Roland Strings RS-202

The Roland String RS-202 was released in 1976 and was the successor to the RS-101. It is very similar to the RS-101, but added a user-controlled delay for the vibrato, and an Ensemble Off/I/II switch (Sound on sound). Ensemble I adds the typical string machine ensemble effect, while Ensemble II is more similar to an ordinary chorus. Anyway, the Ensemble II effect does not sound as thick as the chorus effect found on Roland's Juno-line of synths from the 80's.

Example of RS-202's ensemble effect (off/I/II) [534 KB, mp3]

The basic sound alternatives are called "BRASS", "STRINGS I" and "STRINGS II". The BRASS sound does not sound much like what you would expect a BRASS synth sound to sound like. It is more like a sort of a nasal and brassy string sound, while the STRINGS sound is more full but has less mid-range. STRINGS II sound the same as STRINGS I but is one octave higher. The BRASS and STRINGS sound also have a "TONE"-adjustment slider each, but their individual volumes cannot be controlled.

BRASS with TONE adjustments [309 KB, mp3]
STRINGS I with TONE adjustments [271 KB, mp3]

Like most string machines, the keyboard is split in the middle, so that you can control the sound separately for the lower and the upper part. The upper and lower part of the keyboard have each switches for enabling and disabling separately the three sound alternatives, and all sounds can be enabled simultaneously. Each part have additionally a switch for lowering the volume of the part ("VOLUME SOFT") and making the attack slightly longer ("VOLUME SOFT"). The release time of the upper and lower parts can also be controlled separately using two sliders ("SUSTAIN").

Additionally to the Ensemble effect, there is a slider for controlling the amount of vibrato (pitch modulation) and another slider for adding a delay time to the vibrato, which allows the vibrato to be none when the key is pressed and is gradually increased with time.

STRINGS I with SUSTAIN adjustments [374 KB, mp3]
STRINGS I with ATTACK and VIBRATO adjustments [292 KB, mp3]

The RS-202 has one "high" output for connecting to a mixer and one "low" output for connecting to an amplifier. It also has a gate output for triggering external equipment that has a CV/gate-interface using the keyboard of the RS-202. However, it has no CV output, meaning you can only use the keyboard for triggering, for instance, a drum sound or the envelope of a filter.

The sound of the RS-202 is very clean in comparison to other string machines. It may sound very bright on the samples included here, but with the tone control on zero it gets more mellow and similar to other string machines. The ensemble effect is nice, but not as thick as on the Hohner String Performer or the Logan String Melody.

STRINGS I, II and BRASS with ensemble I [487 KB, mp3]
STRINGS I and II with ensemble I [365 KB, mp3]

Using the string machine together with a good phaser pedal works also as expected.

STRINGS I with ensemble I through an EHX Small Stone phaser [787 KB, mp3]

Although it only has three basic sound sources, the controllers available allows it to be adjusted quite much. However, setting the attack to zero and release to zero the attack is still quite soft and has some release time.

Organ type of sound using STRINGS I and II with vibrato [292 KB, mp3]

The possibilities to turn off the internal ensemble effect and the trigger signal from the keyboard makes it quite versatile for further treatment of the sound through external effect units.

As most string machines, the RS-202 is built into the bottom of a flight case for easy transportation. It weighs 12.3 kg without the top case cover (which probably adds a couple of kilos) and is quite a small package. Its dimensions are 91 x 35 x 17 cm.