A synthesizer (spelling var. synthesiser in British English) is an electronic musical instrument designed to produce electronically generated sound, using techniques such as additive, subtractive, FM, physical modeling synthesis, or phase distortion. Boy that sounds techie. The fact is a modern keyboard is a great bit of kit.  Many now come with built in sequencers, drum kits and effects.  Basically, a workstation or music production tool.



Nelson Kruschandl - 1824 use a Korg workstation



Synthesizers create sounds through direct manipulation of electrical voltages (as in analog synthesizers), mathematical manipulation of discrete values using computers (as in software synthesizers), or by a combination of both methods. In the final stage of the synthesizer, electrical voltages generated by the synthesizer cause vibrations in the diaphragms of loudspeakers, headphones, etc. This synthesized sound is contrasted with recording of natural sound, where the mechanical energy of a sound wave is transformed into a signal which will then be converted back to mechanical energy on playback (though sampling significantly blurs this distinction).


Synthesizers typically have a keyboard which provides the human interface to the instrument and are often thought of as keyboard instruments. However, a synthesizer's human interface does not necessarily have to be a keyboard, nor does a synthesizer strictly need to be playable by a human. Different fingerboard synthesizer or ribbon controlled synthesizers have also been developed.


The term "speech synthesizer" is also used in electronic speech processing, often in connection with vocoders.





A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers on a musical instrument which cause the instrument to produce sounds.


Keyboards almost all share the common layout shown. Musical instruments with keyboards of this type include the piano, harpsichord, clavichord, organ, electric piano, electronic piano, digital piano, synthesizer, "arranger keyboard" or "home keyboard" (also called "electronic keyboard"), celesta, dulcitone, accordion, melodica, glasschord, and carillon. Since the most commonly encountered keyboard instrument is the piano, the keyboard layout is often called the piano keyboard. In spite of this, keyboard instruments of different types are often played using different techniques. In particular, the arranger keyboard uses pre-set drum rhythms which respond to chords played in the left hand by the instrumentalist, with other buttons and switches used to change rhythms and even the voice of the instrument.



The layout of a typical musical keyboard


Layout of a typical musical keyboard



The twelve notes of the Western musical scale are laid out with the lowest note on the left; the larger keys (for the seven "natural" notes of the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B) jut forward. Technically these keys are called Naturals. Because these keys are often coloured white on a keyboard, these are often called the white notes or white keys. The keys for the remaining five notes which are not part of the C major scale (namely C♯/D♭, D♯/E♭, F♯/G♭, G♯/A♭, A♯/B♭) are set back. The correct term for these keys is Accidentals or more often Sharps, or Flats. Because these keys are often coloured black, these notes are often called the black notes or black keys. The pattern repeats at the interval of an octave.


The arrangement of longer keys for C major with intervening, shorter keys for the intermediate semitones dates to the 15th century. Many keyboard instruments dating from before the nineteenth century have a keyboard with the colours of the keys reversed - darker coloured keys for the white notes and white keys for the black notes. A few electric and electronic instruments have had this feature; Vox's electronic organs of the 1960s, Hohner's Clavinet L, one version of Korg's Poly-800 synthesizer and Roland's digital harpsichords.Some 1960s electronic organs used reverse colors or gray sharps or naturals to indicate the lower part(s) of a split keyboard. Farfisa's FAST series of portable organs had black, light gray and dark gray naturals and white sharps. It should be noted that the reverse-colored keys on Hammond organs such as the B3, C3 and A100 are not playable keys; they physically latch when pressed, and serve as selector switches for preset sounds.


The chromatic compass of keyboard instruments has tended to increase. Harpsichords often extended over five octaves in the 18th century, while most pianos manufactured since about 1870 have 88 keys. Some modern pianos have even more notes (a Bösendorfer 225 has 92 and a Bösendorfer 290 "Imperial" has 97 keys). Modern synthesizer keyboards commonly have either 61, 76 or 88 keys. Organs normally have 61 keys per manual, though some spinet models have 44 or 49. An organ pedalboard, a keyboard played by the organist's feet, may vary in size from 12 to 32 notes.



 Piano keyboard which shows the alignment of the white and the black keys.


Piano keyboard which shows the alignment of the white and the black keys




In a well-designed keyboard, the natural keys are of uniform width at the front, and all keys are uniformly distributed. If the width of an octave is taken to be 12 units, then the white key width is 12/7 units, and the centre of each of the twelve keys must be separated by 1 unit.


There have been variations in the design of the keyboard to address technical and musical issues. For instance, during the sixteenth century, when instruments were often tuned in meantone temperament, some harpsichords were constructed with the G♯ and E♭ keys split into two. One portion of the G♯ key operated a string tuned to G♯ and the other operated a string tuned to A♭, similarly one portion of the E♭ key operated a string tuned to E♭, the other portion operating a string tuned to D♯. This extended the flexibility of the harpsichord, enabling composers to write keyboard music calling for harmonies containing the so-called wolf fifth E♭ to G♯, but without producing discomfort in the listeners. Other examples of variations in keyboard design include the Janko keyboard and the chromatic keyboard systems on the accordion and bandoneón.


Other instruments share the keyboard layout, although they are not keyboard instruments. For example the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel all have a separate sounding tone bar for each note, and these bars are laid out in the same configuration as a common keyboard.





When natural tonal instruments' sounds are analyzed in the frequency domain, the spectra of tonal instruments exhibit amplitude peaks at the harmonics. These harmonics' frequencies are primarily located close to the integer multiples of the tone's fundamental frequency.


Percussives and rasps usually lack harmonics, and exhibit spectra that are comprised mainly of noise shaped by the resonant frequencies of the structures that produce the sounds. The resonant properties of the instruments (the spectral peaks of which are also referred to as formants) also shape the spectra of string, wind, voice and other natural instruments.


