Updates: October 2017
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Korg Z3 System

Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer and ZD3 Driver

Features and Specifications:

  • Fastest and Most Accurate Vintage Pitch-to-MIDI Synthesizer (24-pin Format)
  • Yamaha FM Synthesis
  • Built-in Reverb
  • Built-in Tuner
  • Multi-timbral operation (allowing each string to play a different sound)
  • Easy front-panel access to most frequently used functions
  • Responds only to Master volume commands, ignores all guitar controller information, CV knobs, bender-arm, etc.
  • Foot switch inputs for patch up and down
  • Detailed sound editing only through software
  • Useable as MIDI sound module (disables Guitar Synthesizer input)
  • Synthesizer Off foot switch input
  • Dedicated Hold foot switch input (like Ibanez MC1)
  • Dimensions: 19" (W) 10.875" (D) 1.75" (H)
  • Power Requirements: 24 watts
  • Response Time: 20.11 ms
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer

Introduction to the Korg Z3:

The Korg Z3 is the long lost, forgotten child of the excitement of the late eighties boom in guitar synthesizers. For those used to hearing classic analog tones from Roland guitar synthesizers, the Z3 offers a surprise: the unmistakable sound of FM synthesis! For a brief period of time in the late eighties to early nineties, Korg was basically a division of Yamaha. This produced an array of products containing both Yamaha and Korg technologies. The Yamaha SY-22 and Yamaha TG-33 sound modules featured Korg Wavestation type vector synthesis.

Pop open the hood of the Korg Z3 and you will find a Yamaha 2414 sound chip. The 2414 was a versatile sound chip, it featured 8 voices of FM polyphony, with a wider selection of raw waveforms compared to the historic DX-7. The Yamaha 2414 is found in the popular Yamaha TX81Z and DX-11. The big deal here is you have more than sine waves to work with. A DX-7 would use several operators to get to a more complex waveform, but the YM2414 had more complex waveforms to start with, meaning more complex sounds were possible.

Yamaha 2414 Sound ChipThe synthesis engine of the Z3 is a Korg engine, and it is remarkably fast. The speed of the Z3 puts it in the same category as modern synthesizers such as the Roland GR-55 or GR-33, rather than the comparatively sluggish and error-prone GR-700. The Korg Z3 is easily twice as fast as the Roland GR-700, 20 millisecond versus a 40 millisecond average response time. Even more impressive is the fact that the Z3 is much less prone to errors and mistriggers that are the trademark of the GR-700.

Patch Editing:

Z3 Display Z3 Edit Modes
The editing display of the Z3 consists solely of a 3-digit alphanumeric display. To edit the Z3, you need to move the recessed, incredibly tiny MODE A-B switch on the back panel.

I was really excited when I first hooked up the Korg Z3. My first impression was that this unit featured really fast, really responsive tracking. In particular, patch 05, a fretless-type bass patch, seemed to track precisely everything I did. Hammer-ons and pull-offs and the slightest finger vibrato were all accurately captured. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that there is no MIDI delay in the transmission of the information to the on-board sound generator. Or perhaps it is in the nature of FM synthesis to be more responsive than the typical analog tones you hear with most vintage Roland gear.

Z3 Swith Panel FC6
Front panel switches offer easy access to basic parameters. There is no detailed patch editing on the Korg Z3. Shown above is the optional FC6 Remote Control Foot pedal for Program switching.

There is very limited editing of synth sounds on the Z3. Mark of the Unicorn makes the Unisyn universal editing software, which will allow you to get to the detailed parameters of the Z3. Given that its architecture is similar to the Korg DS-8, you should be able to create some nice sounds. A check of the service manual provides complete documentation for remote, MIDI system exclusive editing.

Mode B, Edit Mode:

You can enter MODE B, edit mode, by switching the Z3 off, then moving the microscopic, recessed tiny switch on the back panel from A to B, and powering the unit up again. Then you can edit a program, which is basically six sets of assignments, one for each string. Here are the functions you can set for each string in edit mode:

  • Program Change Request
  • Bend Range
  • Note On Sensitivity
  • Velocity Curve
  • Transpose
  • Hold (Sostenuto)
  • MIDI Channel
  • Sound Number (Patch)
  • Timbre (Patch) Output Level
  • Reverb (Global)

In some ways, the Z3 is more like the Roland GR-20 guitar synthesizer, where the focus is more on performance controls, rather than the detailed synth patch editing associated with keyboard players. I wonder, did the folks at Korg eliminate patch (sound) editing from the Z3 as a cost cutting measure? Did they feel that the average guitarist was not interested in creating new sounds? Or did use of the Roland-compatible technology mean that they agreed to limit sound editing, so it would not compete directly with other Roland products?

Korg Z3 Block Diagram.

Links to more information:

Official Korg Description:

Z3 Rack Korg Z3 Driver
The Z3 features two processors: one for tracking, and one for FM synthesis.

