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Paul Ward wonders whether 'classic' always means 'good'... By Paul Ward
Published July 2001


Paul Ward wonders whether 'classic' always means 'good'...

Vintage Yamorgland XN2000 Planetoid synth. Classic analogue sounds. Optimistically bloated price. Email your best offer to:

I once attended a filming of Antiques Roadshow. Many were the punters whose illusions were shattered when they heard that their prized possession had the value of a used teabag. Many took it as a personal slight, but many more failed to understand one simple truth: 'old' does not necessarily equate with 'valuable'. 'Old' does not necessarily equate with 'good', either — but you didn't need me to tell you that, did you?

Hohner Pianet, Moog MG1, Casio VL1, Crumar Roadrunner... At some point in the recent past I have seen all these items described as 'vintage', 'classic', or both. A few weeks ago I had a salesman in a local music shop trying to sell me a Korg DW8000, earnestly telling me that it had analogue oscillators ("it's a classic, guv — vintage sound"). Yeah, sure. If he's reading this article now, I'd like to say that not only have I owned a DW8000 in the past, I actually still own a rackmount version. I didn't have the heart to tell you at the time.

When someone wants to shift a crappy old analogue squeak machine, they always go on about its 'vintage/classic' status. Notice the lack of qualitative meaning in those words, yet don't they suggest something good, something inherently desirable? The seller is probably moving the instrument on because it sounds like a bee in a watering can, has the stability of a dotcom share price, and is incapable of being satisfactorily integrated into a modern recording system, due to a frustrating lack of interfacing options.

But "They don't make 'em like that any more". And how thankful we should be! Why should I put up with the pain of interfacing antique kit when I can MIDI up a virtual analogue, or, better still, drop a plug‑in instrument into my sequencer? Gone are the tuning problems, the vagaries of control voltages, the lack of patch memories. I can hear the gasps of horror even as I type, so let me tell you that I do own a collection of old analogue gear that I'd never be parted with. Am I contradicting myself, then?

Respect doesn't simply come with age; respect has to be earned. For a synth to warrant your respect, time and effort (and cash), it should earn its keep. If I can find a machine that does a more effective (or cost–effective) job than the one I have now, I'm happy to take it on. I don't pretend that I'm immune to the collecting fetish, but neither do I fool myself into believing that owning certain old machines somehow makes my music any better.

If an instrument makes the sound you want, use it. But how far you are prepared to go to integrate a specific machine into your system is really down to how badly you want its sound. I'd go a long way to ensure that my Minimoog is available to me, but a Roland TB303? I'd rather drop another VST instrument into the virtual rack, thanks all the same.

This goes for effects processors too. I enjoyed my old 'classic' Copicats and Space Echoes, but I'm far happier to use a plug‑in — the result will be cleaner, consistently repeatable, and available at the drop of a hat. By contrast the 'real thing' needs careful maintenance, a constant supply of new tape loops, and a noise gate to remove the hum and hiss that emanate from the thing when it's dormant.

Examine the economics, too. Cost up a decent 'classic' monosynth and a MIDI/CV converter (not to mention a mixer, if you have more than one synth to accommodate). Look at the price of a software plug‑in. And then ask yourself whether your audience would genuinely be able to tell the difference.

I'm a great defender of the strange, the kludgy and the quirky. I believe that there are few instruments that are not capable of making a useful contribution, given the right context. I personally use odd combinations of bench‑top amplifiers, long‑forgotten stomp‑boxes, toy keyboards, Stylophone and home‑made nightmares to produce some of my favourite sounds. Would I describe any of these as 'classic' or 'vintage'? Depends on how much I'm trying to sell them for, I suppose!

If you'd like to air your views in this column, please send your ideas to: Sounding Off, Sound On Sound, Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB3 8SQ, UK. Any comments on the contents of previous columns are also welcome, and should be sent to the Editor at the same address.


About The Author

Paul Ward is a regular contributor to Sound On Sound. He has made several albums of synth–based music and has also produced recordings for theatre and television. He has recently been recording with soul singer Deeajay and rock band Bailey's Comet, and is now producing tracks for rock band Darkadia.