In most conventional synthesizers, for purposes of resynthesis, recordings of real instruments can be thought to be composed of several components.


These component sounds represent the acoustic responses of different parts of the instrument, the sounds produced by the instrument during different parts of a performance, or the behaviour of the instrument under different playing conditions (pitch, intensity of playing, fingering, etc.) The distinctive timbre, intonation and attack of a real instrument can therefore be created by mixing together these components in such a way as resembles the natural behaviour of the real instrument. Nomenclature varies by synthesizer methodology and manufacturer, but the components are often referred to as oscillators or partials. A higher fidelity reproduction of a natural instrument can typically be achieved using more oscillators, but increased computational power and human programming is required, and most synthesizers use between one and four oscillators by default.




Schematic of ADSR



One of the most salient aspects of any sound is its amplitude envelope. This envelope determines whether the sound is percussive, like a snare drum, or persistent, like a violin string. Most often, this shaping of the sound's amplitude profile is realized with an "ADSR" (Attack Decay Sustain Release) envelope model applied to control oscillator volumes. Apart from Sustain, each of these stages is modeled by a change in volume (typically exponential).


  • Attack time is the time taken for initial run-up of the sound level from nil to 100%.

  • Decay time is the time taken for the subsequent run down from 100% to the designated Sustain level.

  • Sustain level, the third stage, is the steady volume produced when a key is held down.

  • Release time is the time taken for the sound to decay from the Sustain level to nil when the key is released. If a key is released during the Attack or Decay stage, the Sustain phase is usually skipped. Similarly, a Sustain level of zero will produce a more-or-less piano-like (or percussive) envelope, with no continuous steady level, even when a key is held. Exponential rates are commonly used because they closely model real physical vibrations, which usually rise or decay exponentially.



Although the oscillations in real instruments also change frequency, most instruments can be modeled well without this refinement. This refinement is necessary to generate a vibrato.


Overview of popular synthesis methods


Subtractive synthesizers use a simple acoustic model that assumes an instrument can be approximated by a simple signal generator (producing sawtooth waves, square waves, etc...) followed by a filter which represents the frequency-dependent losses and resonances in the instrument body. For reasons of simplicity and economy, these filters are typically low-order lowpass filters. The combination of simple modulation routings (such as pulse width modulation and oscillator sync), along with the physically unrealistic lowpass filters, is responsible for the "classic synthesizer" sound commonly associated with "analog synthesis" and often mistakenly used when referring to software synthesizers using subtractive synthesis. Although physical modeling synthesis, synthesis wherein the sound is generated according to the physics of the instrument, has superseded subtractive synthesis for accurately reproducing natural instrument timbres, the subtractive synthesis paradigm is still ubiquitous in synthesizers with most modern designs still offering low-order lowpass or bandpass filters following the oscillator stage.


One of the newest systems to evolve inside music synthesis is physical modelling. This involves taking up models of components of musical objects and creating systems which define action, filters, envelopes and other parametres over time. The definition of such instruments is virtually limitless, as one can combine any give models available with any amount of sources of modulation in terms of pitch, frequency and contour. For example, the model of a violin with characteristic of a pedal steel guitar and perhaps the action of piano hammer ... physical modelling on computers gets better and vaster with higher processing .


One of the easiest synthesis systems is to record a real instrument as a digitized waveform, and then play back its recordings at different speeds to produce different tones. This is the technique used in "sampling". Most samplers designate a part of the sample for each component of the ADSR envelope, and then repeat that section while changing the volume for that segment of the envelope. This lets the sampler have a persuasively different envelope using the same note.. See also: Sample-based synthesis.



Synthesizer basics


There are two major kinds of synthesizers, analog and digital.


There are also many different kinds of synthesis methods, each applicable to both analog and digital synthesizers. These techniques tend to be mathematically related, especially frequency modulation and phase modulation.


  • Subtractive synthesis

  • Additive synthesis

  • Granular synthesis

  • Wavetable synthesis

  • Frequency modulation synthesis

  • Phase distortion synthesis

  • Physical modelling synthesis

  • Sampling

  • Subharmonic synthesis





Korg Karma workstation used by the girl group 1824 to generate hits




The start of the analog synthesizer era


The first electric musical synthesizer was invented in 1876 by Elisha Gray [1], who was also an independent inventor of the telephone. The "Musical Telegraph" was a chance by-product of his telephone technology.


Gray accidentally discovered that he could control sound from a self vibrating electromagnetic circuit and in doing so invented a basic single note oscillator. The Musical Telegraph used steel reeds whose oscillations were created and transmitted, over a telephone line, by electromagnets. Gray also built a simple loudspeaker device in later models consisting of a vibrating diaphragm in a magnetic field to make the oscillator audible.


Other early synthesizers used technology derived from electronic analog computers, laboratory test equipment, and early electronic musical instruments. Ivor Darreg created his microtonal 'Electronic Keyboard Oboe' in 1937. Another one of the early synthesizers was the ANS synthesizer, a machine that was constructed by the Russian scientist Evgeny Murzin from 1937 to 1957. Only one copy of ANS was built, and it is currently kept at the Lomonosov University in Moscow. In the 1950s, RCA produced experimental devices to synthesize both voice and music. The giant Mark II Music Synthesizer, housed at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City in 1958, was only capable of producing music once it had been completely programmed. The vacuum tube system had to be manually patched to create each new type of sound. It used a paper tape sequencer punched with holes that controlled pitch sources and filters, similar to a mechanical player piano but able to generate a wide variety of sounds.


