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Industry Close-up: Hammond Suzuki XK-1c Organ

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Hammond Suzuki has recently introduced XK-1c, an entry-level organ which features every basic functions required by organists. (photos right: XK-1c and CU-1 optional Leslie Rotating Speaker Control unit.) 

A sister model of XK-1 launched in 2006, it comes in extremely lightweight structure and simple operation meeting requests for a portable model from keyboard players.    
 
XK-1c features digital tone wheel sound engines, the same system as the upper model XK-3c, inheriting traditional Hammond B-3 sounds processed by latest digital technology and the legendary drawbars.

Masato Tomie, chief engineer of Engineering Dept., Suzuki Musical Inst. Manufacturing explains, "We have designed XK-1c a single-manual keyboard having a set of draw bars with keyboard players of amateur bands in mind. Key-split function and automatic bass sound are the features best suitable for real-time performance. It provides the user with rich organ sound well comparable with upper models, and not delivered by synthesizer, carrying over guitar sound in the band and other voices.

The 'c' of XK-1c stands for compactness. As the product name shows, XK-1c weighs only 7.5kgs, almost 50% of XK-1. This has been achieved by redesigning the drawbars, control buttons and their overall layout. Takeshi Atsumi, assistant manager of Engineering Dept. says, "We have replaced steel with aluminum for the frame and panel. Also number of parts is greatly reduced, and controls are designed much simpler for trimmed and lightweight structure, while we reserved wooden side panels to keep the image of organ. The control knobs come in exactly the same design as the old B-3 to give XK-1c a look of legendary organ. The entire design of XK-1c gives audience a distinctive image of organ on stage. "

Seita Yamauchi, junior assistant manager adds, "SK Series are designed with much of a concept of synthesizer. It provides rich different voices in addition to organ in hopes of promoting Hammond sound to musicians of versatile genre. On the contrary, XK-1c is the instrument developed to meet those demands from core Hammond enthusiasts. Unlike the ordinary keyboards with a bunch of buttons and knobs laid out on the control panel, XK-1c equipped with drawbars comes in a simple look appealing to organ players."  (photo left: from l. to r., Masato Tomie, Takeshi Atsumi and Seita Yamauchi) 

Other characteristic features of XK-1c include Scanner Vibrato, advanced Leslie Simulator, voices of transistor organ, solemn pipe organ, rich effect modes of overdrive, tremolo, ring modulator and phaser. It's compatible with CU-1 optional Leslie Rotating Speaker control unit. Also XK-1c has individual control capability of tone wheels for production of sound with subtle nuance. Atsumi says that the function is critical for B-3 players enabling them to produce original sounds controlling tone wheels. In short, it allows the user to recreate familiar organ sounds they only knew from old phonograph records.

As to distribution, Yamauchi says, "Response from keyboard dealers is very good. We expect much in European and U.S. markets, as it was well accepted at the Summer NAMM Show in July.

By plugging with a MIDI keyboard, it turns into a 3-manual organ with bass sounds produced by the foot pedal. Tomie says, "Unfortunately, number of keyboard players is declining today, but organ has a great expression capability as guitar does, in solo or ensemble. We want young musicians to find pleasure of playing organ with XK-1c. It's easy to travel with it. You don't need to borrow a keyboard at studio. A great feature, isn't it?"

New music-related businesses are being launched outside the music products industry these days. They include management of music teaching studios, and services sending music instructors upon request. The operators equally express hopes for developing music market. What do they see entering music business? Japan Music Trades makes a series of report on new movement now going on in different segments.

Case Study-1: Xing (pronounces eksing) JOYSOUND
Established in 1992, Nagoya-based mobile karaoke service provider, Xing launched JOYSOUND f1, an industry-first karaoke system equipped with input ports for musical instruments last June. It allows the user to connect electric guitar or bass with the karaoke system and enjoy tuning, selecting desired effect modes, and playing along karaoke sound under chord progression guidance shown on the screen, or virtual session with friends on video data.

JOYSOUND Shinagawa Konan Store located near JR Shinagawa Station, Tokyo, opened on March 18 a flag-ship store among 76 JOYSOUNDs stores operated throughout Japan provides JOYSOUND f1 with 73 private karaoke compartments on 6 floors. Outfitted with different settings for parties, concert stages and female users, every musical instrument compartment is furnished with an electronic drum kit readily available for instant jam session with brought-in guitar and bass.

MIDI-based mobile karaoke system has greatly upgraded in the past with advanced capabilities including faster operation, rich song data, much improved sonic quality, high definition video screen, game and performance evaluation programs to meet diversified requirements of demanding user.

