Casio SK-1

If you were a nerd in 1985, you had to have this.

I fondly remember the Casio SK-1. Back in the 1980s there were a lot of cheap electronic keyboards. If you wanted to play piano but couldn’t afford a real one, it was suddenly possible to get something passable for under $250 (about an average car payment at the time.) Combined with the trend at the time toward synth-heavy pop music, these became popular with wanna-be musicians all over the country.

Burp in up to 32 pitches

The SK-1 wasn’t a terribly competent keyboard. It was not full-size and only had 32 keys. However, it had something most keyboards didn’t have: you could record a short sound and play it back over and over in different pitches. Record yourself saying “I’m a rock god” and you could play Stairway to Heaven using that phrase in different pitches. The result was actually not that bad. Here’s a demo of the keyboard in action:

There were also some tinny music loops and a variety of unconvincing musical instrument sounds, but you have to remember this was 1985 and this keyboard was something like $70. The professionals used keyboards costing 100 times as much.

We were so easy to please back then

It’s hard to imagine something like this holding people’s attention today. There are 99 cent apps that do a much better job than this little keyboard but believe me when I tell you that it was possible to be enthralled by this little toy for months at a time. It was also possible to annoy your roommates for a roughly similar period, something I can attest to (Sorry Brian and Rob).

There was another feature of this keyboard I really liked. It was the first keyboard anywhere near its price range with any sort of recording capability. This was great if you were a really bad keyboardist who couldn’t play anywhere near as fast as you wanted to. Play one key (or one chord) at a time and record it. Then use the “one key play” buttons and you could play back as fast as you want. This made annoying one’s roommates far more efficient. (It’s funny, I am pretty sure the keyboard had a headphone jack but somehow I never used it.)

The second life of the SK-1

I must not have been the only one who really got a kick out of the SK-1. There are tons of YouTube videos with people who actually use it for serious music and the Wikipedia page says that a few rappers and experimental musicians used it to record actual commercial music. Personally I never got close to that. I mostly used it to record weird ambient noises I heard and play them back. There was this one time I managed to get the bass guitar lick from Pinball Wizard and I used that for a while. The SK-1’s big flaw was a lack of memory though, so when Brian and Rob got tired of listening, all they had to do was pull the plug or switch it off.

I’m not quite sure what became of my SK-1. It’s probably long since put in a landfill, since we didn’t recycle back then. Oh well, still fun to think about, and that’s the point of Fun Friday.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.