Find a friendly leprechaun, and you might get a deal on a Roland AX-7 keytar like this, which is apparently now ridiculously hot. Just don’t go to your Guitar Center, because Roland thought you didn’t them any more. Photo: Bombardier, via Flickr.

I love you, Roland. I really do. But it has to be said:

You’re completely clueless when it comes to the coolest things you’ve ever made.

And if an ordinary keyboard with a silly guitar-style body and shoulder strap can be cool, I’m not sure I can even blame you. You just have to listen to the people.

People love their 303, their 808, even their 909. Yet when these a whole generation of kids desperately wanted you to just re-release these things — or your Jupiter, or Juno, any of your other fantastic keyboards and sound toys of yesteryear — you’ve responded with souped-up, “modernized” versions that mainly share only the name.

But most importantly, you killed the keytar (the awesome, infrared-equipped AX-7) just before everyone decided they really had to have one. So, every week, I hear from people wanting them, just because of I mentioned the keytar in a random post back in April 2005.

Ironically, then, I said, the Keytar Lives. And it does, more than ever — just not in your catalog.

In comments, people sound desperate, hungry — sometimes even poetic. (They sing to the keytar, in Spanish, “ESTOS INSTRUMRNTOS SON GENIALES…..YO TENGO UNO Y LO RECOMIENDO, EL NIVEL DE EXPRESIVIDAD EN VIVO CON ESTA JOYITA ES INCREIBLE….”) Pure poetry.

It’s driven the AX-7 prices sky-high on eBay, though some cheaper items remain of lesser-known and older models. The really lucky people get theirs for fifteen bucks at a yard sale from people who don’t know better.

But why not new units, if they’re this popular? Yamaha — I hope you’re listening, too. Korg? How about a nice, cheap CME version with motorized faders and some band dumping paint on it?

But Don’t Take My Word For It

Take the Times. No, not the New York Times or LA Times – the Times, as in London. The one that gave us Times New Roman.

Above: &y photographs the official keytard. Top right: jumping keytar by the excellent Pianisimo.

Commenter Kent Sandvik, at least, notes the irony and sends this link in:

Why the keytar’s the star again [Times Online]
Long dismissed as hopelessly naff, the keytar is enjoying a comeback. Our correspondent tunes in

YouTube trawlers are almost as keen on You be my Wife, a recent duet between the Croatian keytarist Belinda Bedekovic and, er, the comedy Kazakhstani Borat. That Sacha Baron Cohen chose the keytar for his leotard-clad, culturally wayward creation pretty much sums up the instrument’s irredeemably naff reputation.

It’s something of a surprise, then, to be attending the 1234 Festival in thoroughly hip Shoreditch, East London, and to discover a keytar in the hands of one of the headlining bands. Pete Cafarella, front-man of the New York dance duo Shychild, agrees to talk me through the instrument that is now being used by acts including Chromeo, Mutemath, Goldfrapp, Imogen Heap and Peaches . It also features in the video for the recent Beyoncé single Green Light.

I don’t even know what “naff” means (I’m using context clues to work it out), and I’m impressed at that comeback. They quote my editor at Keyboard, Ernie Rideout, as someone with his finger on the pulse on what’s hot in keyboards. (Okay, granted, the last conversation I had with Ernie was about slick new ways of miking pianos and what tuning options were on Roland’s digital harpsichord, but at least  pretend all of us are uberhipsters.)

Yes, it’s true. The keytar hasn’t been this hot since Jem featured The Misfits’ keytarist, Stormer.

Actually, you know, don’t listen to me. It’s probably discontinuing the keytar that gave it underground cred. Maybe those digital harpsichords will become really hot after they’re discontinued.

In the meantime, I say to my fellow keyboards, we’ll just have to find another solution. Keyboardists can be awesome without using any kind of strap on their shoulder. I swear. They’re easier to play just on a stand or whatever.

Erm, and … uh … Beyonce’s gotten one, so keytars have officially jumped the shark. So you can get out of the bidding war we’re stuck in at the moment on eBay, friends.

Don’t … touch … any eBay items.