Xing started 'Utasuki' karaoke social network service in 2006 with which the user can save favorite song data in pc or mobile phone for instant playback simply by holding mobile phone over karaoke system terminal. In 2008, the company introduced 'Utasuki Movie' that enables the user to shoot singing on karaoke with the camera provided in the karaoke compartments and upload the movie on the Internet for duet with other user sharing one multi-view screen.

Xing explains that 'Utasuki' is widely supported by the user promoting mutual communication among them, and help increase loyal customers. Today, Utasuki has 8 million members, and 300 thousand 'Utasuki Movie' is uploaded monthly.

Naomi Morita, promotion planner of Karaoke Division, (photo right) says, "'Utasuki Movie' is quite popular among our customers as they appreciate social networking function of the system. We thought they would enjoy vocal duet and dance performance when we launched JOYSOUND fl, but soon, more users began bringing guitar, guitar amp, recorder or keyboard harmonica into karaoke compartments. Surprisingly, a user produced one-man music playing guitar, bass and saxophone himself. It was amazing! They really enjoy music making, uploading performance movie on the Internet, and share happy experience with friends."

JOYSOUND f1 features Xing original JOYSOUND Phoenix and Roland SuperNATURAL sound engines for upgraded musical expression, an optional GB-1 Sound Effect Processor which provides 2 inputs for guitar and bass. Like amplifiers, the system delivers sound and can be played along karaoke. Boss guitar effect pedal offers professional class effect modes including hard rock, crunch lead and bass. (photo right: JOYSOUND f1 connected with GB-1)

Xing began providing 'Guitar Navi' function through mobile phone for entry-level guitar players with lyrics, chord progression and guitar tablature. Approximately 13,000 song data of 210,000 titles in total are 'Guitar Navi'-compatible. 'Utasuki Movie' has also upgraded now with a 5-split view capability allowing 5 members to join a session play. (photo below left: Guitar-Navi)

Karaoke opens a gate for new music makers
Morita continues saying, "As word of mouth spreads out on the Internet that one can bring guitar to karaoke bars, we find our customer base expanded to businessmen and girl groups." There are no actual data on music players at karaoke bars, but she assures the market is expanding, and expressed hopes that karaoke explores a hidden market for music playing.

Morita has been promoting JOYSOND f1 to leading music stores since last year asking them to hand out leaflets of the system and guitar picks to the visitors. Largely, they show positive response. When karaoke musicians turn to music making seriously, it's the role of music stores who can help them offering information and advice they need. (photo right: One of the karaoke bar compartments outfitted with a stage and a complete lighting system.)   

Arai & Co's latest model, SB-Black'n Gold I Cliff Burton Signature model bass guitar, is attracting collectors' eyes. The bass guitar completed in memory of him with full support from Cliff's family and Metallica members. It first showcased during the 2013 NAMM Show in January. Arai plans to build 250 units to be distributed in the world markets. (photos right: SB-Black'n Gold I. The headstock comes with a Cliff's autograph at the rear.)

Cliff-headstock.jpgToshiyuki Matsumura, vice president of Arai, who was heavily involved in the development project said, "Even after his tragic death in 1986, SB bass, Cliff's favorite gear, has been much sought after. When we talked with the original band members during Metallica 30th anniversary tour in 2011, they proposed a plan to give a special tribute to Cliff. After some talks with Ray Burton, Cliff's father, we decided to develop a re-issue model of the original SB-Black'n Gold which Cliff frequently played in 1980s. It has been a tough work spending 12 months to complete the specification collecting data of the original model in every detail." (photo below: Toshiyuki Matsumura, left and Masahiro Nagasaki)  

SB-Black'n Gold I is made of wood materials, parts and hardware made in Japan. It's known that Metallica seldom authorizes signature models. As talks with Ray progressed, Arai engineers and Burton family came to share same passion for building his signature instrument. Matsumura recalls, "Ray was really excited with the signature model because Cliff had long hoped to have self-autographed bass. We are very pleased with this project successfully completed."

SB-Black'n Gold I will be shown at Frankfurt Musikmesse in April, and distribution in the world markets starts soon. Only 12 units are sold in Japan. Cliff's innovative and aggressive performance can only been seen on DVDs and YouTube today, however, the signature model will become a coveted instrument among his fans. (photo right: Ray Burton with the signature model at the 2013 NAMM Show)

Masahiro Nagasaki, assistant manager of Arai Domestic Sales, says, "We expect SB-Black'n Gold I enhances images and values of Aria Pro II.

C7X_SH.jpgYamaha has refined Silent Series hybrid pianos and announced 9 new SH Type grand and 12 upright pianos which will be distributed on January 10. First introduced in 1993, Silent pianos have much improved today through numerous refinements since then.

