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Roland RS-09

Although I love my Yamaha SK20, as a string machine it honestly leaves a little to be desired. Sure, it has some nice strings but it’s more of an all-around 70s synth than a satisfyingly smooth stringer. For that, I needed a Solina. And because I’m just a humble junior high school English teacher I settled for a Roland RS-09.

There are plenty of string machines that will do more than the RS-09 but where this thing excels is the ensemble effect. Four (count them! Four!) bucket brigade circuits work together to create a glorious, heavenly whirlpool of phasing sound. There are two speeds, slow and less slow, and they’re both luxurious. I could hold down a chord and listen to the cycling BBD magic all day. And if that wasn’t enough, the RS-09 has an external in so you can add a touch of heaven to any signal you want.

You may remember that this is not my first dance with a Roland RS synth. While this one didn’t stink like my RS-101 it did have a number of other problems lurking below its deceptively calm surface. At only $100 I wasn’t expecting miracles but after plugging it in and not experiencing any big problems, I was frankly a little shocked at what I found lurking inside.

It was filthy. This seems to be a running issue with the synths that I buy, and it’s surprising considering Japan is uaully such a clean place, but it looked like it had been used as a dust pan at a construction site. The caked on dirt between the keys should have been my first clue. The seller had obviously wiped off the tops of the keys but left the in between filth as is. So first order of business was a bath for the whites and blacks. The white grooves in the knobs and slider caps were pretty dingy so they went in as well.

When I wash plastic parts for synths, I usually fill the sink with warm water and squirt in some mild dish washing soap. I let the items soak for an hour or so and then hand scrub each one with a sponge. Usually the soft side is enough to get the dirt off but sometimes a careful rub with the scouring side is necessary. I then set them out to air dry and finally give them a last wipe with a microfiber cloth. After this treatment they look almost brand new. It’s time consuming but it’s amazing how much this will improve the appearance of even the most neglected of synths.

The dirt didn’t stop with the keys though. All the PCBs were covered with a fine layer of tan dust. I suppose I could have left it as is but since it was open, I decided to clean the boards as well. I like to use a generic contact cleaner. Spray on, wipe down, and get under and around components with a cotton swab.

I’m currently in the middle of a Juno-106 refurbishment and it has some of the same problems as this RS-09: namely dry, raspy faders and faded buttons. I figured the RS-09 would be a good practice unit. Of course, I want it to work properly but I’d rather break it than the Juno.

The RS-09 used the same horrible foam material for the fader dust covers as the Juno-106, meaning by now they’ve hardened to a brittle, papery crust that disintegrates if you even point at it, much less touch it. So the first step was to get this despicable stuff off the sliders. Ironic that the very thing that Roland installed to protect the sliders is what was ruining them, but there you go.

Looking back now, the best way to remove the glued-on covers would have been to use a hobby knife and carefully slice between the slider house and foam cover, deftly removing it in one, unbroken sheet. But this is not what I did. I broke it off piece by piece, each snap sending small pieces of pulverized foam raining down into the fader housing.

I eventually got all the old foam off the fader tops and was greeted with rust spots. Well, this was no good. Apparently these are the same sliders as the Juno 6 and 60 and Jupiter 8, meaning they’re not replaceable. (I could be wrong about this though.) I has no choice but to try to get this rust off myself. I desoldered the sliders from the board, took them apart, and went at them with steel wool, scrubbing off the orange until it was a dull gray. Not pretty but better than it was. This is basically my mantra.

Next I cleaned out the inside of the slider housing with an alcohol-dipped cotton swab. Soaking the whole fader overnight in a jar of alcohol might have better. I’ll definitely do that with the 106. I also used a cotton swab to clean the contact track and checked the little arm on the mechanism under the slider for dirt and goop. Considering how dusty everything else was, they really weren’t that bad. I lubricated the track with DeOxit Fader Lube, greased the inside of the housing with a little lithium grease, and put it all back together.

At this point I should mention that I was being careful to make sure that the orientation stayed the same going in as coming out. Unlike the faders in the 106, the RS-09 ones are completely symmetrical. Hopefully it wouldn’t matter which way they went in but just to be safe, I marked their number and position at the bottom with permanent marker. Permanent marker is great for paper. It’s not so permanent when used with greasy metal though, as I soon found out. Oops.

I did my best to get them back in correctly but sure enough, there were a few problems. The vibrato section was definitely busted but I pulled them out and tried putting them back in the other way, and that fixed it. So remember kids: orientation counts.

With the sliders finally all working, it was time to make some new dust covers. As I talked about in my second article about the Yamaha SK20, regular felt is too soft to act as an effective slider dust cover. Instead, I went down to the big Tokyu Hands in Shibuya and bought a roll of black acrylic felt. It looks like regular felt but it’s stiff so it won’t bend out of shape, and it’s easy to glue to the slider housing. I’ve never been good with drawing or cutting in a straight line so I’m not in any hurry to show off my handy work but they’re doing what they’re supposed to and you can’t tell anything is untoward from the outside.

There are two versions of the RS-09: the older one with rocker switches and gray trim that resembles the RS-101 and 202, and the later one with colored buttons that are in line with the TR-808 and Jupiter-8. I bought the latter because I love the look of the colored buttons but gosh darn if mine weren’t faded and grody. The yellow buttons were fine but the white ones looked like they had jaundice, likely from exposure to cigarette smoke. I had some tiny Tupperware containers that my girlfriend bought for some reason, so I used them to I soak the white buttons in hydrogen peroxide. I covered them with plastic wrap and left them outside in the sun for a day. To make sure the lightening is even, I put the containers on a stainless steel tray. This also protects the paint on the veranda in case any peroxide spills.

The blue buttons were a different story. They were already light, almost green, so what they needed was a coat of paint. The paint I used was a little too dark, and the clear coat a little too shiny, but they look a lot better now than they did, and I can always repaint them if I want to. I’ll be doing the same thing with my Juno-106 so this was a kind of test.

Lastly, I needed to clean out the many jacks on the rear, which like the rest of the machine had a fine coat of tan dust inside. A little DeOxit, a cotton swab, and some paper towels cleaned it right up.

I was worried that it might be out of tune, but I realized it just took a while to warm up. Like most older analog gear, it takes 20-30 minutes to get in tune. After leaving it for a bit it gets in tune on its own.

This job was bigger than I expected but I have to say it’s worth it. The RS-09 is an underrated machine but it sounds just gorgeous. Maybe someday I’ll own a Solina but for now this is fulfilling all my string machine needs.

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