Aug 17

Roland Lucina Synth

Here it is: – the Roland Lucina AX-09 shoulder Synthesizer. OK, so I am in front of a great big mirror, I have put on my 80’s clothes, made my hair look three times bigger than it normally is, picked up a guitar strap, attached it to the new Roland Lucina, plugged her in and switched her on. I must say I like the name of this Synth taken from Greek Mythology. Roland say that they have selected the name Lucina from the Goddess of Birth. They are hoping that this little beauty will inspire a new generation of children to become synthesiser players. I thought I would put Lucina through her paces to determine whether or not it was a serious instrument, a kid’s toy or something that would truly encourage children to start to understand today’s synths and all the fun that it brings to the world of music.

The Lucina AX-09 was introduced by Roland at Musikmesse 2010 as a lighter and cheaper synth than its older brother the Roland AX-Synth. It is known as a KEYTAR and the definition of one of these instruments for those of you that are unfamiliar with this term is that it is “a reasonably lightweight keyboard (sometimes with a built-in synthesizer) that you put around your neck and shoulders with the aid of a strap, just like a guitar. Ketars were used a lot in the 80’s and are now making a bit of a come-back. You will see them being used by artists such as  LADY GAGA, BLACK EYED PEAS, HAWKWIND, MATT BELLAMY (MUSE), IMOGEN HEAP, SNOOP DOG, HUMAN LEAGUE and NO DOUBT. The AX-09 is available in black sparkle or pearl white. It is interesting that most people seem to like the black version; I however think that white stands out so much more on stage and catches the light better. I saw the Human League on stage recently and it looked so good that all of their synths, stands, rack units, drums, the stage itself and their AX-Synth Keytars were all in white. Certainly the Keytars were a great advert for Roland as they screamed out “DON’T YOU WANT ME BABY”

There is an AC adaptor supplied but as this Synth was designed for mobile operation, you will probably want to go for the Battery option. It uses eight Ni-MH AA SIZE Rechargeable batteries and you must not use alkaline or zinc-carbon batteries. The battery life for continuous use is approximately 4 hours.

Roland supply a black strap for this synth which comes with a small pouch attached to it. The obvious use for this is for spare batteries and USB sticks but I am sure people will use it for all sorts of things like chocolate bars and cigarettes etc. The strap can be fitted to two of the three strap pins on the Lucina. Roland’s advice for larger people is that they may find that the most comfortable connection is to both ends using pin A. I however preferred the second connection to be at position B which is just to the right of the modulation Bar. If you fit it in this position you need to twist the strap, this will prevent the strap coming off the pin. The manual and the instructional DVD supplied both include the fitting of the strap. Having put it on, I immediately came to the conclusion that this was no kid’s toy. The Lucina is very lightweight, weighing only 3.7kg (8lbs 3oz); it is just less than 33 inches long (832 mm). With only 37 touch sensitive keys, its size and weight means that all the family could have fun with this – even small children.

Although Roland state they are hoping that this synth will inspire a new generation of children to become synth players, there are no gimmicks or automation on this synth. Children will still need to play keyboards to a level to get the most out of it. As with all Keytars, it certainly encourages the need to play without looking at the keys and therefore is a great training aid. At http://www.roland.com/synth /LucinaLessonBook/ however, there are resources that will certainly help children. For a start there is a free Lucina lesson to download in PDF format. This is a useful colouful starter of 11 pages showing Lucina’s main features, use of the modulation bar, touch controller and d-beam and how to play drums with your fingers. Also (although I have not covered this yet) there are backing tracks to play along to, which can be downloaded, put on a USB stick and played through the Lucina. Lastly there are small sample performance movies (that can be viewed from two different angles) which show sample performances of the lessons in the PDF booklet. For children that would have difficulty using it as a Shoulder Synth, they could simply use it as a tabletop synth in the normal horizontal position. People that wanted to use this keyboard as a MIDI controller could also set it up this way.

