Another synthesiser interview! Following the rediscovery of a plethora of old magazines from business man Mr ‘Synthesiser’ Singh last week, another interview from the 80s has resurfaced. Mr Singh talks about what to look for in a synthesiser and how to tell whether or not you are getting value for your money!
MEET MR. SYNTHESISER
CHOOSING A SYNTH UNDER £300
Article from London V.C.O, March 1980
For most musicians their first taste of synthesis is on a small and relatively cheap instrument. Do you find that musicians in this bracket generally understand what they want?
You’d be surprised at just how much young musicians know, many people hopelessly underestimate the market. We’ve found that many young would-be synth players have got a real understanding of the market. Very often their knowledge far exceeds their ability to play and I can easily understand that.
We make a point of explaining all the options to somebody thinking about a serious synthesiser for the first time. There’s a lot of misleading information available and sometimes we have quite a job to straighten this out.
Can you give us an idea of your basic advice to someone looking for a synth in this price range?
Well the first thing I would say is “Don’t get conned by a sales pitch”. There’s so much nonsense talked about whether a synthesiser has one oscillator or two, whether it’s got this wheel or that. Every maker has developed its own special ingredient and they’re not worth a light when it really comes down to it. Every player needs basic things: a three octave keyboard is vital. No matter how many octave switches there may be on a keyboard, less than three octaves just doesn’t allow the formation of any right hand technique at all. Another thing must be the ability of the instrument to “interface” – that means to link up with – with other synthesisers and associated equipment. A good cheap synth should be just a smaller version of a more expensive, larger synth, not a toy version. On the ARP Axxe for example these elements are combined. As well as having a three octave keyboard the synth can be connected to almost any other synth which means that the instrument is never dis-guarded, it’s a professional tool that can produce as well at the Hollywood Bowl as at a Saturday gig and the Dog and Duck.
Having established that a three octave keyboard is a necessity, along with interface ability, what else should someone look for in a cheap synth?
Well,once those parameters have been met I think the instrument must offer cariety and interest if it’s going to provide satisfaction for a long period. I think any synth under £300 should offer a Sample and Hold, for example. This is the delightful feature which really gives contol over the synthesiser and allows the player to sample sound available and hold his choice. I think a machine for this price should also offer a noise generator – this item allows really great effects to be created and I certainly think ADSR should be included. On the ARP Axxe for example, there’s also “Proportional Pitch Control” control which allows players to pitch and add vibrato at the same time. That’s a feature which really adds expression to playing. You see even in an instrument under £300 it is possible to get something that’s really professional.
So how would you sum up your advice to buyers looking for a first synth?
Basically, be careful. I think there are going to be lots of cheaper units around this year and I don’t think famous names will automatically be a safeguard. The rules are simple: 1) It must be a full instrument with a three octave keyboard, 2) It must interface easily, 3) It must have a variety of effects including a noise generator, ADSR, and Sample and Hold. If you follow these rules you’ll get a professional instrument.
On the negative side, watch out for claims about two oscillators being better than one – at this level it’s just not true. It only becomes important when you’re talking about paraphonic or polyphonic synthesisers. Also watch out for people saying “this instrument makes the best sound”. A synthesiser should be capable of producing almost any sound, that’s what the word means and if someone tells you that a sound is unique, don’t believe them!
As I have outlined in a previous historical blog post, Mr Singh is in fact still in the music business but has moved from synthesisers to digital pianos, portable pianos, and other instruments and accessories such as piano stools. Mr Singh has his own line of electronic pianos which are some of the best on the current electric piano market and although generally he has moved his business away from synthesisers, many of the digital pianos sold through Mr Singh’s business have synthesiser features, for example the Chase P-40.