 


PS — Yes, I realize a keytar is nothing but a keyboard with guitar envy. And since I love keyboards too much to envy guitars (or french horns, or lots of other instruments), that seems silly to me, too.

I still mean what I said to Roland. ;)

  • http://www.myspace.com/cousinthrockmorton Cousin Throckmorton

    Keytars are never cool. Even when played with extreme irony. That guy in the picture jumping? He's jumping so that his head is out of frame; even youth can't make a keytar non-embarrassing.

    Look, keyboard players got all of the cool advancements that guitar players never did… what's the Minimoog of the guitar world? Now just take your place behind your large stack of glowing non-keytar keyboards and stare at the rest of the band's arses with the drummer, OK?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Ha!

    Cousin, I think I'm framing that quote on my wall. ;)

  • http://www.jchot.com J-chot

    I bought a shs 10 at a salvation army for 8$

    (in box with papers)

    I sold it on ebay for 380$.

    I Love keytars.

  • http://www.kentsandvik.com Kent Sandvik

    I tried to find a feedback email address at the roland web site, to send in a couple of emails asking them to re-issue AX-7, alas could not find anything. If any if you have such an address, please share.

    I will do my part and also post on the blogosphere articles about why Roland didn't continue with this excellent product, or then if some other vendor that wants to make money could pick up where Roland left off.

  • http://www.straightpunchtothecrotch.com Billy Hunt

    I customized my AX-7 with an internal wireless midi controller and a gun that shoots flash paper (seriously). It is the best instrument ever. Shooting flames out of your keytar while you use the infared beam to make it squeal like a pig makes the girls want you, and the men want to be you.

  • dead_red_eyes

    That's some hilarious shit Billy.

  • http://www.myspace.com/argonthelostelement Ashlin
  • http://madpla.net aragoto

    Worse still, have you seen this — a keytar that takes the origin of the word a little too literally. Essentially a guitar with keys instead of frets. Looks awkward and highly uncool.

  • Luddy

    I bought a brand-new AX-7 in China a couple months ago directly from Roland, for normal retail price.

    They're considered a girl band instrument over here. I wasn't told that until after I bought it. Already one girl band has asked me to borrow it.

    I think I'll hold onto it.

  • http://shanekingweb.com Shane King

    I've been really bummed out that nobody makes this style of keyboard any more. (I reject the name however as I pointed out in my blog posting the other day) I recently wrote to Novation asking them to make one.

    I have a Casio AZ-1 and love the thing. Plus unlike the Roland it has aftertouch. And yes, they can be tacky but they don't have to be. I use it for more than half of the songs in my set because I'm a solo performer and I'm very active on stage. I don't like being confined behind a keyboard the whole time and want to prove that electronic music doesn't have to suck live.

    And I swear I use it well…

  • jake707

    I saw Herbie Hancock rocking a keytar live from the third row a couple of months ago, and there was nothing dorky about it. Of course he could probably play D&D with a Barbie doll onstage and not look dorky…

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  • velocipede

    I agree with Shane, Novation could make a great keytar version of the X-station.

    I dunno about motorized faders, but a few endless encoders could go a long way.

    My ideal version would have a built in VA and one audio input for a headset-style microphone. Make the whole thing wireless for some serious keytardism!

  • Rozling

    Rabble!

    And while you're at it Roland, please fix the g*ddam mod wheel expression bar squeeze thing so it outputs CCs with linearity, damn you! (and aftertouch would be nice, oh & integrated wireless & an AXYZ instead of d-beam KTHX KTHXBYE).

    Actually on wireless MIDI, does anybody honestly believe that that technology was invented for anything other than keytars? Let's face it, they are the future. Let's just roll with it. Anyone for an online petition to Roland?

    I have to admit I originally bought one for a) the dork factor and b) for portability. I considered it slightly excessive/unnecessary at the time but now I would never sell my AX-7, not because of the increased value (I see one of those ebay items is currently at $909 – that's just cynical) but because they're fun to play. I've got funny looks bringing one for my first jam with a band, but ended up sitting down and playing it lap-steel style facing the group, which let me have much better interaction with them & made for a better jam. The battery power helps a lot with that as well, just one less thing to worry about.