SH_6946.jpgRei Furukawa, Manager, Hybrid Piano Design section, Product Development Dept., Piano Division, says, "The largest feature of the new SH models is greatly advanced tonal quality brought by new CFX Binaural Sampled sound generators. Players will better feel the tonal difference by playing themselves through headphone rather than listening to live demo sound". (Photo right Shuhei Yahagi, left and Rei Furukawa.)

Unlike the conventional sound sampling which samples sound with microphones laid out near piano frame or without microphones a little away from piano, binaural sampling system samples sound setting up a dummy head with built-in microphones around the same height as head of pianist. The system can take multiple tonal elements including sound wave reverberated on player's head and earlobe in addition to direct sound from piano. Listening to the sampled sound through stereo headphone, it delivers sound field with far richer tonal presence than traditional style sampling. That is a solution to maximize authenticity of Silent Series hybrid pianos whose players are more likely to play through headphone than digital piano or Disklavier players.

Though Yamaha started study of binaural sampling 15 years ago in search of innovative sound generators for Silent Series pianos, there were not a few delicate points to materialize the core technologies. Massive data including mic setting accumulated over the years have resulted in the new high quality binaural sampling sound engines which can elaborately reproduce tonal color and resonance of Yamaha's CFX top line concert grand piano.

Furukawa explains, "The overall effect of binaural sampling will be better identified by setting a headphone of its right and left sides adversely." In fact one of the pianists who examined a new SH model was about to leave the instrument with the headphone over his head forgetting wearing it. The newly designed headphone features high standard of tonal quality and open sound which allow pianist to play for long hours without fatigue.

Functions inherited from digital piano
The development team consisted of engineers across many departments from Digital Musical Instrument Division to AV Equipment Division. Naturally, some technologies and functions used for Clavinova digital pianos are transplanted into SH Type pianos. For example, instrument voices of the SH Series increased to 19 adding such dual voices as Piano Plus Synth Pad and Piano Plus Strings. Also, XG sound generators for sound data playback joined to download music from Muma music store data distribution terminals, Yamaha Music Data Shop (http://www.music-eclub.com/), etc.

The SH pianos provide 256-note polyphonic capabilityfor the first time for Silent hybrid piano. The sound recording function is compatible with WAV format for storage of CFX high quality piano sound into USB memory.

Shuhei Yahagi, Piano Marketing, Keyboard Dept., Sales & Marketing Division, talks about advanced functions of SH pianos, "We see increasing number of customers take advanced models of digital piano as an alternative to Silent hybrid pianos these years. That's why we added WAV-compatible XG sound modules in SH series for advanced recording and music playback. They provide SH customers increased choices of recording performance data to be played back on portable audio player or bake into CD. We hope these new features meet the requirements of younger players."

SH_Units.jpgAs functions are upgraded, the control unit has been also refined into a more compact and stylish structure. A white finish which is much favored in Europe is now available. Yahagi says, "More than 30% of our total piano sales in Europe come from Silent line reflecting strong demands for hybrid type overseas. Needs for efficient sound control are high among players living in cozy apartment houses in Europe as well. In this context, Silent piano has been supported by a broad number of pianists in the world markets, and become an integral source for selection."

Serious European piano players are stick to key touch and tonal quality of acoustic piano. Yamaha has distributed Avitecs sound-proof capsules to be installed in private home exclusively in Japan over the years. Without this type of sound-control system overseas, the market for hybrid pianos may be larger than Japan. In the domestic market, 30% of upright and 15% of grand piano sales are Silent models largely used by urban dwellers.

Yamaha Silent Series Hybrid Pianos

SH Type (Grand Pianos)
C1X-SH ¥2,000,000
C2X-SH ¥2,150,000
C2XCP-SH ¥3,150,000
C3X-SH ¥2,550,000
C5X-SH ¥2,850,000
C6X-SH ¥3,150,000
C7X-SH ¥3,650,000
C1TDSH ¥1,690,000
C3TD-SH ¥2,300,000

SH Type (Upright Pianos)
YUS1SH ¥1,020,000
YUS1MhC-SH ¥1,270,000
YUS1Wn-SH ¥1,200,000
YUS3SH ¥1,130,000
YUS3MhC-SH ¥1,380,000
YUS3Wn-SH ¥1,310,000
YUS5SH ¥1,370,000
YUS5MhC-SH ¥1,620,000
YUS5Wn-SH ¥1,550,000
YC1SH ¥748,000
YF101C-SH ¥980,000
YF101W-SH ¥980,000

In 2010 Yamaha introduced CFX, the highest model of CF full concert grand piano line. So far, a total of 120 units including rentals for concert, and 60 units for general consumers have been distributed.

