Tag Archives: vintage synthesizers

A DIY Electronic Music Studio circa 1971

Texas_studio_1971Today on PS dot com: a 1971 article by one Robert C. Ehle on the subject of ‘The Electronic Music Studio.’

Download here: Elec_Music_1971

The article includes a schematic for an audio-triggered frequency divider (ala early ‘woodwind synthesizers’) and some interesting other bits, such as discussion of tape-based time compression (which we covered earlier,,,  click here for that article).

Tape_TimeCompresion_1971Bleep Bleep.

Bloop Bloop.




Keyboards of the Seventies part II

Contessa_2Above: What the holy F is this thing?

Today: yet another installment in our ongoing series on Keyboard of the 1970s.  Click here for part one.  As per usual, if you are still using these things today, drop us a line and let us know!  Except for the Rhodes.  There’s nothing new to say about those fkkn things.  So keep yr Rhodes to yrself thanks.

Univox_Compac_piano_1972Above: the Univox Compac Piano.  We had one of these things for a minute in high school.  I think it was $100.  Really terrible sound.  Click here for previous coverage of this atrocity.  

Rhodes_1977 Rhodes_1972Above: the two worst ads Fender ever ran for the Rhodes.  ’77 and ’72.

Novaline_piano_1977Above: The Novaline Piano circa ’77. Never seen one.  Anyone? 

MaxiKorg_1977Above: The KORG Maxi-Korg circa ’77.  Looks pretty cool.  Any of these still working?

Hohner_1977Above: Hohner made many keyboards besides the famous Clavinet.  For instance,,,

Hohner_Contessa_96_1972…The Contessa of 1972.  Farfisa-type organ with accordion chord-buttons in the left hand.  Yikes.

Baldwin_SynthaSound_1972Next time you see one of those shitty old Baldwin living-room-organs at the goodwill, take a 2nd look: it might have the SynthaSound option boards.  Wacky sounds ensue. 

Elka_Stringchoir_1977Above: The ELKA #8609 String Choir.  My K2500 has a bunch of ELKA patches and I kinda like em.  Anyone use the 8609?  How does it compare to other string synths of the era?

The Voyetra 8 Analog Polysynth c. 1982

Voyetra8_1984Perhaps the most advanced analog polysynth ever offered, the Octave-Plateau Corp.’s Voyetra 8 was introduced in 1982 and offered incredible digital control over an 8-voice analog synth with a pretty deep sequencer.  I’ve uncovered a few period adverts for this beast and I’ve posted them below.  Anyone using of these nowadays?  How does it compare to (X)?   BTW, I love how the somewhat coarse ‘industrial’ styling of the device is mirrored in the very prosaic graphic design of the adverts; there is no attempt to use any ‘trendy’ or (god-forbid) ‘sexxy’ symbolism to promote this product.  THIS IS A SERIOUS FKKN SYNTHESIZER.

Voyetra8_1984 Voyetra8_1984_2

The Resynator pitch-tracking synth c. 1980

Resynator_smHow y’all doing.  Found an odd lil bit from 1980’s synth-land: the Resynator, from “Musico.”  Yup that was the name of the company that created this $2000 device ($5,700 at the pump today, buddy).  Anyhow, the Resynator is a fascinating pitch-and-envelope-tracking synthesizer (monophonic, I am sure) that used digital signal processing (unlike, say, the Korg MS20 of the same era, which could also track pitch and envelope, but was completely analog -and much cheaper).  So, yeah, you could patch any monophonic audio signal into the Resynator and get a synth-sound on the output.  But oh it’s so much more complicated than that.  Read on, in this 1980 review by one John Amaral…

Resynator_review_1 Res_rev_2 Res_rev_3

Obscure Synths+Keys of the early 80s, part XIV

ARP_SOLUSToday: just some offbeat keys+synths that caught my eye; i’ve never come across any of these in the shops+stages+studios of my corporeal reality so I think perhaps uncommon items?  Srry, it’s early.  About to head to the LAST FLEA MKT OF THE YR.  Bittersweet times.  Aie, I recall salad-days when April was young and barkers descended on New Milford plain to hawk goods of dubious origin.  Like the sun, the tide, and the pork-belly market, that time will rise again I suppose. Below: the Akai AX-80 synth c. 1985, the Crumar Rhody ‘electronic piano’ of 1980,  the fascinating Casio 8000 modular…casio…system of ’84, the 1980 ARP Solus (also above), and the 360 Systems ‘Digital Keyboard’ of 1984.



