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The Rise & Fall & Rise & Fall of the Keytar (Long Live the Keytar!)

The keytar, a distinctive musical instrument that blends the physical form of a guitar with the functionality of a keyboard, is a fascinating emblem of a particular era in music history. Its journey from the height of popularity to relative obscurity, and its occasional resurgences, mirrors broader trends in the music industry and changing tastes in popular culture.

The keytar’s inception can be traced back to the late 1970s, during a period when synthesizers were revolutionizing music production.

Early models like the Moog Liberation, released in 1980, allowed keyboard players to unshackle themselves from the confines of their immobile instruments. The Roland SH-101 and Yamaha SHS-10 followed, further popularizing the design.

Keytar in Popular Culture

The 1980s marked the heyday of the keytar. Pioneering musicians such as Herbie Hancock and Jan Hammer, who composed the iconic “Miami Vice Theme”, helped cement the keytar’s place on stage. It was a period marked by exuberant performances by artists such as Prince, and bands like Devo and Duran Duran, who embraced the instrument’s flair. The keytar’s appeal was especially potent within the New Wave and glam rock scenes, where its visual impact was as significant as its sound.

The Decline of the Keytar

The early 1990s saw a seismic shift in musical preferences. The emergence of grunge and alternative rock, championed by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, brought a stripped-down aesthetic that contrasted sharply with the glam and excess of the 1980s. The keytar, so closely associated with the previous decade’s flamboyance, fell out of favor.

Resurgence and Modern Use

The 2000s experienced a revival of 1980s nostalgia, leading to a renewed interest in the keytar. Bands like The Killers and artists such as Lady Gaga reintroduced the keytar to new audiences. The instrument had now become a bridge between past and present, offering a unique blend of visual and musical expression.

The Current Status of the Keytar

Modern keytars benefit from advancements in technology, making them more versatile and user-friendly. While they haven’t recaptured their former ubiquity, keytars occupy a niche market and are appreciated by enthusiasts and performers seeking a distinctive stage presence.

Key Historical

  • The Moog Liberation is often cited as one of the first commercially available keytars (Moog Music Inc.)
  • Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” showcased the keytar’s potential and is a reference point for its cultural impact (Jan Hammer)
  • The transition to grunge in the 1990s is a key historical event that marked the decline of the keytar, with Nirvana’s “Nevermind” often seen as a turning point (Nirvana Official Site)
  • The revival of keytar in modern performances can be seen in Lady Gaga’s use of the instrument (Lady Gaga Official Site)

The keytar’s story is one of innovation, cultural impact, decline, and reinvention.

Its place in the annals of music history is assured, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of musical expression and technological advancement.