||This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
A keytar is a relatively lightweight keyboard (with or without a built-in synthesizer) that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the way a guitar is supported by a strap. Keytars allow players a greater range of movement compared to conventional keyboards, which are placed on stationary stands. The instrument has a musical keyboard for triggering musical notes and sounds. Controls for, but not limited to, pitch bends, vibrato, portamento, and sustain are placed on the instrument's "neck". The term "keytar" is a portmanteau of the words "keyboard" and "guitar". The term "keytar" might be considered slang or referenced from pop culture, as none of the major manufacturers of this style of keyboard had ever referred to this type of keyboard as a "keytar" in any printed material (model names, equipment manuals, advertisements, websites, etc.) for over 30 years.. This style of keyboard was mostly referred to by manufacturers as a "MIDI Controller", "Remote Keyboard", "Strap-on Keyboard", or variations thereof. The term "keytar" was first used by a major manufacture in 2012, when the Alesis company referred to the "Vortex", the company's first product of this type, as a "USB/MIDI Keytar Controller". To date, Alesis is the only manufacturer to refer to this type of keyboard as a "keytar". The Roland AX-Synth, which incorporates its own synthesis engine, is referred by the manufacturer as a "Shoulder Synthesizer". "Keytar" is often used as a keyword by those selling this type of keyboard on eBay, which may have contributed to the popularity of the term. Keytars may either contain their own synthesis engines, or simply be controllers, triggering notes and other MIDI data on a MIDI capable synthesizer, sound module, computer with synthesis software, or any other MIDI-capable device such as lighting controllers, effects devices and audio consoles, for example.
In early 1970s, Edgar Winter often performed with keyboards slung around his neck, but they were not technically keytars because they had no "neck"; he actually used an ARP 2600 keyboard and a lightweight Univox electronic piano with shoulder straps added.
In late 1970s and early 1980s, Jan Hammer, the composer best known for his composition and sound design successes for "Miami Vice" frequently used several keytars including Royalex PROBE which he helped develop. Jan is seen for instance using his PROBE in the music video for the Miami Vice Theme. Also in the 1980s, Wayne Famous of the band The Producers strapped on a regular Oberheim synthesizer, which caused him to develop back problems.
The earlier keytars commercially released in late 1970s–early 1980s includes:
- Hillwood RockeyBoard RB-1 (synth piano with VCF) designed in 1977 with influence from Edgar Winter,
- PMS Syntar, an earliest keytar synthesizer designed by George Mattson (Performance Music Systems) and exhibited at 1979 Atlanta NAMM
- Davis Clavitar (controller) used by George Duke and Herbie Hancock in early 1980
- Powell Probe (controller) designed by Roger Powell, and
- Royalex Probe (controller) helped to develop and used by Jan Hammer in early 1980s
etc. (for details, see List of keytars)
The earliest printed use of the word "keytar" was in 1980, when it appeared in an interview with Jeffrey Abbott by Tom Lounges of Illianabeat magazine (now Midwest BEAT Magazine).
Although Steve Masakowski has been incorrectly credited for many years as the inventor of the keytar, in an interview with Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle on December 11, 2009, he only claimed to have invented an instrument called the Key-tar which was a string based instrument.
The keytar was made popular in the 1980s by glam metal bands, as well as synthpop and New Wave musicians. Changing trends in music diminished the keytar's popularity during the 1990s, continuing on until the late 2000s when a major revival was sparked by artists and groups such as The Black Eyed Peas, Motion City Soundtrack, No Doubt, and Steely Dan. Another instance is in early 2008 with Snoop Dogg's music video for his single "Sensual Seduction," in which he uses a keytar as a throwback to old school bands.
Notable manufacturers of keytar models have included Moog, Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Casio. As of 2013, the Roland AX-Synth, the Roland Lucina and the Alesis Vortex are the only mass-manufactured keytars on the market.
The Moog Liberation was released in 1980 by Moog Music. It included two monophonic VCOs and a polyphonic section that could play organ sounds. The neck had spring-loaded wheels for filter cutoff, modulation, and volume as well as a ribbon-controlled pitch bend. The Liberation had a single VCF and two ADS envelope generators.
The Roland SH-101 is a small, 32 key, monophonic analog synthesizer from the early 1980s. It has one oscillator with two waveforms, an 'octave-divided' sub-oscillator, and a low-pass filter/VCF capable of self oscillation. When a shoulder strap is connected to it, and the small handgrip with a pitch bend wheel and a pitch modulation trigger is used, the SH-101 becomes a keytar.
The Yamaha SHS-10 from the late 1980s has a small keyboard with 32 minikeys and a pitch-bend wheel, an internal Frequency modulation (usually referred to as FM) synthesizer offering 25 different voices with 6-note polyphony. Onboard voices include a range of keyboard instruments (pipe organ, piano, electric piano, etc.); strings (violin, guitar, double bass, etc.); and wind and brass (clarinet, flute, trumpet, etc.).
The Roland AX-7, which was manufactured from 2001 to 2007, contains many more advanced features than early keytars. It has 45 velocity sensitive keys (without aftertouch), and a 3-character LED display. Several features aimed towards stage performance are present, such as a pitch bend ribbon, touchpad-like expression bar, sustain switch, and volume control knob, all on the upper neck of the instrument. There is also a proprietary "D-Beam" interface, made up of infrared sensors that detect nearby motion. This interface can be used to trigger and control effects.
In August 2009, Roland released the Roland AX-Synth, a model of keytar that contains its own synthesizer sounds in addition to being a MIDI/USB controller.
