• Sean Graves

Questions about Synthesis

Today I'd like to take a moment to answer some questions I got shortly after making the video about my Buchla Easel Clone Modular synthesizer. Thus, here, are some of the more frequently asked questions bellow. Also, there's a video in the Just Chat which also talks along the same subject and questions as well. Enjoy!

1. How do you clean your synthesizers?

Personally, my favorite tool for cleaning my music gear and around the house is a small 1 inch brush. This is my multi-tool for everything with knobs, sliders, and small spaces around the house and in studio to clean the tight small spaces a cloth or feather duster cannot clean. I know it is a simple answer, but it does the job. I wouldn't use anything else.

2. What synthesizer should I buy as a beginner?

Personally, I would choose an instrument which is polyphonic. What I mean is, synthesizers do not have to give you multiple voices. Most of the O.G. synthesizers were monophonic, however, now it's usually understood most synthesizers are polyphonic to some degree unless it's specifically monophonic. Which would be like comparing a miniMoog to a microKorg. Personally, I would start off with the Yamaha CS Reface. It's a polyphonic synthesizer, analog and gives you the basics of what a synthesizer is. It comes with effects, and though I wish an arpeggiator would be epic. I would ask yourself, what electronic music do you enjoy? What machines do those artist use? Check out on Youtube other people playing on them and demoing them. If you fall in love with it then pick that machine and learn off of it.

3. Should I buy an Analog or Digital synthesizer?

This just depends on what you are wanting in life. A microKorg is a hybrid Digital and Analog instrument. Most of the instruments I use are Analog. I have had the pleasure to use what's called "Soft Synthesizers" which are programs which are used either in stand alone and or through a DAW using MIDI as a language to create a whole lot of songs back in the early 2000's. Almost like a musical sampler of sorts. Honestly, a lot of artists will be in their camps about this subject matter. Personally, I've only worked on Analong and Hybrid synths and I enjoy both styles of synthesizers.

4. Are there bad synthesizers?

Yes there are. The internet is a big wide and vast place. Honestly, I'm not here to review a specific machine on this site. I'll give my honest opinion about a machine in the way of 'do I like it and why it works for me.' However, there are machines I have watched performance reviews of them and there's kind of a criteria I have before I decide to invest in a synthesizer; a lot of it has to do with my pocket book too.

There was a machine I saw online and the synthesizer was developed by a kind of "Go Fund Me" or "Patreon" group. People who funded the project would receive the beta version of the machine, and or a finished product. The concept was something like a mini synthesizer which was connected to other mini modules they developed. Either way, the end product was not really appealing to me as a consumer. The plastic casing was not appealing, the sound was not what I personally was looking for as a musician. I think maybe this is the first hurtle on my personal list of what makes me want to buy a synthesizer.

5. Should I buy this synth or that synth?

I think this question comes right down to what preferences do you personally want, because not all synthesizers are all the same. Yes, they have basic parts, such as an Oscillator, Filter, and Envelope. Other parts which may be specific can be Low Frequency Oscillator, Arpeggiator, and Modifiers. At the end of the day it all depends on what you want. It's not my place to say one machine is better than the other. It just depends on what you want. Because a microKorg and an MS20, though they are the same engine, they function in different ways. Even clones such as the Korg MS20 and the Behringer K2 fundamentally are the same, may sound the same however, it all just comes down to the bottom dollar at the end of the day.

These two machines look the same, sound the same...

But they're not from the same manufacturer.

6. Are hardware synthesizers over priced?

Not all hardware synthesizers are over priced. As I was mentioning before, there are manufacturers whom have built machines and other manufacturers who have developed 'clones' which are lower priced and practically sound the same.

If it's impractical to afford hardware synthesizers, software synthesizers are another way to go. There's tons of developers who have free-software and others which are fairly priced to experience what it is like to play on a synth your heart wants. Fact, I bought through Arturia their Buchla Easel V program to experience what it would be like to play on a Buchla Easel before even thinking about diving into "Buchla" modular music. So, really it's up to what your pocket book can accommodate as well as be responsible to.

7. How do you go from loops and jam sessions to finished songs?

I still loops to this day. Also jam sessions I personally record on for each song goes a little bit as such. First, in a DAW, I make one source for each instrument I'm working on and I record multiple takes of different parameters. So, the drums will be different in each recording. This'll be the "intro," "Verse," "Chorus" set up for later on being the bass lines from either an e-bass, or a synth which I'll again play for those sections. I am creating at the end of the day 'loops' of what I want for those sections. The point here is those 'sounds' I'm creating will be mixed and layered together into a sonic world which I personally created.

There's some songs which I multi-layer the same machine and swirl the sound to create a multi-one take track. In doing so, it's like a jam session with an overall goal. And then by layering the multiple takes, it turns the 'monophonic' synthesizer into a kinda of polyphonic synthesizer.

8. Is Eurorack for snobs?

Yes, yes it is, and I too am a snob. However, it's actually not. At the heart and soul of every non-modular synthesizer are 'modules.' However, they're internally connected components which are connected together. The part which makes those components 'module' would be if you the musicians could hijack those parts. This is where synthesizers called semi-modular come in. Where yes, internally they're inner connected to work like a synthesizer, but those components are also able to be hijacked.

If you are not personally familiar with modular, there's a blog all about my first modular build. How I built it, and why I built it in the manner I did. Modular, upon first read if it is not a friendly read sounds like a fear monger tactic for preserving your pocket book. In other words, just because you do not have a modular synthesizer does not mean you are personally behind the curve in your synthesizer journey. I promise you, it is not that important.

9. Why don't electronic artists release more music?

I think the more important question needed to be asked is, 'is the artist you are talking about release more singles or albums?" The reasons why I ask this question is because these are two separate types of artists. Personally I have always seen myself as an 'album' artist. I am an artist who likes to release a bulk of art over a long period of time which shows a growth between albums. Any 'singles' between the albums are off of the albums alone, this is what works for me. Each artist is their own and thus this is what makes it interesting to see what 'styles of music' evolve.

I really hope this was insightful for everyone about synthesizers and not only maybe let you all know how I personally make choices on what instruments I use. How I've spent my money on instruments, but also may help you out as well. If you have any more questions or have questions to clarify these answers, let me know in the comments below.


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