In my never-ending quest to add further vintage mojo to my keyboard rig I was happy to acquire a Roland VK-09 electronic drawbar organ over the weekend.
There’s not much info about it to be found on the internet – maybe 3 or 4 opinions, a couple of YouTube vids, and a few pics. It’s not even on Roland’s venerable manuals page. I did however find a very good scan of the Service Notes (dated May 1981).
So far I’ve only had a chance to play it a little bit, so my list of fun facts to share here is short.
The first thing you notice is the ridiculously large “Roland” logo on the back. At least the kids in the back row will be able to read it at my next stadium concert. The second thing is that the whole thing is surprisingly small and light for a five-octave keyboard. This is a 33-year old instrument that I could actually imagine gigging with!
The organ has two identical groups of six drawbars: 16′, 5-1/3′, 8′, 4′, 2-2/3′, 2′. The first group (“Sine Wave”) produces normal organ-tones, while the second group (“Bright Wave”) produces extremely bright square waves. Each group can be individually toggled on and off using an 808-style pushbutton. I suspect the Vox/Farfisa/Hammond purists out there would hate the square wave drawbars, but in my initial putterings with the instrument I found that the judicious addition of these unusually bright stops makes for an organ tone that slices through a mix like a Ginsu. Think: The Monks, or Squeeze.
The VK-09 also features a slow/fast vibrato section which is a little more tame than I’d like, but is nonetheless very pleasant. It’s not a terribly realistic Leslie simulation, but it does feature the “momentum” effect when you change speeds. The front panel has separate “slow” and “fast” buttons, and the speed can also be toggled using an optional footswitch (as demonstrated in this video).
Like many organs there is an adjustable sustain (“release” in synthesizer parlance). There is also a variety of percussion settings.
While Googling for info about my new acquisition I stumbled upon a lovely article at Absolute Music, in which they toured the Roland museum in Japan and took lots of pretty pictures of vintage Roland instruments (including a mint-condition example of my new organ).
Updated 2017-12-05 to include a link to the service manual