Keytar: Wikis


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A keytar is a relatively lightweight keyboard (with or without a built-in synthesizer) that is supported by a strap around the neck and shoulders, similar to the way a guitar is supported by a guitar strap. Keytars allow players a greater range of movement compared to conventional keyboards, which are placed on stands. The instrument has a musical keyboard for triggering musical notes and sounds. Controls for pitch bends, vibrato, portamento, and sustain are placed on the instrument’s “neck". The term "keytar" is a portmanteau of the words "keyboard" and "guitar." Keytars may either contain their own synthesis engines, or simply be controllers, triggering notes on another MIDI capable synthesizer.

Canadian pop star Lights playing her Yamaha KX5 keytar.
MUTEMATH frontman Paul Meany, playing his Korg RK-100



Steve Masakowski has been incorrectly credited for many years as the inventor of the keytar, but in an interview with Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle on December 11, 2009, he only claimed to have invented an instrument called the Key-tar which was a string based instrument. The first commercially released keytar was the "Moog Liberation". Early users included Spyro Gyra keyboardist Tom Schuman and Devo . The earliest printed use of the word “keytar” was in 1980, when it appeared in an interview with Jeffrey Abbott by Tom Lounges of Illianabeat magazine (now Midwest BEAT Magazine).[citation needed] The keytar was made popular in the 1980s by glam metal bands, as well as synthpop and New Wave musicians. Changing trends in music diminished the keytar’s popularity during the '90s, continuing on until the late 2000s when a major revival was sparked by artists and groups such as Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, and No Doubt. Another instance is in early 2008 with Snoop Dogg's music video for his single "Sensual Seduction," in which he uses a keytar as a throwback to old school bands.

While Edgar Winter often performed with keyboards slung around his neck in the early 1970s, they had no "neck" and so were not technically keytars; he actually used an ARP 2600 keyboard and a lightweight Univox electric piano with shoulder straps added. Wayne Famous of the 1980s band The Producers also strapped on a regular Oberheim synthesizer, which caused him to develop back problems.

Notable manufacturers of keytar models have included Moog, Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Casio. As of 2009, the Roland Ax-Synth is the only mass-manufactured keytar on the market.



A Yamaha SHS-10 keytar

The Moog Liberation was released in 1980 by Moog Music. It included two monophonic VCOs and a polyphonic section that could play organ sounds. The neck had spring-loaded wheels for filter cutoff, modulation, and volume as well as a ribbon-controlled pitch bend. The Liberation had a single VCF and two ADS envelope generators.

The Roland SH-101 is a small, 32 key, monophonic analog synthesizer from the early 1980s. It has one oscillator with two waveforms, an 'octave-divided' sub-oscillator, and a low-pass filter/VCF capable of self oscillation. When a shoulder strap is connected to it, and the small handgrip with a pitch bend wheel and a pitch modulation trigger is used, the SH-101 becomes a keytar.

The Yamaha SHS-10 from the late 1980s has a small keyboard with 32 minikeys and a pitch-bend wheel, an internal Frequency modulation (usually referred to as FM) synthesizer offering 25 different voices with 6-note polyphony. Onboard voices include a range of keyboard instruments (pipe organ, piano, electric piano, etc.); strings (violin, guitar, double bass, etc.); and wind and brass (clarinet, flute, trumpet, etc.).


Herbie Hancock performing with a Roland AX-7 at the XM Sonic Stage at The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

The Roland AX-7, which was manufactured from 2001 to 2007, contains many more advanced features than early keytars. It has 45 velocity sensitive keys (without aftertouch), and a 3-character LED display. Several features aimed towards stage performance are present, such as a pitch bend ribbon, touchpad-like expression bar, sustain switch, and volume control knob, all on the upper neck of the instrument. There is also a proprietary "D-Beam" interface, made up of infrared sensors that detect nearby motion. This interface can be used to trigger and control effects.

In August 2009, Roland released the Roland AX-Synth, a model of keytar that contains its own synthesizer sounds in addition to being a MIDI controller.

Related instruments

While some inexpensive children’s toys are manufactured in the same shape as a keytar, and marketed with the keytar name, these toys have very limited capabilities. They can typically only perform one note at a time (monophonic) or in some cases, two-note polyphony. Professional models allow the performer to play many notes at once (except for older instruments such as the aforementioned Moog or the Roland SH-101). As well, the sound quality for the samples or synthesis is usually very rudimentary.


Keytars reached their height of popularity in the 1980s, and were strongly associated with the New Wave music of the time. In the 1990s and early 2000s, they were extremely unfashionable.

With the Synthpop revival of the late 2000s, keytars enjoyed a mild resurgence, appearing in bands such as Showbread, The Birthday Massacre, Cobra Starship, Lights, MUTEMATH, Freezepop, and Family Force 5, as well as in power metal band DragonForce with keyboard/synth player Vadim Pruzhanov. Page McConnell of the jam band Phish is often seen playing a keytar anytime the band covers the song "Frankenstein" by Edgar Winter. The lead vocalist for the pirate metal band Alestorm also plays a keytar at all times on stage. The keyboardist in Sonata Arctica, Henrik Klingenberg, is using both keytar and a usual keyboard on stage. The country musician, Travis Adkinson, a local favorite in the Lexington, Kentucky area often plays a keytar on stage. Matthew Bellamy, the lead vocalist and guitarist/pianist of the UK rock band Muse plays a custom keytar that has less keys and is shaped more like a guitar. He has used it probably most notably in the music video for Undisclosed Desires. Matt has stated he would like to reinvent the keytar. One of the two member New York band Shy Child performs entire songs minus drums with a Roland AX-7. Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess adopted a custom-made keytar named "The Zen Riffer" in 2008 for live performances. During a 2009 appearance on Saturday Night Live, Lady Gaga played a keytar. Romeo Nightingale from the German synthpop/glam rock band Cinema Bizarre also sports a keytar.

In television, a member of the fictional cover band "Jeffster" from the NBC television comedy Chuck "plays" a keytar. Demetri Martin, in his appearances in HBO's Flight of the Conchords' plays a keytar which Bret McKenzie mistakenly refers to as a guit-board.

Also, in the movie Yes Man, the fictional band Munchausen by Proxy performs with a keytar.

Additionally, in the music video for "Eruption," by German metal band Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, keyboardist Dr. Pest uses a keytar throughout the video.

See also


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