The new CX Series in 7 models announced this past August are refined models of C Series key line grand pianos featuring advanced functions built into the CFX. Distribution started on October 12, right on the day of 125 years anniversary of Yamaha. (photo left: CX7)

Kimiyasu Ito, General Manager of Piano Division, says, "We have accumulated know-how and data on natural materials used for the Yamaha grand pianos, and technology to maintain fine quality in decades of use. Inheriting those basic features of C Series and other lines, we have polished tonal quality and value in designing CX models."

Kenichi Matsushiro, General Manager of Sales Dept., Piano Division, explains, "The largest feature of CX pianos is what we call 'Singing Tone', remarkably advanced expression capability. We believe the new models will be appreciated by professionals and educators." (Photo right, from l to r., Kenichi Matsushiro, Kimiyasu Ito and Hitoshi Izuya.)

CF Series, the top line of Yamaha pianos built to order, is made by meticulous hands of seasoned craftsmen in many of most critical processes. On the other hand, C Series pianos are production models employing machinery in good part of works. In designing new CX Series models, the engineers have carefully reviewed materials and manufacturing processes of C Series. More than refinement of them, Ito points the greatly advanced wood seasoning is the key feature of C series pianos.

He says, "If woods are improperly seasoned, they will cause us serious problems such as extreme hardness that often prevents cutting them into fine pieces or excess humidity which develops flare on cut edge. When we define production models, it's inevitable to process internal structure of wood materials into maximum level we set."

Hitoshi Izuya, Supervisor of Piano Design Section, Piano Division, and principal designer of CF and CX pianos says, "The pianists who played the proto type of CX Series commented that it had tonal characters ultimately different from conventional C Series models with deep resonance at bass range and well contoured sound at middle range. They also highly claimed its expression capability which responds to their musicality.

The CX models are priced 20% higher than former C Series reflecting the much improved quality standard, and the high level of technical and musical advantage.(photos right: The soundboard is built with the same technology employed for CFX (for the C3X and upper models. The Yamaha's exclusive Vacuum Process technology allows the frame to hold 20 tons of string tention.) 

Though the Japanese piano market has been impacted by stagnant economy over the years, sales of professional grand pianos maintain sustainable level in both domestic and overseas markets. Matsushiro expects further growth in Brazil where demands for grand piano are high among not only classical but also jazz and Bossa Nova artists, in Russia of its healthy academic market, and in such emerging markets as India and China.
 
Separately, Yamaha provides reasonably-priced Traditional Series grand pianos featuring basic functions of former C1 and C3 to meet the needs of budget-conscious academies and institutions, and trade-up requirements of general upright piano users.

Kakegawa factory exclusively manufactures 30 to 40 units of CX Series pianos per day.

Designed after CFX Series and inheriting proven reputation of C Series, advanced expression capability of CX models are expected to establish themselves as the new standard models of Yamaha concert grand piano line.

CX Series
C1X       ¥1,550,000
C2X       ¥1,700,000
C2XCP  ¥2,700,000
C3X       ¥2,100,000
C5X       ¥2,400,000
C6X       ¥2,700.000
C7X       ¥3,200,000

 

Industry Close-up: Casio Redefines Digital Pianos

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Casio has remodeled Celviano and Privia digital pianos 3 years after the last upgrade, and started distribution of the models in domestic and overseas markets in August.

Takaki Maeda, General Manager of EMI Marketing Department, Global Marketing Headquarters says, "They have greatly upgraded from new sound generators, functions to natural and sharp keys using ivory or ebony type materials. We are pleased very much that the advanced features and sound of these models have won praises from music stores and consumers. Our distribution network is expanding as more dealers have come to get interested in our digital piano lines after we introduced XW Series synthesizers this past spring. They are new customers to us." (photos: Celviano AP-450BK, top, and Privia PX-750BK, bottom)

The two lines feature almost the same sound engines and keyboard action . While Celvianos are complete models with built-in high-powered speakers, Privias come in compact structure and cabinet design characterized by stylish front panel.

The new Multi-dimensional Morphing AiR sound generator creates perfectly resonant sound with subtle nuance of tonal color generated by key touch intensity, and vibration of individual strings. The heart of the technology is resonance simulator applied to 88 individual keys.

Casio-顔-9.24.jpgHiroshi Iwase, Section Manager, Product Development Department-4, Consumer Product Unit says, "Almost all digital pianos including ours now available in the market are designed to add sound resonance to entire tone range at the final stage of voicing. The new sound engine simulates resonance level of 88 individual keys, and precisely adds resonance to every note and pedalling. PCM-sampled piano tone is a mainstream of the digital pianos in the market. We had long felt that we couldn't expect further technical advancement just reproducing sampled sound. Adding the reverberating effect of piano strings was the result of our search for ultimate piano sound." (photo: Takaki Maeda, left, and Hiroshi Iwase)

The upper models also provide 4 levels of String Resonance when damper pedal is off, and Key Off Simulator to express reverberation effect generated by key let off.

