Casio SK-1 Keyboard

SK-1 buttonsSK-1 rear

Casio SK-1

  • Year Produced: 1985
  • Synthesizer Chip: Custom
  • Polyphony: 4 Voices (PCM samples)
  • Stereo: No
  • Number of Keys: 32 mini keys
  • Line Out: Headphone Jack only (plus Line-In and Microphone Jacks)
  • MIDI: No
  • Velocity Detection: No
  • Number of built-in instruments: 8
  • Synthesizer Controls: Yes
  • Other controls: Vibrato, Portamento, Envelope Select, Sample

David’s Thoughts:

The SK-1 was a remarkable instrument for its time.  And that’s why I think it deserves a special recognition.  As a kid, I remember going into department stores and toy stores and there would always be kids fighting over who got to play with the SK-1 (and later the SK-5).  Of course, nobody wanted to play music on it.  Everyone wanted to record their voice, or fart-noises, burps, or whatever they could come up with, then play it back on the keyboard.

However, the keyboard is capable of some decent music.  It has (for the time) a fantastic sounding piano.  When you add 4 voices that allows you to play some really nice pieces.  In fact, I’d say it could almost compete with a modern keyboard except for one problem: the sample rate.  It plays at a rate somewhere around 9 Khz, which is far too low.   And I think the other problem is just a general lack of good instruments.  They only gave you 8 built-in samples.  I’m not sure what they were thinking when they picked them:

  • Piano – Excellent choice, and by far the best instrument on the device.
  • Brass Ensemble – Semi useful.  I often use this for a bass instrument as it is the closest thing there is.
  • Trumpet – Sounds decent, probably a good choice to have.
  • Flute – Another great choice.  I use this often.
  • Human Voice – A terrible instrument.  It sounds cool , and I’m sure the kids loved it, but it isn’t really useful for playing music.  Mostly because it has this repeating echo loop. Had they given a constant tone like somebody singing, that might have been better.
  • Synth Drums – Suffers from the same problem as human voice – It has a terrible echo, so it is hard to use it for anything, although I did manage to use it on the Lemmings song (see below)
  • Pipe Organ – Well, I guess it was a decent choice to add, because some people want to play an organ.
  • Jazz Organ – Okay, so they give us 8 instruments and they decide to make two of them an Organ?  Seriously?  Couldn’t they have given us some strings, or bell sounds instead?

So there you have it. Of the 8 instruments they provided, I really only use maybe 4 or 5 of them.  Oh how I wish they would have given us some bell sounds or strings.

So it does have a built in synthesizer.  But my experience is that it is difficult to really create anything useful.  The main problem is no matter what you do, it will always be a modified sine-wave.  You can’t change the waveform at all.   However, I do like the fact you can change the envelope of any sound, including the built in sounds, or even sounds you record yourself.  That comes in handy.

Speaking of sounds you record yourself, surprising this thing has a 1/8″ phone jack for line-input as well as a full sized 1/4″ phone jack for a microphone.