Welcome to the first in a series of quick historical primers on this history of synthesizers – these posts will guide you through the evolution of the instruments that make our music what it is today, with an eye on why things behave the way they do.
We also have a full, free e-book on the subject available for download below:
Lets start at the beginning…
1 – Experimental oddities, or “humble beginnings.”
The first synthesizers are hard to pin point. The definition of what is and isn’t a synthesizer is sometimes fluid, and so I have to at least acknowledge here the “sort of synth,” which is typified by instruments like the Hurdy Gurdy, the Mellotron and, in a different way, the Theremin.
These are thought of as synths because they use something other than a kinetic form of sound production – unlike drums, pianos, etc, these, like synthesizers, create their sound by allowing the player to manipulate an “interface.” In the case of the Mellotron, as an example, tuned loops of analog tape would play across magnetic heads to create a signal.
For the most part however, early synthesizers resembled physics experiments, as opposed to instruments.
Instruments like the Moog Modular and the EMS VCS3 are great examples of the amazing instruments of this age, and they remain some of the most capable and sought after analog pieces.
Synths at this point often resembled “mini studios” of their own, with the user creating a sound by patching (hence the term “synth patch”) modules together to route a signal through various forms of processing.
Because of the high degree of customizability, this method of synthesis was (and still is) the most capable, but most intimidating for a new user.
More next week, or feel free to grab the whole Synth Primer Ebook below!