Wednesday, November 24, 2004


The Juno series of synthesizers from Roland were a beloved bunch. The Juno 6, Juno 60, the Alpha Junos, and of course (my favorite) the Juno 106. Basically an update of the 60, with an improved MIDI spec, it was my first synthesizer. I was 15; it was about 6. We both grew up together.

The Juno was my introduction to subtractive synthesis, essentially the dominant form of synthesis for many decades. The idea is simple-an oscillator creates a waveform, which is then sent to filters to remove sections of the sound (hence subtractive). Add a low frequency oscillator (all the better to make it pulse, my dear), some resonance controls (warp the shape of that wave around the filter's cutoff point and hear some weird sounds), an envelope (how does that sound change over time? Let me count the ways. Four-attack, sustain, decay, and release, available to both the volume and the filter). A suboscillator (a square wave tuned an octave down, mix in to taste) and a nice little noise generator (ah, the wind, the waves!). A five octave keyboard, pitch bend, portamento (s l i d e), and even two types of noisy chorus. Heaven!

The manual was great too. It read like it'd been translated from the Japanese to, maybe, Russian, then back to Japanese and then to English. I read and re-read it many times, and there are still some sections I'm not sure of.

But the beauty of this synth was (and still is) the sliders. Grab one and move it, the sound changes, and if you pay just a little attention you'll quickly learn just what the heck is going on. Every function had one slider, every button did one thing. Try to wrap your head around a digital synth with one slider and an LED display and you'll know what I mean. The Yamaha DX7 might have been the best selling synth of all time, but I probably created more of my own sounds with the Juno than a hundred DXers did with their instruments. It was the ultimate teaching tool.

But what of the sound? Well, it was one of the last analog synths Roland made, and it still sounds great and holds its own. The Juno went through a resurgence of popularity when techno took off, because its filters were cool and it made great bass sounds, which could be warbled and twisted live and with little effort. Plus, every slider move on the front panel can be recorded via MIDI, making it a great tool for complex filter sweeps and sound manipulation in real time, all of which could be stored on a sequncer and recreated exactly. By holding down two buttons it can be placed in monophonic mode, which stacks all six voices, a truly thick sound.

I used it to play "Tom Sawyer" in my high school band. Coupled with a set of MIDI pedals, it made me feel just like Geddy Lee, except I was a 16 year old American. It could do a rough "Jump" sound, and "The Final Countdown" was just a few buttons away.

The Juno 106's are still out there, still getting passed around from player to player, still affordable, still very cool. If you have the means, I'd highly recommend picking one up. But you can't have mine. I'm never lettin' it go.


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