To offset huge signal processing cost for resonance simulation, Casio has developed an original custom LSI based on its established signal processing technology and circuit design which resulted in high quality sound with unique tonal characters.

In addition, they feature Rid Simulator to express delicate change of resonance when top board opened or closed. The opened piano top makes a special visual effect in performance and on stage.

Some models have 256-note polyphonic capability that is unique for the models priced around 100,000yen.

The action  has upgraded to 3-sensor Scaling Hammer Action II for increased stability and playability. The sensor system has advanced over 100 times from 7 bit to 14 bit. It allows detecting key touch intensity level in nearly continuously variable mode.

The recent market survey conducted by Casio reveals that the customers of these days are more interested in sound and keyboard action than cabinet design and features compared with 6 years ago when they plan to buy a digital piano.

Newly acquired features and functions of Celviano and Privia are expected to attract not only traditional keyboard players and children for music lesson but also new generation of music makers sensitive to trend.

Kawai has upgraded its top line Shigeru Kawai grand pianos early this year. After the official launch at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California in January, the company organized press/dealer conferences with exceptional response at Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

New Shigeru Kawai models include:
SK-7 229cm
SK-6 214cm
SK-5 200cm
SK-3 189cm
SK-2 180cm (retail price from ¥2,350,000 to ¥5,900,000)

With SK-EX as the top model of the line, Shigeru Kawai full concert grand pianos are regulated by Kawai's MPA (Master Piano Artisan) technicians. Their warm and thick sounds along with outstanding quality are much appraised by professionals, educators and music students. China has become a fast growing market for Kawai these years as the pianos have won reputation in major music academies.

First introduced in 1999, the company has distributed more than 5,000 Shigeru Kawai pianos in the world markets. Consistent efforts for improvement have been carried since then, however, a comprehensive refinement project started 10 years after the initial launch based on accumulated technological advancement and to reflect customer feedback. The renewed models were designed in pursuit of lighter and easy to control key touch employing longer key length than the conventional models, while maintaining highly acclaimed tonal quality. (photos: Koichi Kawai, founder, left and Shigeru Kawai, past president)  

Improved key touch
Piano keys dip about 10mms when pressed whether it's full concert model or standard type in regular size. But players feel the keys are lighter with full concert piano because the keys are pressed deeper than standard size concert piano. New Shigeru Kawai models have longer keys almost equivalent to those of full concert piano. Making the key a little longer, pianist feels the difference immediately. Shoe Eitaki, manager, Product Planning and Quality Assurance, Piano Division, explains, "General belief is full concert grand piano has heavier, and stiffer key touch. On the contrary, it's easy to control thanks to longer keys which provide larger key stoke for the player. For 12 months, we studied extensively to find best balance of the key length and control. Nevertheless it wasn't an easy task." (photo: Ryuyo factory)

To offset increased elasticity of longer key, the Kawai engineers have examined its thickness and bracing material. Stiffened keys with increased thickness and reinforcement resulted in more flexible speed control of hammers, and wider dynamic tone range. As the key becomes longer, pinblock has extended naturally. The Longer pinblock allows more reliable tuning, and gives piano sound greater resonance well comparable with full concert grand piano. (photo right, Shoe Eitaki, left and Toru Yoshihara)  

New Shigeru Kawai models feature a soundboard with its rigidness enhanced by hybrid hard maple composite rim. While pinblock and rim have been built a little bit larger, the frame comes in the same size. As a result, the total measurement and weight of the pianos remained almost unchanged.

The agraffe employs the same parts used for the EX full concert pianos to achieve improved precision, sturdiness and stable tonality. The SK-5 and upper models come with a box wood bridge like the EX models for upgraded sound projection and brilliant tonal color.

These massive improvements definitely influenced the sound of new Shigeru Kawai pianos. Pianists who tested them before distribution highly appraised their pure distinctive tone, increasingly powerful fortessimo, and comfortable play feel. The piano technicians also cite the new models of their advanced stability of the tuning pins which keeps correct tuning level long after regulation.

Kawai's relentless challenge for quality is rooted in Standard Piano Manufacturing Laboratory in Ryuyo factory, Hamamatsu. Eitaki says, "We have been pursuing ultimate piano as we build pianos with every major parts crafted by veteran craftsmen. All EX and SK-EX full concert grand pianos are built there with meticulous hands of master piano builders. We must be prepared to cope with unexpected manufacturing conditions such as unavailability of materials, or inconsistency in manufacturing. " New Shigeru Kawai models are also built following the tradition.

