My Roland FR-8x

November 18, 2016

previous arrow
next arrow

Wow, how to even start this story…

Back in February, I joined the accordionists forum and it gave me the impetus to rekindle the fire of my desires to get back to the accordion.  The forum discusses many topics and one of the topics that I enjoyed reading about was the discussions about the Roland V-Accordion lines (the “V” standing for “Virtual”, as it wasn’t a real traditional accordion but a completely digital electronic device with no reeds).  They were fascinating to me because I am a bit of a techno geek and this is the top most sophisticated “accordion” on the market.  Heck, even now I am not sure calling it an accordion is really accurate.  It has no reeds, it cannot even make a sound without a properly charged battery!  And yet it subtly drew me in because of it’s capabilities and sounds.

I read all the topics about it, then started in on the YouTube channels, watching all the videos about the “8x” and enjoying what I saw.  Of course, watching people like Michael Bridge play the V-accordion would give a 95 year old man musical wood, he is definitely the definition of a virtuoso… lol.  But I digress.

I then joined a couple of Yahoo groups on this accordion and read about the experiences people had with the FR-8x, slowly just letting things seep in to my mind and I learned that it was a LOT more complex than I realized.  To some people, this would be a turn-off, but in fact, this is what made me enjoy reading about it even more.  Then came the Bugari Evo, basically a 100% sonically identical Roland, just a nicer dressed-up product with some key features removed and again I was visiting YouTube to see every video out there about it.  Just fascinating.

The next step was when I decided to attend a monthly meeting of ADAQ with my mother (ADAQ stands for “Association Des Accorionistes du Quebec” or Quebec Association of Accordionists).  While there, we were introduced to a lady, who’s name was Lise (at least I thought it was Lise, the music was a bit loud and she spoke a bit softer just at that moment).  We began talking and of course my father came in to the conversation about my musical past and she mentioned that she also lost her husband.  When I asked if she played the accordion, she said no, that it was her deceased husband that played.  Then she asked what kind of accordion I played and I asked what accordion her husband played.  Conversationally, she mentions that it’s a Roland FR-8x, piano keyboard and how new it was because it was basically unused (maybe 2 hours of use on it before he passed away!).  I ask how much she wanted and she mentions the price.  It was a very good price, but even at that moment, I had no allusions to consider even buying it, but in the back of my mind, yeah, I was interested.  It was for all intents and purposes a new accordion and it was at an incredible price.  The night continued and no more conversations about the Roland occurred.

A picture taken by the president of my mom and I (I’m obviously in the middle, my mother on my left), and by a little coincidence and a stroke of luck… the then mysterious “Lise”, owner of the FR-8x on my right.  I downloaded this picture from the ADAQ website events page, I am sure they didn’t mind.

On the way home my mom and I spoke of it and she said that I should have taken her information, but I shook my head no, and then made a decision and told her about it, and that was that when this “Lise” came next month to the meeting, I would inquire about it again and if it was sold, then it was not meant to be.

The month passed, we went to the meeting, but construction in the area deterred a lot of people from attending and the number of people that braved the construction and subsequent terrible traffic conditions were about 1/2 or less, and of course, “Lise” did not show up.  Again, mom and I discussed it briefly, “it wasn’t meant to be…”.  The topic dropped and we enjoyed the rest of the night.

Near the end of the evening, I decide to talk to the hostess of the event (the wife of the former club president), as it was she that introduced us to “Lise” the month before.  She recalls doing it, but did not remember her name, but it was known that there was a club member who died earlier that year and his wife had all his accordions and was selling them.  She thought about it a moment then told me to speak to a man that was there called Luciano who might know more.  I spoke to Luciano and he was at a loss, but instead grabbed the current president Jean-Pierre Attore and asked.  Jean-Pierre right away recalled who it was, but could not recall the name, however, he did recall passing on the contact information to “Serge”.  He said that he would also look in to finding this member’s contact info and call me back in a day or two.

Thursday passed, no call.  Friday around noon I called Jean-Pierre.  Unfortunately without a last name he could not find who this person was, and I did ot have a last name.  I reminded him that he said that he had passed on the info to “Serge”, and does he have his contact info?  Well he didn’t have Serge’s contact info, but he did have his last name and the town where he lived.  A fast search on the internet and I had a possible telephone number, and I called it.

The man that answered was indeed the right person (a stroke of luck!) and he right away knew who I was speaking of, the woman who’s husband died and she was trying to sell a large Roland FR-8x.  Cool… but not, because he was a Roland dealer and had 3 people deadly serious in buying this accordion, but he could not sell it because Jean-Pierre at the time had given him 3 telephone numbers for this contact, and all were disconnected and out of use.  Alright, so… what was her last name?  HE REMEMBERED!  Yes, it was Lise and he had her last name!  I wrote it down, and called back Jean-Pierre.

Jean-Pierre was nice about me bugging him the second time that morning (lol), and looked up last year’s members for the contact with the right last name.  To do that, he had to walk up the stairs and look through old records, and… he had the 3 telephone numbers!  I wrote them down and thanked hm.

