Yamaha SK10 / SK20 / SK30 / SK50D

Yamaha SK10 Image

Yamaha SK-10

Yamaha's SK-series are combo-keyboards with synthesizer, organ, brass and string sections. The SK-10 was the first of the SK-series, released in 1979 - the SK-20, 30 and 50D followed in 1980, and the SK-15 in 1981, possibly as a replacement for the SK-10. The SK-10 is the only one in the series that does not incorporate a synth section, but has organ, brass and string sections that can all be played together for more interesting combinations. Very sturdy casing, 4-octave and fully polyphonic the features also include a leslie simulator, vibrato, attack and sustain rocker switches, a slider for 'brilliance' and a one-octave transpose switch. Not exactly feature-laden, but a lovely string synth sound. Interestingly, they are often referred to as 'analog', but in fact do have a digital section. Its organ has one of the early implementations of Yamaha's FM technology in a very limited form, concurrent with the GS-1/2 development platforms which eventually led to the DX series.

The ORGAN SECTION is available in all the SK series synthesizers. It offers a full range of stop levers from 1' to 16', percussion levers with adjustable decay, and controls for overall sustain, brilliance and decay. This gives you quite a lot to work with in the way of synthesis. The organ's sound is FM based and it sounds very B3 like. You can add a Vibrato and a noisy but good Tremolo to it. Its sound is all about the 70's era rock organ, especially with the Ensemble chorus effect in use. It also has a Leslie-speaker output around back.

The PRESET STRINGS section isn't very sophisticated and offers very limited editing capabilities. It is the string section though, that is worth aquiring this keyboard for. Very similar to the best of the string synths, (such as the Arp Solina/Omni or the Logan String Machine) it has a sound reminiscent of the opening of 'Oxygene' (J-M Jarre) or the lead line from 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' (Joy Division).

Yamaha SK-20 Image

Yamaha SK-20

The SK20 adds the POLY-SYNTH SECTION: a 7-note polyphonic synthesizer with basic filter, pitch, envelope, and portamento controls. It features two (detuneable) oscillators per voice so it's good for thick pads. It lacks any bite whatsoever and, even in normal attack mode, has way too slow an envelope to be used for any bass or percussion sounds. But, the pads and strings you can get certainly shine and glitter like Bowie a-la Ziggy Stardust (especially when layered with the Strings section). It's like a good entry-level synthesizer. Basic and simple LFO, filters and ADSR envelopes. It has a built-in sustain and the Tremolo and Ensemble chorus effect also apply to this section.

Yamaha SK30 Image

Yamaha SK-30

The SK30 (weighing in at over 90 lbs.) and SK50D also feature a SOLO SYNTHESIZER SECTION which is a single VCO driven mono-synth similar to a Roland SH-101. It has basic pitch, waveform, filter, volume, envelope generator and portamento functions. Its resonant filter isn't great and can't be driven into self-oscillation. The keyboard's after-touch can control the vibrato, tremolo, and brilliance effects. You can effectively play leads in the solo section while simultaneously playing chords in the string, organ or poly-synth sections.

Yamaha SK50D Image

Yamaha SK-50D

The SK50D adds the Bass section as well as an additional second keyboard stacked above the other! The BASS SECTION provides an independent set of tone generators and controls for a deep, rich organ bass sound. It has its own set of stop levers, as well as sustain and brilliance controls.

All the different sections of the SK synths can be layered and stacked via the slider bars. You use the slider bars as a mixer to set the individual volume for each section. All sections have their own separate audio outs (though a mix out is also available). A great thing for live performances is the split keyboard mode. That way you can have, for example, a very nice, punchy bass sound from the synth section and a lead sound coming from the organ or solo sections. Although it has no patch memory, there are push buttons for instantaneous selection of organ, poly-synth and string preset sounds; there are three presets in each section. It also, has no arpeggiator or sequencer, and lacks MIDI. But it's cheap, easy to use, has a nice sound, full 61-note keyboard, and classic wooden panels. The SK's have been used by The Constantines, DJ Logic, Sigur Ros, and Ben Wa.

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52 Visitor comments
Peke
June 10, 2011 @ 4:17 pm
Price in europe 300-500 euro. I have Sk-15, and i love it! Very rare. Perfect for progressive rock!
Johannes
June 6, 2011 @ 4:01 am
Sigur Ros used one of these on their first few records and thats good enough for me! :)
( SK-20 )
Longoria
May 30, 2011 @ 7:53 pm
The Sk 30&50 has been used by a popular Mexican band named TamYTex. They have recorded numerous albums and are considered one of the first Mexican bands to use keyboards as their lead instrument. They use samples of this keyboard for live gigs nowadays but still record using the actual keyboard"organ". Their latest recording was in 2010. Incredible how these instruments still hit the radio stations.
Gil
May 25, 2011 @ 1:27 pm
oblique_strat,

as you describes, the SK20 has actually only one envelpe/VCF for all synth voices. This was usual at that time to save production costs and was often called "paraphonic" (instead of "polyphonic").
Oblique_Strat
May 1, 2011 @ 10:55 am
My ebay SK 20 arrived yesterday. I love the sound of this keyboard. Put stereo FX in front of the strings and there's nothing better for that 70s string synth sound. But mine behaves strangely....

On mine, the first note (of the synth section) steals the envelope generator. If I hold down the first note and start a new note, itr rides along the first note's envelope until the envelope completes. For example, if the first note has a bright attack, all extra polyphony loses its attack until all notes complete. Is that normal or do I need to get mine serviced? Thanks for any advice!
 
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  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 7-voice polysynth and string + Full FM organ + monosynth
  • Oscillators - One VCO, two in polysynth section
  • LFO - One with Sine waveform only (leslie simulator - 2 speed)
  • Filter - Brilliance control, Resonant low-pass 12dB filter (non-self-oscillating)
  • Envelopes - rocker switches for attack and sustain
  • Effects - Vibrato, Tremolo and Ensemble effects for the organ and poly synth string sections.
  • Keyboard - 61 keys (122 keys on SK-50D)
  • Memory - No user memory. 3-preset patches per section.
  • Control - CV-Gate IN/OUT
  • Date Produced - 1979-1980

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