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HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS: The Yamaha CS-80 Polyphonic Synthesizer

Geary Yelton

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In the mid-1970s, all the major synth manufacturers devoted substantial resources to developing some of the first polyphonic synthesizers.

One of the most ambitious companies was Yamaha. In 1977, their top of the line was the CS-80, a direct descendent of the outrageously expensive, limited-edition GX-1 they’d unveiled two years earlier.

Although the CS-80 has 16 voices, it has only eight notes of polyphony because each patch layers two single-oscillator voices.

It comes with 22 hardwired factory presets and stores four user-programmable patches, but it has no digital memory to recall them. Instead, a flip-up panel beneath the block diagram reveals four rows of tiny sliders. In each row, you can set 26 parameters that define a user patch. Front-panel buttons instantly recall factory presets and user patches.

With the stand and control pedals included, the CS-80 originally retailed for $6,900 and weighs well over 200 pounds.

Its velocity-sensitive keyboard has polyphonic aftertouch and keys made of wood. Fewer than 800 CS-80s were built, and it’s a sure bet most of those no longer play. If you’re considering buying one, have it checked out thoroughly by an experienced repair technician first. Repairing one and keeping it working is notoriously challenging.

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