Late Shigeru Kawai, former president of Kawai, always commented that authentic piano sound that inspires our emotion can only be built by seasoned human hands. How much ever technology advances, genuine craftsmen who perfectly understand natural woods can build the finest quality pianos.

Another refinement of new Shigeru Kawai pianos is specially selected bird's eye maple cosmetic rim employed for SK-3 and upper models, and SK-2 at additional cost. It gives the piano owner pleasure of having artistic instrument.

Contrasting soft piano sales in general in Japan, Shigeru Kawai pianos have enjoyed consistent growth these couple of years. The North-eastern earthquake & tsunami didn't affect the sales performance last year. In fact, they recorded a modest increase. It tells that they are winning support from professional and high-end amateurs. Kawai expects 1,500 total sales of the new Shigeru Kawai pianos in the world markets.

Toru Yoshihara, assistant manager, Public Relations Dept. says, "We plan to increase exposure of the new models starting at our retail shops in Tokyo and Nagoya. Customers are invited to the showrooms of our authorized dealers to try them after April or May. We already started overseas distribution in March. Kawai Music Indonesia which we launched last October will expand our distribution network in Asia. We hope more and more people simply touch the keys and feel elaborate sound of the new pianos."

Founder, Koichi Kawai's philosophy to build the finest piano in the world has been shared by the management and workers for 85 years since the beginning of piano manufacturing at Kawai. Their relentless challenge goes on.

Casio introduced Privia PX-3 multi-functional digital piano specially designed for live performance and music production last April in celebration of its 30th anniversary in music business. It won instant acclaim, and three thousand units were distributed successfully in the world markets. (photos top, Privia PX-3S and CTK-7000 bottom

PX-3S, the production model of PX-3 featuring LED display and refined finish made debut at the 2011Musical Instruments Fair Japan in November. It is one of the latest products targeting high-end market Casio is now focusing under renewed marketing approach. CTK-7000, the company's first high-grade multi-functional keyboard offers the user professional level music creation and audio recording.

Japan Music Trades interviewed Takashi Maeda, Manager, and Akira Sakashita, EMI Planning Section, Consumer Products Marketing Dept., to ask about the new marketing approach to high-end consumers and future plans. (photo: Takashi Maeda, right, and Akira Sakashita)

Q: Why has Casio put multi-functional keyboard into the market as one of the commemorative model of the company's 30th anniversary?

Maeda: Casio understands traditional music dealer network is vital for the business, and we can better serve them with products meeting their expectation. So far, we have heavily promoted Celviano and Privia digital pianos for entry level players to create new music makers. Now, we think we can step into the second stage to serve well-experienced high-end players. The PX-3 Series reflect our new approach to tap new customer group.

Sakashita: The PX Series keyboards are well accepted among male customers in their 30s and 40s with band experience, and musicians seeking instrument for entering music. Younger customers are buying PXs as the first synthesizer featuring piano key touch. In many cases, they are young businessmen just started band activities. Nevertheless, we need products for volume zone, but we also want to present characteristic products developed under Casio's original concepts to specific customers though the market for them is limited.

Q: Will you please define the features of PX-3 Series?

Maeda: They bear Privia brand name because it's familiar to our customers and easy to promote for the dealers. They look like Privia in first glance, but we have designed PX-3s as completely new pianos featuring functions and tonal quality required for stage piano. The development concept is ultimately different from Privias.

Sakashita: PX-3 Series doesn't have onboard speakers and recording functions. Instead, they provide greatly advanced master control capabilities which enable the player to add effects to 4 built-in and external sound generators separately. They provide 250 instrument voices of which 4 can be used simultaneously. In addition to reverb and chorus effects, they have two discrete onboard DSP effects and master EQ which serious musicians will appreciate.

Maeda: As it is standard to Privias, PX-3s feature a specially designed resin body for much improved sturdiness remarkable for its light weight structure. Weighing only 10.8kgs, they are extremely light digital keyboard with built-in 88-key hammer action. They come without speakers. That has contributed to reduce total weight of them, but more than that, it's a distinctive difference from our conventional models, and at the same time, they demonstrate to users and the dealers alike that Casio is seriously taking seasoned musicians, and want to serve their requirements. When I visited a dealer in U.S., they promoted PX-3 plugged with a high output amplifier to efficiently monitor its sound. We hope sound-conscious user can experience high tonal quality and rich ready-to-use preset voices.

Q: How have your high-end keyboards accepted in the market?

Sakashita: More than we expected Japanese and overseas musicians use Privia keyboards at their home and studio. 300 Series, in particular, are well accepted in music production. Not a few musicians we contact for performance at our events say that they privately play Privia. Pianist and keyboard player likely choose Privia as the second piano for night-time practice and studio use. The customers also include guitarist and player of other instruments.

