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Hands On – The Minimoog (part 3)


Tuning Up

So you thought tuning your synth was a thing of the past? Indeed, how wonderful
it is just to be able to switch on and play without having to check your tuning
every time you want to do a bit of recording or present your musical wares to
the public. Poor old guitar players still have to do it, but those clever tuning
checkers are a real help and should be made compulsory for all string pluckers
(and sampler owners for that matter – perhaps I’ll tell you about their
sampling applications some time). The problem with analogue circuitry is that
it is inherently unstable. Take a common or garden transistor for instance.
Its output current is dependent on the input current and guess what? Temperature.
The transistor, which is the building block of virtually all analogue circuitry,
is affected by temperature to a high degree (I couldn’t resist that one).
So, even with all manner of compensating techniques, any transistor based circuitry
is bound to be prone to the effects of temperature changes, and oscillators,
which ideally should be accurate to at least one part in a thousand, are first
up for producing noticeable problems.

Now you might suspect that tuning an analogue synth is as easy, with the aid
of a stable pitch reference or a tuning checker, as tuning any other instrument.
Not quite, because not only do you have to check the tuning, you also have to
make sure that the scale is correct. If the scale was incorrect, then you would
find that one note would be in tune but the rest would be out, which is easily
checked by playing the note an octave above. So the first thing you have to
know about any Minimoog is that these things need to be checked and adjusted
if necessary, otherwise you might lay down a track that is impossible to overdub
to in tune, even by retuning or using varispeed. Hopefully, the scale tuning
of the Minimoog that you find yourself sitting at will be very close to perfect,
but if it isn’t then you have a job on your hands. Since this is far from
being a current instrument I think it would be a public service to describe
how to perform the tuning procedure so that those Minimoogs that have drifted
beyond usability may be fully rejuvenated. Full details in a separate panel.

What? No Presets?

Can you imagine a synthesiser that you have to reset totally each time you
want to use a different sound. And to make ‘presets’ you must have
a wad of blank charts showing the front panel controls for you to write in your
settings? Did anybody ever get round to producing any useful music with synthesisers
in the old days? Well things were very different then, and people’s expectations
were lower. You didn’t expect to be able to buy a voice card with a hundred
new and excitingly different sounds pre-programmed and ready for you to use.
You had to start off each time with a basic idea of the sound you wanted and
sufficient understanding of the instrument to be able to get from square one
to that elusive perfect bass, or whatever. Let’s take a trip around the
instrument and see what we can get out of it.

Figure 1 is a classic Moog bass setting and if you hear it you will find that
it is indeed fuller and richer than modern digitised equivalents. Is it better
than a sample of an original Moog sound? Too right it is because you have full
hands-on control of the sound at all times, and the Minimoog itself can modulate
a sound as you play in ways your sampler cannot. And from this starting point
it is just so easy to fine tune the sound to exactly what you want to hear that
you can’t help but wonder how on earth we ever let manufacturers deprive
us of those oh so wonderful things called knobs. Figure 1 will serve as an aid
for me to describe how the Moog does its stuff, and will also act as a starting
point to move onto some other fine Moog features. I hope you have a Moog in
front of you now because you’re in for an adventure.

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David Mellor

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David Mellor