Five things you should do when buying a new analog synth!
When you buy a new synth and it finally arrives home, sometimes, you may get too anxious and spend three or four hours just browsing through presets and end up tired and not knowing any of its potential, so here, I’m gonna present you the five things I do every time I get a new analog synth at my studio.
1. Let it warm up!!
If your synth has analog oscillators (VCO) and you start playing right away after turned on, you are gonna get nothing but detuned intervals and drifting pitches, so let it warm up until VCOs get to a temperature they become stable. How long? Well, that depends on the synth and the weather conditions, but, anything between five and thirty minutes will work, so, fire up your brand new synth, and have a coffee while you wait…
Once stable temperature is reached, many analog synths still need some calibration of the VCO. If yours needs to be calibrated, you will find a knob or in the worst case a screw, probably in the back panel. Use a tuner, and do some fine adjustments until all octaves are calibrated and tuned. Some synths, like the Volca Keys, incorporate an auto-tune function that will calibrate the pitch for you, and if vintage synths are your things, get prepared to calibrate them a lot!
2. Hear the raw waveforms
If your synth has DCOs instead of VCOs, you may wanna jump to this point first. One thing that makes analog synths so musical is their raw waveforms. Open the filter all the way up, take resonance down to zero and create Gate envelopes for the EGs (attack 0, decay 0, full sustain, release 0), now lets just hear the raw waveforms, start with the one that has less harmonic content and end up with the one that has more harmonic content (sine, triangle, saw, pulse, noise). What gives the character to the synth is how imperfect the waves are. Your synth might have DCOs, so in those cases, you might find a slope control to make them a little less perfect. Try it!
3. Check the filter
Use a saw wave and make some filter sweeps to get to know its character. Then, add a 25% of resonance and try again, then 50% resonance, then 75% and then, I strongly recommend you take your amp level down before trying it with 100% resonance, specially if it can self oscillate.
Ok, now it’s time to make the filter sing!! Turn oscillators off, and make sure keyboard tracking of the filter is set to 100%, now, get back to full resonance and start closing the filter until you get to the desired pitch (you may wanna use a tuner, again). Now, you can play with your filter as if it were a sine wave oscillator!
If your synth has more than one filter or if it is a multimode filter, try all this with all the filters and all the modes. BTW… In some 2-pole designs, filter won’t self resonate. This is true for vintage Yamaha CS series, Synths with a Curtis filter set to 2-poles (DSI, some 80s Oberheims), and some other designs.
4. Check how high can the LFO go
Ok, so, your synth probably has at least one LFO, so, set it as a modulation source with pitch as destination. Set the LFO waveform to be a triangle or a sine, and set the amount to 100%. Now, play a note and start turning up the ratio (time) knob slowly, and see how high can it go. You may also wanna try this with the filter as the destination, and if LFO can get to audio rates (most can) you will find yourself doing some crazy FM of the filter!
5. Check the sequencer
Most of today’s synths have a sequencer, so, lets check it out! For doing this, I, every time program the sequence of Pink Floyd’s On The Run. It’s easy to do and you should recognise it instantly. So, choose a Pulse (square) waveform on your oscillator, set the envelopes to have a fast attack, a kinda short decay, no sustain and no release. Then on the sequencer, input this 8 note sequence: E3 G3 A3 G3 D4 C4 D4 E4, and tweak knobs for almost endless fun!!!!
I hope these tips to be helpful when you want to buy your new analog synth. If you liked my article not forget to share this with your friends![author image=”https://www.producerspot.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/piggy-sounds-logo.jpg” ]Rafael Hofstadter is a recording and mixing engineer and sound designer with 10+ years experience in playing and programming synths, recording, mixing and producing pop/rock/folk albums. He also runs piggysounds.com.[/author]