Yamaha SS-30 Article Page
Type: String Ensemble / Strings Synnthesizer / Analogue / Full Polyphony
The SS-30 was Yamaha's only dedicated strings machine. Launched in 1977 it was a later entry to the strings synth market, compared to the Solina and Elka, coming somewhere in middle of that era. Common with other strings ensembles it is more keyboard insturment than true synthesizer and is encased in a wood veneer body, which is common with the Yamaha's CP-30 Electric Piano from the same time. Also alike with other stringers it uses a 'divide down' method to obtain all the keys, giving it full, although not true polyphony. It does have Attack and Sustain (actualy release) controls applied independently to all notes' amplitude, making it more polyphonic than some paraphonic cousins in the string ensemble family. Attack is only switchable from default to Slow, but Sustain is adjustable with a knob.
Internally, two oscillators are employed to create the two 'top octaves', and these have a Detune control to obtain a greater range of sounds than single oscillator designs. The oscillators also have a vibrato control with Delay and Decay controls. The divided down tones are futher split and filtered to create two voices - Cello and Violin - which can be played in split modes of the 49-key keyboard. There are two switchable Cello tones - 1 & 2 - and three Violin tones - 1, 2, & Viola. Brilliance controls apply a simple tone filter. Both voices can be switched through the Orchestra (AKA chorus, or ensemble) effect, which has a speed control switch - 1 & 2, or slow and fast - and a Depth Control.
Overall the SS-30 is a fully featured and highly regarded strings synth, often praised for its lush sound. With typically robust Yamaha quality it was favoured by many touring bands in the lates seventies to early eighties. Surprisingly it was not sold in the USA and is consequetly rare amongst artists from that part of the world. It was very popoular with new-wave artists of that era and was particularly used in the Ultravvox, Magazine, Visage nexus.
Ultravox - Reap The Wild Wind (Lead melody)
In this live clip you can see Billy Curie playing the piano part, but he has an SS-30 stacked up on top for other tracks. Meanwhiel Midge Ure is playing the lead on his SS-30. Both were painted grey to fit the stage set.
Ultravox & Midge Ure
Ultravox were big fans of the SS-30, taking two on stage for the Hymn tour and using it prominently on hit records like Reap The Wild Wind and Vienna.
"I've kept Yamaha's SS30 string machine though which I think is great — I don't think we've ever played anything without it." - (Midge Ure) "I'm using an early version of the ARP Odyssey synth plus the Yamaha string synth for a nice phased chorus 'cello sound," says Billy."
Here's Billy Currie talking about the SS-30 - plus Elka Rhapsody and other string synths. In particular the intro to and chorus to Vienna and how the envelope of the SS-30 creates more realistic string sounds.
"I'm playing the languid string melody (Yamaha SS30) against Billys frantic piano part. This gives the feeling of soaring/lifting. This like most tracks was born in the rehearsal studio."
Midge Ure commenting on the track Astradyne during Tim's Twitter Listening Party
Magazine / Dave Formula
Magazine's keyboardist Dave Formula was another fan of the SS-30 and joined forces with like minded users from Ultravox in Visage.
Lot's more on Dave's SS-30 here - https://ss30m.blogspot.com/2016/10/dave-formulas-yamaha-ss-30-sold-on-ebay.html
"We used everything on that album. We had a GS2, two Yamaha grands, two ARP Odysseys about three Yamaha string synths, a CS80 and a Minimoog. We used a Fairlight on that album, we had the first one that came over from Australia. Before The Steps it's Peter Gabriel going 'Waugggh, wauggh!'
Rusty Egan talking to Electronic Soundmaker - Aug/Sep 1984 - about the first Visage album.
Three Yamaha string synths means three SS-30s and would be one each for original members, Midge Ure, Billy Curie and Dave Formula.
Simple Minds used the SS-30 on their first album Life In A Day in 1979
Here's a clip of the from The Old Grey Whistle Test where you can see Mick MacNeil on keys as they play the title track
Rick Wakeman / Yes
In footage from the 1978-79 Tourmato tour it can be seen that Rick Wakeman has two SS-30s
In this photo you can see one of the SS-30's on the left
He probably needed the SS-30s in the recording of Rhapsodies isn 78-79 in the Tourmato break, but this hasn't been confirmed.
In his solo tour of 1980 he again has the two SS-30s in use as can be clearly seen and heard in the Swedish TV concert footage.
The recording of 1984 in 1981 also used an SS-30, as described in the interview with Electronics & Music Maker - Dec 1981 He referes to a Yamaha strings machine and this must be the SS-30. Also the sleeve notes of 1984 list a Strings Machine.
Issao Tomita lists the SS-30 in his gear for Daphnis Et Chloe (AKA Bolero) album from . Unfortunatly it's not been possible to identify exactly where this is or see any photos of it in use. He also used a Roland RS-202 on the album so any strings-like sounds could be from either.
This Birmingham Metal band had an SS-30 and like Tomita (in this one respect only) also had a Roland RS-202 listed on their Chase The Dragon album.
Images In Vogue
"Joe played a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Yamaha SS-30 String Ensemble. After Glen left the band, Joe replaced the SS-30 with a Roland Alpha-Juno 2 midied to a Roland MC-500 sequencer which also ran a Roland TR-707 drum machine."
Polar Studios / ABBA
There was an SS-30 at Polar Studios and it is seen in the video for Gimme Gimme Gimme.
Unfortunately, the Gimme video is a tad misleading. I asked ABBA expert and author of ABBA the complete Recordings Carl Magnus Palm what he thought and this was his reply
"as far as I, and others interested in Benny's keyboard work, have been able to ascertain, the Yamaha SS-30 was never used on any studio recordings. It seems there were keyboards around in the Polar Music Studio that Benny himself didn't necessarily play."
As the promo video was recorded there at Polar Music Studio (most likely on 5th September 1979 by Lasse 'Chocolat' Hallström) that makes sense. Benny had the mighty Yamaha GX-1 by this stage but the recording sheet for Gimme! mentions only his beloved Minimoog and 'Prophet', which must have been an SCI Prophet 5.