlier and tuck the excess wires underneath so they don’t get in the way in between the keyboard and the battery compartment when we put this back together.

Put the whole thing back together and put those seven countersunk screws back in place. Put the two knobs back on the pots on the front – put batteries in or connect a power supply and test!

7

It sends MIDI clock based on the tempo, and all the pots send MIDI CCs except for PEAK, TEMPO and VOLUME. PLAY sends start and stop messages. Here’s a video with the pots assigned to controlling the settings of the sampler instrument:

And here’s a handy image and a reference table for what MIDI Control Changes the different knobs send with the decimal numbers and standard names:

volca_keys_cc_numbers

Mode selector 40 / Balance (fine)  / the six positions are 11, 33, 55, 77, 99 and 121
Footage / octave selector 41 / Controller 41 /  again the six positions are 11, 33, 55, 77, 99 and 121
VCO DETUNE 42 / Pan (fine)
VCO PORTAMENTO 5 / Portamento time (coarse)
VCO EG INT 43 / Expression (fine)
VCF CUTOFF 44 / Effect control 1 (fine)
VCF PEAK None
VCF EG INT 45 / Effect control 2 (fine)
LFO RATE 46 / Controller 46
LFO PITCH INT 47 / Controller 46
LFO CUTOFF INT 48 / General purpose 1 (fine)
EG ATTACK 49 / General purpose 2 (fine)
EG DECAY / RELEASE 50 / General purpose 3 (fine)
EG SUSTAIN 51 / General purpose 4 (fine)
DELAY TIME 52 / Controller 52
DELAY FEEDBACK 53 / Controller 53
TEMPO Doesn’t send a CC but changes MIDI CLOCK speed
VOLUME None

My debut album

My debut album has just been announced over at Willkommen Records. It’s released April 20th, 2015. You can stream a track from it below, preorder details etc. are all here.

I’ll be playing an album launch show on March 31st supporting the incredible Stara Rzeka at the Prince Albert. Tommy ‘Tubs’ Heather will be joining on the tubs. All the details are here.

How to use a Yamaha DD-5 to trigger a Korg Volca Beats

There are lots of old Yamaha DD-5 drum machines available very cheaply. I just had a quick look on eBay and there are four of five all for around £20-30. We actually got this one for free as my girlfriend works in a music shop, someone tried to sell it to them but since it has no resale value they didn’t purchase it. At the end of a fruitless day trying to sell it to other music shops, he came back and gave it to them because it wasn’t even worth him carrying it home!

They’re essentially cheap toys. The sounds are bad but they do have some retro charm. The potentially useful thing about them is that they do have a midi output, which made me wonder if I could use it as a set of midi drum pads to trigger a decent sounding drum machine such as the Korg Volca Beats.

By default the pads send the notes A1, E2, A2 and D#3 which is not much use. It is possible to change these notes (read how in the manual here) but it’s a bit fiddly since there is no screen. This was the first thing I tried and I got it working, however I was disappointed to find that when you turn the DD5 off and on again all these changes are lost, so it’s a bit of a waste of time.

So the next obvious thing to try is to remap the midi notes it sends using Logic. This way when the DD5 sends A1, I can convert it to C1 so it triggers the kick sound on the Volca.

Instructions on how to do this are below, or if you prefer you can just download my working Logic Project file here and play around with it.

Obviously first you need to connect the MIDI OUT of the DD5 to the midi input of your soundcard/interface and the MIDI IN of the Volca to the output.

First step was to check/set the midi channel on the DD-5 which is not too complicated. Hold down PAD ASSIGN and press TEMPO UP/DOWN to change it or press TEMPO UP and DOWN at the same time to set it to 1. (Since there’s no screen I use Midi Monitor to check what’s going on). I set it to 1 for simplicity. Then I set the Korg Volca Beats to receive on channel 1 too – hold down MEMORY while the Volca is turned off and then turn it on and you will see the channel displayed on the screen. Select channel 1 by pressing Kick then press play and record at the same time to save.

