The Casio SK-5 is a mini sampler released by Casio in 1987. The Casio Computer Co. was one of the many Japanese electronic companies, including Korg, Roland and Yamaha that became renown for digital technology in the 80’s. Casio, like Korg and Roland, was born soon after the end of the second world war. Its founder, Tadao Kashio, began his business in 1946 by producing a finger ring that would hold a cigarette, allowing the user to smoke it down to the nub. Japan, in the years following its terrible defeat, was devastated and impoverished, and cigarettes were valuable, so his product caught on. In 1949, Kashio and his brothers used their profits to develop a new business – small adding machines. By the late 1950’s, Casio released the world’s first all-electric compact calculator.
Casio, like other successful Japanese electronics companies, fully embraced digital technology in the 1970’s and by the 80’s, Casio had gained worldwide fame as a maker of affordable digital watches and calculators. In 1980, Casio entered the world of musical instruments and created some classic synths of the era. In 1983, the Yamaha Corporation launched its massive hit synth – the DX7 – which was the first all-digital keyboard to sell in mass quantities. Casio responded with the Casio CZ-101 in November 1984. This board was also revolutionary because, like the DX7, it was fully digital, however, it featured a unique type of digital synthesis known as phase distortion synthesis, rather than the DX7’s frequency modulation synthesis. Moreover, it was significantly cheaper than the Yamaha DX7 – it sold for under $500 – and was aimed at musical amateurs. The CZ-101 and its related instruments became favorites of 80’s pop bands including Eurythmics and Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode and Erasure who stacked eight of them to produce his sound. You can find its sound preserved digitally in Arturia’s V Collection 8’s CZ V. (For some
In 1985, Casio decided to aim another product at the amateur market – a sampler/keyboard that sold for $100 (around $250 today). They launched the SK-1 which was a mini keyboard with 32 piano keys. It could sample for 1.4 seconds with a built in microphone and also had various preset sounds of instruments and drums. It even had a basic sequencer and accompanying chords and beats. This was a technological marvel for kids of the 80’s (like myself). My older brother bought one in 1985 and we had lots of fun sampling sounds (lots of burps and dirty words as expected of 12-14 year old boys) and playing them back across the keyboard and creating songs with them. Only 10 years before, in 1975, a sampler would have cost $250,000, so this little board was truly a miracle of digital technology and engineering.
The Casio SK series of boards influenced a generation of electronic music producers who had them as kids, and the drums were used in indie and lo-fi electronic music and hip hop. The SK series of keyboards also became a favorite of circuit benders who began to alter the sound of its electronics to create randomness and noise out of the circuitry.
I received a circuit-bent Casio SK-5 keyboard from my younger brother as a gift. In 2018, I decided to use it to develop the drum sounds for Leifer’s first record and you can here it here on his song Livia. The idea was to record live drums and to overlay the recorded drums with samples from the SK-5 in order to give the drums lo-fi punch and grit. I sampled the SK-5 through a Rupert Neve Shelford Channel (essentially based on his 1073) to get some beautiful analog compression and EQ. Recently I found these samples and decided to release them as a sample pack and Ableton LIve 11 Drum Rack.
For a free download of the Casio SK-5 Sample Pack, click here. To see a bit more about how I put the pack together, see the vid below. Enjoy!