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Casio VL-1

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Casio VL-Tone VL-1

The VL-1 was the first instrument of Casio's VL-Tone product line, and is sometimes referred to as the VL-Tone. It combined a calculator, a monophonic synthesizer, and sequencer.[1] Released in 1981,[2] it was the first commercial digital synthesizer,[3] selling for $69.95.[4]

It has 29 calculator-button keys (G to B), a three-position octave switch, one programmable and five preset sounds, ten built-in rhythm patterns, an eight-character LCD, a 100-note sequencer, and a multi-function calculator mode.[4] The VL-1 is notable for its kitsch value among electronic musicians,[4] due to its cheap construction and its unrealistic, uniquely low-fidelity sounds.

The VL-1 was followed by the VL-10, a very similar machine in a smaller unit, and the VL-5, a polyphonic version, capable of playing four notes simultaneously, but lacking the VL-1's synthesizer section due to the removal of the calculator mode.[1][clarification needed]

RadioShack sold a rebranded version of the VL-1 called the Realistic Concertmate 200.[5]



Its sounds were mostly composed of filtered squarewaves with varied pulse-widths. Its piano, violin, flute and guitar timbres were nearly unrecognizable abstractions of real instruments. It also featured a "fantasy" voice, and a programmable synthesizer which provided for choice of both oscillator waveform and ADSR envelope. It had a range of two and a half octaves.



The VL-1 featured a small LCD display capable of displaying 8 characters. This was primarily used for the calculator function, but also displayed notes played. The VL-1 also had changeable tone and balance, basic tempo settings and a real-time monophonic music sequencer, which could play back up to 99 notes. There were also 10 pre-loaded rhythms which utilized just three basic drum sounds. Casio internally named these sounds "Po" (30ms), "Pi" (20ms) and "Sha" (160ms).



Piano, Fantasy, Violin, Flute, Guitar, Guitar(II), English Horn, and Electro sound (I, II and III) are available in ADSR Mode. Piano, Fantasy, Violin, Flute and Guitar (I) have direct access, and Guitar (II), English Horn, Electro sound (I, II and III) only can be used with ADSR button.

The sounds (*) do not have direct access through a button, but they are part of the ADSR variables, so there are 5 more sounds in reality, although they can only be used through the synthesizer and must be entered through a code. So it would look like this: Piano, Fantasy, Violin, Flute, Guitar (I) are available at the same time, and any of the mentioned sounds or Guitar (II), English Horn, Electronic sound (I), (II) and ( III) can only be obtained by means of a code and occupy one at a time on the ADSR button.



The VL-1 was programmed by entering a number into the calculator section's memory, then switching back to keyboard mode.

It worked like this (the number is the value for each):

Example (90099914)

  • 9 Waveform
  • 0 Attack
  • 0 Decay
  • 9 Sustain level
  • 9 Sustain time
  • 9 Release time
  • 1 Vibrato
  • 4 Tremolo

Notable uses and appearances

Vienna Technical Museum / VL-1 Inv. Nr 81934
  • The VL-1 acquired enduring notability in 1982, when the German band Trio used it in one of their songs, the "faux-Kraftwerk tune", "Da Da Da".[6] They used the Rock-1 rhythm preset and the Piano voice.
  • The Human League used the VL-1 for "Get Carter", a song on their album Dare.[7]
  • In 1995, "parsimonious" French singer/songwriter Dominique A used a minimum of instruments, including the VL-1 (called the "VL Tone" in the French press).[8][9]

See also



  1. ^ a b Brend, Mark (2005). Strange sounds: offbeat instruments and sonic experiments in pop. Hal Leonard. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-0-87930-855-1.
  2. ^ Casio 40th Anniversary website
  3. ^ Impact of MIDI on electroacoustic art music, Issue 102, page 26, Stanford University
  4. ^ a b c Mark Vail, The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording the Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument, page 277, Oxford University Press
  5. ^ "Realistic Concertmate 200 | Sound Programming". soundprogramming.net. Retrieved 2022-10-03.
  6. ^ Paphides, Pete (2009-08-01). "The world according to Frankmusik: The world as listed by the new star of British pop". The Times. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
  7. ^ Adams, Cameron (2009-11-07). "Nostalgia never hurts". Herald Sun. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  8. ^ Renaud, Alain (1995-11-11). "A 27 ans, Dominique A est en passe de devenir un label". Libération (in French). Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  9. ^ Mortaigne, Veronique (1995-05-18). "Dominique A, le dépouillement élégant". Le Monde (in French).