The Wells Floor Bass by TMB Canada (1977)

TMB_Wells_Floor_Bass_1977How y’all doin out there in the internets…  had a pretty good AM at the F.M., having a George Crumb marathon on the ole’ 1500 right now, man is my wife ever patient.  Anyhow, managed to find a pile of old 70’s musician mags that I was lacking, here are some weird+wild highlights of those that faded, those who never made the grade

Starting out with: the TMB “Wells floor bass.”  Holy shit this is cool.  Unlike a Moog Taurus or the dozens of other ‘bass pedal synths’ out there, this unit was made with gtr-player-logic in mind.  fkkn hell.  Want it.  Read more here! 

Suicide Manual

TAB_666_ExperimentingIn NYC in the mid-seventies, an electronic-based band arose amongst all the guitar punks, a band that was known as much for their confrontational post-beatnik vocals as for the strange and intense sounds that emanated from their famously homemade electronic sound equipment.  A band who has become, in the decades since, one of the few acts that is truly ‘required reading’ in the lexicon of avant-garde rock n pop.  Or, as James Murphy so brilliantly puts it in his apocryphal tale of musical uber-taste, “I was there, in 1974, the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City… I was working on the organ sounds…with much patience” (skip to 2:50… or, actually, don’t… this song kinda rules).

So yeah I am talking about Suicide.  If you don’t know ’em, check ’em out…  it is amazing+terrifying that this record came out in 1977…  truly truly AOTT.  And plainly awesome too.  I really love this band, and they inspired me greatly in the early 2000s, when I was performing with a punk band in Brooklyn using an analog drum-machine rig based around some old Roland beatboxes, voltage controlled filters, and a CV-generating homemade theremin to control the whole thing.

LISTEN: The_Flesh_Gallows

This felt fairly fresh to me in the year 2001; so that fact that Suicide was doing this same thing 25 years early was mindblowing.  I had to wonder; how the hell did these guys make all the stuff?  Even in the year 2000, DIY’ing synth equipment was fairly unusual for rock musicians; but in 1975?  That was like black magic!  Well I think I found the grimoire.

NEways… kinda a long setup to what will be…  the first OUT OF PRINT BOOK REPORT we’ve had in a while.  And oh boy will there be more coming.  I was recently at a really fascinating estate-sale somewhere in Marin County, California, where I met an elderly engineer who sold me a library of ancient audio-tech books and wished me luck on my travels… the pick of the litter was the above-depicted “Experimenting With Electronic Music,” by Robert Brown and Mark Olsen.  Published in 1974, it is TAB books catalog number 666.  No joke.  This just keeps getting better.

ARP_2500The book starts with some fairly uninteresting discussion of various commercially-available synthesizers circa ’74, but soon gets into a wealth of both schematics and ideas regarding DIY’d audio electronic circuits.  Here’s the TOC:

TAB_666_ContentsThere’s a ton of great stuff in here, and while I honestly have no idea whether or not the particular transistors spec’d in these circuits are still available, I would imagine that there are subs available…  even if you never build anything from the book, I think anyone with an interest in early electronic music will find it fascinating.  Here’s a few projects that I plan to do at some point:

PhotoElectric_Modulator Tremolo_Schem BandSelect_Audio_filter“Experimenting with Electronic music” is available from a few sellers on Abe Books.  It ain’t cheap, but I’ve been digging for these sorta books for 20 years now and this is the first copy I ever came across.