The user interface is very easy to use and intuitive. Roland have made some great improvements over their more expensive AX-Synth by having the main controls under the keys instead of above the keys. This layout lends itself for making very fast changes whilst still playing and keeping you left hand on the Touch Controller or Modulation Bar. Whilst I was playing with my right hand, I discovered that I could use my thumb for example to change patches. I quite like the feel of the touch-sensitive keys. You can adjust the keyboard’s sensitivity to either reflect the actual amount of force you use playing or you can set it so that all notes have a uniform fixed velocity regardless of the force you use.

There are 144 quality patches available which are conveniently arranged into categories with a selection pad for each – (1. SYNTHS / PADS)  –  (2. PIANOS /KEYBOARDS)  –  (3. ORGANS / ACCORDIANS)  –  (4. STRINGS / CHOIR)  –  (5. BRASS / WOODWIND)  –  (6. GUITAR / BASS). On top of this there are six cool sounds called “Special Tones” making a total of 150 sounds. These sounds were specifically created for the Lucina AX-09. You just press the “Special Tone” button and the six category buttons have 6 special tones as follows:-  Synth lead, Poly Synth, Synth Bass, Jazz Scat, Violin and Trombone. There is also a favourite A and B buttons and you can assign 12 of your favourites to the 6 category buttons – two on each. If you use this to register the tones, your settings for volume and reverb can also be registered along with the tone selections in the FAVORITE memory locations.  If you want to listen to a Demo of each patch, you can just press the Preview button and a short passage from the selected patch will play. What surprised me was that these 150 patches are available over 128 note polyphony. On this cut down version of a Keytar, I expected a lot less polyphony. I worked my way through the preset sounds and felt that whilst it would not be the 150 that I would choose for my own use, I fully appreciated that Roland were trying to capture the largest audience possible for different styles and genres to ensure there was something for everyone. This is where the Roland AX-Synth wins hands down with 264 sounds but this comes with increased cost. Lucina’s sounds are big and I am sure that when you play Live you could compete with your Guitarist, not only will these sounds cut through the mix but visually you would be right under the spotlight, instead of hiding behind your bulky stack of keyboards.

Looking at the other controls, I thought I would try them out, see what they do and how easy they were to use. There is an Octave button to raise or lower by plus or minus three octaves. I did not find this to be in the best position in terms of when I was soloing but it is not too bad. It is located under the lowest note. Similarly the Transpose Button is a little awkward and in addition needs you to hold it down and press the Octave plus or minus button to raise the keyboard in steps of one semitone. It will go up 6 semitones and down 5 which is quite normal for Roland keyboards. The Shift button is there to be used in conjunction with other buttons for further functionality. I thought the Lock button was a good idea. When you press this you are unable to change patches. This could be used in a Live situation to stop you accidentally changing a patch.

The Touch Controller is great and as I run my finger to the left, it lowers the pitch and to the right it raises the pitch. You can set the pitch range by a number of semitones. By holding the Shift key, as you touch the controller, the current value displays for you to adjust with the plus and minus Octave button. You can do exactly the same with the Modulation Bar to assign effects. Most of Roland Synths have a D Beam Controller and the Lucina is no exception. The D Beam has a motion sensor so that you can control your sounds with the wave of your hand. Below the D Beam you will find three buttons Pitch, Filter and Assignable. With the Assignable button you can assign a MIDI Control Change Number to assign; Modulation, Portamento, Porta Time, Volume, Pan, Expression, Sustain, Resonance, Release Time, Attack Time, Cutoff, Aftertouch, Adlib and Solo for a monophonic Synth.

For greater enjoyment, I connected a CD player to the “External In” jack to play along to, but I quickly changed this to my USB Memory Stick and played along to my favourite mp3s and Wav Files and at the same time had the freedom to walk around the house – awesome fun. All I had to do was hold down the Audio Player Button and the display showed me the first three characters of the filename of the audio file. As I continued to hold down the Audio Player button, I could then press the plus or minus buttons to scroll through my songs. If I was a Solo artist, this could be very useful for creating backing tracks on a PC/Laptop and having a whole set on a USB Stick to play over and Sing along with. If you need a Count-In at the beginning of a performance, you just need to press the Modulation bar whilst pressing the Preview button and you will get a two-measure count-in sounded.

