Everything about the Synthesizer


What is it?

The Synthesizer is a New Jersey instrument designed in 1957 by Harry Olson and Herbert Belar that worked by reading a punched paper tape that controlled a synthesizer made with vacuum tubes.        

Here’s how it looks and sounds

Not to be confused with

You may hear about it with other names like “synth”, “softsynth” or “software instrument”, “electronic sound synthesizer”. Pronounced /ˈsinTHəˌsīzər/, meaning “make something by synthesis” and called sintetizador in Spanish, synthétiseur in French and sintetizador in Portuguese. A person that plays it it’s called a synth player or just a synthesizer player.

Category

The Keyboard family means that it has a row of keys, buttons, or levers that make the sound when you press them and in another way of classifying its electrophones meaning it makes sound through electricity.

Materials

Different types of plastic (celluloid, delrin, styrene, PVC)  and steel (spruce, cyprus, cedar, beech, and walnut).

Variants

The types are determined by their functionality::

  • Modular or All in one: these components are separate so you can combine the ones you want or get an all-in-one with specific modules already connected.
  • Analog or Digital: Signals are represented by voltage levels or with numbers of signal levels. 
  • Monophonic or polyphonic: can only play one note at a time or several.
  • Hardware or software: are physical electronic devices or are inside something that can run the software (like an app on a smartphone or a program in a computer).

The most confusing difference is analog vs digital, here are 2 videos about it

Prices

For the physical (hardware) all in one synth, around $300 – $2,000 USD, the cheapest we found was a 25 keys monophonic analog synth and the most expensive was 49 keys, analog polyphonic synth.

In the middle we have something like a 37 keys polyphonic digital synth for $1100 USD.

VariantLowest price*Highest price*Average*
Analog Synthesizer$700 USD$4,000 USD$2,000 USD
Digital Synthesizer$300 USD$3,000 USD$1,500 USD
Software Synthesizer$30 USD$500 USD$200 USD
*Rounded and based on our own and a search in different stores.

Weights and sizes

The size goes around 41 x 5 x 14 In (105 x 12 x 35 Cm) and has a weight of 29.76 Lbs (13.5 Kgs), which’s the size of a Full-size Piano Keyboard and the weight of a computer (it makes sense if we imagine a synth as a keyboard with a processor).

VariantsSizes*Weights*
Korg MS2010 x 8.2 x 19 in6 lbs
Roland JUNO-DS88 88-key Synthesizer5.7 x 55.6 x 13 in35 lbs
8-voice Waldorf Quantum40 x 16 x 5 in39 lbs
*Average of our own instruments and references searched online.

Best brands and models

We checked a lot of brands and rated them based on customer experience. Models and series are confusing? check this guide. Not picky? you have more options.

The best Synthesizer for a beginner is a 25keys digital synth since it is the cheapest version (for a hardware type), there are also software options since they are cheaper and require no space, that is of course if you don’t mind losing the feeling of a physical one.

For kids, we suggest a keyboard first, because they will usually come with learning lessons, and will make the transition to the synth easier also for them there are free synth lessons online, like this one, once they finish that one they can decide if they want a physical beginner synth (like the ones in the previous paragraph).

If we look at famous players like Evangelos he had a Yamaha CS-80 and Jean-Michel André Jarre an EMS VCS 3 and EMS Synthi AKS synthesizers so if you’re going professional, you don’t have any excuse with one of these or a digital/analog with the most amounts of voices, keys, and effects you can find, then you’ll only be limited by your imagination.

Now that you know, you can check on eBay here.

Accessories

Here’s a list of a lot of them, but this one comes ready to use from the box, maybe a bag for transportation, a case for protection, and a cleaning kit for electronics.

Start playing

We recommend learning to read sheet music to get the basics. We review resources to help you choose how you want to learn. Now that you know how to read them, you need to get some. 
Sheets come in different notations so we recommend checking various versions of the same sheets, searching for “scores” to get all instruments, and even the “song name for keyboard and/or synth to save on translations.

What you will find is that in videos or tutorials for certain songs, they will tell you exactly what effects and filters are used, then the notes, simple as that.


Don’t forget all the details that combined make a big difference like the way you hold it, efficient warmups, positions, and techniques.

Remember, the synthesizer is hard to learn because it requires knowing music theory and also synth theory (that is similar, but instead of talking about pitches it talks about Hz) but once you understand those, you can unlock pretty much any sound and the rest is just experimenting.

It’s also similar to the clavinet, electric organ, keyboard, mellotron, and optigan so you can combine those resources to help you learn.

Luis Gerardo

Musician as a hobby for +6 years, documenting every instrument in simple words for this website.

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