Friday, July 24, 2009

Open Thread Friday: Your First Synth


What was your first synthesizer? Mine was a Korg Poly-800. I was in about 7th grade and had recently discovered synthesizers and became obsessed with getting one of my own. There was a music store (the now sadly defunct "Downtown Music" in White River Junction, Vermont) across the street from the martial arts studio I was taking lessons at and I used to spend hours at before and after my Karate and Judo classes. The guy who ran the store was a friendly guy who called himself "Downtown Dave" (as an adult, I now realize how much that sounds like a pimp name...) who never bitched that his store became my second home despite my inability to buy anything there. I eventually decided I absolutely had to have a Korg DW-6000.

So, I worked all summer mowing lawns and clearing brush and saved my money away. I really worked my ass off, all the time reminding myself what it was for when I'd get tired. Eventually, I saved up almost enough for the synth, and my parents, impressed by my determination, volunteered to pick up the rest of the cost so I could get it. I was over the moon. But, since I just told you my first synth was a Poly-800, you can probably guess I never got the DW-6000. Turns out it was discontinued at precisely the point I had the funds to buy it, and the DW-8000 that replaced it was a bit too much to afford. I was devastated and felt totally defeated. I more or less forgot about ever getting a synth.


Cut forward to that Christmas and under the tree was a second hand, but totally mint Poly-800 with a nice hardshell case, a stand, and a little practice amp. I'm not sure if I even opened my other presents until later that morning. I set the synth up in the other room and played with it for hours on end, undoubtedly driving my family up the wall since I didn't actually know how to play an instrument at that point.


The Poly-800 wasn't a great synth. Truth be told, it's actually a pretty mediocre machine. But I got so much use out of that thing and learned how to use it inside and out. I taught myself to play it, I taught myself to program it, and I eventually recorded 3 90-minute tapes full of (terrible) original music before I even reached high school. I never had any idea back then that it would open the door to what would eventually become my career, but I will never forget the Christmas I got it.


So what was your first synth? What do you remember about it? And how many of you are going to make me feel like an old man by having your first synth be a softsynth?

29 comments:

Matthias said...

My first synth was a second hand Roland JX-10 from a friend of mine.
First I had no idea, what this thing was capable of and used it as a masterkeyboard only...
Sadly it was partly broken (one oscillator slowly dies, after turning it on)

Vlad said...

Mine was a Soviet-made Yunost21
http://www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/unost21.php
Technically, it wasn't all 'mine' though, as I borrowed it from a friend's friend, but as the owner didn't want it back until about a year later, I got really used to it. Then there was a Casio keyboard which was finally my own property, can't rememeber the model correctly, but rather big thing with 'prset mixing' capability.

DSP said...

My first synth was a kawai k4r & a tr606 drum machine around 1995 i was 15, I learnt a lot about programing with the kawai, i had to play it with my atari as i had no keyboard

Will C. said...

Still don't have any hardware, but my first software synth was the free VSTi Crystal.

Seamus said...

Mine was a MicroKorg. Sold it shortly afterwards as it really was utterly, utterly terrible.

aL said...

Depends if you mean consumer-grade or professional, and also if you mean only synths or are including other keyboard instruments. When I was 12, I received a Casio SK-1 for Christmas, and I was totally in love with that thing! The following Christmas saw a Yamaha PSR-12 keyboard that looked like some consumer grade DX7 with internal speakers but no programming. The Christmas after that was my first actual synthesizer, also a consumer grade Yamaha but I can't for the life of me remember what it was (and I'm sick of scanning through SonicState trying to find it!). It had a little box-shaped microphone attached to the keyboard with a coiled cord and did very simple FM synthesis. I loved playing with the Amplitude Modulation. I think I have a cassette somewhere of me playing some sort of drum loop on it. I also figured out how to turn it on while holding down certain keys, and it would allow me to play the individual drum sounds on the keys instead of just hitting the "16-step" or "Disco" presets. ;-)

As far as professional stuff goes, yeah, um, sorry, my first was Propellerheads ReBirth. But I was a late bloomer! (I think I'm only about 3 years younger than you.) My first professional hardware synth was a Korg Electribe A EA-1, which I just sold on eBay last week.

 JKirchartz said...

If you discount all the casio mini-keyboards, the first synth that was ALL mine was the microKorg & Korg DS-10 (love them both)... Fortunately my dad's been a gear-head & music pro since the dawn of time, so I've been able to rock his gear for years, my absolute favorite is the Moog Rogue (http://www.vintagesynth.com/moog/rogue.php) which is super-simple but still powerful and I learned alot about programming it. Great filter section that's easy to tweak in "dewie" and "WOAH"

Anonymous said...