Whilst I played some of the preset patches, I found the need for more Reverb or Resonance on some of the sounds, so I started to look at how and by what I could adjust the sound. The Lucina is set up to change Portamento (Off or On), Portamento Time, Volume, Reverb, Release Time, Attack Time, Cutoff and Resonance. To put more Reverb or Resonance on my current sound, I simply held down the Shift Key and pressed the Tone button. The three character display then showed me the selection – e.g. CUt = Cutoff,  rEr = Reverb and rES = Resonance etc.

Looking at the other connections on this keyboard, it has the standard L and R output quarter inch jacks. The headphone socket is the smaller eighth of an inch stereo jack. There is a MIDI Out connector, so for example you could link up to another sound module for additional sounds but you would need something very small to keep it all portable. And, there is a foot pedal jack for Roland’s DP – Series pedals or expression pedal and a V-Link which allows music and images to be performed together.

To assist you with getting used to the Lucina’s controls, Roland provide a tutorial DVD and a quick guide, along with a handy panel sticker that helps you become quickly familiar with its various functions. I played the DVD and found it to be great at demonstrating the sounds but felt that it could have been a little bit more than just a “Getting Started” DVD. The Manual however is very good. One useful accessory you can buy for the Lucina is its Soft-shell, backpack-style carrying case, which has been specially designed for 37-key instruments such as Roland’s GAIA SH-01 and the Lucina AX-09.

Finally, I decided to try the Lucina out in the dark. The blue lights it emitted looked superb. I just wish Roland would have put more lights on it for stage use, but I suppose it would reduce the battery life.

If you think you are going to be stuck with what to buy the whole family at Christmas, then the Lucina is a great buy and fun for all the family of all ages. If on the other hand this fact puts you off the Lucina, then don’t be, because this is a very serious instrument giving keyboard players the freedom that every good Keytar should at a very reasonable price. Although Kids will love it, it is not a kids toy and the sounds and effects are every bit Roland.

I have enjoyed my brief time with Lucina, she has behaved very well, been great fun, did everything I asked of her and been and ideal companion for those lonely nights when playing “Air” Guitar in my front room just wasn’t doing it for me. You know you are going to love her so buy one today.

10 Responses

  1. Roland AX-Synth Review | Tonylongmusic.co.uk Says:

    […] has got to be the King of the Keytars but with Roland recently producing the younger and smaller LUCINA shoulder synth, I wondered how the two compared and whether the new designs on the LUCINA had […]

  2. Arjan Says:

    [quote]Roland supply a black strap for this synth which comes with a small pouch attached to it. The obvious use for this is for spare batteries and USB sticks but I am sure people will use it for all sorts of things like chocolate bars and cigarettes etc.[/quote]

    The obvious use is actually for wireless MIDI or audio transmitter belt packs.

  3. playboy hard drive Says:

    Thanks for posting this cool article!

  4. tonylongmusic Says:

    Cheers for this. For the Comments I have received have been overwhelming – it seems I must have done a good job on this article. All the Best – Tony

  5. Jesica Says:

    Roland is very excellent to me.

  6. Amos Veitenheimer Says:

    My brother recommended I might like this websiteHe was totally rightThis post actually made my dayYou cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  7. tonylongmusic Says:

    Amos,

    Thanks for your comments, I am glad all of my work has been of some use – All the Best – Tony

  8. MAdams Says:

    Does the power supply charge the rechargable batteries?

  9. tonylongmusic Says:

    Hi, As far as know , no it does not.
    Cheers
    Tony

  10. Paul White Says:

    Only problem with the USB stick backing tracks the current sound volume being played is not adjustable “live” i.e. without going into the settings. So a mismatch between backing track volume and patch volume can occur. Otherwise is great and I am sitting in all over the place with it. LOL

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