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Pick One Synth

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Nick Dempsey Nick Dempsey | 10:08 UK time, Friday, 16 October 2009


If you are even slightly interested in electronic music, you should definitely watch Synth Britannia, available to watch until next Friday. There's also the traditional follow-up programme with full length performances from many of the featured artists.

For lovers of the bleep there's nothing quite like a proper vintage synthesizer. So, uber-geeks that we are, we thought it would be fitting to ask a load of proper vintage producers to tell us all about their favourite 80s knob boxes.

NB: Special thanks to online library of synths Vintage Synth Explorer, a truly epic resource for synth freaks.

Korg Mono/Poly
Andy Blake
Dissident Records
Favourite synth? That's like asking me to pick my favourite child. It changes all the time and very often it's the Pro One (my favourite!...ed), the 202 or the 303 and let's not even get started on drum machines. At the moment though, I think it's my Korg Mono/Poly. Basically the only synth (apart from a little bit of detuned Pro One playing the same pattern) on my new single, Terror International. Recorded live in one take and all that heavy, undulating texture comes from one analog sequencer driving the Mono/Poly and me varying the noise level, VCA and VCF settings in real time. A truly amazing synthesiser.

It's a somewhat overlooked synth with 4 oscillators and all kinds of cross-mod capabilities. The warmest noise generator on any synth, an insane filter (the only synth I can think of with more bass when the resonance is up), a great effects section, 2 LFOs, an arpeggiator and really well implemented CV control. It's got tons of character and flexibility sonically and also looks great and feels really nice to use.

Roland Jupiter 6
Neil Landstrumm
Planet Mu, Scandinavia, Tresor, Peacefrog
I got mine from a dodgy shop down Leith (Billy Bostons) and it even came to New York while I lived there for a while. The piece of gear I've owned the longest in my studio. Its sound can be lush discordant stabs or alien sci-fi textures all with the pressing of the unison and band pass filter buttons. The 12 oscillators can really sing and cut through any mix or it can just sound grumpy hanging around in the background. I don't think it was well received in 1983 as the DX-7 came out but I can tell you which one I'd rather have today. Used it on nearly every record I've done but I suppose the classic one would be Sugar Experiment Station - Ultimathule EP which I recorded with Tobias Schmidt in 1996.

Korg Minikorg 700s
Keith McIvor aka JD Twitch
Optimo (Espacio)
One of the first wave of affordable synths from the mid 70s. Wood side panels and knobs with names such as "bender" - who could resist? Whole records have been made using only this machine with Warm Leatherette by The Normal being a shining example. Mine doesn't work but still has pride of place in my studio.

Roland Juno 106
Lachlan Lewis MacColl aka Operator
Looks as if it were part of the control panel from the Millennium Falcon, 80s dark grey with colourful buttons like forgotten penny chews. Probably considered a bit of a baby synth because it's not hard to program and you don't need to spend £70 on patch cables to enjoy it. But it's really flexible, the pads are interesting, the bass is pretty much an SH-101 when you stick it in monophonic and the lead elements are piercingly warm. I'll always appreciate the Juno because it eased my entry into the world of synths. I used it on my most recent release on Mighty Robot.

Sequential Circuits Six Trak
Thumbnail image for new_e_sci_sixtrak.jpg
Dave Clark
Truffle Club, Big Ned, Optimo remixes
I use a Minimoog on almost everything these days, and have had a billion analogue synths over the years, but this has a place in my heart. I bought mine way back in the early 90s and although it isn't the most versatile machine, it does make some amazing sounds due to it's six (!) oscillators. It was designed to be 6 separate single oscillator monosynths in a box, but the sounds made from just one oscillator are very thin. It really comes into it's own when put into 'unison' mode, and all 6 oscillators fire simultaniously. This creates lovely fat chorused basses and lead sounds (that even the Minimoog can't copy) and I use them all the time. It's also the analogue i've had the longest. I'll never sell it!

Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer
Dave Paton aka The Wee DJs
I loved the sound of it so much I got my mate's mum to buy me one from America. Found another mate to fit it with a British transformer, then trashed it up carrying it around to gigs all the time. Still got it, tho it doesn't really work any more cos I put it under the bed and my cat pee'd on it.

Korg MS-20
Dave Tarrida
Tresor, BPitch Control, Shitkatapult
The first proper synth I had, apart from an old Yamaha keyboard. I was using old Roland drum machines and samplers. It was my first synth that made proper bass, which was right up my street. I recorded every track on my entire first EP for Tresor (Postmortem Pop) with this beast. It's a true classic!

Roland TB-303 Bassline
Ege Bam Yasi aka Mr Egg
The 303 changed my life in Stirling back in 1984, as soon as I heard the sound I was hooked. It can have other eggsternal analogue eggstruments wired into it and can also be retro modified, plus the 1/2 dozen frequency knobs remind me of eggs in a box.

Matt Den Haan
Despite being regarded as less musically approachable due to its unique design it is capable of producing some really far out sounds like those on the Synthi 100 (as used by BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 70s) plus it was portable as opposed to being room sized. It's been used by The Alan Parsons Project to the Aphex Twin and many, many more.

Oberheim OB-Xa
Andy Den Haan
A classic sounding synth in its day that everyone will have heard without knowing it, from the opening of Van Halen - Jump to Radio Ga Ga by Queen. Brings back childhood memories.

DSI Evolver
Dan Lurinsky
Monox, The Flying Lurinskys
Designed by Dave Smith (obviously). He was the brains behind Sequential Circuits, so he's responsible for some of the finest noise-making devices ever created. My favourite thing about the Evolver is that's it's so hard to keep in check, it's almost got a mind of it's own, I love that! I've used it on various tracks, sometimes I've used two. One track of note would be Don't Get Evolved (a crap play on words, I know), from the Unleash Electric Death EP I recorded as The Flying Lurinskys with Michael Forshaw.



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