So I sat here this week contemplating whether to replace my beloved X5D synthesizer which I bought from new back in the 1990s. A lot of the sounds are dated, it is true, but there are waveforms of classic synths and some very usable string sounds in there (I have heard of some Black Metal bands using this keyboard with their guitars in a mix for a very grimy, dark textured string sound). It was based, I think, on the progress Korg had made with their workstations such as the X3 and X5. They weren’t quite top of the line but did what people needed, they were affordable workhorses.
The X5D is the first synthesizer I learned inside and out. I still mentally map the pages when I think of sounds and pads. I still know how to get classic sounds or create creepy textured drones. Every user patch of mine is filled with a sound I’ve made.
For the past few months I’ve been drooling over two production synthesizers (I’ll blog about modular later). The OB6 and the Yamaha Montage. I’d keenly love to have one of either (or both), money is tight (I certainly don’t make any from music) but I do have some saved for a rainy day. I’d also love an 88 key instrument but space is an issue. I think the Montage is a more useful keyboard for my needs as I can layer and effect each sound as I need and create performances as I have done with the Korg. It has most of the usable piano and general string sounds I need, plus some classical instruments, AND it can go deep with the synth capability with its 8 operator FM synth. And christ knows I LOVE FM.
All of this leads me to one simple question: how much is too much when it comes to expense on a synthesizer?
I’m personally weighing it up like this – how much use will I get out of it; how easy is it to edit and play; and will it fit in my tiny room? Those are the criteria I judge everything by. The smaller synths like the Monotrons kind of get away with it because they’re small and cheap, they’re very easy to store away on a shelf. This is the criteria all musicians should judge their gear by (unless they’re collectors, and I see myself as that also), if you’re never going to play it there is no point in having it.
I’ve been on a few forums and groups and have seen beginners ask if they should buy a Montage, a Kronos or the latest DSI. Well no, not for your first synthesizer, definitely not. I wouldn’t even buy one for the 3rd. Beginners should quantify it like this: is it easy to use; is it inexpensive enough that should I give up the hobby/dream I can flog it without a major loss; and will it give me a broad range of usable sounds? Many beginners would get more from a good DAW, a good Novation or similar controller keyboard, and some cheap or free VST/software instruments. You can probably do all of this for under £1000, and much cheaper if you get a deal.