A Visit To The Vintage Synth Museum
It isn’t often the case that people draw similarities between the typically sun-soaked state of Los Angeles and the dismally dreich Glasgow. This is probably in no small part because there aren’t many. Los Angeles is ten times the population of Glasgow; is nearly seven and a half times bigger and has nearly 5 times less rainy days a year. If the rules of taps-aff applied to Los Angeles, t-shirts would become a forgotten relic of an amply-tanned society. So what similarity can be found there, if any? I had been out there for a week already and was not sure I would find one - but the the answer did eventually present itself, in the form of the synthesiser.
It may come as no surprise to someone reading a blog post on this site that the writer may have a penchant for electronic music making equipment. It is somewhat a fundamental requirement of working here that you are so inclined towards such devices. For such people there is a place often thought of in “holy-pilgrimage” terms, the Vintage Synth Museum of Los Angeles. For those who have not heard the good-word; the Vintage Synth Museum is a space filled to the brim with the most outrageous collection of hard-to-find, eye-wateringly expensive synths you can ever hope to see. A project of love from two synth collectors, the space is a veritable who’s-who of the most iconic electronic instruments ever made, with over a decade of hunting and collecting to bring it to fruition. The space is the stuff that synth dreams are made of.
It would be easy to think such a place would be made in gold; glistening in the beams of LA sun. But it is quite the opposite. Much like our humble wee-showroom on Howard street, the Vintage Synth museum is housed in a rather unsuspecting building with minimal signage to indicate the bounty behind it’s doors. You could walk past their building many times before you realised what it was.. a sentiment which has been highlighted about us on more than one occasion. But once the doors are opened and you are welcomed in, all becomes clear.
I have found working in Signal Sounds, surrounded by incredible synthesisers new and old, I have become a little desensitised to how special all the equipment is. People often ask me “how do you get work done here, when you have all this stuff everywhere?” And the answer is every day you see them you get further away from the first-viewing excitement that you once held. I think this has happens to everyone to some degree in life. Do you still have the same wide-eyed excitement you once had for your trusty synths or are you side-eyeing; lusting for something new, old or just.. different? In short, I am truly spoiled by my proximity to such wonderful machines. The result of this means that I would say that I am unfortunately much harder to excite than your average synth user. So when I tell you I was overwhelmed to the point of dizzy at what was in the room I hope it better translates the sheer madness of what was on show.
There are certain synths you resign yourself to probably never getting to see in the flesh. When something hits a price tag north of £10k+ the sphere of people who will own one becomes smaller and further away from you to the point where, no matter the lusting, it is easier to just accept your fate and buy a plugin and be grateful someone else did the dirty work to give you but a glimpse of what is on show. The Vintage Synth Museum was basically my long term lust-list. The Yamaha CS-80, an original Mellotron, the ARP Rhodes Chroma and so many more. I can’t even fathom the magnitude of the cost involved in buying them all - let alone the running costs that would go into servicing and insuring them. Almost as impressive as the gear itself was the routing - everything in the room was switched on submitted to several mixers within a room. These were fed to multiple monitors whilst simultaneously going to a UAD Apollo to allow you to record what was happening. Anyone who has ever built a home-studio can attest to the thankless and rather un-enjoyable task of getting things plugged in and organised and this was incredibly well executed that I was able to come in and be able to start recording within a minute.
With everything at my fingertips I was poised and ready. But where to start? It is not an exaggeration when I say that you could spend years of your life in that room and feel it would not be enough time to explore all that was on show - and my amount of time there? 10am-12am. It was probably for the best I could remember 'Supermarket Sweep’ growing up as a kid as it became clear I’d need to channel a similar energy. I grabbed a quick video of all that was on show in the space before I began the real task - to share my experience with you all in the form of a sample pack. A collection of the sounds of my time there. A challenge of how much sonic magic you could capture in two hours of time.
The "Two Hours” Signal Sounds sample pack consists of single cycle wave-forms for your samplers/wave-table synths; drum one-shots; melodic and drum loops as well as some FX samples and glitches. They are free for you to download and use as you see fit and the full-list of sampled equipment is as follows - Roland 909, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland CR-78, Roland TB-303, Roland SH-5, Korg Rhythm 55, Steiner Parker Synthacon, LinnDrum LM2, Yamaha CS80, Yamaha CS70, ARP Rhodes Chroma, Mellotron, Wurlitzer, Elka Synthex, Moog Taurus and the Oberheim OB-XA.
I did my best to get as much as possible recorded; and to make as many fun and cools sounds as possible in the time I had. I cannot wait for music to be made with what I managed to get; and I welcome anyone who makes anything to share it with us.
Before leaving I snapped a photo on my film camera (a Mamiya C220 for any film camera nerds out there) that I knew I could use for the artwork for the pack. I thanked Lance who runs their space who was kind and hospitable and who showed me how things all worked before asking for a recommendation where I should go nearby to fill the hunger that had unknowingly crept up on me. He recommended Joy which specialises in Japanese food; a spot that also came recommended by the lovely folk of Noise Engineering who I was very lucky to be meeting later that day. I saved the session on two separate hard drives (as any good anxious-brain would do) bought a t-shirt and left.
My experience reminded me of the first time I visited Jason in Signal Sounds and saw all that was on show. It is my hope that for those who make their own pilgrimage to us here at Signal Sounds, that they leave with a similar feeling as I did leaving the Vintage Synth Museum, that of lasting inspiration and excitement. Our collection of gear is more humble than what you can see over the pond; but that wide-eyed feeling renewed the gratitude to my proximity to the magic on show all around me.