"The 1-unit size Z3 features built-in sound sources and various performance functions combined with the expressive power of the compact ZD3 drive unit for simultaneous output of both actual guitar sounds and synthesizer sounds. The sounds of the synthesizer alone, the guitar output by itself, or a combination of the two can be produced without changing instruments - the possibilities are virtually endless. The time-lag problem associated with conventional pickup systems was eliminated in the Z3/ ZD3 system through three developments: 1)application of parallel processing with dual microcomputers (CPUs) for pitch extraction and sound generation, 2) use of high-speed analog-to-digital converter to handle the waveform data from the divided pickup, and 3) utilization of a 16-bit microprocessor and a custom LSI chip with a newly developed algorithm for instant conversion to MIDI. With 6-voice, 128-preset internal sound sources and four digital oscillators per voice, guitarists have access to a completely new sonic palette."

"High-quality 16-bit digital reverb has also been included to beef-up the sound with spacious stereo ambiance. The instrument operates in two different modes. In Mode A, you can choose from any of the 128 preset sounds, as well as select and change 6 different parameters of each sound, such as pitch bend, sensitivity transpose, and so on. Mode B lets you write these parameter settings to 128 programs and offers four different function groups for detailed editing: Play, Edit, Patch Play, and Patch Edit. By bringing the electric guitar into the world of MIDI, the Z3/ZD3 combination allows use of other MIDI sound generators as well. Two MIDI output modes are available: POLY and MONO."

"To control sound sources that are not multi-timbral, you can use the POLY mode to send MIDI data from all six strings over a single MIDI channel. The MONO mode makes it possible to simultaneously control up to 6 different sound sources, since separate MIDI channels are assigned to each string. Convenient and easy foot control of the instrument's functions is possible by connecting the foot controller, FC6, using the special RCC-050 remote cable."

The Korg Z3 and ZD3 Driver and Working with Roland Synthesizers:

Korg ZD3 Driver Driver Electronics
The Korg ZD3 Driver, very much similar in size and design to the Roland GK-1. The ZD3 has volume and patch up/down controls, while the GK-1 has CV#1, CV#2, volume and balance controls. String and volume signals are Roland standard, but program up and down are incompatible.

At first glance the Korg ZD3 Guitar Synthesizer Driver appears to be a clone of the Roland GK-1, but the ZD3 has only a master volume control. While the GK-1 has controls for CV #1 and CV #2 (typically, filter cutoff and resonance) plus balance, the Korg system does not support any of these features. The ZD3 does have program up and down switches, but these are not compatible with the Roland standard, and they use pin #17 (used for the hex-fuzz) to transmit their transistor logic signals.

Korg Z3 Connector
Pin-type connector for the Korg Z3's
recessed input.
Korg Z3 24-pin connector
Latching-type connectors will
not work with the Z3.

I was able to test the ZD3 driver with various similar Roland 24-pin gear. The driver does deliver the basic string signals, but it only generates master volume commands (pin #8) and not the more common synth volume command (pin #9) or guitar volume commane (pin #10) ,so it is not compatible with the US-2 Unit Switcher.

You can effectively mix and match the Z3 with other vintage synthesizers using the US-2, but the synth on/off switches on the US-2 will not have any effect, and the Z3 will stay on. More information on using the US-2 with the Korg Z3, and other pin-out details.

The final quirk of the Korg system is the recessed front panel connector, which mandates the use of a pin-type connector (like the kind used on the ZD3 driver) or a Roland cable with a pin-type connector, like the C-24B, C-24G, C-24F or similar. The Roland C-24D cables will not fully insert due do the latchnig mechanism. More information on vintage 24-pin cables.

Photos:

Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
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Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer
Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer Korg Z3 Guitar Synthesizer

Videos:

YouTube Playlist: Korg Z3 - Ten Video Series

Modifications: Power Supply Operation 117 or 220/240 volt

Korg Z3 110V Power Korg Z3 220V Power
Click on image to enlarge

I have owned both US and European versions of the Korg Z3. There is only one power transformer used in the Z3. The output taps are changed in the two versions to accommodate different power supplies. Click on the above image to see how to reconfigure your Z3 to a different power supply. You will notice the black wire has been moved for 220/240 versus 117 volt operation.

Schematics - Repairs - Service Bulletins:

There are no known service bulletins from Korg addressing any Z3 problems.

Memory Failure - Battery Replacement:

If the display of your Korg Z3 flashes when first turned the unit on, this indicates the lithium memory backup battery is dead. The Korg Z3 uses the very popular CR 2032 battery, found in most synthesizers to back up memory contents.

More Info:

Korg Z3 Ad

Magazine advertising from a British Music Magazine featuring the Korg Z3.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Korg Z3 Ad

The scan at left is an excerpt from the full Korg product brochure, from the late 80s.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Original Korg Z3 Brochure:

Korg Z3 Brochure Korg Z3 Brochure Korg Z3 Brochure
Korg Z3 Brochure Korg Z3 Brochure Korg Z3 Brochure
Click on any image for larger view.