What’s Old is New Again.

Keyboard Setup Based on Vintage RMI 300B “Electra-Piano”

Remember me saying that Tom, the guy who sold me the Pax tape echo chamber is pretty cool?  Well … periodically he texts me links to good local deals on second-hand gear.  He seems to know exactly what kind of equipment I’m interested in, and he has a real nose for good deals.  I have added him to my contact list as “Tommy Tape Echo”.

A little over a month ago, he tipped me off to this really cool vintage keyboard from RMI (“Rocky Mount Instruments”).  I picked it up from a guy in Oakville that day for a couple hundred bucks.  Then, a few weeks later, when I finally got together with my experimental jam band, I put together a setup that looked like this (click the image to enlarge):

Retro Keyboard Setup

Korg MS-20 (Kit), Arturia Microbrute, Mackie 402 Mixer, EHX Small Clone Phase Shifter, Boss RE-20 Space Echo Pedal. All supported by the monstrous RMI 300B "Electra Piano"

For me, this was a significant departure.  Usually for our jams I will play a polysynth or two. With this setup I’m finding it fun to shape the sound of the main keyboard using just a few external effects, rather than an extensive set of elaborate synth controls.  It seems like a more organic approach.  The two monosynths can quickly spit out basslines, leads, or little sound effects.  The little sequencer in the Microbrute is also useful here.

The RMI has a unique mojo that is difficult to describe. Each of the tabs add a different layer of harmonic content, akin to the “stops” on your Aunt Trudy’s old Bontempi.  The volume envelope of each note decays like a piano (unless you engage the “organ” tab, which makes the decay about twice as long).  The “Harpsichord”, “Piano” and “Lute” stops sound really good to my ear.  The other tabs sound similar.

A special tab labelled “percussion” adds a quick bongo-like sound to the attack of each note.  This provides a truly unique punch to the sound, particularly useful for comping parts.

I’m using an EHX Nano Small Stone phaser and Boss RE-20 (simulated Space Echo) delay, which are a lot of fun. This chain goes into a mono channel on the Mackie 402 mixer, with a clean and simple lo/hi EQ for just enough control to make the sound “sit” where I want it to.

So far I have only had one opportunity so far to try out this rig, and the results were quite nice indeed!  Hopefully we’ll have some more frequent jams this fall, and I’ll be able to really refine this new (to me) approach to playing keyboards.

A piece of the lowest “G” key on the RMI is missing (but the stick that remains still works), and the “A” key just above it is sitting a little lower than the rest of the keyboard.  I intend to contact Allen Organ to find out if they might have replacement keys.  I also need to see if I can get a sustain pedal working with it.

I may revise the RMI’s effects chain a little by adding a chorus and possibly some form of distortion.  I don’t know if the Small Clone is the best choice of phaser for this setup. To me it sounds a little harsh on keyboards.  I would love to replace the Boss RE-20 twin pedal (the only non-analog part of this setup) with a real Space Echo, or perhaps the PAX tape delay.

 It might also be fun to try to layer the RMI with the MS-20 (via the “ESP” section), or at maybe process it through the MS-20′s filter.

I could also imagine replacing the Microbrute in this setup with my Korg Poly-800 II, a DCO-VCA-VCF paraphonic synth with analog character, a polyphonic sequencer, and an on-board modulation delay. Maybe.

I couldn’t find a service manual for the 300B, but there is one circulating around the net for RMI’s follow-up model, the 368X, which I can only assume is similar electronically (and mechanically) to the 300.

Download the RMI 368X service manual (pdf, 3.7 megabytes) here:

 

3 thoughts on “What’s Old is New Again.

  1. looking for the power cable to my RMI 300B or something that would work in its place. Can you post a pic of the female end of that cable?
    thanks!
    Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      It turns out the power cable on my RMI 300B is hard wired directly into the bottom of the keyboard. If there is a female connector, it would be inside the housing, and I haven’t gotten there yet. But I hope to do some other work in the RMI later this summer, so when I do I’ll be glad to get really photo-happy for you!

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