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The History Of The Synth


The Synthesisers we know today have come a long way from their unusual beginnings. Used in many different genres throughout the years, they have in many ways shaped the sound of modern music.

The first musical instrument to use synthesised sounds was the Theremin (invented in 1920) Still futuristic, even by our standards, it utilised two aerials which depending on the position of your hands would change in pitch and volume. The Beach Boys used a similar instrument called a Tannerin on Good Vibrations. A variation of this instrument - the ‘Ondes Martenot' - was invented in 1928. Using a keyboard but still producing the unique Theremin tones, it can still be heard in modern day music - even being used by Radiohead in some of there tracks.

Jumping forward a few decades we arrive at the classic Hammond B-3 organ, which used a rotating Leslie speaker to deliver a very distinction sound and was used extensively during the 1960's and onwards.

During the 60's also saw the introduction of the ‘Electric Piano' - Herbie Handcock's favourite Rhodes Piano, and the Hohner Clavinet - with its classic funk sound used by Stevie Wonder.

By the end of the 60's we began to see instruments much more inline with today's modern synths - The ‘Moog Modular Synth' with its monophonic and recognisable lead synth sound. 1077 saw the introduction of polyphonic synths, with the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 being used by Paul McCartney on ‘Wonderful Christmas Time'. Soon surpassed by the Roland Jupiter-8 (JP-8) which could play 8 notes simultaneously compared to the Prophets 5, it soon became a favourite of the band Queen's.

Synths came into their own during the 80's with the introduction of Dance music - the Roland TB-303 (released in 1982) was used for its distinctive squelch sound, which created the big bass lines associated with that particular genre.

The Yamaha DX-7 was the first digital snyth to become commercially successful. Using frequency modulation, it was capable of re-producing real sounds.

This lead to the Korg M1 being released in 1988, recreating realistic sounding instruments along with the classic synth sounds.

Both these instruments created the blue print for the synth we know today - extending and developing these features - from fully weighted 88 note versions to complete workstations capable of by-passing the studio altogether to create whole tracks - which has lead to vast array of modern synthesisers we enjoy today.

Written By Benjamin Maskell, Allegro Music Westcliff

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