In 1958 Daphne Oram at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop produced a novel synthesizer using her "Oramics" technique, driven by drawings on a 35mm film strip. This was used for a number of years at the BBC. Hugh Le Caine, John Hanert, Raymond Scott, Percy Grainger (with Burnett Cross), and others built a variety of automated electronic-music controllers during the late 1940s and 1950s.


By the 1960s, synthesizers were developed that could be played in real time but were confined to studios because of their size. These synthesizers were usually configured using a modular design, with standalone signal sources and processors being connected with patch cords or by other means, and all controlled by a common controlling device.


Early synthesizers were often experimental special-built devices, usually based on the concept of modularity. Donald Buchla, Hugh Le Caine, Raymond Scott and Paul Ketoff were among the first to build such instruments, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Only Buchla later produced a commercial version.


The first playable modern configurable music synthesizer was created by Robert Moog, who had been a student of Peter Mauzey, one of the engineers of the RCA Mark II. Moog designed the circuits used in his synthesizer while he was at Columbia-Princeton. The Moog synthesizer was first displayed at the Audio Engineering Society convention in 1964. Like the RCA Mark II, it required hours to set up the machine for a new sound, but it was smaller and more flexible. The Moog synthesizer was at first a curiosity, but by 1968 it had caused a sensation.


Micky Dolenz of The Monkees bought one of the first three Moog synthesizers and the first commercial release to feature a Moog synthesizer was The Monkees' fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, Ltd., in 1967, which also became the first album featuring a synthesizer to hit #1 on the charts. Also among the first music performed on this synthesizer was the million-selling 1968 album Switched-On Bach by Wendy Carlos. Switched-On Bach was one of the most popular classical-music recordings ever made. During the late 1960s, hundreds of other popular recordings used Moog synthesizer sounds. The Moog synthesizer even spawned a subculture of record producers who made novelty "Moog" recordings, depending on the odd new sounds made by their synthesizers (which were not always Moog units) to draw attention and sales.


Moog also established standards for control interfacing, with a logarithmic 1-volt-per-octave pitch control and a separate pulse triggering signal. This standardization allowed synthesizers from different manufacturers to operate together. Pitch control is usually performed either with an organ-style keyboard or a music sequencer, which produces a series of control voltages over a fixed time period and allows some automation of music production.


Other early commercial synthesizer manufacturers included ARP, who also started with modular synthesizers before producing all-in-one instruments, and British firm EMS.


In 1970, Moog designed an innovative synthesizer with a built-in keyboard and without modular design--the analog circuits were retained, but made interconnectable with switches in a simplified arrangement called "normalization". Though less flexible than a modular design, it made the instrument more portable and easier to use. This first prepatched synthesizer, the Minimoog, became very popular, with over 12,000 units sold. The Minimoog also influenced the design of nearly all subsequent synthesizers.


In the 1970s miniaturized solid-state components allowed synthesizers to become self-contained, portable instruments. They began to be used in live performances. Soon, electronic synthesizers had become a standard part of the popular-music repertoire, with Chicory Tip's "Son of my Father" as the first #1 hit to feature a synthesizer.


The first movie to make use of synthesized music was the James Bond film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", in 1969. From that point on, a large number of movies were made with synthesized music. A few movies, like 1982's John Carpenter's "The Thing", used all synthesized music in their musical scores.



Homemade synthesizers


During the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was relatively easy for one to build their own synthesizer. Designs were published in hobby electronics magazines and complete kits were supplied by companies such as Maplin Electronics in the UK (although often these designs were actually rebranded versions of synths originally built by hobbyists, for example, the Maplin 5600 was a creation of the Australian scientist Trevor Marshall).



A Roland EXR-3 Arranger Keyboard


Roland EXR-3 Arranger Keyboard



Electronic organs vs. synthesizers


All organs (including acoustic) are based on the principle of additive or Fourier synthesis: Several sine tones are mixed to form a more complex waveform. In the original Hammond organ, built in 1935, these sine waves were generated using revolving tone wheels which induced a current in an electromagnetic pick-up. For every harmonic, there had to be a separate tonewheel. In more modern electronic organs, electronic oscillators serve to produce the sine waves. Organs tend to use fairly simple "formant" filters to effect changes to the oscillator tone--automation and modulation tend to be limited to simple vibrato.


Most analog synthesizers produce their sound using subtractive synthesis. In this method, a waveform rich in overtones, usually a sawtooth or pulse wave, is produced by an oscillator. The signal is then passed through filters, which preferentially remove some overtones to obtain a sound which may be an imitation of an acoustical instrument, or may be a unique tonality not existing in acoustical form. An ADSR envelope generator then controls a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) to give the sound a loudness contour.


Other circuits, such as waveshapers and ring modulators, can change the tonality in non-harmonic ways or create distortion effects which are often not found in natural sound sources. In spite of the popularity of modern digital and software-based synthesizers, the purely analog modular synthesizer still has its proponents, with a number of manufacturers producing modules little different from Moog's 1964 circuit designs, as well as many newer variations like the Moogalicious 900, invented in 1998.



Microprocessor controlled and polyphonic analog synthesizers


Early analog synthesizers were always monophonic, producing only one tone at a time. A few, such as the Moog Sonic Six, ARP Odyssey and EML 101, were capable of producing two different pitches at a time when two keys were pressed. Polyphony (multiple simultaneous tones, which enables chords), was only obtainable with electronic organ designs at first. Popular electronic keyboards combining organ circuits with synthesizer processing included the ARP Omni and Moog's Polymoog and Opus 3.


By 1976, the first true music synthesizers to offer polyphony had begun to appear, most notably in the form of Moog's Polymoog, the Yamaha CS-80 and the Oberheim Four-Voice. These early instruments were very complex, heavy, and costly. Another feature that began to appear was the recording of knob settings in a digital memory, allowing the changing of sounds quickly.


