How attitudes change. Once viewed as cheap and cheezy, portable, battery-powered Casio keyboards suddenly seem kinda cool in retrospect. The Casio VL-1, perhaps the most infamous of the Casiotone line, featured mechanical beats, paper-thin sounds, and buttons that barely qualified as a keyboard, and doubled as a calculator.

Now, not only do those very points make it sound like more fun, but the whole design starts to look more inspired than gimmicky. Battery power? A simple interface? An ultra-portable design that fits in a case? Why aren’t more synth designers thinking this way? What’s stopping Roland, for example, from giving us a retro-themed, impulse-buy toy for $99?

Join the members of the Create Digital Noise forums in awe:

Signs this keyboard is cool: via its own Wikipedia entry, the only two pieces of evidence you’d need. One: it it the only musical instrument ever to have stood in for Strong Bad’s head. Two: it gets associated with the quote “turn that bloody blimey space invader off,” a phrase we really need on the upcoming CDM t-shirts.

Of course, a sentient VL-1 may have written that Wikipedia as a vanity entry. We’ll let the keyboard enjoy itself anyway.

VL-1 on Wikipedia
Maximum Cheesecore: The Ultimate Casio VL-1 Super Site
Synthmuseum: Casio VL-Tone

  • Well this is a blast!

    I was just talking to someone over the weekend how I used to dismiss classes early with my VL-1

    It had a way to sort of program tones and the envelope generator.I found how to match the tone of the School bell and playing the high "A" you could see the halls empty out…about 10 minutes before they were supposed to. ;

  • Agreeed. I picked up one of these a few months ago and the tone&envelope programmer is totally awesome. I've never seen a full explanation of what each parameter does, but just by playing around you get some great sounds. i've been dropping it into every recent composition…

  • i've been thinking of getting a vl-1 recently, too. really, i could use something to keep in my bag a quickly test out a melody or chord progression away from the computer. (definitely would have been useful for some of the music classes i'm taking now.) for those purposes, the vl-1 is slightly lacking because i think it only has 2 note polyphone and line-out, instead of headphone out? but of course there are plently of extra benefits of a vl-1. calculating tips, you know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    i've been looking for other really small keyboards, too. when i asked about that on another message board, i got laughed at. but, to me, it sounds like it'd be handy to always have a keyboard around (without having to always have a laptop with you).

  • mouseclicker

    casio vl-1 is famous with its weird combination of synth and calculator but how about casio mt-70..

    it is a synth and "barcode" reader..

    synths for super market employees..

  • anon

    _object.session: You might consider the Yamaha QY series, they're small sequencers with GM/XG synths built in.

    I recently googled the VL1, to find out what this thing was that the benders were talking about… I only had to see the picture to get flashbacks to when we used to visit my cousin in the 80's and I would sit on the floor of their loungeroom playing the thing for hours, and beating my sister away with it when she decided she wanted a go ๐Ÿ™‚

    I'm with Peter, I'd love to see a new generation of toy synths, if only for the kiddies.

  • thanks, anon. i started reading about the QY series and they sound like they're designed for what i want to do. they have a few more features than i was thinking about, but still features i could use. seem to have a broad range of prices in the used market, too. just gotta keep my eyes peeled . .

  • Man… I love this synth. I love it so much I recorded an entire album with it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The VL-1 has no polyphony, by the way. Hence my overuse of sloppy, ridiculous arpeggios…

  • The greatest thing about this little guy is how you can modulate the sound coming from the speaker with your hand, like a harmonica.

    I had one as a kid and miss it terribly.

  • Too bad the guy in that video isn't actually playing the same notes that are coming out of it.

  • Hmmm … Flash sound sync issue? Guy selling a broken SK-1? Wrinkle in the space-time-synth continuum?

  • Nah, he's just running the sequencer and miming to it. His rhythm is right, just not the pitches.

  • the fact that the music doesn't match the notes is the best part. it's so strange looking. i couldn't stop laughing when i was watching it.

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  • I have one of these! it has really nice oscilators. glad I got mine for about 5$ though.