Maeda: It is our pleasure that PX-3 won Keybuy Award in the October 2010 issue of U.S. Keyboard magazine. As to world distribution, we have received good response from the overseas dealers. High remarks in the U.S. market apparently boosted sales in Europe and Japan. Ib the last Summer NAMM Show, CTK-7000 was among the best keyboards chosen for Summer NAMM BEST PRODUCTS. We believe that the latest Casio keyboards for the professionals have been highly recognized in the market.

Q: Will you tell us future plans for the high-end products?

Maeda: As economy continues uncertain, the industry is much expecting a sign of upturn. I believe manufacturers can contribute to generate a new market by offering products with clear concepts. Casio will be able to present some new ideas at the coming NAMM Show.

Industry Close-up: Playwood CA-20 Series Castanets

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Advanced contemporary models at attractive price
Barock Music has just introduced traditional flamenco style castanets made of fibra resin material at reasonable price under Playwood brand which will be distributed in August.

The Playwood products have won high reputation in the percussion society for their distinguished originality and high standard of excellence. The new CA-20 Series castanets developed with help of Yuji Singai, solo castanet player in classical music, and president of Japan Castanets Association, has achieved both professional level quality and unrivaled cost efficiency.

Tsutomu Chiba,  president of Barock, (photo right) says, "When it comes to castanet, Japanese people may remind of 'Miharu's', a pair of red and blue wooden pieces. It's a product originally designed by Japanese for children's rhythm training, and it has been distributed and played for 50 years exactly in the same design and play style. Mr. Shingai and we set a design concept that is to develop castanets matched to today's music education and children's taste for rhythm."

Spanish castanets for flamenco are expensive regardless of the materials in use. Made of either wood or plastic, one set consisted of one individual castanet for right and left hands is sold between ¥30,000 and ¥50,000.     

The CA-20 Series using fibra resin that is commonly found in light socket, and highly rated for its stable structure and durability comes at quite reasonable prices between ¥3,000 and ¥4,000 a set. They are easily accessible by players of amateur orchestra and symphonic bands as well as children and students. S, M and L sizes are available. The M size  comes in single- and double- hole  models which produce bright or slightly deep sounds.

Market for flamenco style castanets is not limited to music scene as increasing number of people experience Spanish dance at Spanish restaurants in Japan where guitars and castanets are accompanied. Flamenco lesson studios also look to be a prospective market. According to Japan Flamenco Association secretarial office, approximately 80,000 students are enrolled at 650 flamenco studios throughout Japan. And most of them buy castanets at early stage of lesson.

Explore the market with original products
Barock Music's product lines include ebony and rosewood castanets. The problem of them was that they cause cracks and chips as they are used. That is why plastic castanets are more favored these days in Spain. Flamenco dancers are likely to select plastic castanets by durability rather than by tonal characters.

In the Japanese orchestra music scene, players once favored wooden castanets as their mellow tonal color well coordinates with acoustic wind and string sounds. In the last 20 years, their preference whether they are professionals or amateurs shifted to the more solid and crispy plastic instruments which can carry over the sound of full symphony orchestra as performance skills advanced and the instruments greatly improved.

Not a few percussionists have come to learn flamenco dance and music these days. As castanets and play style increase recognition, demands are growing for true high quality flamenco style castanets.

In developing the CA-20 Series, Chiba says that the company set highest level of perfection as a musical instrument rather than seeking tonal color resembles to wood. The most critical part that determines playability of castanet is shape of the contact point around the tied string. The player makes sounds by pulling the string on his thumb, and strikes the shell-like pieces with 4 remaining fingers. If the contact area around the tied string is roughly shaped, the struck (closed) two pieces don't immediately gain open status which affects smooth performance.

To make right shape of the contact point, manufacturers have hand-processed it for professional models regardless of used materials. It naturally increases production costs. Barock has solved the problem with high precision mold technology enabling every manufacturing process done by automated machinery. The result is product of equal quality and significant cost reduction.

Chiba concluded, "We all know that Japanese music products market has matured. To generate new demands, we must present consumers something new and exciting never experienced before." Promotional plans for castanet are making way teaming with Mr. Shingai and Barock's business partners.
 
Thanking Chiba and Barock products development team for their passion to design affordable and high quality products, Shingai commented, "The CA-20 Series advanced quality castanets are easy to play and come at attractive price points I had long expected to increase new castanet players." (http://www.playwood.co.jp/)

 

There are no production bases of major musical instrument manufacturers in the earthquake-struck area. No manufacturers reported serious damage in their manufacturing, however, supply of electronic parts and vast range of materials is another thing since not a few makers of semiconductors, machinery and steel materials have had their factories there. As the disaster stopped their production, it gave huge impacts not only on Japanese manufacturing industries but also on world producers of diversified industrial products.