When microprocessors first appeared on the scene in the early 1970s, they were expensive and difficult to apply.


The first practical polyphonic synth, and the first to use a microprocessor as a controller, was the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 introduced in 1978. For the first time, musicians had a practical polyphonic synthesizer that allowed all knob settings to be saved in computer memory and recalled by pushing a button. The Prophet-5 was also physically compact and lightweight, unlike its predecessors. This basic design paradigm became a standard among synthesizer manufacturers, slowly pushing out the more complex (and more difficult to use) modular design.


One of the first real-time polyphonic digital music synthesizers was the Coupland Digital Music Synthesizer. It was much more portable than a piano but never reached commercial production.



MIDI control


Synthesizers became easier to integrate and synchronize with other electronic instruments and controllers with the invention in 1983 of MIDI, a time-coded serial interface cable. MIDI interfaces are now almost ubiquitous on music equipment, and commonly available on personal computers (PCs).


The so-called General MIDI (GM) software standard was devised in 1991 to serve as a consistent way of describing a set of over 200 tones (including percussion) available to a PC for playback of musical scores. For the first time, a given MIDI preset would consistently produce an oboe or guitar sound (etc.) on any GM-conforming device. The file format .mid was also established and became a popular standard for exchange of music scores between computers.



FM synthesis


John Chowning of Stanford University is generally considered to be the first researcher to conceive of producing musical sounds by causing one oscillator to modulate the pitch of another. This is called FM, or frequency modulation, synthesis. Chowning's early FM experiments were done with software on a mainframe computer.


Most FM synthesizers use sine-wave oscillators (called operators) which, in order for their fundamental frequency to be sufficiently stable, are normally generated digitally (several years after Yamaha popularized this field of synthesis, they were outfitted with the ability to generate wavforms other than a sine wave). Each operator's audio output may be fed to the input of another operator, via an ADSR or other envelope controller. The first operator modulates the pitch of the second operator, in ways that can produce complex waveforms. FM synthesis is fundamentally a type of additive synthesis and the filters used in subtractive synthesizers were typically not used in FM synthesizers until the mid-1990s. By cascading operators and programming their envelopes appropriately, some subtractive synthesis effects can be simulated, though the sound of a resonant analog filter is almost impossible to achieve. FM is well-suited for making sounds that subtractive synthesizers have difficulty producing, particularly non-harmonic sounds, such as bell timbres.


Chowning's patent covering FM sound synthesis was licensed to giant Japanese manufacturer Yamaha, and made millions for Stanford during the 1980s. Yamaha's first FM synthesizers, the GS-1 and GS-2, were costly and heavy. Keyboardist Brent Mydland of the Grateful Dead used a GS-2 extensively in the 1980s. They soon followed the GS series with a pair of smaller, preset versions - the CE20 and CE25 Combo Ensembles [2]- which were targeted primarily at the home organ market and featured four-octave keyboards. Their third version, the DX-7 (1983), was about the same size and weight as the Prophet-5, was reasonably priced, and depended on custom digital integrated circuits to produce FM tonalities. The DX-7 was a smash hit and can be heard on many recordings from the mid-1980s. Yamaha later licensed its FM technology to other manufacturers. By the time the Stanford patent ran out, almost every personal computer in the world contained an audio input-output system with a built-in 4-operator FM digital synthesizer -- a fact most PC users are not aware of.


The GS1 and GS2 had their small memory strips "programmed" by a hardware-based machine that existed only in Hamamatsu (Yamaha Japan headquarters) and Buena Park (Yamaha's U.S. headquarters). It had four 7" monochrome video monitors, each displaying the parameters of one of the four operators within the GS1/2. At that time a single "operator" was a 14"-square circuit board -- this was of course long before Yamaha condensed the FM circuitry to a single ASIC. Interestingly, what became the DX7's 4-stage ADSR at that time actually had many break points....about 75 (which proved quite ineffective in modifying sounds, hence the subsequent regress to the analog-synth type ADSR envelope generators).


During the time period from 1981-1984, Yamaha built a recording studio on Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Angeles dubbed the "Yamaha R&D Studio". Besides operating as a commercial recording studio facility, it served as a test area for new musical instrument products sold by what then was called the "Combo" division of Yamaha.


The Japanese engineers in Hamamatsu failed to create more than a handful of pleasing sounds for the GS1 with the 4-monitor programming machine, although one of them was used on the recording of "Africa" by Toto. At one point, Mr. John Chowning was invited to try to assist in creating new sounds with FM Synthesis. He came to the Yamaha R&D Studio, and spent a long time trying to make the FM theory result in a useful musical sound in practice. He gave up by the end of the day.


Thereafter, a select group of prominent studio synthesists was hired by Yamaha to try to create the voice library for the GS1 (with that same programming tool). They included Gary Leuenberger (who at that time owned an acoustic piano outlet in San Francisco), and Bo Tomlyn (who later founded Key Clique, a third-party DX7 software manufacturer).


Between Gary and Bo, they created the bulk of the voices for the GS1 and GS2 that really caught the attention of both musicians and musical instrument dealers in the Yamaha channel, through both NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) demonstrations and in-store demonstrations. Yamaha reports indicated that only 16 GS-1's were ever produced, and they were all either showcase pieces or donated to Yamaha-sponsored artists, which included (in the U.S.) Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea. Despite the fact that it wasn't actually sold, the GS-1 bore a retail price of about $16,000, and the GS-2 was priced around $8,000.


The CE20 and CE25 "combo ensembles" looked like home organ market instruments, but they were actually sold through the "combo" dealer network along with other Yamaha "professional" instruments. Their sounds were programmed in Japan by some of the engineering staff members who had been working on the GS1 and GS2.


The "programmer" for the CE20/25 was a rack of breadboard electronics about the size of a telephone booth. The first DX7 print brochure distributed around the world had a picture of that programmer.


