Flavor of the Week: Roland AX-Synth Shoulder Synthesizer

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heroes-of-the-keytarI can hear the sighs, chortles and disgusted grunts already, and lovers of the conventional wisdom can settle deeper into their self-satisfied stance that only wussies or total dorks would be caught dead playing a keytar.

I will relent that a lot of wussies and/or cheeseballs probably have played keytars, but if the efforts from this decade of seminal acts such as MSTRKRFT, Justice, Soulwax, LCD Soundsystem and many others haven’t already proven abundantly than synthesizers can rock, then there’s no hope for the conventional thinkers. And if synth players are rocking out, they deserve to jump, spin and scissor kick around stage with everyone else (except for the poor, ignored drummers of course).

That’s why I thought it was ridiculous that for some time it was impossible to buy a new, pro-grade keytar — until now. Roland has finally started shipping its new AX-Synth Shoulder Synthesizer that it first showed at Winter NAMM 2009 last January.

Roland AX-Synth Shoulder Synthesizer

Roland AX-Synth Shoulder Synthesizer

At $1,349, the AX-Synth does feel kind of expensive, especially when compared to it MIDI-controller precursor. But the new AX-Synth includes a top-of-the-line Roland synth engine, so you don’t need to take an extra MIDI module onstage. The synth is 128-note polyphonic, with 256 preset sounds, including a bank of sounds from Roland’s impressive SuperNatural collection.

The 49-key, velocity-sensitve board includes aftertouch with a real-time aftertouch control, as well as a modulation bar, octave buttons, variable function D-Beam and a sustain note button on the handle.

For my money, the coolest keytar is still the analog Roland SH-101 from 1983. My blue 101 is the still the sapphire of my studio. But for now, the new AX-Synth carries the torch for keytars into this young century. And as much as I’d like it to come with no stigma attached, a stigma there is, which is why in my mind it’s going to take some cajones to wield this ax.

Rock it right, and without concern for the opinion of others, and maybe you’ll even earn some well-deserved respect.