Japan Music Trades interviewed 6 leading music products manufacturers, Casio, Kawai, Korg, Suzuki, Yamaha and Roland, to know what actually happened to the industry after 3.11?
 
What the industry manufacturers were most seriously affected was that semiconductor makers in the area had lost their manufacturing facilities and supply of IC chips staggered. The industry much relies of its sound generating chips on Renesas Electronics which supplies 30% of micro computers used in the world market. However, the heavily impaired main factory of the supplier is quickly recovering.

Happily, the 6 companies have substantial inventory of critical electronics parts, and it's unlikely that they suffer from manufacturing deficiencies in coming months. Renesas Electronics has assured that it would make the best efforts to meet the demands of long time customers.

Here are the comments of 6 manufacturers.
"We had no damage from the earthquake since we largely manufacture in China. Yet, we buy some electronic parts from Japanese manufacturers in the area. We see that the influence will be limited as the semiconductor makers have moved quickly and are returning to normal operation much faster than predicted."
   Shinobu Kurahashi, manager, Casio Public Relations Group,

"We are least affected by the recent incident as we have multiple supply sources for the semiconductors. For the time being we see no negative impact on our business."
   Tohru Yoshihara, Kawai Public Relations Div.

"There's no problem in our production since we have carefully planned purchase programs for semiconductors so far. Also we have shifted to new suppliers for some parts to maintain our production. In addition, not a few parts and materials are standardized and shared in the industry."
   Sakae Yoshinaga, manager, Korg National Sales Div.

"Our suppliers have assured us that our orders placed before 3.11 would be filled in July and August. We expect recovery of the electronic parts makers will accelerate for supply after fall. At this moment we don't worry about the production in coming months. But, future options include purchase of parts from overseas manufacturers to diversify our supply source to reduce operational risk. Our manufacturing facilities keep going as usual because our partner factories are all located in Western Japan."
   Takeomi Nishimura, manager, Suzuki Presidential Office

"As we informed in our annual sales report on May 9, our production will be affected in some fields because of the defect of electronic parts. We see consumer spending will diminish and our electronic parts business will have challenging time due to minimized demands. Given the downward trend, we estimate our sales for the first half of this year will decline 17 billion yen and net profit will go down 6 billion yen. But in the long run, there is no alteration in 2012 estimate, which is the final year of YMP125 mid-term business project, with 25 billion yen net profit.

"Aside from general electronic parts which can be provided by several sources, we have difficulties in procuring special sound generator chips and other custom-made semiconductors. Everyone concerns how long this condition continues, but we are optimistic that we can return to normal operation after October."
   Tsutomu Takizawa, manager, Yamaha Public Relations Group

"Our prospect for the future production is uncertain because it solely depends on the conditions of electronic parts suppliers. The point is we have substantial inventory of parts, and our production goes on without difficulties. They will soon tell us parts supply plans after fall. As far as we know from news paper articles, Japanese parts makers are doing very good job and we believe they will meet our request much earlier than the original schedule."
   Yasushi Aihara, manager, Roland Planning/Public Relations & IR Div.

Effect of the nuclear power plant failure
Another serious problem that Japanese manufacturers confront is the effect of the nuclear power plant failure. Though they are situated far from Fukushima, Kawai was quick to respond to worries from overseas customers by shipping its pianos after inspected radioactive contamination. Yamaha is also responsive to the request from German and other European retailers, and checks radioactive level of its products before shipping from the factories. Other 4 manufacturers didn't experience serious difficulties about this issue.

How much did the disaster affect the market?
Consumer spending sharply declined throughout Japan after the earthquake and tsunami hit Northern Japan. Sales of all industries significantly dropped during March and April. Leisure businesses were hardest hit.

Survey of Service Industries of The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reports sales of leisure industries slipped down with the largest 49.9% decline for the playground/theme park businesses. The music products industry was never an exception with slow sales in March and April. Surprisingly, music dealers reported positive result during the early May Golden Week which exceeded the same period of the last year.

In Northern Japan, school music market sharply dropped by 40% in April over the same period of last year as not a few schools in the area suffered in various ways. Despite sales almost recovered in May, industry leaders say that it will take at least a year before school music activities return to normal.

Sendai, the largest city in Northern Japan, announced that it would organize established Jozenji Street Jazz Festival on September 10 and 11 as it was originally planned. Staging events and returning to normal life help support people in the stricken area. In this context, Musical Instruments Fair Japan which takes place in November in Yokohama will surely be an event to encourage the music makers and general music fans. It's widely recognized that music played an important role during the Hanshin Awaji Great Earthquake 16 years ago. It will surely serve as an exciting opportunity to advocate the power of music to wider walks of Japanese population.