The Pros and Cons of Legacy MIDI Music Gear

For bedroom composers and aspiring producers all over the world, the online marketplace has made it possible to add second-hand legacy MIDI music gear to our arsenals “for a song”. There is an upside and a downside to this revolution made possible mostly by eBay and Craigslist – not to mention Harmony Central before them.


The upside is price, or rather the savings. Hardware synths circa 2003 from the major manufacturers (Roland, Yamaha and Korg) can be scored for 25% of their retail prices when they were new. Some sounds are subject to being dated, but for the most part they still sound amazing. My preference is for 128 voice synths exclusively from here on.


The downside is USB support and development, or rather the cessation of development. While the MIDI specification is over thirty years old and not going anywhere, more ports and advanced features are available only with USB, like sample loading to hardware synths from your computer. I spent hours wrestling with a driver for Windows 8 to learn from Roland’s site that Windows 8.1 for the Fantom-XR is no longer supported.

I can only speculate why support would stop: allocating resources to support new OS versions of USB on legacy hardware devices isn’t practical. Manufacturers have an interest in selling their latest models at full MSRP prices.

This lack of support caused me to do the unthinkable when Yamaha returned a TG-55 that failed as “no longer supported”. I was willing to pay for repair for this workhorse; the unthinkable act was that it went out in the trash.


If you have the opportunity to trot out some older computers to pair with legacy music hardware, this is a route to take. In my case a circa 2003 Mac Powerbook fits the bill nicely. This did the trick when I was eager to explore drag-and-drop audio files for the sampling feature of Roland’s Fantom XR, my latest addition (and believe me, it was far from a drag-and-drop workflow but that may be the topic of another post).

To their credit, the big three manufacturers almost always keep legacy drivers available for an older OS like Mac 10.4. If this is not an option, the appeal of the savings on legacy gear is diminished. While still viable due to the MIDI standard, the advanced features and multiple ports available via USB are not available if your new OS isn’t supported any longer.

Fender Bass: Acquired

Fender Bass: AcquiredI don’t think, deep down, I am the type of person known for contradiction.

Okay; maybe I am. No, I’m not.

Certainly not to the extent where you may know or work with someone who is a chronic contradictor. I like to think that I am open to hearing all sides and changing my stance on any given subject.

That said, despite my recent pastime of tire-kicking in Guitar Center for the big year-end “Gift to Me”, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on an eBay item that clearly no one was interested in. I remember years ago a guitarist mildly chastising me for purchasing an instrument online that I couldn’t first have in my hands with “you wouldn’t marry someone without dating first?”, but when it comes to Fender’s American made guitars and basses, they are well made and hold their value if not abused.

And yes, it is used. I am completely okay with that. Why shouldn’t I save a couple of hundred dollars when someone’s spouse decrees “thin the herd”? Because my daughter thinks it’s icky?

The only emotional downside is that I find from the rare occasion of buying full retail off-the-shelf is that that instrument feels more like “mine”, having had no previous owner. I’m more inclined to keep her than to flip it, like others that have come and gone from the kind of detachment when the instrument had previous owner(s).

I could go on about how 24 hours after paying online – not a single email from the seller, but I noticed in the past big sellers on eBay don’t feel the need to keep in touch (“What are you worried for? This is what we do all day”) like the casual eBayers.

After fresh strings and likely a pearloid pickguard replacement (I always wanted one of those!) to stamp it as mine, likely debut is Sept. 22 with Native New Yorker at our favorite place: Tenampa Mexican in Croton, NY.


I Love Private Parties

One of the criticisms I’ve heard around here is that I don’t share enough about who I am, or what I do for fun. There are are bunch of reasons for that:

  • My musical hobby will probably never make its way into the comic. Why not? Guitars are too hard/time-consuming to draw.
  • Byron was already weaving music into 1977 deeply, so I thought that was already done.
  • Really, how much more do you need to know about me? All my thoughts are in every panel.

Nonetheless, I want to blog a little more and I’m too swamped to start one elsewhere. Let’s get back into it.

I’m playing tonight with Native New Yorker at an outdoor private party in Peekskill NY. Private parties feed you better than bar/restaurant gigs as well offering earlier hours. The gig tonight is kind of bittersweet (ugh, I have never seen that word used where it doesn’t make me throw up in my mouth a little) because, for the time being – it is my last on six-string guitar. Don't Stop - Fleetwood MacI’m the bass player but volunteered to cover when our “real” guitar player was away on business all summer.

On a different note (yes, puns a’plenty around here) I have begun shopping for a new axe which will be added to the arsenal at the year end. Why is this interesting? When you are married with kids it becomes very difficult to simply drop $1,500 on a well made American instrument. Since it is green-lighted, you can bet I’m going to enjoy the tire-kicking.

Here is a pic of yesterday’s outing. While the Fender American Precision once occupied a place in my arsenal I traded it for the above-pictured Strat. I kind of regret that trade and have been pining to replace it. After about twenty minutes of running it through the paces, I currently question the inclination to replace something that I once deemed trade-worthy. The neck is kind of fat and makes playing any fast passages difficult. Great Motown sound, though. Have to give props to Alto Music for the unprecedented experience of pulling an instrument off the rack that was actually in tune.Fender Precision AMerican Standard

See you soon!