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MGR/Anonymous 12/31/2002

Roland VA-76 : MGR/Anonymous's user review

« Roland VA 76 Intelligent Arranger »
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I purchased this unit online from LM Music located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Its not a product they normally carry, however, my good customer status inspired them to go the extra mile to get what I wanted.      I have been using a Roland G800 intelligent Arrangerfor the past 7 years to the point where it is
physically falling apart, the case screws are stripped, the floppy disk is inoperable as well
as a few intermittent circuitry problems born of extreme road use and southern humidity.
I live near the ocean in Savannah GA...need I say more? The bottom line is that the
keyboard is ready for pasture, not to mention that it is totally exciting to buy the latest
and greatest piece of gear available!
        With all the luscious choices to choose from, I would suggest it to be a true
product endorsement that I would end up purchasing another Roland Intelligent Arranger.
I tried the Kurzweil PC2, the Roland Fantom, Korg Tritons, Karmas you name it, I
looked into it. While all the above mentioned keyboards all shine marvelously in their
own way, they all seemed to fall short for my needs.
        Now remember, I have been using a G800, which is no slouch of a keyboard in
and of itself. It was truly designed for a one man performer such as myself. When I first
began using the instrument, I snorted in disdain at a few features that I would not be
caught dead using. As an old school keyboardist programmer, there was just something
wrong with using those built-in backing tracks. In my mind, they couldn't possibly be
good enough if I hadn't spent endless hours programming it. But as time wore on, I
realized those backing tracks were not as hokey as I had predetermined. I began to
incorporate them into the act. The audience had no problem dancing to them, so what
was my hang-up? Was it really necessary to go gray in the studio just to stick to my worn
out policy of using self-produced tracks only? Suddenly I felt a weight being lifted off my
shoulders an angelic voice reassured me it was OK. We have the technology...NOW
USE IT! And use it I did! I've had more fun with that keyboard than anything else in the
past, and so it only made sense to build on what I already know works. The Roland VA76
is the winner, hands down! Oh yeah, if you want to buy it, L&M Music will ask you for $2,495.00

Forgive me for making comparisons to the VA 76s predecessor, the G800, but I
was in awe of the sound quality 7 years ago. The sounds coming out of the VA 76 now are
stellar! I suspect there are some true piano aficionado's who will complain about the
piano samples, but I personally think they are fine for what I do. The Rhodes sounds are
voluptuously sexy and the organs are absolutely fantastic. I thought I was going to be
happy with the organs in the Kurzweil PC2, but if it is at all possible, the sounds are too
authentic for my likes. The Kurzweil offers only one effect option for the organ sounds,
which is the Leslie, duh. I happen to like my organs awash in a sea of reverb, an
occasional delay along with a full burbling Leslie. Also, the PC2 does not like to share
it's organ architecture with its piano sounds. You can combine them, but one or the other
will suffer in sound quality. Not so with the VA 76. The VA 76 allows you to color things
any way you like. Add a little Intelligent Harmony voicings and you're in Organ Heaven.
And there some sax sounds that drip with airy spit, and guitars that actually sound like a
guitar!
        So far I haven't bonded with the Vari Phrase feature, but like anything new, it
will take some time before I wake up and smell the coffee. There are some excellent new
Styles which totally refreshes the whole instrument. The Jazz Scat is a blast to mess
around with, although I don't see a real use for it at a gig, other than cocktails. None the
less, I like that it is there. There are some excellent "unplugged" styles, one of which
faithfully recreates the acoustic feel of Claptons If I Saw You In Heaven. And there
are some very spicy Latin rhythms that will wake you out of your siesta, gringo or no! I
suppose I could go on and on, there is so much to like. Oh yeah, what are you supposed
to do with the ribbon controller? And the DBeam. And the Aftertouch? And the
Modulation Lever? With so many possibilities, you can just go crazy with this board!!

OK, OK, we all love our knobs and buttons. My G800 is loaded with them. The
VA76, I must say, has been scaled back in the knob department. There are 2 buttons on
the G800 that I use all the time. They are the Fill buttons, one is a fill to the Original
pattern and the other is a fill to the Variation pattern. During a verse, which normally
uses the Original pattern, I will often hit the to Original fill button as a mid-verse
turnaround. Roland has reduced this feature on the VA 76 to 1 fill button. If I want the
fill to go back to the Original pattern, I am forced to hit the button twice. The problem is,
if you dont get the timing just right, you're in for a surprise. In a few frantic attempts to
do a double push, I've made the button get physically stuck; the fill plays over and over
until I jiggle it loose. I don't like when problems like this arise so early in the game. I am
hoping that if I purchase the FC-7 floor pedal my fill options will go back to what I am
used to. Speaking of pedals, the VA 76 does not come with a sustain pedal. There is a
slick looking music stand, but the chances of my actually using it is slim to none. I would
much rather a sustain pedal, wouldnt you?

        In all fairness, it should be pointed out that although knobs and buttons are
missing, none of the actual synth functions have been removed (whew!). The touch
sensitive screen does a great job of gluing it all together, so far. I really have not had the
instrument to a high pressure gig yet. Only then will I know how intuitive and well laid
out the unit truly is, but so far I have no reason to doubt it, it is more about my ability to
overcome the learning curve of such an intriguing instrument.

Time will tell just how well that touch sensitive screen will hold up under the
duress of constant road wear. Also one weakness that all my Roland keyboards have
displayed over the years is the need to clean the contacts. They are good for about 2
years, then one day you will hit a key and it will blast out at full velocity. This indicates
that dirt and grime has made its way into the contacts. I have performed this cleaning
procedure myself about 30 times. Its not a highly technical job, just time consuming,
which is why repair shops will charge a ton for this service. I keep hoping that Roland
will address this problem one day. I have a Korg 01W that I purchased in 1992 that has
been through the same torture as my Roland G800 and the Korg is essentially
non-problematic in all areas. Seeing as how the VA 76 is constructed pretty much the
same as its predecessor, I suspect I will be performing surgery in 2 years or so. I just hope
the floppy disk holds up and the case screws dont strip too soon. In all honesty, I was
using a lousy case and after a long hot gig would often just jam the board anywhere it
would fit in the back of the truck. Getting bounced around on top of a wheel well
probably is not recommended. I promise to take better care of the VA 76!

OK, this board covers a LOT of ground. I was very close to buying a Fantom, but
the reality is that I am one those clowns who actually uses sound effects on stage! I get a
real kick out of playing a Polka, then suddenly stop dead, do a few Karate punches, then
resume playing. Its always good for a few laughs. Now with the Vari Phrase feature, I
can make the thing talk, or scream, or whatever! I can see some real possibilities on the
horizon.
        On the other hand, this keyboard costs almost a grand more than a Fantom. You
will pay for all those bells and whistles so you must seriously ask yourself if you really
need them. As a solo entertainer, it fits my bill perfectly. Of course, when I bought my
first one I had intended NOT to use those bells and whistles for fear of ridicule. Now you
can't stop me! So, if doing a fun-time solo act is your thing, this board will pay for itself
many times over. If studio is more your bag, you might want to stick with less expensive
modules and tweak supportive units.

This review was originally published on http://www.musicgearreview.com