My first keyboard/synth was a Casio CZ-101 (a serious synth masquerading as a toy), purchased from a Toronto pawn shop in about 1990, my second-to-last year of high-school. I could get it to make all sorts of completely weird noises (which was what I was into at the time... go figure) just by randomly programming the parameters, but I had too short an attention span to sit down and work out how to properly program it. And then life got in the way for a while.

It would be nearly 2004 by the time I got back to looking at synths seriously and actually hunted up a copy of the manual online and learned how to properly deal with the CZ. Shortly after, I purchased my second synth, a Casio VZ-10M... a couple of samplers and synth modules later, I finally bought a serious keyboard, after years of mini-keys and no velocity. Bought a Yamaha SY77, and I'm completely in love with it.

GaryG said...

Mine was nearly an 800 too but i'll have to admit to Casio hz600(?) prior to the 800. It had synthesis capabilities so that's my first synth. Only really used it's drum section though, nice and punchy when layered on the fostex 4track with my guitar (wanted to be steve albini at the time... :))

Dylan Abbott said...

My first synth as a busted ARP Omni-2 that I bought for $35 at my local used music gear store. It was only $35 because every time you played a note, 5 other unrelated notes would sound. Turned out it was just some dead caps, and I ended up getting it fixed for another $100 or so. Well worth it for an oddball little synth with great fake string sounds! Eventually, the caps starteddying again, and I ha to leave it behind when I left California for Seattle. I still miss that synth, and I hope someone found it at that Goodwill it ended up at, and made good use of it.

Smalldot said...

My first (and sadly only) hardware synth was the Roland JP-8000.

Beach Barren said...

The first synth i ever played was a Yamaha CS-15 that belonged to my friends uncle. 1995ish. We would sneak in and play it when he wasn't home. I never seemed to understand how to use the thing. Sometimes it would make noise, sometimes not. Frustrating! A year or so later I bought a Roland Juno-60 and that was way easier to get control of due to the presets. That's when I fell in love with synthesis - filters, LFO's, Arpeggios.. I still own this synth, and last spring i bought a CS-15 - just for old times sake!

deastman said...

This post really resonates with me. I decided I really wanted a CZ-101 as my first synth. I would have loved to get a CZ-1000 with the larger keys, but it was just too expensive. I worked and saved all summer, and my dad was impressed enough that he decided to help me out.

We went to the local music shop, where we were presented with a range of synths- the Casios on the low end, a JX8P on the high end, and in the middle, the DW-6000, which was on sale because it was being replaced by the 8000. My dad, being the great guy that he is, offered to buy me the DW-6000 outright, which is just what we did.

With several decades experience under my belt, I can now state with confidence that the DW-6000 is THE WORST-SOUNDING SYNTH EVER MADE. A friend of mine got a Poly-800 around the same time, and it sounded far, far better. I could go into a lengthy diatribe about all the things I dislike in the DW (which I still own, by the way), but this isn't really the appropriate venue. I'll just leave it by saying that you lucked out, Tom!

Wi_ngo said...

Oddly enough, just like one of the commenters above, my first synth was the Casio SK1, and I was also 12. I think I played nothing but "Axel F" on it for weeks when I got it (hey, it was the 80's), and thought the sampling capability was ultra-futuristic.

Then in high school I got my first "real" synth - the Korg 01W. I thought it was the greatest thing ever created by man. I spent all my free time sequencing instrumental versions of my favorite Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen songs so I could jam along with them, then eventually dove into programming my own sounds. That rabbit hole has not ended to this day, although now it's mostly software for me. Still have that 01W in my closet, though.

Anonymous said...

I think mine was a Casio PT-1, But it was blue and had no recording function so I might be wrong. I got that for Christmas one year from my dad.

Fast forward a couple decades, I picked up an Alesis ION off of ebay. I had gotten sick of the sounds on FL Studio and wanted something a bit more hands on approach. Great times are still being had with that and it doubles as my controller.

Technically, I did pick up an ARP Odyssey first, but I have yet to get that to work.

~w~

Derek said...

My first synth was a Yamaha DX7 that I bought at a pawn shop for $250. Other than the data slider being dirty, it works great. I still haven't figured out how to really program my own sounds, even after studying up on FM synthesis, but it's still a cool synth and makes for a great controller.

Boca has a tiny head said...