I thought that I knew what was coming next… three numbers out of service, as this is what happened to Serge, and he was quite motivated to speak to her because he had three people very interested in it.

I dialed anyway.

First number, out of service.  Second number out of service.  I dialed the third and last number fully expecting it to be also out of service, but… it rang!  After 4 rings, no one was answering, and by the 5th ring I decided to go for ring #6 and then hang up… but someone picked up the phone right in the middle of the final ring!  It was a woman’s voice and I asked if she was the lady that was selling the accordion, and she tentatively said “yes”.  I then asked If she still had it… a full 2 second pause before the answer… “yes”.  My heart started thumping a little, but instead of jumping up for joy I looked at my mom and mouthed the words “I think this is the right lady, and she still has it!”.

I complete the call by reminding her that we had previously met, telling her who I was and suddenly her entire phone demeanor changed.  Instantly all smiles and wanting to talk about the next meeting, asking if we would be there again because we had such a nice time and I said we would be.  I then asked her if I could see the accordion, to which she said yes (of course) and that she would be home for the next few hours.  I get her address, pop it in the GPS and invite my mom to come along for a ride.

At that point my mom says “you really should make financial arrangements to buy it now, just in case you like it”.  This is a move that I would not normally think a wise one, but I did it anyway.  Arrangements made, we left home with the money in pocket, not to purchase the accordion, but just to look and check it out (“yeah right”, no really, we’re just going to look!  Well, that was what I had in my head, but I suppose I was a man on a bit of a mission… haha!).

The drive was about 25 minutes south-east, and we get there, go in, talk a few minutes and she shows me the accordion.  Truly this thing is untouched, not the tiniest of hairline scratches, no dust, not even in the tightest and hardest of places to wipe.  This thing is NEW!  Well, we pull it out fully from it’s soft “Gig Bag”, and of course, I cannot play anything because it’s so foreign to me, so we enjoy a few of the integrated demo songs and then I futz with it and find a few sounds that work and warble out a few tunes.

“Yes, I’ll take it, if you can make the price just a little better…”, I say.  Well, she did, and on top of it sweetened the deal by tossing in a pair of brand new Roland RH-300 headphones (about $180US or about $250Cdn), and a small $30 music stand.

Me:  “VENDUE!”  (that’s French for “sold!”)
Her:  “ok, when and how would you like to pay for it?
Me:  “Cash, and payment happens in about 15 seconds…”

At that point Lise’s brother who was watching all this, cracked up at my response.  We paid, made a contract/invoice and I walked out with a new Roland FR-8x V-Accordion in a nice soft case in my eager, waiting hands, and I could not get back home fast enough.

The strange part… so many things could have happened to have prevented me getting this accordion, there were several dozen calls inquiring about it, about 15-20 people who came to look at it and each one for one reason or another could not or did not make the purchase.

Let me give you an example; one man drove all the way from Quebec City to Montreal, to buy the accordion, sight unseen (a 3 hour drive each way).  Getting to her place, he looked at it and had mistakenly assumed it was a button accordion, not a piano accordion, and left very unhappy.  Another guy wanted to jump on it, but “surely it was configurable to Belgium style bass layout”, right?  Instead of looking in the manual, they played with the configuration for 2 hours, could not find it, and he left, thinking it was not possible because he could not play standard Stradella bass, nor was he interested in learning, so he also did not buy it.  BTW, yes, the accordion can do this!

How about this one… the 2 big parts of the puzzle… Lise’s last name and her contact info… both men (Serge and Jean-Pierre), knew each other, BOTH men knew both parts of this puzzle in the past, and yet neither one could make contact with her.  I received the same pieces, put them together and was able to contact Lise successfully and make the purchase.  Remember, Serge himself had 3 buyers for it, any of whom would have loved to pick it up, sight unseen and Jean-Pierre is owner of the biggest accordion store in the Montreal area (Accordeons Excellence)!

I could honestly go on with several more actual incidents and circumstances that all prevented the accordion from being sold to anyone else but me, but you get the idea, right?  Karma, that is the only thing that I can think of that explains it.  It was as if it was my Karma to just own this accordion.  Yes, I know… stop being silly.  But how else would you care to explain all these circumstances??

Now comes the fun part… learning what it can do, and hopefully have some kind of repertoire to prepare for the next accordion club meeting which is the annual Christmas event and happens on December 10th, 2016.  Can you see another blog entry here coming out of that event?

Addendum:  November 19, 2016

I picked up some extra cabling today, a pair of 15 foot long MIDI cables, two 1/4″ mono phono cables that are 20 feet long and a 6′ USB cable with a 6′ USB extension, just in case I need that little extra distance to be from the computer.

Addendum:  November 21, 2016

I updated the firmware today… that is always a bit stressful on anything that I update.  As I type this it is completing it’s 2nd of 2 parts.

… ok, all blue LEDs are on, but let’s wait an extra 15 seconds. before powering off!

Whew, ok, all looks good!!