At one time, a Yamaha technician was assigned the odious task of listening to real instrument recordings, and trying to emulate them with that crude FM synthesis programmer for the CE20/25's EPROM's. That particular engineer was supposedly "locked" in a laboratory for an extended period of time, but eventually failed to produce what the U.S. market thought of as good results in terms of viable syth voices.


Despite his difficulties, there were a couple of notable recordings produced in the U.S. utilizing the CE20, including Al Jurreau's "Mornin'".


The CE20 and CE25 were the very last professional Yamaha keyboards to NOT have MIDI.


While all of this was going on, the DX7 development team was working on what would be the most successful Yamaha professional keyboard to date.


They called in the Yamaha International Corporation product managers from the U.S., and held a series of critical meetings in Hamamatsu to review their design concepts.


Key to their design approach at the time (1982) was that, like the CE20 and CE25, the DX7 should be a "pre-set" synth, with only factory sounds, and no programming capability. Their rationale behind this was the extreme difficulty that the Yamaha team, Bo, Gary, and others had experienced at wielding FM synthesis and the multi-operator algorithms to make good sounds.


Luckily, the American product management staff had their way: to make the DX7 (and the relatively unsuccessful DX9) completely programmable instruments. As a result, the DX7 was an unheralded success, literally hundreds of great sounds were created, and an entire industry surrounding 3rd-party sounds was spawned. Further, as mentioned previously, OEM chipsets in PC's with the FM synthesis engine became standard fare in that industry.


Many of the preset "General MIDI" sounds in Wintel PC's are exact-DNA clones of numerous sounds originally created by Bo and Gary. Some even retain the names that were given them during the DX7 era.


When the DX7 was finally introduced in the U.S., Bo Tomlyn and other Yamaha staff went on the road to show off the product to the dealer network. Key to those seminars was training the dealers in how to operate and program the DX7....the concern raised in Hamamatsu over the difficulty level of programming the machine had still persisted.


But, demand was so high for the DX7 the first year of introduction that a "grey market" influx of units originally purchased in Akihabara (in Tokyo) became a serious concern for Yamaha U.S. management.


A rumor was propagated by unknown people at Yamaha (or dealers) that the Japanese units would "blow up" upon being plugged into 120V AC outlets in the U.S., and that the sounds were different from the U.S. version. The latter "rumor" was true. The ROM cartridges included in the Japanese version of the DX7 were different from the American release....the U.S. version had many more of the pleasing sounds created by Bo and Gary.


The DX7 exceeded Yamaha's wildest expectations in terms of unit sales; it took many months for production to catch up with demand. The DX9 failed, most prominently because it was a four-operator (vs six in the DX7) FM and had a cassette tape storage system for voice loading/recording.


The rack-mounted TX216 and TX816, although relatively powerful studio instruments at that time, were also poor sellers, due to lack of support and difficult user interface.


After the successful introduction of the DX series, Bo Tomlyn, along with Mike Malizola (Yamaha product manager) and Chuck Monte (founder of Dyno-My-Piano), founded "Key Clique", which sold thousands of ROM cartridges with new FM/DX7 sounds (programmed by Bo) to DX7 owners around the world. Ironically, Key Clique's strong dominance on that marketplace was eventually eroded by people "sharing" Tomlyn voice parameter settings over Bulletin Boards on early computers.


The huge library of sounds that propagated throughout the music industry were actually created by only a few programmers. For the most part, the average DX7 purchaser hardly ever wanted or needed to program his or her own voices.


At the time when Yamaha licensed FM Synthesis from Stanford, everyone thought that FM would be "long-gone" by the time the license ran out (about 1996). That turned out to be completely untrue - witness the flourishing of the technology in the OPL chipsets in the majority of PCs around the world over the past many years.


The list of prominent musical recordings utilizing the DX7 and the myriad of other FM synthesizers that were introduced later is significant. Software emulation of the DX7 voice library (including many of the Key Clique sounds) exists today in many home 'pro-sumer' studio products.



PCM synthesis


One kind of synthesizer starts with a binary digital recording of an existing sound. This is called a PCM sample, and is replayed at a range of pitches. Sample playback takes the place of the oscillator found in other synthesizers. The sound is (by most) still processed with synthesizer effects such as filters, LFOs, ring modulators and the like. Most music workstations use this method of synthesis. Often, the pitch of the sample isn't changed, but it is simply played back at a higher speed. For example, in order to shift the frequency of a sound one octave higher, it simply needs to be played at double speed. Playing a sample at half speed causes it to be shifted down by one octave, and so on.


By contrast, an instrument which primarily records and plays back samples is called a sampler. If a sample playback instrument neither records samples nor processes samples as a synthesizer, it is a rompler.


Because of the nature of digital sound storage (sound being measured in fractions of time), anti-aliasing and interpolation techniques (among others) have to be involved to get a natural sounding waveform as end result - especially if more than one note is being played, and/or if arbitrary tone intervals are used. The calculations on sample-data needs to be of great precision (for high quality, >32bits, more like 64bits at least) especially if a lot of different parameters are needed to make a specific sound: more than a few parameters, a lot of calculations need to be made, to avoid the rounding errors of the different calculations taking place.


PCM-sound is obtainable even with a 1-bit system, but the sound is terrible with mostly noise, as there are only two levels, on and off. Since the beginning of PCM synthesis (<1970), almost all number of bits from 1 to 32 have been used, but today the most common ones are 16 and 24bits, going towards 32bits as the next jump up in quality.



The physical modeling synthesizer


Physical modeling synthesis is the synthesis of sound by using a set of equations and algorithms to simulate a physical source of sound. When an initial set of parameters is run through the physical simulation, the simulated sound is generated.