Keys Break: 1980

Today: a quick look at some forgotten synths+keys from circa 1980 A.D.  Above: the Electro-Harmonix Mini Synth, a pretty cool little piece.  Incredibly, it has a touch-sensitive keyboard.  Other period entries in the mini-analog-monosynth field included my beloved Yamaha CS-01 and ???

Above: Roland’s Saturn, a hopped up organ similar to the RS-09.  Read the advert text for Roland’s suggestion that the Saturn’s sound corresponds to the aesthetic values of New Wave (i.e., trad rock + the new ‘punk’ sounds = New Wave, demanding a combo organ with… something extra….).

Octave-Plateau’s CAT and KITTEN synthesizers. But what’s that lil’ box in the center?

Why it’s the CAT STICK, a four-source modulation generator.  Pretty good, pretty neat…

Above: the Hohner Duo, a large mechanical nightmare that comprises a complete Clavinet and a complete Pianet in One-Handy-Keyboard.  We have a fully-restored Duo at Gold Coast Recorders and it makes the occasional appearance on tracks. Coolest unexpected feature: keyboard split!

Above: the Moog Liberation and Performance Music System’s SYNTAR, early Keytar instruments.  Nice Spyro Gyra appearance.


Key Break

Man I love this image.  Yamaha YC Combo Organ advert circa 1971. “Organ Eyes.  It’s what happens when you see something in your mind.” Nice.  We briefly used a Yamaha YC20 In our band before we started touring.  It was just too damn heavy but wow are those things cool.  They were also dirt-cheap.

Today: some random bits of 70’s keyboard culture.  If yr using any of these pieces in the studio these days, drop us a line and let us know…

Above: The EML synkey circa 1976.  Touted as being the first user-programmable synthesizer, this piece also has a fairly unique feature for it’s day:  Aftertouch! Or as EML terms it, “Second Touch.” This advert also solves a little mystery for me… I was wondering what ever did happen to CT-based Electronic Music Labs (EML), and it looks like they ended up as part of the CT-based Kaman musical empire.  Click here for some previous EML coverage at PS dot com.

Above: Felix Pappalardi endorses the mighty Mellotron.  These things are so classic that it seems almost unbelievable that these things were once advertised, stocked in shops, etc…  For those unfamiliar, the Mellotron was a very early sampling keyboard.  It accomplished this feat in the pre-digital-audio era by using a separate tape playback mechanism for each key.  The tape was not looped, but rather a spring-loaded strip of eight-seconds length, which has the unintentional effect of requiring unusual playing techniques for any musical passage with long sustained chords.  Get the whole story here.

PAiA : Synth DIY circa late 70’s

From the pages of various musician’ mags of the late 70s: The Collected Works of the PAiA Electronics marketing department.  PAiA is, and has been for decades, the standard-bearer for good-quality kits for musical instruments and musical accessories.  I am not aware of any other company that spanned the original DIY electronics era with the modern ‘circuit bending/group DIY ing/ craft-boutique-audio etc’ eras.  They are still very much alive+ kicking and I’m glad for it.   When I was in school I built a PAiA theremax theremin  – it cost $175 complete at the time and went together with no issues in 6 hours – i used it on a ton of recordings, both as an audio source and as a dual-control-voltage generator for dramatic filter-frequency cut off in live performances (this was the Electroclash era, after all).  Anyway.  The other weekend a fellow was selling a decent-looking but untested PAiA 4700 modular synthesizer system from the mid 1970s.  He was asking $800, seemed ready to take $500, and eventually got his $500 on eBay from an eager Swede via eBay. Let’s take a look back on what else this venerable company was offering in that era…

The PAiA Drum Percussion Synthesizer circa 1979 – seems to be like an 808 minus the sequencer

The PAiA GNOME micro-synth c. 1981

The PAiA programmable drum set c. 1979

The PAiA Proteus Synthesizer circa 1981

If you ever come across old used PAiA gear: remember: most were user-built, and usually by people with little or no experience in electronics assembly.  So caveat emptor.