In 2010, Roland released the Roland Lucina AX-09. This model does not have a traditional neck, but is still considered a keytar because of it is a strap-on model and is in the AX line, with many identical features to its AX predecessors. It is unique in that it includes an additional, front panel USB port to accommodate a USB flash drive, which may contain MP3, WAV or AIFF files for playback. The Lucina has 150 internal sounds and may also be used as a MIDI/USB controller.
In 2012, Alesis released its first ever keytar and is the first major manufacturer to actually use the term "keytar" in the model name and description. The Alesis Vortex USB/MIDI Keytar Controller is unique in that it includes eight velocity-sensitive drum pads/sample triggers, which enable the performer to create beats or trigger clips, built right into the body of the keytar. It also features a unique "accelerometer", which allows the performer to control MIDI parameters by tilting the neck. Although Alesis claims to have manufactured "the first USB keytar controller", it should be noted that the Roland AX-Synth and the Roland Lucina feature USB connections with the same function and were released three years prior to the Alesis Vortex.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
With the Synthpop revival of the late 2000s, keytars enjoyed a mild resurgence, appearing in bands or singers such as Alestorm, Showbread, The Birthday Massacre, Cobra Starship, Hyper Crush, Lights, Mutemath, Freezepop, and Family Force 5. Page McConnell of the jam band Phish is often seen playing a keytar anytime the band covers the song "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter. Chris Marion of the classic rock band Little River Band performs with a vintage red Roland Corporation AX-1. The lead vocalist for the pirate metal band Alestorm also plays a keytar at all times on stage. The keyboardist in Sonata Arctica, Henrik Klingenberg, is using both keytar and a usual keyboard on stage. The country musician Travis Adkinson, a local favorite in the Lexington, Kentucky area, often plays a keytar on stage. Matthew Bellamy, the lead vocalist and guitarist/pianist of the UK rock band Muse plays a custom keytar that has fewer keys and is shaped more like a guitar. He has used it probably most notably in the music video for Undisclosed Desires. Madonna Wayne Gacy of Marilyn Manson used a Roland Axis-1 keytar for the music video for The Beautiful People as well as for some live sets. One of the two member New York band Shy Child performs entire songs minus drums with a Roland AX-7. Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess adopted a custom-made keytar named "The Zen Riffer" in 2008 for live performances. During a 2009 appearance on Saturday Night Live, Lady Gaga plays the keytar, and she is often seen with one live, particularly during performance of the song 'Money Honey'and Marry the Night. Romeo Nightingale from the German synthpop/glam rock band Cinema Bizarre also sports a keytar. R&B singer Alicia Keys has also played a keytar while performing certain numbers on The Freedom Tour. Swedish pianist Robert Wells, when not seated at a grand piano, generally performs on a keytar.
- In music videos
In the music video for "Eruption" by German metal band Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, keyboardist Dr. Pest uses a keytar throughout the video.
In Taylor Swift's video for We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, one of her band members can be seen playing a keytar.
In Gaijin rock band Area 11's videos for 'Euphemia' and 'Shi no Barado', lead singer Sparkles* is seen playing the keytar in different clips.
- In television programs
In television, a member of the fictional cover band "Jeffster" from the NBC television comedy Chuck "plays" a keytar. Demetri Martin, in his appearances in HBO's Flight of the Conchords, plays a keytar which character Murray Hewitt (Rhys Darby) mistakenly refers to as a guit-board. In the NBC television comedy Community, Chang plays the Keytar, and is mocked for it.
- In movies
- Also, in the movie Yes Man, the fictional band Munchausen by Proxy performs with a keytar.
- In the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blow The Shredder away with an amplified keytar.
- In cartoons
- The 2012-themed, Occult Comedy anime Occult Academy includes use of a keytar in a critical situation.
- Another appearance was in online Flash cartoon Homestar Runner where in the Strong Bad e-mail "Cheat Day", Bubs played the keytar while Strong Bad was singing.
- In the cartoon and toyline of Transformers Animated, the Decepticon Ratbat transforms from a bat into a keytar, which his master Soundwave can use to create sonic attacks.
- In the cartoon and toyline of Jem, Stormer of the Misfits was a keytarist. Kimber of the Holograms had a keytar in the toyline and subsequent books based on the series because illustrations followed the toy line.
- In the internet band Your Favorite Martian the member Benatar uses a keytar.
- In the cartoon, Regular Show in the music video Party Tonight Hi Five Ghost has a Keytar
- In video games
The video game Rock Band 3 features a 25-key MIDI-compatible keytar controller, which in the game's Pro Mode, is played as a real instrument with each note mapping to the appropriate key on the keyboard scale. The game includes many lessons over several difficulty levels, intended to teach a player how to play the keytar in Pro mode, and effectively for real outside of the game.
In Lollipop Chainsaw the Funk Zombie boss, Josey James, uses a keytar although he only attacks with it on one occasion.
See also 
- Related articles
- Related technologies
- Individual models
- Extensive research by Timothy Eason, avid collector of strap-on keyboards and owner of close to 20 different models.
- From the official Alesis website: http://alesis.com/vortex
- From the official Roland US website: http://www.rolandus.com/products/details/986
- eBay search for the term "keytar": http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=keytar
- James D. Maier. "The Performance Music Systems Syntar". Retrieved 2011-12-28.
- "Rockeyboard RB-1". Hillwood Keyboard / Synthesizer Catalog 1977. Hillwood Musical Instrument/Zen-On. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
- "About keytars (ショルダーキーボード)". Hatena::Keyword (in Japanese).
— pictures of almost all keytars