Same deal- cut lawns all summer long and bought a brand new Juno-60 with JSQ-60 sequencer from Kral music in Newark Delaware. I had planned on buying a Prophet 600 but was advised to stay away by the music store sales man as the "MIDI thing" in it wouldn't work with the "MIDI thing" in the Jupiter 6 they had. I eventually sold it years later to help pay for a Wavestation EX (which I still have). Second synth was a used Oberheim OB-8 bought for $800 and sold for $800 when I found another newer and almost mint condition OB-8 with a genuine anvil case for $600. Boy do I miss the days when everyone was ditching their analog synths at ridiculous prices to buy DX-7s and D-50s.

Mike said...

My first keyboard was an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler that I bought in 1997 - still have it to this day. I liked it so much that when the Ensoniq Fizmos were being "blown out" on MusiciansFriend in 1999, I bought one for $500 and that was my first synth. Looking back, it was a pretty asstastic wavetable synth with a shitty filter. I now use an Access Virus TI and Waldorf Blofeld and the Fizmo wavetables are pretty gimpy compared to the wavetables in those two. In hindsight I wish I had picked up a used Ensoniq ESQ-1, I'm sure I could've gotten one in 1999 for $100 to $200 - and I would still probably find uses for it to this day. After years of using the Fizmo mostly as a MIDI controller, in 2007 I picked up the Virus and sold the Fizmo on ebay for $800 - $300 profit over 8 years! The Fizmo may have been Ensoniq's last dying gasp, but financially it ended up being a sound investment!

cl516 said...

Well I started off with an Alesis QSR rack module in '97 i think... very difficult to learn as a first machine. First real synth I guess was the MS2000 - much easier, more knobs. Nope, I don't have either one anymore.

dave romero said...

roland jv-35, still have it. some pretty cool sounds but very limited programming

i've been thinking of sampling some of the synthy patches and running them through Zebra's Zebrify. ha!

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line of control said...

haha Axel F- that was one of my faves to play too!!!

i didn't even have a synth to start out... i learned to play by ear on my dad's rather groovy indian harmonium. i handpumped and played that thing for all i was worth... dreaming of owning a Korg M1...

i never did get the M1, but i worked throughout highschool to get the funds to buy my 1st real Axe, which is still my main controller today. my beloved Yamaha SY22 vector synthesiser- which i fully programmed to play along with DM 101.

i soon bought myself an nifty gray Brother PDC100 hardware sequencer and my music career was underway!

MetaSektion said...

Ensoniq SQ-1. Solid performer, has lots of useful sounds in most styles, a neat collection of editable drum/percussion kits, and a very easy-to-use sequencer. I wrote about 20 cassettes worth of demos (of varying quality, I'll admit) on that beast. I still use it as a scratch-pad for getting basic arrangements or orchestrations worked out. There are some cons: non-resonant filters, no actual DD effect, and mine periodically crashed and wiped away all user data. Having said that, it still has an important place in my studio.

David said...

Ensoniq ESQ1, bought secondhand in 1989 for AU$1200, with the proceeds of the superannuation from my first job. Very flexible modulation routings and a reasonable sequencer..a really underrated instrument. A fantastic first synth, which I still have to this day...I liked it so much I bought another one several years later.

Bloodfetish said...

My first synth was a Novation XIO Synth which I got last Christmas. I mainly use it as an audio interface but its a good little synth even though it doesn't have as many faders or knobs as the X-Station or K-Station does.

Mike-Synth said...

My first real synth was a Novation K Station. Saved up my lunch money for a year for that bad boy. started saving late 2000 when I first heard about the supernova, wich is what I was shooting for. Then figured out Im gonna need more funds than 20 dollars a week. So I settled for a novation K Station.
Now out of school making more money, I finally Own the Novation Supernova 2 and various other synths.

In Order Of Purchase:
Novation K
Alesis Micron
KORG EMX1
KORG AMKII
Ensoniq SQ80 "Thanks to Tom haha"
Novation Supernova 2
Roland Fantom 76
KORG MS2000
Roland MC 505
Novation X Station
Access Virus TI Polar

Its crazy to look back and remember where you started, makes you realize how crazy we are.

Craig M. said...

Mine was the Yamaha CS1x...

but let's take a step back and talk aboot you taking karate and judo classes...

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Taggart Snyder said...

Alas, my first 'board was the venerable DW-6000! Yay! I, too mowed lawns and ate weeds all summer to buy it. I still have it, but it's been ill. Needs a new battery. And I will, someday soon, allow it to join my arsenal once again.