Many people these days are asking the question analog vs digital synth which should I go for? In this article, I put forward my case for why I think every home studio should have at least one vintage analog synth. Even if you are fully in the digital camp.
I am not a big collector of vintage synthesizers by any means. I don’t claim to be a complete gear nerd either. But what I do know, is that I have a couple of vintage synths and I would say that they have been great additions to my studio.
Now a vintage synth isn’t the first thing you should buy when you are starting to make music at home. It probably shouldn’t even be in the first 10 things you buy.
But once you have the basics up and running and you are confident you know what you are doing. They are a lot of fun to have!
I apologize now if you read this article, go out, buy one and get hooked on collecting vintage synths. I know I find myself regularly browsing eBay on an almost daily basis to try and spot a potential bargain!
Anyway, without further a-do here are my run down of 15 reasons why your home studio needs a vintage synth.
1) They retain value
These things are a collector’s item now, they are ‘vintage’ after all. Therefore, chances are, if you do a bit of research and don’t pay way above what it is worth. Then like with any collector’s item or antique, the synth is going to hold (if not increase) it’s value.
Now I wouldn’t go as far to say as they are an investment opportunity. Like a classic car or watch. But many vintage synths have seen price rises of hundreds of dollars in the last few years alone.
Buying a new synth is similar to buying a new car. As soon as you drive it out the showroom (or music store) the value drops. You have to add the word ‘used’ in front of it straight away if you ever want to sell it again.
Don’t get me wrong I love a lot of new synths and I’ve bought several myself. In fact, because they are mass produced. A brand new one is affordable to almost everyone in a lot of cases. And who knows, they may eventually become a collectable in 10 or 20 years time but it is more of a gamble. When buying something that is already ‘used’, you can re-sell it (if you can ever bear to part with it) and nobody will know if you are the first, second or even tenth owner.
2) They’re built to last
Now of course always check that anything you buy is from a reputable seller and is fully functional. But chances are if it is working great still now then it will last for much longer still.
Many of these synths have been around since the 80s. In many cases, they have been taken from studio to studio or even gig to gig.
This does obviously vary from between brands, so do your research. But both synths I own (a few small scratches aside) could be straight from the factory they sound and look that good still!
3) You may be able to grab a bargain
If you are anything like me. The idea of grabbing a bargain get’s you a little excited.
This, unfortunately, isn’t as easy as it used to be. But can still be done.
It used to be fairly common for people to find an old dusty synth that should be worth thousands of dollars, priced up to a few hundred. And sometimes even less!
People I know would often brag about bargains they got from old music studios that had been left in storage or just wasn’t being used.
With the rise of the internet any thrift shop or person who finds a synth can just google the name in a matter of seconds. This allows them to find out without too much issue how much it ‘should’ cost. So these bargains just aren’t as easy to find anymore :(.
But it doesn’t mean they aren’t out there! And if anything it makes it even more fun to try and find them! So keep an eye out and put in a few cheeky low bids on eBay and eventually you may grab a bargain.
4) More choice
If you go to any music store now, even one that specializes in synthesizers and keyboards. You are likely to find maybe 30 or 40 synths as an absolute maximum.
I mean that is a lot of synths, don’t get me wrong.
But if you are looking for a particular sound or a particular type of synth, then that immediately brings down your choices. Then if you are on a budget it brings down the choice even further. Then if you are like me you probably already own half the synths in that category!
Well, the world of vintage synths is virtually endless. Not only have you got all the classics from Roland, Moog, and Korg etc. But there are all sorts of weird devices on the internet from German brands to Russian stuff with names I can’t pronounce and much more besides.
Obviously the more random the make the harder it is to find reviews or youtube videos of them. But that is all part of the excitement.
5) They’ve got Wabi-Sabi!!
A common question I get asked is ‘why are analog hardware synths better than software synths’. And I reply with something along the lines of “well it depends what you mean by better”.
It isn’t so much the physicality of it (although I think that is important to see point 8). It is the fact that every vintage hardware synth has its own uniqueness that is hard to describe. This is something that no computer simulation could ever emulate fully in my opinion
Have you ever heard of Wabi-Sabi? I hadn’t until recently. But it describes perfectly why many people prefer vintage hardware synths synthesizers over VSTs.
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese concept that is centred on the idea of transience and imperfection. Characteristics of something with Wabi-sabi is something a bit rough around the edges, or perhaps a bit asymmetrical. For these reasons, it is more likely to be unique. (I’ve probably over-simplified a very sacred Japanese concept there, I apologize!)
For the same reason that you don’t buy a handmade mug because it is the best at holding hot liquid. (I’m sure there are plenty of cheap mass produced mugs that do that much better!) Each vintage hardware synth has a unique character, something that means that the one you own is special. It has a story to tell and that is another reason why they have a certain magic that a new synth or software synth can’t replicate.
6) Making more interesting music
Now I’m not suggesting the music you are making currently is boring.
But if you think your music is getting a little one dimensional, perhaps, or needs something new (or old I guess). Then a vintage synth can make that track stand out from the crowd.
Taking one of these old machines and adding it to your music. With all your modern influences and production techniques. Are bound to make some sounds that will get peoples ears pricking up.
