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Choosing The Right Synth For Your Band - How To Buy A Synthesizer

Updated on October 2, 2009
The Nord Wave in all its glory.
The Nord Wave in all its glory.

Do I Really Need A Synthesizer?

So you've got your Myspace band page and you've played a few shows.  You've probably thought about purchasing a decent synthesizer by now, but do you really need one?

Well If you're interested in producing anything other than some antique acoustic folk grandma music, then yeah.  A quality synth will allow you and your band to expand your sound and stretch your genre.  You'll be able broaden your fan base, and you'll definitely amass some groupies.  But what features will you need to look for, and how much should you spend?  Don't worry, I'll explain after we lust after some mint models from Clavia Nord, Moog, and Korg.

Synthesizer Features Explained

Just check out those icons above.  Nothing screams professionalism like the shiny red coat of a Nord, or the rich, "fat" (for lack of a better word) sounds of the Moog Lil Phatty. 

Anyways, a first-time synth buyer is inundated with hard to understand features and technical specifications that can be pretty confusing.  So here's a quick rundown.

Oscillators - Basically, oscillators are what generate the sound coming out of the synthesizer.  They are represented as a waveform and can be used to form a variety of sounds.  A good synth typically has two or three.

Waveforms - Oscillators operate as waveforms like I've stated above.  If you've ever taken a calculus class you've encountered these.  An oscillator will at the very least usually have sine, square, triangle, and sawtooth waveforms to create a variety of different moods.

Polyphony - Polyphony is the amount of notes you'll be able to play at a single time.  More polyphony is better if you will be layering sounds, but if the synth is going to be your lead then you can definitely get by with monophony or duophony.  Digital synths are typically quite polyphonic, while analog synthesizers will usually be monophonoic.

Sampling - Most synthesizers will allow you to map an audio recording to a key and allow you to play it along with the melody whenever you need to.  Check out a specific synth to see what it offers in the way of sampling.  Some, such as the MicoKorg even allow the musician to vocode their voice in Daft Punk fashion.

Finding A Cheap, Inexpensive Synthesizer

You won't actually need to spend thousands of dollars to get a quality synthesizer.  For around only $500 you can get a MicroKorg XL synth that also doubles as a vocoder (used MicroKorgs can be bought at around $250)!  An inexpensive synth will serve perfectly fine as a backup to your music.

However if you are wanting to feature your synthesizer as your lead instrument it's recommended that you buy a larger, more versatile model.  This is where things start to get a bit more expensive.  A quality Nord Lead 2x or Nord Wave will run about $1,500 and $2,500 respectively, but will provide years of use.  It may sound like a lot, but relative to other instruments fifteen hundred dollars really isn't that bad (my Bach trumpet was $1,800).  These are the prices for new instruments, of course.  You can check Craigslist or Ebay for used ones which are usually discounted quite a bit.  However, if you want to be sure your synth has not been used and abused then buying a new one is your best bet.  I recommend trying one out at a local store (which are actually kinda hard to find) and ordering it for cheaper on Amazon.


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      alfonso 4 years ago

      Not bad...hmm. But you need to mention home keyboards which, personally I dislike. And not to mention organs and digital pianos.

      The first tend to be the cheapest options of above. But I don't have an idea of how much oscillators it has. Much of them doesn't have MIDI or stuff you have very limited control over sound and less tocreate new ones!

      I wish you luck