Although physical modeling was not a new concept in acoustics and synthesis, it wasn't until the development of the Karplus-Strong algorithm, the subsequent refinement and generalization of the algorithm into digital waveguide synthesis by Julius O. Smith III and others, and the increase in DSP power in the late 1980s that commercial implementations became feasible.


Following the success of Yamaha's licensing of Stanford's FM synthesis patent, Yamaha signed a contract with Stanford University in 1989 to jointly develop digital waveguide synthesis. As such, most patents related to the technology are owned by Stanford or Yamaha. A physical modeling synthesizer was first realized commercially with Yamaha's VL-1, which was released in 1994.



The modern digital synthesizer


Most modern synthesizers are now completely digital, including those which model analog synthesis using digital techniques. Digital synthesizers use digital signal processing (DSP) techniques to make musical sounds. Some digital synthesizers now exist in the form of 'softsynth' software that synthesizes sound using conventional PC hardware. Others use specialized DSP hardware.


Digital synthesizers generate a digital sample, corresponding to a sound pressure, at a given sampling frequency (typically 44100 samples per second). In the most basic case, each digital oscillator is modeled by a counter. For each sample, the counter of each oscillator is advanced by an amount that varies depending on the frequency of the oscillator. For harmonic oscillators, the counter indexes a table containing the oscillator's waveform. For random-noise oscillators, the most significant bits index a table of random numbers. The values indexed by each oscillator's counter are mixed, processed, and then sent to a digital-to-analog converter, followed by an analog amplifier.


To eliminate the difficult multiplication step in the envelope generation and mixing, some synthesizers perform all of the above operations in a logarithmic coding, and add the current ADSR and mix levels to the logarithmic value of the oscillator, to effectively multiply it. To add the values in the last step of mixing, they are converted to linear values.



Software-only synthesis


The earliest digital synthesis was performed by software synthesizers on mainframe computers using methods exactly like those described in digital synthesis, above. Music was coded using punch cards to describe the type of instrument, note and duration. The formants of each timbre were generated as a series of sine waves, converted to fixed-point binary suitable for digital-to-analog converters, and mixed by adding and averaging. The data was written slowly to computer tape and then played back in real time to generate the music.


Today, a variety of software is available to run on modern high-speed personal computers. DSP algorithms are commonplace, and permit the creation of fairly accurate simulations of physical acoustic sources or electronic sound generators (oscillators, filters, VCAs, etc). Some commercial programs offer quite lavish and complex models of classic analog synthesizers--everything from the Yamaha DX7 to the original Moog modular. Other programs allow the user complete control of all aspects of digital music synthesis, at the cost of greater complexity and difficulty of use.



Commercial synthesizer manufacturers


Notable synthesizer manufacturers past and present include:

  • Access Music

  • Alesis

  • ARP

  • Akai

  • Casio

  • Clavia

  • Doepfer

  • Electronic Music Studios (EMS)

  • E-mu

  • Ensoniq

  • Fairlight

  • Kawai

  • Korg

  • Kurzweil Music Systems

  • Moog Music

  • New England Digital (NED)

  • Novation

  • Oberheim

  • Palm Products GmbH (PPG)

  • Roland Corporation

  • Sequential Circuits

  • Waldorf Music

  • Yamaha













A to Z of Music Instrument and Equipment Suppliers in the UK





Extensive range of pipe organs built by Allen.

A wholly owned British company established in 1969 to handle the sales, service and hire of Allen Organs in the U.K., with, over 3500 instruments installed in churches, schools, crematoria, concert halls, and private homes.

Trada Business Campus, Stocking Lane, Hughenden Valley, High Wycombe,
Buckinghamshire, HP14 4ND. ENGLAND.
Telephone: 01494 563833   Fax: 01494 563546




Bagpipe retailer in Leith, Scotland, whichbegan in1981 with the setting up of the "International Piper" magazine with the late Captain John A MacLellan, former director of the Army School of Bagpipe Music at Edinburgh Castle.

Lorn House, Links Gardens Lane, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 7JQ

+44 (0) 131 553 5503   +44 (0) 131 553 5550



BARNES & MULLINS   Suppliers of guitars, PA's, effects, saxes and more.




BONNERS  A range of musical instruments for sale at Bonners Music instrument shops in Brighton and Eastbourne.


BOOSEY & HAWKES  Publishers, online catalogue of instruments, music books CD's.




Insurance from Cornhill for musical instruments.

Allianz Cornhill Musical Insurance is one of the UK's leading specialist musical instrument insurers. Pioneered cover for the music industry over 40 years ago, under the British Reserve Insurance Company and continue to offer flexible cost effective policies.
Allianz Cornhill House, 6 Vale Avenue, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 1EH

Tel:  0870 2400 303




Probably the oldest prestige piano companies in the world.  Holds the Royal Warrant as manufacturer of pianos to Queen Elizabeth II.




Organ builders with a base in Northamptonshire. Founded in 1960, Copeman Hart enjoy an international reputation for producing not only the most pipelike sounds but the most comfortable, authentic consoles.

Tel +44 (0)1933 652600  Fax +44 (0)1933 652288  Email



Courtney Pianos 

Oxford based specialists in restoration and retail of traditional pianos, particularly the better-known makes/models built between the 1890s and 1940s.




