The Gear of Uncle Jesse: How The Full House Rocker Turned into a Synth Head

Everyone’s favorite TV uncle and multi-instrumentalist—Jesse Katsopolis from Full House—is known to many as the handsome face of Jesse and The Rippers. Their big-in-Japan cover of The Beach Boys’ "Forever" graced (or plagued) a generation of television viewers in 1992.

Jesse covering The Beach Boys' "Forever"

Jesse was nothing if not trendy, so naturally he was a rock ‘n’ roll guitar guy, until that fell out of vogue as the show progressed.

In the middle and later seasons of Full House, Uncle Jesse integrated keyboards and synthesizers into his bands and compositions. What follows is Uncle J’s evolution from a guitar-slinging rocker to a digital synth and sampler enthusiast.

From Ripper to Hot Daddy

Most Full House fans will remember Jesse and The Rippers as Jesse’s claim to fame, but before that, he played with his brother in the rock band Feedback. When Feedback briefly reunited, the Rippers' keyboardist and erstwhile guitarist appeared with what appears to be a Yamaha KX5 Keytar.

A B.C.-Rich-wielding Jesse plays alongside a keytarist.

Still, in many Jesse and The Rippers rehearsals and performances, a keyboardist was not present. Despite this, Jesse began leaning into synth territory around this time.

In season three, episode 18, "Mr. Egghead," Jesse plays a keyboard with an obscured logo, though its in/out/thru MIDI ports and pedal inputs located on the player’s top right reveal it to be the hottest synth of the ‘80s—the Yamaha DX7.

The now legendary synth appeared in countless hits from the '80s and early '90s. Today, it’s enjoying a resurgence with pop’s nostalgia for ‘80s-style textures, Yamaha’s new take on FM synthesis with the Reface DX, and some audiences’ growing appreciation for the sounds from 16-bit Sega video games, which were generated from Yamaha FM sound chips.

Yamaha DX7

Why Jesse would choose the DX7 may not make much sense when considering its interface—the keyboard’s squishy buttons, tiny LCD screen, and one single data slider made programming difficult.

But Jesse was likely to forgive the DX7’s downsides, because its preset patches delivered enough usable sounds for a variety of performance and recording needs—and it was affordable, even on the musician's spotty salary. Jesse would go on to use the DX7 for at least three seasons.

By season five, Jesse seemed to be hooked, not just on deep, sparkling FM synthesis, but on sampling as well. In the episode "Spellbound," Joey tasks Jesse with writing a theme for his Ranger Joe kids’ show. Jesse used the DX7, again with is logo obscured, along with a DX7 competitor—the Roland D-50.

The D-50’s patented Linear Arithmetic Synthesis incorporated sampling into the machine, opening up new vistas for Uncle Jesse, allowing him to create analog-like sounds and more glossy FM patches with combined resonant filters and digital synthesis.

Roland D-50

"Spellbound" aired in 1992, making the D-50 just two years out of date, as it was produced for only a few years until digital synths with easier programmability were manufactured. With these two keyboards, Jesse triggered samples via MIDI on the DX7 and used a D-50 piano patch to compose music for Ranger Joe.

Also in season five, in "The Devil Made Me Do It," Jesse demonstrates sampling to Michelle and her friend Teddy with the aid of a DrumKAT controller, triggering samples with the DrumKAT’s pads, emulating bass on the D-50, and playing an electric guitar patch on the DX7. (What appears to be an Akai S900 sampler also sits behind him.) As Jesse says, "I've got a whole band right here," ending the song with sampled horns and a Elvis saying "Thank you very much."

Jesse also warns the astonished kids, "This is not a toy store. This is very expensive equipment that I'm still making payments on."

DrumKat Controller

By season six, Jesse would fully embrace digital synthesizers, saying to his niece Stephanie in "The Heartbreak Kid": "I run a computerized synthesizer, I run a 24-track mixing board, I am no stranger to technology."

The DX7 eventually stopped appearing on the show, but the D-50 may have stayed on until the show’s final season, when Jesse formed the group Hot Daddy and the Monkey Puppets. If this is true, the logo, typically unobscured, was hidden in the final few seasons.

I run a computerized synthesizer, I run a 24-track mixing board, I am no stranger to technology." - Uncle Jesse

In "We Got the Beat" from season eight, Kimmy Gibbler plays an unidentified, all black digital synth from Jesse’s synth collection as a member of Girl Talk. The instrument appears to be the same synth with sampling and/or MIDI-triggering capabilities that Jesse later uses to combat Kimmy’s backyard bagpipe practice sessions in "All Stood Up."

It also appears to be the same synth Little Richard used in his cameo in the previous season seven. From the keyboard’s angles, this might be the D-50 or possibly the Roland JV-30.

Everywhere You Look

Jesse was a savvy musician, utilizing different instruments to get the sounds he wanted. He can be seen behind a Wurlitzer in "Play It Again, Jesse" from season five and an upright piano in "The King and I." So, it’s safe to say that Uncle Jesse did not make his synth decisions lightly.

I find it interesting that the D-50 remained in Jesse’s studio in 1992 and beyond, considering that Roland had already released the JD-800, an intimidating-looking synth with numerous sliders and multimode filters that made programming much easier.

Though the D-50 served as a foundation for the JD-800’s sound bank (and Jesse was probably aware of the JD-800), I imagine Jesse decided to hang on to his D-50 because it allowed him to deliver his freelance composition work faster. As further evidence, I’ll add that Jesse did not appear to own the PG-1000, the D-50’s optional external programmer that was similar to the JX-3P’s PG-200. Apparently, creating new patches seemed less appealing to Jesse, as he opted for triggering samples and playing presets.

There may, alas, be more to Jesse’s interest in synths than we’re aware of. We never get a good look at Jesse’s rackmount gear in his basement studio. He could have been using his keyboards as controllers for units like Roland’s U-220, a sound generator that included chorus and reverb released in 1989. Roland’s D-550 was another rackmount sound generator Jesse could have owned.

I’m ruling out any analog synthesizers in Jesse’s closet, since the Juno’s and Jupiter’s heyday was primetime for Jesse to play B.C. Rich electric guitars through Mesa/Boogie and Peavey amps—the rock rigs often featured in Full House’s early seasons.

There was no way Jesse could afford (or probably understand) a Fairlight CMI or PPG Wave, even on the second-hand market by the time Full House wrapped up. His feet were firmly planted in the world of a working musician who needed popular sounds at hand. The DX7 and D-50 provided those sounds, were affordable, and made him look cool, which is really what Uncle Jesse was all about.

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