    Most of the time when playing it at home I have it slung down to my right so I'm not even looking at the keys & find myself playing in a more 'scalar' way if that makes any sense. In summary, I <3 this keyboard.

    In other keytar-spotting news, check out the extra features of the Blades of Glory DVD, Will Ferrel rocks an AX-7 (which from recollection actually sounds like it's hooked up to a synth in the room as opposed to overdubbed) on a song he 'wrote' entitled… Blades of Glory. Good stuff.

  • http://myspace.com./k1ru k1Ru

    oh damnnn…

    keytars win. it's all a mobility issue is what it comes down to. if you want to rock that one guy watching your minimalist idm audio/visual performance, that's what you do..rock your keytar with your shoes off, so the crowd of -1 can enjoy the smell and the sight of the white socks you've had since high school :P …(j/k) (electronicxs scene in AZ sux).

    long live the keytar! i love them :)

  • http://www.handontheplow.org Spandex

    "It's not a gitboard, it's a keytar"

  • RingMod

    Oh please dear god NO!!! The keytar is lame, lame, lame, HELLA LAME. No amount of kissing Roland's ass will change this (and, kissing Roland's ass: WTF?). Simply put, a keytar cannot EVER be cool in the same way that you can't travel faster than the speed of light.

    Now, one could be acceptable playing a keytar (the aforementioned Herbie Hancock and, uh, well…I run out of names after that), but let's face it: the only reason to play a keytar in the first place is to participate in stupid guitar-player-wanking-away-in-a-stadium-show histrionics. And I haven't thought that was anything remotely approaching "cool" since I was roughly 17 years old.

    I'm pretty sure I won't find any dudes doing shred guitar versions of Rick Wakeman solos, but there are plenty of tools on Youtube covering EVH solos with their keytars. And the only thing worse than that is the carloads of tools who leave comments about how "awesome" it is! Ugh.

    Okay, I'll stop hatin' now. But seriously, the only thing that comes close to keytars and cool in the same space is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1mV_5-bRPo

  • http://www.thisisnotalabel.com Evan

    Wow. I would love to see a reissue of the original Juno, or 808, but you are totally wrong about the keytar thing. Keytars are, and always will be lame. I wrote a huge rebuttal for this article over on my site: Keytars are Still Lame

  • http://www.thisisnotalabel.com Evan

    Oh, speaking of the Juno, there's a great free Juno VST that some people may be interested in: U-NO 60

  • kobe
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/suicideserver SuicideServer

    100% agreed. Roland really f***ed up pretty much everything. The released the best electronics (101/202/303/808/909) and then as everybody wanted it they did crappy remixes of the real stuff. I have no idea how many hours i was talking about this stuff on techno party. Everybody understands that all they need to do is rerelease it and many people would be happy and they could make loads of money. This is one of the miracles i will never understand….

  • http://www.casionova.org/ CasioNova

    *ahem* personally I abhor the term 'keytar'. They are for me always have been and always will be:

    Strap On Keyboards

    or for brevity,

    Strap Ons

    Nothing guitar about them, for heavens sake even hurdy gurdys are worn the same way, we don't call strap on keyboards hurdyboards?

    I am a believer in strap ons for one reason: it hastens the demise of the worlds most boring musical equipment accessory: the keyboard stand. ever tried to get a bus/tram/train to the gig with yer keys, effects AND stands? if it straps on that means one less thing to lug!

    want a strapon? – just go to your local guitar emporium and buy the doohickeys, drill a couple of holes into your keyboard and bolt in said doohickeys (use quicklok to save the embarrasment of strap failure).

  • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    Would a Haken Continuum-tar be cool?

  • http://shaneking.com Shane King

    CasioNova,

    I'm with you, I abhor the term as well. The 'k' word is a pejorative to me and connotes everything tacky done with them. But nobody dismisses the guitar as an instrument because of all the crap guitar based music. Well, nobody other than me. I have no guitar envy. I have no guitars in my music. I need no guitars in my music.

