Book recommendation: Mark Vail – Vintage Synthesizers


One of the best synthesizer books ever. Mark Vails “Vintage Synthesizers” was first published in 1993, with a reprint following in 2000. This reprint (which can still be found on Amazon) is the subject of this blog. To be exact, we’re talking about a collection of articles by various authors – along with Mark Vail there’s Bob Moog, Ted Greenwald, Jeff Burger and others.


“Vintage Synthesizers” contains a huge number of illustrations (colour at the beginning, black & white within the actual contents), statistics and background information to the most significant developments and developers / musicians in synthesizer history. A real treasure trove of facts and details.

A special goody: Bob Moog has not only authored the chapter on the Minimoog, but also ones on the SEM Module and the ARP-2600 (!).


The focus of the book (originally presented by the magazine “Keyboards”, by the way) is keyed to the North American market. “Chroma – The Synth That Survived ARP’s Fall” is just one excellent chapter delivering compelling background information. Then there’s the section “European Synths”, dedicated to happenings in the Old World (EMS, RSF, Elka, Crumar, PPG, Waldorf, EDP, OSC, Spectral Audio, Clavia, …).


Some of the information may not be exactly correct. We know that many more than the listed 850 EMS Synthi AKS were built, for example. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that Polyfusion built 150 Modular Systems (ok, approximately … we’re not sure if this number is correct, since it comes close to the total number of Moog systems built).


Most of the used-synth prices may evoke a chuckle (or a look of amazement), since they would seem to reflect the price standards of the late 80ies. A Yamaha CS-80 for 1000 – 2000 USD can not have been a realistic estimate in 1993 (or later). But we can forget about these little details in the face of the huge amount of worthwhile general information. And the interviews that have been included are another bonus of “Vintage Synthesizers” that make this book a MUST for electronic freaks.


Several of the graphics are works of art on their own. Take, for instance, the beautiful chronology of the Pre-MIDI-Synthesizers of Korg (1968 – “first experimental synthesizer” until 1982 – “Poly 61”). It’s of special interest in these days of the MS-20 Mini, it greatly facilitates orientation on Korg’s history. And the chronology of Roland Rhythm Machines (with a cross-reference to BOSS) is another well-done fact sheet. Not to forget that the Greats of synth history each have a conclusive chapter of their own: ARP, Oberheim, Moog, Sequential, Kort, Yamaha, Roland …


An in all, “Vintage Synthesizers” is 342 pages of cumulative information for synthesizer freaks. Lots of interesting details including excellent illustrations, seldom-cited statistics and graphics, scientific assessments, interviews and price lists. This is no “old” book, but – in these times of the reproduction of many classic synths – a book more relevant than ever.



Amazon Link:

Link to Mark Vail:

Filed under 2013, Books

“Es genügt, einen Ton schön zu spielen” sagte der Komponist Arvo Pärt im Jahre 2005. Diese Aussage ist ebenso einfach wie ich auch exzellent: Es braucht kein Meer an Tönen, denn entscheidend ist der Klang. Dass so mancher Vintage-Synthesizer der 70er und 80er Jahre teils unerreicht hochwertige Klänge liefert, steht außer Frage. Doch tatsächlich leben wir “heute” in einer nahezu perfekten Zeit. Einerseits hat man – mehr oder weniger – noch Zugriff auf die Vintage Analogen, andererseits wird auch bei Neugeräten die wichtige Komponente des hochwertigen Klanges wieder zunehmend berücksichtigt. Doepfer, Cwejman,, MacBeth, Moog, GRP, Studio Electronics, COTK, John Bowen und andere Hersteller bauen hervorragende Synthesizer, die den “Klassikern” in nichts nachstehen. All diesen (alten wie neuen) “großartigen” Instrumenten ist Great Synthesizers gewidmet. _________________________________________________________ In 2005 composer Arvo Pärt said: “Playing one tone really well is enough”. In other words, it is sufficient to play one tone 'beautifully'. I agree with that. All musical efforts are focused on the sound itself. Although I studied classical music (piano and drums), it’s the electronic sound that inspires me. Synthesizers are the epitome of new sounds and exciting tonal spheres. Today, many companies produce high-quality - excellent! - synthesizers: Doepfer, Cwejman, MacBeth, Moog, GRP,, COTK, Studio Electronics, John Bowen and others. It's their products I'm really interested in ... apart from Vintage Synthesizers, which I have been collecting for 20 years. Subsequent to our former websites Bluesynths and Blogasys, Peter Mahr and I have now created GreatSynthesizers. We hope you like it.