(7,246)Drums, Drum Sets, and Accessories (4,459)Live Performance Equipment and Accessories (3,360)Keyboards / MIDI and Accessories (2,133)Guitars, Amps and Accessories (1,787)




Digital Village is one of the UK's most comprehensive studio equipment, pro-audio and computer music website. Digital Village have dedicated teams of experts that will help you choose the right equipment for all your music technology needs. For telephone mail-order, expert advice, price-beating enquiries and the best package deals on your studio equipment, please contact your nearest DV branch.  Whether you choose to purchase on-line, in-store or via telephone mail-order, contact Digital Village – a supplier of professional recording equipment for over 25 years.
562 Brighton Road, South Croydon, Surrey, CR2 6AW United Kingdom
Tel: 020-8407 8444 Fax: 020-8407 8438



DOLPHIN MUSIC  Next day delivery on all orders.




eBay is the world's largest online marketplace with over 10 million items for sale and 42 million registered users, eBay is the place to find the things you want or sell the items you have. Simply follow the instructions to register.



FENDER (UK)  Fender guitars and amplification UK dealers and prices.



GUITAR SUPERSTORE  Great site for guitars and everything guitar related.



GUITARIST MAGAZINE  Well known magazine for guitarists.




Guitar lessons on DVD, CD and video helping guitarists improve including beginners, intermediates and advanced players. Based in Hampshire. Tel: 0800 781 0414.



At this musical instrument and accessorie shop you can buy guitars, drums, percussion instruments and all of the accessories to go with them. Delivery is free on orders over £15.




This piano parts company, with an online catalogue, has been supplying piano tuners, manufacturers, technicians, schools, colleges and universities all round the world for over 120 years.
5 Bourne Enterprise Centre, Wrotham Road, Borough Green, Kent. TN15 8DG
TEL: 01732 886555   FAX: 01732 884789   E-MAIL:



Hobgoblin are specialists in traditional and acoustic musical instruments, selling guitars, banjos, whistles, flutes, mandolins, concertinas, harps, accordions and more.



Online musical instruments and accessories. guitars, violins, mandolins, strings, capos and leads, fender, ernie ball, martin plus many more. All orders £50 and over are delivered free.



Sell or buy your musical instruments and equipment simply. Vintage, brand new and second-hand musical instruments, equipment and accessories are traded.




Protect your musical instruments against theft, damage and accidental loss. Policies can also provide new for old cover, hiring of replacement equipment, personal accident protection and public liability cover.




In 1935 Jaques Samuel began what was to become London’s largest independent piano house.  142 Edgware Road, Marble Arch, London, W2 2DZ 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7723 8818      Fax: +44 (0)20 7224 8692




Concert piano technician also offering piano accessories, transportation and hire service.




Violin dealers, makers, repairers and restorers based in London.




Amusing online journey around this excellent London guitar shop.



MACHINE HEAD  Stockists of extensive range of guitars, amps, and accessories.




The world famous Marshall Amplification Plc began in 1962 in London England where Jim Marshall had a music shop and taught the drums.

Denbigh Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK1 1DQ

+44 1908 375411  +44 1908 376118   spares: 01908 375411



Music Central sell musical instruments and accessories including guitars, drums, keyboards, amplifiers, effects, dj & disco, lighting and more.



A site selling everything you need and things you don't need, including sheet music, metronomes, music stands, electrical equipment, rosettes and much more!




Online advert site for musicians, instrument manufacturers and traders. Our categories cover all musical instruments and accessories




New & second-hand musical instruments, mail order music shop with a personal touch, advertise concerts, instruments & services FREE, concerts, repairers, teachers, GCSE Help Page, music links, joke page.




This site has a fantastic selection of sheet music, books about music, tutor methods and music accessories - covering a wide variety of instruments and genres.



Amplifiers, drum machines, effect pedals, acoustic guitars, bass guitars, electric guitars, travel guitars, microphones, leads, sheet music, strings and more. UK delivery is free on orders over £100.



MUSICAL WAREHOUSE  Australian musical instruments.



MUSICIANS SHOP  Discounted instruments and accessories with online facility.




NUSYSTEMS is an on-line store and mail order company for all your computer music and pro audio requirements. NUSYSTEMS build their own brand of Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) and Notebooks specifically for music production and recording.




Omega Music (UK) Ltd. has nearly 20 years' experience of operating a successful mail-order business. Noted for our integrity, we are one of the most respected music businesses in the north of England. Our Education Department supplies instruments and accessories to thousands of schools, colleges and universities nationwide. Our long-established retail store is the natural centre for music-making in our area and has on display one of the largest selections of musical instruments and accessories in the region.




A leading maker, restorers and dealers of antique pianos: grand, square, upright and fortepianos, based in Kent.



PETER SMITH & SONS   Guidance/ advice offered on new and second hand pianos.




Offers 4,000 products online, at competitive prices, for musicians of all types.




Harps, harp music, clarsach, pedal harps and concert harps.  Founded in 1980 by a group of craftsmen, all experienced in harp making.  Workshops are a converted coach house beside a large Victorian family home set in the Surrey countryside.

Tel. 01342 893242  Fax.  01342 892646   E-mail:
Stansted House, Tilburstow Hill Road, South Godstone, Surrey, RH9 8NA



At Playrecord you can buy musical instruments, equipment, DJ equipment and accessories. Free delivery over £120.



PREMIER PERCUSSION   Information on percussion products, Leicestershire.




Guitar effects consoles, with fascinating history attached - Roger has worked with many of the true greats.

17 Salisbury Road, Worcester Park, Surrey, KT4 7DF. ENGLAND
Fax: +44 20 8330 4700



SAXOPHONES.CO.UK   Sales and rentals of saxophones, flutes and clarinets.



Here you can buy musical instruments and accessories, specialising in woodwind, brass and string instruments. Most items are available with 48 hour delivery in the UK. There is a second-hand sales area where you can sell your used instruments on line.



SOUND TECHNOLOGY PLC   Guitars, basses, sound software and more.



STATUS GRAPHITE   Hand-crafted graphite basses and guitars.



STRINGS DIRECT  Order strings online; accessories cables, useful tutorial.




Suppliers of classical guitars and associated recorded music.



