Elka Rhapsody 490 String Machine

I’ve always loved the sound of those 1970s string machines and always wanted one but never did get one… until now! I found a cheap one at a music store in Ottawa and promptly ordered it! Finally I have an Elka Rhapsody 490! And it’s a fairly early one too, serial # 503.

Elka Rhapsody 490 String Machine

I love that shimmering string sound! I’ve always found it to be very relaxing and hypnotic. Hopefully I can find a use for it in one of the songs I’m currently working on.

Unfortunately this thing is OLD. Like 1975 old! The left side panel is just kinda hanging there and there were some problems moving the sliders. Someone has broken off the plastic columns the board was screwed into. So I took it apart and tried to fix it. Man is the circuitry in this thing OLD!!

Elka Rhapsody 490 Electronics

Definitely reminds me of old radios and TVs I used to take apart back in the 70s and early 80s. Unfortunately that means the capacitors will be dying soon and I can hear that at least 2 or 3 are already dead and those 3 keys have no envelopes at all. Just on-off.

Anyway, unfortunately I somehow broke it as I was fixing it. So, since I felt like it was unfinished business, tonight I decided to take it apart and have a look. I resoldered a few bad connections on that board I was remounting but that didn’t help. Then I found someone on the internet who had the same problem and decided to take a bunch of the boards out to have a look. Amazingly enough it was the same problem! A wire had come off of the master oscillator.

Elka 490 Wire Came Off Master Oscillator

Easy fix! I also spent a little time cleaning the connectors on each board since they were very dirty and a bit corroded.

Elka 490 Copper Turning Green

After it was all back together it worked again! Wooo! I still need to get a few capacitors to fix those envelopes though. Another problem that appeared as I was fixing it (the first time) is that some of the keys started sticking. The rubber bushings inside that keep the keys from hitting the top and bottom too hard seem to be expanding and making the keys stick when you press them. Not sure what to do about that.

But the good news was, after resoldering those joints in the left side board the sustain slider works perfectly again! It was pretty iffy before. Also when both sound buttons were up (off) there was still a sound playing, basically a simple string sound with no chorusing. Not particularly useful anyway but it’s gone now.

Now I am gluing some pieces of wood in that left section to screw the circuit board into for additional support. Once I find some teeny tiny screws to use there it should be nice and solid. Then if I can get those 3 capacitors it’ll be perfect… for a while. I have a feeling all the other capacitors will need replacing soon… and there are about 100 of them. Big job! And I have at least 5 synths that need the same treatment. Ugggg.

Ok, back to making music.

Me Fixing the Elka 490

2 thoughts on “Elka Rhapsody 490 String Machine”

  1. I passed by this very one not knowing what these ‘string synths’ were all about and why people admired them….since then I’ve become a lot more ‘informed’… just picked up an Univox (Crumar) Multiman with the classic chorus effect strings, bass, MiniMoog Ladder filtered Brass, ‘piano & Harpsichord’… even upper/lower mixer and ‘splits’ are a wonder – amazing they crammed all that in this one little keyboard!

  2. You have to also remember that when you’re playing live and use certain sounds a lot, it’s nice to have a keyboard dedicated to that sound so your other keyboards are freed up for other sounds. Especially back in the 70s when everything was much more limited. When this Elka was made in 1975 there was only 1 polyphonic synth, the Oberheim 4 voice (if it was around that year, might have been a year later) and it probably cost around $5000. Most people using synths had a monophonic instrument like the Minimoog or Odyssey and had to create each new sound as they were playing and didn’t want to keep reprogramming a strings sound (or any of the others that strings/multi-instrument keyboards did). This is essentially what lead to people having huge stacks of keyboards on stage. Often it was one for each sound!

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