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MGR/Stephen O\'Connor 02/25/2004

Roland VA-76 : MGR/Stephen O\'Connor's user review

« Roland VA-76 Intelligent Arranger (update) »
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So as not to be redundant, please refer to my previous review on this actual keyboard for purchase details. Editors Note: Author has noted that this is an update to a previous review.

It has been a little over a year since purchasing the VA-76. I was much too generous in my initial review when I said that it will take about two years before the contacts begin to act up. The reality is that it only took this model 6 months to start messing up. First it was one note, then two. When the third note went bad I wanted to throw the keyboard in the ocean! I knew I was faced with the tedious task of disassembling the whole thing, which I did somewhere around last November(03)in preparation for the busy holiday season. Unfortunately, the repair did not last long. One of the lower "F's" that I had previously cleaned went out again. And so I opened it up AGAIN. I cleaned it once more. The key went out again at the next gig! This time though, instead of the note screaming out at full velocity, it required that you pound on it to get any sound. I'm afraid the problem is more than just cruddy contacts. Why in the world should I have to send a virtually new instrument to the shop?I've been putting up with that situation for 3 months now. I guess I'm waiting for more notes to go bad to make my repair efforts worthwhile. I hate that I have to compromise my playing, especially after the substantial investment placed in this dubious instrument. Aside from the lousy contacts, the VA-76 has been holding up OK.

For about 2 weeks I made a concentrated effort to become knowledgable on the VariPhrase feature. I had a little fun with it while working on an old do-wop song, but for the life of me I can't seem to find any other real-time use for it. The number of steps required to make it work far outweigh its usefulness, at least for me. I would have been much more satisfied with a simple voice harmonizer that follows my left hand chord voicings.

To make up for the reduction of buttons on the front panel, I ended up purchasing the FC-7 floor pedal to access those functions. It appears to me that Roland designed this board to be used with the pedal, even though it is considered an "option", and a fairly expensive one as well. I was able to purchase one on eBay for around $150

The touch screen is doing OK so far, although there is an area in the upper left corner that appears hazier than the rest of it. It wasn't like that in the begining. Also, if you find yourself working in bright daylight, you can forget about trying to see anything on the screen. You'll have to resort to your Zen training for that.

The VA-76 comes with an ifra-red D beam controller and a ribbon controller, as well as aftertouch capability. The scary part is that I rarely ever use any of those features, which is funny because I used to think of myself as someone who took what I had and pushed it to its furthest limit. Is it me, or I am I simply not inspired? Is it the keyboard itself that puts my fire out? Perhaps if Roland incorporated some creative controller settings into their factory patches it might become more obvious how to truly apply them. As it is, the controllers default to simply opening up the hi frequency filter which can create some truly unpleasant results if you're not expecting it. You are forced to go in to the controller menu screen and mess with parameters. Most of the time I find myself saying "Aww, I'll deal with that later..." and never get back to it. We may be simply dealing with my increasing lack of tolerance for being on the receiving end of corporate deception. So many products that I used as a younger person are now packaged to be the same thing, when they are not. Too many times I find myself thinking "Why, those clever devils!" when I discover how certain things are bypassed to attain similiar results at a lesser cost. Buyer beware!


I cannot put my finger on it, but somewhere in the digital architecture of this board many compromises have been made. The bells and whistles Roland provides, such as the extra controllers and the VariPhrase, just don't seem to add up. I think it's incredible how much information I can store on the built-in ZIP drive and the number of high quality sounds, but I just feel as though there is some kind of invisible wall between my brain and getting to the heart of what this keyboard potentially offers. I suppose that's the challenge for many maufacturers these days. With so much technology available, how do you make it accessible to the average brain? Don't get me wrong. I haven't written the VA-76 off just yet. Each time I play it, I discover something new; it is a very deep instrument. Trying to sift through it all can be staggering. Who knows? Another year down the road I may be singing its praises. The reality is that it's been over a year and I'm still stuck in the learning curve. That right there should tell you something, but it also makes me wonder...is it me or the keyboard? Hmmmm...

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