To All The Gear I’ve Loved Before

My father (also a musician) helped me buy my first real synthesizer in the 90s and has continued to offer his support and encouragement for over 20 years while I’ve tinkered with synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, and sequencers. I recall a time before I purchased my first professional-level synthesizer when my dad would sit next to me on the sofa in the basement while I played one of those “toy” Yamaha synthesizers that they used to carry at the bigger department stores. He’d play the upper octaves while I played the lower. I remember bugging him to play music with me a number of times until I finally got a workstation with a sequencer. Thinking back on those moments, I realize just how lucky I am to have a dad like that. My dad has alway encouraged his children, and always embraced whatever goal it was that they were trying to achieve. I know that not everyone gets to experience something like that, so I’m very grateful.

That first synth purchase in the 90s set off a chain-reaction which saw over a decade and a half of hardware purchases and the production of numerous electronic tracks; and while I still haven’t produced anything that’s gone Platinum, I’ve definitely had a blast during my musical journey.

One of the music stores in the town I grew up in also helped me grow my gear lust. They used to let me take equipment home and make payments on it until it was paid off. There was no written agreement, no credit card or credit line; just me asking if I could make payments, them agreeing to it, and then me taking the gear home. I can’t imagine that happening this day-in-age. I know we all tend to get a bit nostalgic about different times in our youth, and we often imagine the times that we grew up in as being superior or unique to our own generation. But in this case: I challenge you to find a store today that would let a teenager take home thousands of dollars in gear without paying for it before they leave the store.

Music has been a very positive and important part of my life. I wish everyone could have the kind of musical memories that I have. Here are a few of the favorites from that time in my life:

The Kurzweil K2000S. VAST synthesis and sampling made this my primary sound source for many years.

Kurzweil K2000S

The K2000S expanded my mind in terms of synthesis. I deleted all of the original patches and filled it up with painstakingly edited and shaped drums, metallic synthesizer sounds, angry basses, melting pads, and distorted choirs. Once I owned this wonderful machine, it pretty much dominated every track I created from that point on.

I’ve yet to find anything else that can do all of the things one could do with the K2000S. It had a unique semi-modular synthesis system based on various preconfigured algorithms (this synthesis method was known as “VAST”, or Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology) in which each section of the algorithm could contain a collection of different synthesis components such as filters, LFOs, wave shapers, wave wrappers, sample playback via ROM or RAM, saw/triangle/sine/square waves, and many more. It had a modulation matrix and FUNs (functions) that could be used as modulation sources and destinations. It had a great effects system as well. It was a wonderful synthesizer for experimental electronic music and it forever change my way of thinking about synthesis. Thank you Mr. Kurzweil.

The Ensoniq ASR-10. One of the original sample manglers.

Ensoniq ASR-10

The ASR-10 was Ensoniq’s flagship sampler. Ensoniq manufactured their own keybeds, enclosures, hardware, etc. The OS had a number of cool features such as Transwaves (sort of like wavetables), it also allowed you to route modulation of the sample loop position, sample loop start/end, sample start, and sample end to the modulation wheel or an envelope. Modulating the sample loop position of a longer sample with a very short sample loop allowed for some very cool sounding effects — almost like a primitive time stretch effect, or a digital “record scratch” effect if you attached the parameter to the modulation wheel and moved it back and forth.

The ASR-10 lacked a resonance setting for its lowpass filter. To get around this limitation I would sample synth sounds in which the resonance was turned turned up and the filter was swept from open to closed, then I’d set the ASR-10’s modulation routing to adjust the sample start point via velocity or the modulation wheel. While playing, the sample would play back starting at different points in the filter level, creating a very dynamic modulated filter effect that was quite convincing.

It was by far my favorite sample mangler.

The Korg X3 was used primarily for its sequencing capabilities. If I tried to use it today, I’d probably quit music. Ableton Live has spoiled us all.

Korg X3

I used the Korg X3 primarily for sequencing. It had this very rudimentary pattern system that allowed you to record one channel at a time; but not in context — you could only hear the one channel and you had to choose the pattern length ahead of time. You could then manually string your patterns together using pattern numbers on any of the available 16 tracks MIDI tracks. Complicated pattern arrangements required you to write down which patterns were supposed to go on which channels and in what order. I also used the onboard ROM sounds from time-to-time, but I’d almost always pitched stuff way down or way up or made the attack very short and got rid of all the release (unless it was a pad, of course, then I jacked the release way up)

The Akai S01 was a simplistic sampler whose only saving grace was its saturated inputs and outputs.

Akai S01

The S01 was a very unsophisticated sampler with only 2MB (or was it 1? I don’t recall) of sample RAM (and that’s after you expanded it). It didn’t really do anything special in terms of performance capabilities. It didn’t even have a filter, envelope generator, or LFOs. But I had a $2 microphone that I had purchased from Radio Shack and it sounded fantastic when you you turned the mic gain up really high and recorded vocals using the $2 Radio Shack mic. Ah, such wonderful memories.

The Roland JX-8P was purchased used at a local music store in the 90s.

Roland JX-8P

The JX-8P was a used item from the same music store mentioned at the beginning of this post. I bought it because it was selling for around $200 and I thought it created nice and heavy, warm sounding synth basses and and pads. All of my synths up to that point were digital and this one had the mythical “analog filter” I had heard so much about. When I heard the searing, bubbling, gurgling filter I knew I had to have it. I don’t recall ever actually using it in any of my songs, but I owned it.

I sold it on eBay 8 years later for around $800


There have been many other gear purchases over the years. I had a Kurzweil K2600S, various synths (digital and analog) and drum machines from Waldorf (I absolutely love wavetable synthesis), Elektron, Korg, Akai, Alesis, Moog, Novation, Roland, and even some custom stuff. But they were all purchased after 2000.

I don’t own any hardware that produces sound anymore. I just stick to software (even though hardware has made quite a resurgence lately) It takes up less space and I can stop in the middle of a project and save everything just the way it is, and come back to it later — which is important for a person that doesn’t have a ton of extra time.

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