Vintage = cool. Many people feel this way. Looking at synthesizers sometimes they have a point: from the fifties to the eighties there was a time of pioneers and of fast technological development. In recent years the 80s revival (which is already over, according to some) has sparked inspiration for quite a few artists.
A recent example: Netflix series Stranger Things. Synth legends Tangerine Dream already covered the soundtrack. Justin Delay from Reverb.com (YouTube channel) explains how the sounds of the 80s were used, and how they were made:
Justin shows us a few key players of the synth scene: the Juno 6, Juno 106, Minimoog Model D (which Moog started making again recently), and the Prophet 5. All magnificent devices, these synths are nowadays sold for thousands of $. Fuck, that’s a lot of money.
Fortunately there are cheaper ways to get started with synth sounds from the 80s. First of all I would recommend you check out the amazing sample-library of Danny Wolfers from The Hague, a.k.a. Legowelt. In the clip you see below lasting more than an hour, he gives a tour of his studio. He has sampled a few of his synths, and put them on his gorgeous homebrew website, so you can load them into your Ableton Sampler, EXS-24 or Volca Sample.
One of the biggest hits from the 80s was undoubtedly the DX-7 from Yamaha. When this synth was released in 1983, it featured a brand new technique for that era: FM-synthesis. This technique allowed for sounds that were previously not really possible with ‘conventional’ substractive synthesizers. A lot of musicians sold their synthesizers to use these new sounds, so by the end of the 80s these sounds were mostly overused and cliché.
Back to 2016. Korg introduces the Volca FM, a FM-synthesizer running on AA-batteries costing a little over 100$. In a genius move, free software can be used to import DX-7 patches into the Volca FM. And those patches can be found a lot. Knobs shows us how the Volca FM can sound:
A lot of ‘forgotten’ synthesizers from the 80s can be found second hand (a quick search I did came up with the Roland D-20, Yamaha YS-100, Yamaha TX-7 and a Korg DS-8). Smaller keyboards (such as the Casio SK-series) can be very useable. Sounds are more limited, but still very characteristic. These can usually be found for 20-30$.
Production and mixing is also a big part of the 80s sound, and in the future I intend to write some stuff about that. Meanwhile Com Truise (Spotify) gives you 5 tips to get the most out of your productions.
And what to do when you finally get your ‘new’ synthesizer, but still have no idea how to operate it? Bowie explains: