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The SK-1 Lives

Casio makes all manner of things at its multinational headquarters in Japan, including mobile phones, cameras, and watches – and, hey, they brought us the first electric compact calculator back in the late ’50s, so there’s yet another thing they’ve got going for them.

But what indie musicians most revere Casio for are, of course, their keyboards. The brand’s newest models, the CTK-6200 and CTK-6250, arrive with all the polyphonic bells and whistles – over 700 tones, a couple hundred rhythms, and digital effects. A sequencer, rhythm editor, mixer, and both an SD card slot and USB/MIDI capabilities.

And Casio is quickly catching up to Yamaha in the affordable-digital-piano-sounds department with its new Privia PX-5S, which features Casio’s proprietary AiR sound source.

Yet the truly coveted Casio models aren’t new at all.

The SK-1 is leading the Casio trend pack – and it’s almost 30 years old.

casio sk1

But far from having a midlife crisis, the SK-1 – a four-note polyphonic mini-keyboard with a simple 8-bit sampler and 8 (yes, only 8) preset voices and a few envelope shapes – is the cool kid in the class, and has been used on tracks by the likes of Beck, Blur, Portishead, and Fatboy Slim, sometimes in its original form, and sometimes extensively modded and circuit bent.

Plus you can burp or have your dog bark into the sampler, and since the memory storage shuts off when you shut the keyboard off, no one will be the wiser.

Wonder what Casio thinks of all this? We did too. So we went right to the source – Vice President of Consumer Products Peter Brinkman.

PYXIS: So Peter, how do you feel about the revamped popularity of the “classic” Casio models, such as the SK-1, for use in new indie-rock and electronica projects?

PETER BRINKMAN: We feel great about the renewed interest and popularity in a product that established an original standard in the music industry. It’s truly reflective of the commitment to product excellence and category vision that Casio has demonstrated time after time. These Casio virtues are solidly in place, and bode extremely well for the future as far as new products, too.

PYXIS: Are you surprised by how the 8-bit format has made such a comeback?

PB: I really think it’s terrific that the format is being reintroduced to many musicians. It’s great that a whole new group of musicians are embracing it. With the renaissance of the 8-bit format, we are so pleased that Casio is helping to enable these wonderful classic sounds.

instructablesA modded Casio SK-1  photo credit Instructables


PYXIS: Does Casio have any plans for either re-releases of classic keyboard models, given this new trend, or perhaps integrating the older, vintage 8-bit sounds into new keyboard models?

PB: I think that there are a number of very interesting, dynamic trends that are presenting themselves in terms of expanded musical segments and products. Casio has been, and will continue to be, on the forefront of developing new, leading edge product technologies that incorporate the very best in terms of product features. I think it is safe to say that we are very excited about our near term and future product plans.

PYXIS: And what are your expert thoughts on what you think about how far sampling has grown since the SK-1 first surfaced back in the day?

PB: Technology is truly an amazing elixir. Casio’s product development teams have always possessed a world-class pedigree, particularly when it comes to strategic vision. And early on, sampling had been identified with incredible upside potential. The fact that sampling has had the kind of successful impact on both professional and amateur musicians is just a great testimony to the passion of music, and to the dynamic enabling qualities of technology.

Sooo – Brinkman isn’t spilling the beans as to whether or not we’ll be seeing Casio’s sleek new models with vintage 8-bit sound samples (or burp and dog-bark capabilities) in the near future. But we’ve got our fingers crossed, and we’ll be waiting here with our SK-1 – yes, we really have one! – in the meantime.  Here, Fido!    – Kristi Kates