    The biggest problem with adding a strap to just any keyboard is the lack of mod wheels where you can really use them.

  • http://notasueltas.wordpress.com algarcia

    i didnt know you could speak (write) spanish here! i've been alwasy very curious about keytars since i was a kid (ok, about 10 years ago maybe).

    i friend of mine (girl) owns one, brand new, barely used. can't tell if it was casio or yamaha, don't remember since i havent seen it a while but after reading this article I think I might find a way to take it from her. thru an arrangement, of course!

    the roland keytar on the picture looks great, yet the best keytar i've seen. i mean it looks old but better than 80s. actually all keytars have some kinda of an 80s look, but the ax7 looks a little bit newer, lets say 1995?

    I wonder why no one has ever mad a USB midi keytar controller. if m-audio decided to add to their catalogue a 24-45 keys midi keytar, with USB and MIDI out they will sell them right away! just a freaking controller. they should, so we wouldnt have to beg roland to keep making the ax7 (whick is unavailable everywhere)

    i also play guitar, and i must admit it's really nice to move onstage while playing live. still, my main instrument is keyboards, so is not really possible to move around while playing, though i;ve been able to perform REALLY nice solos lately by routing some lead synths to my M-Audio O2 (thx to my gf).

    todos a votar, hacer una carta abierta a maudio, edirol, roland… para que hagan buenos controladores estilo keytar! saludos!

  • TJ

    Hey look! My AX-7 is selling for TWICE what I paid for it, and I already *used* it 5 years.

    Sherman! set the Wayback! we're goin back for *more* keytars!

  • ben kessler
  • E. Robert Frank

    If people really wanted wireless MIDI controllers then M-Audio wouldn't have discontinued the MidAir 25 and MidAir 37.

  • http://myspace.com/k1ru k1Ru

    coachella last year..Peaches! one of her performers was rocking one 'keyboard guitar super awesome unit'..she was playing some phatass monophonic bass on it…i'm telling you..you can still rock one, with some stomp boxes, you'd be set!!

  • Rozling

    @ Ben Kessler – that must be the world's first instrument to incorporate an actual ass. How Daliesque…

  • http://www.kentsandvik.com Kent Sandvik

    I don't really care if it looks cool or dorky when you play on a keytar.

    I was looking at a keyboard player taking out his keyboard and the rest of his set after a jam session — felt sad about his back. Imagine instead if we just took in a keytar and let's say a MacBookPro with Mainstage and let's say an Apogee Duet, directly plugged into a PA.

    Yes, you can't usually play with both hands, but then again in jam sessions it's not that important.

  • http://www.kentsandvik.com Kent Sandvik

    Actually, my MacBookPro has really good audio output, so I don't think even a Duet is needed! The Novation angle is good, I will send them an email.

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  • Oxymoron

    @j_chot, LOL. I also ebayed my 20-year old SHS-10 for double (unadjusted, though) what I paid brand new. I was glad to be rid of it, honestly.

  • http://djsarepersons.blogspot.com premini

    Keytars, when the uncool becomes cool.

    Dear Roland, I don't know who's your marketing guy but he needs to buy a computer and check out ebay. ANALOG: that's what people wants.

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  • http://www.otherpeoplestzuris.com n

    I knew it! I've been saying the keytar is back for the last year or so.

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  • http://www.kentsandvik.com Kent Sandvik

    I sent an email to Novation asking for this product. M-Audio might or might not be interested, but I think they got chicken after the introduction of the wireless keyboard controller that they are now dumping (at least on Guitar Center.).

  • DJ

    Keytars rock no matter what slashing, mud hurdling, lifeless fools say. Keytars are on the rise. We SHALL see them again my fellow faithful KEYTARISTS! Oh and by the way, if you know where to get a keytar besides ebay, let me know.

