Blog: The Keytar - A Brief History

Lagrange straps it on      07/04/14

Buying Choices

Is an accordian a keytar?

Lagrange writes: Well it's a keyboard based instrument worn on the body with a strap and moves where the performer moves, so possibly yes. I guess it depends on your definition. To be honest I don't like the moniker 'keytar'. It devalues this class of instrument in some undefinable way for mine. Not at the expense of the guitar by any means but I would prefer to call it something else for no other reason than to separate it from that instrument a little more. But for the benefit of this article I can't think of anything better so we'll stick with it. Now that I have opened with some measure of controversy I make no bones about the fact that I like keytars very much. However I will console you with the assurance that at no time have I ever worn spandex with or without roller skates, nor do I intend to, not ever. I imagine I'd look like a pair of badly parked VW Beetles if I were to do so.

The thing that interests me the most about these instruments is not that they give you the ability to strut about like guitar heroes. Sure that's appealing when you consider that in these circumstances instruments become extensions of the performer, fashion accessories if you will. In fact this is a significant design factor because the keytar has but one purpose in the keyboard based world, it is there to be seen to be played. Keyboards also generally can get away with being a bit dull and boring most of the time.

Any keytar that attempts to emulate it's static stablemate in this manner will be quickly consigned to the scrap heap. Love them or hate them, undeniably they deserve credit for being one of the few controller paradigms that have gone the distance.

The music technology roadside is littered with many examples that simply haven't captured the imagination in a significant way. A small number have rightfully established respected niches, but very few have gone beyond that. With the exception of a class of instrument demonstrated by Akai's MPC, Ableton's Push and NI's Maschine etc, the keytar is one idea that goes back a very long way, much further than you might appreciate.

And it seems to continue to hold it's own with two significant NAMM announcements this year. So much so that I have even come across commentary suggesting that 2014 is 'the year of the return of the keytar'. The first offering from Korg, the RK100S, borrows its concept from a long distance descendant, the RK100 with the wholesome addition of a very decent onboard synth engine. The second, the Alesis Vortex Wireless, tantalises us with being completely cable free. I am genuinely excited about both products for all sorts of reasons and the different things they offer.

The first time I ever saw a keytar was through a very successful Australian outfit by the name of Pseudo Echo and the Korg RK100 became an instantly recognisable part of their stage presence, and they used it to great effect. Around the same time Howard Jones was also widely known for using a Yamaha KX-5. I saw him live in 1985 using it and much to my delight he brought the KX-5 back on his recent Australian tour. In the same year you might also remember this:

Ok it's dripping in some serious cheese but for a Grammy's show it highlights a significant moment in the exposure of this instrument. In its defence for cheese to drip it must be reasonably hot to begin with, you decide. So with that let's go way back in history and chart the evolution of the keytar and highlight some of its greater moments.




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