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Chromatone 312 Key Synth Laughs in the Face of 88 Keys

by Paul Strauss
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Here’s an interesting tidbit of recent history for any electronic musicians out there. A couple of years back, a strange little company called Chromatone thought it was time for an overhaul of the traditional 88 keys on pianos (or less on many synthesizers.)

Chromatone 312 Keyboard

The Chromatone CT-312 keyboard has literally hundreds of individual, unlabeled keys. The “312” in the name is actually is because there are 312 keys, but I lost count. To me, the synthesizer looks more like a massive, nearly endless typewriter than a musical instrument.

YouTube Preview Image

The keyboard uses a obscure paradigm known as a Uniform keyboard. It’s based on a concept from the late 19th Century, known as the Jankó keyboard. Apparently, the idea behind the massive number of keys is to group multiple instances of the same notes across the keyboard, making it more likely that you can play a much wider range of notes without stretching across the keyboard.

YouTube Preview Image

I’m sure there’s a massive learning curve for this thing, especially if you’ve played a regular keyboard. This baffling chart attempts to explain how it all works, but all it does is leave me scratching my head. Still, that guy in the video clip above did manage to crank out the theme from Super Mario Brothers, which impressed me to no end. There are plenty more Chromatone clips out there on YouTube if you’d like to hear more.

From what I can tell, the company may still manufacture these, but I can’t figure out any place to purchase one. Let me know if you guys have any luck. [UPDATE: due to the demand this article stirred up, Chroma is offering a limited number of these keyboards for sale here. Prices start at $1575 USD + shipping]




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Comments (62):

  1. Hi,
    The Chromatone CT-312 keyboard has literally hundreds of individual, unlabeled keys.This is really different and more flexible, this is an electronic machine you can buy it at cheapest price.

  2. Johannes K. Drinda says:

    “The Chromatone CT-312 keyboard has literally hundreds of individual, unlabeled keys.This is really different and more flexible, this is an electronic machine you can buy it at cheapest price.”

    Sounds to good to be true! For, you can get a much better sounding Kbd for the same price or even cheaper, such as Yamaha’ Tyros 2
    I wished they would have rather created a Janko adapter, which adapts to any Kbd. That would sell like hot cakes! :)

    • Paul Hirsh says:

      Janko adaptor would still have that 16.3cm octave stretch! With this thing you get down to 12cm and you can play tenths and beyond. The guts of this thing is a Korg synth, so a bad sound is the player’s problem; but you can midi it out to any other machine

      • Johannes K. Drinda says:

        Yea… that Kork Synth sounds horrible. Why don’t they just sell this Janko layout as “Janko Kbd with MIDI out” connector so, it can be connected to any MIDI sound module or Synth of the player’s choice. It would also make it cheaper to buy!

  3. tom says:

    This is SO much simpler than it looks.

    To go up a step, you hit the key to the right. Just like a piano.
    To go up a half-step, you go diagonally (sorta like a piano too).

    The HUGE advantage is, you can play in any key with the exact same fingering. I want one badly.

  4. mats says:

    yes, i want one too! gonna go look for one. as a guitarist dabbling with keyboards i’ve been annoyed with the completely thoughtless layout of a traditional keyboard since i first started to play.

  5. Johannes K. Drinda says:

    I built my own and so can you:

    http://www.live-styler.de/home/Janko%20Project.pdf

  6. Hi, I have patented a new keyboard system that rearranges the keys like this uniform keyboard but is much more familiar and easier to play. It is very intuitive but has a familiar key arrangement and music staff. Please check it out at http://www.uniformkeyboardsystem.com and please give feedback at the site. I hope to get investors and start manufacturing sometime soon. Thanks!

  7. Joh K. Drinda says:

    The disadvantage of your Kbd layout is that it still its keys are not uniform; i.e. the black keys are half as wide as the white ones.
    I actually dismantled my Janko overlay, because it took me ages to relearn the Janko pattern. Now I have got an even better idea of how to gain both advantages (!)

  8. Jimbo says:

    It’s just a Janko keyboard without traditional coloring. When you apply black and white labels to the notes, this keyboard isn’t at all baffling. There’s still only 88 notes, only there’s 2 or 3 keys to play them on instead of one long key for each note. This is an ugly and confusing version of the Janko instrument. They probably did this to pretend it’s a knew idea. The Janko piano was invented in the 1800’s. Look it up.

  9. KING KTAKEI ARTHUR BROWN says:

    I saw this keyboard last week st Creole’s in New York where I live, work, and perform. This is fascinating. I gottolook into this. I wonder if any well known keyboard players have tried this board.

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