  • Isgorathe

    Check out these and then try telling me that keytars aren't cool:

    http://www.zenriffer.com

  • jimbo

    I've played keyboards in bands my whole life…wurlitzer electric piano, Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes, Clav, Mini Moog, every synth that was ever built (I still have my OBXa, mini, Emulator, Profit 5 and several more.) It wasn't until I got my first keytar last year that I unleashed the real power of expression on the keyboards. Having pitch bend and mod available on the left hand without stupid wheels is the BEST!!!! I now have four Roland keytars. I have custom paint jobs and they don't look so dorky…however the biggest thing is the left hand expression. I also use a breath controller for my Yamaha woodwind module (with Patchman sounds) and it absolutely kills! People can't believe the sounds I get out of that keytar…and I can switch between screaming electric guitar (thru a POD) and sax by just stepping on a pedal…how great! I also use it as an accordion. I still use my Roland VK8 for B3, and electric and acoustic piano, so I can have two hands, but even for those I have my programs set up on the AX-7, since it is so easy to change programs with…also the transpose is easy to use and I can instantly get songs in keys I love to play in—and out of the keys that are less natural for a keyboard player (yeah, it's cheating, but so what?) I still hunt Craigslist all around the country and will keep buying them when I find them. Keytars Rock!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://hotmail.com Seirra

    Evan is the best keytar player in the world and all of you know it he is really auper hott 2!!! i can't believe some people they trash the keytar. they just don't know what music is thats all!!!!!!!! ~Seirra~

  • http://hotmail.com samantha

    EVAN IS REALLY HOTT!!!!!!!

    LOVE SAMMY

  • http://www.promethium61.tk XM8500

    Hello all, XM8500 here: I saw this post and decided that it was right for what you're about to see. We're bringing the keytar back as never before, DESTROYING the decade of emberassment woven into the fabric of it's existence. You won't believe your ears…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bH_jmRefAXE

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  • Keytars Are Awesome

    Why don't you just do an online petition for roland to bring back the keytar ;P

  • http://teensatriskband Gleiber Pinho

    Roland and other are stupid. they should release one Keytar exactly like guitarrists do.

    Plug it in pedals. The pedals are the modules. ex: one pedal sound strings, another pedal sounds distorcion guitar, another one sounds brass etc. this instrument is only for one hand exactly like guitar. I play guitar (very well) and nobody can deny, right hand in guitar is only to pick the strings (dont get sound).

    Stupid factories and engeniers.

  • http://teensatriskband.com KreecMor

    Heyy Roland Seriously!!… U dnT kNow How muCh Profit and MOney ur putin down how many ppl will go buy a Keytar… cus u guys are the only ones that actually know how to make them!!…SO cOme On PLEASE!!!…

  • asahartz

    They might have been a bit naff in the 80s, but people are finding cool ways to use them now. My 14 year-old daughter came back from the Bloodstock metal festival wanting one after she'd seen a band using them; I now have the job of trying to find a suitable one for her.

    Tonight I watched Queen & Paul Rodgers live, and even they have one.

    Behringer have brought out a strap-on, it's inexpensive, but it doesn't have a left-hand extension with pitch shift or expression or anything. But being Behringer they have clearly spotted a market and these things are difficult to get hold of!

    I really do wish the big boys would take note and bring out a proper keytar at a realistic price again!

  • http://tilseptmeber.com Bruce

    OK, so I'm in my 40s and playing classic rock covers in the local bars – maybe not the coolest guy to some of you younguns- BUT the keytar is a great way to get out from behind that stack of keyboards and rock up front with guitarists and sing and be seen. My lead singer also plays keys and I'm using his AX-7 and having a great time!

    Yes, I wish Roland would put these back in production. Color choices would be nice, but that would be asking too much :) and perhaps a wireless foot pedal for sustain and perhaps wireless midi – yea, right! LOL

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  • wes

    Keytars rock..end of story

  • Jim

    I know, I'm late to this party. I've had an AX-7 for a few years now but haven't used it much. I think the reason people think they look dorky has more to do with the player than the AX. Keyboardists, have never excelled in stage presence the way guitarists have because they have always had a rig to hide behind. If you had a keytarist that was as engaging as most rock god guitarists, and they weren't constantly looking down at the AX trying to tweak a patch, it's totally possible to look as "cool" as a guitarist.

    And even if you don't look as cool… so what? Buck the tradition. Be different!