Try throwing in a couple of modern effects pedals for example and you could create something nobody has ever heard before!
7) Ability to re-create classic sounds
Just as making an entirely new sound can be great for production. Sometimes somebody in the past just nailed a sound so sweet that you just need to straight up copy it! That’s fine I won’t tell anyone, don’t worry.
When this happens you can attempt to deconstruct the sound and replicate it on another synth or series of synths and effects. This can take hours/ days/ weeks. And you will never truly be able to sound like they did for a variety of reasons. This might be something subtle in the circuitry or just the effects of ages.
Therefore, it will come as no shock that the easiest way to get that sound, is to find out which synth they were using, try it and buy it.
8) Having a VST version just isn’t the same
Many virtual studio technology (VST) synthesizers have been made to attempt to replicate the sound of some classic synths. And a lot do a very good job so to the untrained ear you can’t tell the difference in many cases (‘untrained ear’ sounded a bit snobby there sorry).
But as I mentioned above, they just don’t have Wabi-Sabi.
They are almost too perfect. And the developers know this. To the extent that some have even made the virtual software synths go out of tune in the same way the physical version does. Crazy!
But it isn’t just the Wabi-Sabi in sound. There is something about having a physical synthesizer that just can’t be re-created. The history of the synthesizer, the look of it in the studio etc. And you can be more hands-on with it, you can fiddle with the nobs and buttons. Providing they are all still there and haven’t fallen off over the years.
In my experience, you are more likely to spend time getting to know it and messing around if it is physically there staring you in the face. Then if it is a picture of a synth on a computer screen.
As a commenter (not me) once said. “Using a VST synth is like virtual sex. You need to get the real thing so you can play with its nipples”…..or something along those lines!
9) They look awesome
This point follows on nicely from the previous one. Another reason why having the physical version is they look flippin’ cool.
Even if you only have one or two they really add to the overall feel of the studio. Some of the colors on synths like the Roland Juno 106 for example just make you feel like you are in the 80s straight away. Or a Moog Voyager, which looks and makes you feel like you are a real old-school synth musician (even if you are not!). I could go on.
You can expect people to walk into your home studio and gaze in awe and ask “what is that!”.
10) You don’t have to worry about a little damage
When you get a vintage synth it will have been around the block. Just like most people that went to a lot of gigs in the 80s, they probably have a few scars and wrinkles.
For this reason, you can be a little rougher with them and not have to worry about the odd scratch losing you lots of value!
Please try and take care of it though. You’ve got a piece of history there.
11) They often have more features than modern synths
They do exist, but it is harder to find a brand new synthesizer with as many built-in features as some of the classics.
In a lot of cases, this is because the manufacturers are aiming at people who are new to the word of synthesis. Which is good in many ways, with synths like the Korg Monologue being great for beginners, as I explain here.
But if you are looking to shape some seriously weird and interesting sounds then the ridiculous amount of features that come on many vintage synths will have you playing for hours.
12) It will force you to learn new things
There is much less (if any) hand-holding with a vintage synth. You don’t automatic tuning in many cases, for example, forcing you to learn how to tune it.
If anything goes wrong and you really want to get to know how a synth works and produces sound. You can even attempt to fix it yourself (not something I personally do or recommend). Finding a specialist that can fix it can be hard work and expensive! So maybe watching a few videos and getting that soldering iron out will be the only solution.
Figuring out why things sound a certain way and experimenting with the variety of features that will at first seem complex and alien. This will force you to learn quickly and be a better synth player and musician in general.
This is the part where I start getting all soft and green on you. I’m sorry!
But it’s true. By buying a vintage synth (or any used equipment for that matter) you are being sustainable. There has been no extra manufacturing involved with all the components and manufacturing carbon footprint that goes with producing a new synth.
This synth was already there, possibly gathering dust in someone’s loft.
14) Helping out a fellow musician
Following on from the point above. By buying secondhand you are part of a vast community of musicians who create a mini-economy buying and selling equipment so they can move onto something else. Or perhaps to free up space in the studio.
You can be pretty sure that most of the time someone who is selling a vintage synth isn’t just flipping it for cash.
They may even have owned it from when it was first released. So when you part with that money, you can feel good inside that you have contributed to the synth economy and probably helped a fellow musician save up to buy an even more expensive synth to replace it (woops!).
15) You are owning a piece of history
Lastly and by no means least. By buying a vintage synth you are owning a little piece of musical history.
Each synth has its own story. Not just the story surrounding that particular synth and where it has been. But the history of that particular make and model.
Synthesizers changed music forever and they are a massive part of musical production in virtually all genres of modern music still. By owning a vintage one you have in your hands one of the pieces of equipment that were there at the start and helped pave the way for so many more to follow.
I’m getting a bit emotional here.
So there you have it. Just a few reasons why I think a vintage synth is something that everyone should own. At least at some point anyway.
And if you buy one and only use it for a bit before the novelty wears off and you finally give in when you need to buy some new clothes. And your wife or girlfriend is asking why there are more synths in the house than spoons in your kitchen (I couldn’t think of a thing everyone has a lot of).
Then you should have no trouble selling it on as the vintage synth economy goes on. Someone else will be waiting in line to share in the history with you.