Then in Logic create a new Software Instrument track and choose ‘External Instrument’ as the plugin. (Important: dont create an External Instrument track as you can’t use MIDI FX such as ChordTrig on them.) For MIDI Destination select your soundcard, for MIDI channel select 1 and for input select 1. Then on the track between the External Instrument plugin and the EQ you’ll see ‘MIDI FX’. Click this and choose ChordTrig. Select Multi, double click Clear to get rid of any default mapping. Then Click learn. Now for each note from the DD-5 (A1, E2, A2 and D#3) you need to select it on the top keyboard then choose a note to map it to on the lower keyboard. To map them to the Korg Volca Beats Kick, Handclap, High Tom and Closed Hats sounds I use A1>C1 , E2>D#1 , A2>D2 and D#3>F#1. Unclick learn and close ChordTrig. Now try hitting your DD5 – hopefully it’ll be triggering the Korg!

If you want to link the DD5 pads to other Volca sounds, here is a full list of the Korg Volca Beats midi notes and numbers:

KICK C1 36
SNARE D1 38
CLAP D#1 39
CLOSED HAT F#1 42
LO TOM G1 43
OPEN HAT A#1 46
CRASH C#2 49
HI TOM D2 50
AGOGO G3 67
CLAVES D#4 75

Of course you could use this method to trigger any synth or drum machine software instrument on Logic or any external synth or drum machine that receives midi.

If you use Reason rather than Logic, this blog shows you how to do the same thing.

External Signal Processing on the Korg MS-20 Mini

Before I got myself a Korg MS20 Mini, I really wanted to know more about the External Signal Processor (ESP) and how good it was at converting pitch from an instrument or voice into control voltage to power the synth. I was really pleased with how well it works and it required almost not tweaking to get there. Here’s a quick video showing how to do the simple patch:

– Guitar/mic/whatever else into the ESP ‘signal in’
– ESP CV Out into VCO 1+2 CV In
– ESP Trig Out into VCO 1+2 Trig In

and to get the guitar signal there as well:

– ESP Out (before or after the band pass filter) into EXT Signal In at the top

On this video I had the ESP Signal Level up full and the Threshold Level nearly full too.

Spending time tweaking the Low Cut and High Cut on the ESP would get this working even better.

Sorry for the bad camera angles!

Recent undertakings

This is just a quick update about a few things I’ve been working on recently, partly to remind myself:

  • recorded some double bass for Fear of Men. Look out for their debut album proper in 2014. Also stood in on bass for them at Simple Things festival in Bristol. They write amazingly catchy perfect pop songs.
  • I was honoured to get to contribute to the upcoming record from one of my all time favourite bands, Hamilton Yarns. I played a bit of guitar, vibraphone and synth.
  • I’ve been working on the music for two plays by the brilliant playwright Annie Siddons. It’s been a fantastic new challenge for me and an absolute privilege to work with so many talented actors and the director Justin Audibert.
  • Not sure what’s going to happen with them, but I’ve really enjoyed working on remixes for the likes of Landshapes, Nick Mulvey and Emiliana Torrini. Some time soon I’m going to put all my remixes online in one place.
  • Have nearly finished the new Sons of Noel and Adrian record, I’m exceptionally proud of it. We recently enjoyed an inspiring little tour of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which has spurred us on. Ben Hampson is mixing it as we speak.
  • I’ve just about finished my first solo album, thanks to a last minute recording session with the exceptional drummer Tom Heather.
  • Played a couple of shows with the Moulettes, the God of Hell Fire himself Arthur Brown joined us on stage. Also played on their new record with an absolute all star cast.
  • Did a tour with The Mariner’s Children supporting Bear’s Den, they were incredibly fun guys to tour with and I hope to do so again. They’re set for world domination in 2014, look out.
  • Nearly finished the Emma Gatrill album too and I’m really proud of how it is sounding.
  • Had a great time playing gigs with Rozi Plain and Rachael Dadd too, always a pleasure
  • I got to play a bit of trumpet with Animal Magic Tricks at a Brighton show, she’s an incredible songwriter and I’m hopefully working with her on making her next album which I’m very excited about