ADDENDUM: November 24, 2016

Christmas came one whole month earlier this year!

Around 3:00pm, my sister called me to drive her. She has a friend with tons of old records and he is an avid buyer and seller, so he found this pawn shop and asked my sister to check it out because he lived quite a bit further away and we were a short drive from the location and she asked me to take her there to check it out. This was a bit unusual because she is normally fiercely independent and drives herself everywhere, but today she had been at the dentist, had a bit of a harrowing experience there and still wasn’t feeling 100%, but she needed to check this place for her friend, so I cheerfully drove her there and back.

So we get there  and while there, she is talking to the guy getting the needed information for her friend and what not and perusing their collection of vinyl. I am just looking around, browsing and spot an open box that was supposed to hold a Sony Personal Sound System with Bluetooth. Cool.  I was curious so peered in it. Whatever was inside was upside down, so I reached in, pulled it out and flipped it over for a look.

Well to say I was surprised was an understatement… as I was holding on to a Roland BK-7m!!  Ok, definitely not new, but in great condition, with not even a scratch on it!  For those that don’t know what this is, it’s the premiere module and arranger on the market for the FR-8x.  Not only a “drum machine”, but the module has a whole band all in one and has over 1,000 instruments in it that can be accessed by my accordion and for more fun, there are sources on the internet where one can add to it thousands more variations of beats, tempos, accompaniments, etc…!

I call over the sales guy and “casually” ask the price, he says it and I almost start reaching for my wallet.  My sister walks over, asks me what it is, and I explain.  She shakes her head and starts dickering with the guy.  Initial asking price was $979CDN and he was going to let it go for $825, but after a few minutes my sister was done doing the verbal fencing game with him and the new price was… $675, TAXES INCLUDED (that’s roughly a few pennies over $500US)! A new one here is over $1550CDN taxes included , so I am super pleased

What a week this has been!!!

ADDENDUM:  November 25, 2016

It’s been a full week since I brought the FR-8x home and I wanted to post a few impressions of my time with it.  A friend of mine was asking me certain questions, and I am actually going to reuse a lot of what I said to him.

Here are my impressions of the Roland FR-8x after 1 week of using it:

The first few days were a technical nightmare, it was very complex, but it gets better with time.

The treble key action of the 8x: Compared to my Hohner Morino VI N (an accordion that has likely the most perfect keyboard ever made), I am really spoiled and compared to the Roland… bad case of weak sauce.  Same thing for the bass side. The Hohner’s spacing is perfect for speed and accuracy, especially the Free Bass.

The treble key presses of the 8x are deeper and the action feels slower.  I cannot get the fast runs on the 8x as well as I can on any of my other accordions. That said, people like Cory Pesaturo or Michael Bridge have no troubles playing like a maniac on an 8x, so it’s just something that likely needs to get used to. It does take more work to get fast runs out of it, though, but it is definitely doable.  I believe that the big reason the depth is increased is likely for the velocity key effect (hit light, quiet notes, hit hard, loud notes).  There are no levers or rods to move, so the feel is different from a real acoustic accordion… sometimes a touch distracting.  I wish the depth of the right hand key presses was at least 30-40% less.

What drives me bonkers nuts is the left hand, specifically the spacing of the bass buttons.  They are in reality just a tiny bit further apart, but it feels like a canyon in between each button for me! Probably not much further apart than other accordions, but they are wider than on my Hohner and Elka.  This makes mistakes quite easy, and you can COMPLETELY FORGET about playing the Free Bass.  First I never played a converter instrument, but the spacing is nothing short of horrible for me.  If I try to play Free Bass for 10 minutes on the FR-8x, my fingers painfully cramp up badly, something I don’t and indeed, never felt on the Hohner.  And yet again, people like Uwe Steger and Michael Bridge have no issues moving amazingly fast on the 8x’s Free Bass buttons, so who am I to complain… lol.   I do wish the spacing of the left hand buttons matched my Hohner’s layout.

The bellows, that is another thing.  I read about initially how stiff they were supposed to be, and wow, are they ever! When playing, I pull further and much harder than I should when I play, just to help break them in, as they normally will do in a few months for other people, but it is another minor annoyance. One that hopefully disappears in time, so not too bad, but it is annoying and again distracting.  One guy hung his 8x accordion up by the straps and left the bellows dangling in a fully opened position overnight.  Initially this sounded really silly to me when I first read it, but now I am seriously considering doing the very same thing.

Overall, playing the FR-8x is a huge transition moving over from an acoustic accordion. The 8x is not a standard accordion, it is a computer with accordion looks and ergonomics with quirks added in. Incredibly complex, difficult to play initially, but damn, so much fun and so many musical possibilities!  It is all these possibilities and the enjoyment one gets in playing this instrument that pretty much overcomes all the obstacles I mention above.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but with it being exactly a week old, this accordion already promises me years of all kinds of musical and technical projects, and that makes me happy!  Toss in the BK-7m and you have even more potential available to you!  I look forward to my time with this accordion and arranger, and I know it will motivate me even further on in my musical journey.