THE CONTRABASS SHOPPE   Dealers in orchestral stringed instruments.




Manufacturers and suppliers of hardware and software for the church 

based in Cheshire.



The String Zone sell violin, cello, viola strings, instruments, bows, and a range of other accessories for orchestral players.




Three times a year, the Totnes School of Guitarmaking runs a 12-week course for up to seven people. Each of them has chosen what kind of guitar they want to make, and leaves at the end with the finished instrument.
Collins Road, Totnes, Devon, England, TQ9 5PJ
Phone: +44 (0)1803 865255  E-mail:




Think Music is a comprehensive direct musical instruments and equipment retailer. We have over 3000 product lines for you to browse and buy.



UK Websites Directory A new directory site worth a look! 




Organ builders and installers in Northern Ireland, started in the garage adjoining the home of Christopher Gordon-Wells in 1966 then expanded into an old schoolhouse at Stoneyford north-west of Lisburn. Present Gregg Street workshop, was purchased in 1971 and has been steadily adapted and adjoining properties acquired for larger voicing shop and pipe store.

83-87 Gregg Street, Lisburn, BT27 5AW, Northern Ireland
Phone: +44 (0)28 9266 4257 Fax: +44 (0)28 9260 3722




Online store for PA, guitars, drums, pianos and more.

World of Music Limited, 20 Denmark Street, London WC1
Mail Order  0800 371 129   Offices  020 7497 1178   Email:




Builders of pipeless organs based in Surrey.

Wyvern Organ Buiders Ltd, Chobham, Woking, Surrey, GU24 8AQ. U.K.   

Tel: 01276 856363  Fax: 01256 855241   email:







A to Z of Music Instrument and Equipment Suppliers International







The home of Gibson electric guitars today is "Gibson USA," built in 1974 in Nashville specifically for the production of Gibson's Les Paul guitars.

If you have a comment or question about anything related to Gibson Musical Instruments send an email to We'll do our best to respond within 24 hours.  You can reach the GMI Customer Support staff 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-4-GIBSON (1-800-444-2766).
Gibson's Customer Service in Europe, call 00 800 4GIBSON1 (00+800-444-2766-1)

Entertainment Relations,  3rd Floor, 29-35 Rathbone Street, London, England, W1T 1NJ    Tel. (0) 207.470.7800  Fax.  (0) 207.470.7870  Email:




Online suppliers of a variety of equipment for guitarists.




For 150 years Steinway has been dedicated to the ideal of making the finest pianos in the world. Site includes dealer locator.

1 Steinway Place, Long Island City, NY 11105
Tel. +1 718-721-2600    Email



YAMAHA EUROPE   Product information from Yamaha's extensive portfolio.








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Clarinets & Oboes


Computer Hardware

Computer Software

DJ Equipment

Drums and Percussion


Flutes & Piccolos

French Horns










PA public address equipment


Recording Equipment


Sound Modules




















A H Rahman



Alanis Morisette

Alison Kraus

All Saints

American Idol

Annie Lennox

Arctic Monkeys

Atomic Kitten

Avril Lavigne

Band Aid

Backstreet Boys

Babra Streisand

Barry Manilow

Barry White

Bay City Rollers

Beach Boys

Billy Joel

Bing Crosby

Black Sabbath


Bob Dylan

Bob Geldof

Bob Marley & Wailers

Bon Jovi

Boney M

Boyz II Men

Brenda Lee

Britney Spears

Bruce Springsteen

Bryan Adams

Bucks Fizz

Buddy Holly


Celine Dion

Charles Aznavour

Charlotte Church


Childrens Songs

Christina Aguilera

Chuck Berry

Cindy Lauper

Cliff Richard


Comic Relief


David Bowie

Def Leoppard

Depeche Mode

Destiny's Child

Dire Straits

Dolly Parton

Donna Summer

Duran Duran



Earth Wind and Fire

Eddie Arnold

Elton John

Elvis Presley



Eurovision Song Contest


Fleetwood Mac


Frank Sinatra

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Frankie Laine

Garth Brooks

Gary Numan


Geri Halliwell


Gloria Estefan

Guns and Roses

Haircut 100

Hank Thompson

Iron Maiden

Janet Jackson

Jean Michel Jarre

Jethro Tull

John Denver

Johnny Cash

Johnny Hallyday

Johnny Mathis

Joni James

Joss Stone


Julio Iglesias

Justin Timberlake

Kate Bush

Kenny Rogers

Kylie Minogue

Led Zeppelin

Linda Ronstadt

Lionel Richie

Live Aid

Live 8

Louis Walsh

Luciano Pavarotti



Mariah Carey




Michael Bolton

Michael Jackson

Mireille Mathieu

Modern Talking

National Anthems

Nat King Cole




Neil Diamond


Olivia Newton-John

Patti Page

Pearl Jam

Perry Como

Petula Clarke

Phil Collins

Pink Floyd

Pop Idol

Pop Music



Ricky Nelson

Robbie Williams

Rod Stewart


Roxy Music

Rule Britannia


Shania Twain

Sharon Osbourne

Simon Cowell

Simply Red

Spice Girls

Stars in Their Eyes

Stevie Wonder

Sting - The Police


Terry Wogan

The Beatles

The Bee Gees

The Carpenters

The Clash

The Doobie Brothers

The Doors

The Eagles

The Jacksons

The Ramones

The Rolling Stones

The Royal Canadians

The Seekers

The Ventures

The Who

The X Factor

The X Factor 2005

Three Dog Night

Tina Turner



USA For Africa

Van Halen

Vicky Leandros

Wei Wei

Whitney Houston

World Idol

ZZ Top























Music companies looking for acts: please stay tuned and contact our A&R department 

or write to the address below, when you spot someone with potential.











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