|Dates||1973 - 1977|
|Synthesis type||Analog Subtractive|
|Attenuator||2 envelope generators|
|Effects||2 x spring reverb|
The Yamaha GX-1, first released as Electone GX-707,[note 1] is an analog polyphonic synthesizer organ developed by Yamaha as a test bed for later consumer synths and Electone series organs for stage and home use. The GX-1 has four synthesizer "ranks" or manuals, called Solo, Upper, Lower and Pedal, plus an analog rhythm machine.
The Solo rank features a 3-octave keyboard with 37 keys that are full width but shorter than standard. Directly above the Solo keyboard runs the Portamento keyboard - a ribbon controller which can be used to play continuously variable pitches roughly corresponding to the Solo keyboard note below. The Portamento keyboard overrides the solo keyboard if used simultaneously. The Solo rank has only a single oscillator, but has a dedicated low-frequency oscillator (LFO), pitch envelope generator and ring modulator.
The Upper and Lower ranks each have a full-sized 5-octave, 61-note keyboard. They are both 8-voice polyphonic, with two oscillators per voice. Each poly rank has a dedicated LFO, and there is a common "random" modulation generator. The Upper rank also has horizontal aftertouch which can be assigned to pitch, volume or filter, and a polyphonic glide function.
The Pedal rank has a 25-note pedalboard. It is monophonic, with three oscillators but no LFO. Performance controls include a "swell" pedal with footswitch, and a spring-loaded knee controller.
All four ranks use a common voice-card design (called a tone generator in Yamaha parlance) to produce their sounds. Each voice card features a voltage controlled oscillator with multiple waveforms, 2-pole high-pass and low-pass voltage controlled filters, and two envelope generators for filter modulation and VCA control. There is also a variable band-pass filtered sawtooth wave, and high-pass filtered square wave on each card. There are a total of 36 voice cards in a GX-1, containing 36 oscillators, 72 envelope generators, and 144 filters. Due to the extensive use of epoxy-potted sub-modules, a complete set of GX-1 voice cards alone weighs more than a Polymoog.
Preset sounds are stored on "tone modules" - small cartridges which each contain 26 fixed value resistor-dividers. These produce voltages which drive the voice cards, each resistor controlling one parameter of the sound. The tone modules are installed in compartments on the top panel of the synth. An optional "tone board" programmer could be inserted in place of a tone module, providing a full set of knobs, switches and sliders to control the parameters of a tone manually. Tones created this way could then be "programmed" onto a variable tone module using the Tone Module Setting Box. The Upper, Lower and Pedal ranks all have a dual-voice structure, where a different tone is assigned to each of the two voice cards per note. A set of hidden "wave motion" controls allows the second tones of the Upper and Lower ranks to be de-tuned. In the Pedal rank, the second tone is doubled on two voice-cards, both of which have a separate de-tune control.
The GX-1 console weighs 300 kg. The pedalboard and stand add 87 kg, and each of its tube-powered speakers, four of which can be connected to the GX-1, weighs 141 kg (Which together equals a total of 951 kg, or 2096 lb).
The GX-1 cost $60,000 (compensated for Consumer Price Index inflation, that price equals $317,271 in 2014), and was premiered in the US in 1973 at the NAMM convention. The exact production number is unknown, but thought to total fewer than 100. At least 13 GX-1s are known to exist outside Japan, the remainder are presumed to have stayed in Japan. The GX-1 was served as the test bed for the Yamaha CS-80 polyphonic synthesizer, a much smaller and portable instrument.
Some artists who used the Yamaha GX-1 extensively in their recordings were Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (credited on the back of their 1977 album Works Volume 1 as "Yamaha GX-1 featured on Fanfare For The Common Man", it was also the featured synthesizer on their orchestral piece "Pirates" from the same album. Emerson also used it on the ELP albums Works Volume 2, Love Beach and In Concert (prominently showcased on their live rendition of the Peter Gunn theme), as well as various soundtrack projects in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Including the self-titled Emerson, Lake & Powell album. The GX-1's final appearance on one of Emerson's recordings was in 1986 where (after extensive customization) it appeared on the Emerson, Lake & Powell album. The GX-1 appears in the concert film of the ELP 1977 Works Orchestral tour live in Montréal, the Emerson, Lake & Powell music video for the song Touch And Go in 1986 as well as the video for the Emerson, Lake & Palmer song Black Moon in 1992. Emerson described touring with the GX-1 as a "roadie's nightmare" because of its 600 lb mass), John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (who later sold his to Keith Emerson as a spare instrument; it was used on their 1979 album In Through The Out Door and was featured on the songs "In The Evening", Carouselambra, "All My Love" and "I'm Gonna Crawl". It can also be seen in their concert film Live at Knebworth, 1979), Stevie Wonder (who is said to have bought two, one of which is on display at Madame Tussaud's in Las Vegas), Benny Andersson of ABBA (this GX-1 is now located at Riksmixningsverket, his studio in Stockholm), Hans Zimmer (who bought Keith Emerson's old GX-1), Jürgen Fritz of Triumvirat, Rick van der Linden of Ekseption, who did an entire album on it, entitled GX1 (as well as his album Night Of Doom, the GX-1 is featured on the cover with him seated at it), and Richard D. James (Aphex Twin), who acquired Mickie Most's GX-1. Stevie Wonder in particular referred to it as the "Dream Machine" because of its three keyboards that allowed him to layer different sounds simultaneously and allowed him to create the lush and very convincingly orchestral sounds on songs such as "Village Ghetto Land", "Pastime Paradise" and "Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing" (it is erroneously credited as a "Yamaha Electone Polyphonic Synthesizer GX10" on page 19 in the original LP lyrics booklet from his 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life). Rick Wright of Pink Floyd allegedly owned one for a brief time, but it did not make an appearance on any recordings.
- "Model GX-707 Electone". Electone Zone.
It's rumored that when Yamaha realized the model number shared the designation of Boeing 707 aircraft, they changed it to GX-1. Note the basic design of GX-1 followed the Electone EX-42 released in 1970.
- Guide To Your Yamaha Electone GX-1 (PDF). Hamamatsu, Japan: Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd. [Yamaha Corporation]. 1974.
- Yamaha GX-1 Owner's Manual.
- Reid, Gordon (2000). "Yamaha GX1 Synthesizer, Part 1". Sound On Sound (February 2000).
- Gordon Reid's article on the workings of the GX-1.
- Reid, Gordon (2000). "Yamaha GX1 Synthesizer, Part 1". Sound On Sound (March 2000).
- Gordon Reid's story on how he encountered his very own GX-1.