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30 years on....

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:26 pm
by Thirteen
I was speaking to an old customer today about vintage synth purchasing, and I thought that I should share my take on buying machines from a repairer's perspective.

Many vintage synths are now between 30 to 40 years old. Not many pieces of domestic electronic equipment that age are still in use. I doubt that the people that designed and built these synths ever expected them to be in use for much more than 10 years. The issue with vintage synths of course is that they often sound fantastic and they are things of beauty in many people's eyes. So they remain valuable and people keep using them. Some synths just keep on going and basically never stop, the Roland SH-2 comes to mind. Some machines weren't that reliable when they were new, particularly the early computer driven poly's.

The point I wanted to make is this: If you decide to find and purchase a vintage synth I really suggest that you find one that is in excellent condition both inside and out. If a machine is cosmetically bad it is not unreasonable to assume that as without, so within. If the outside is dinged, corroded and dirty then that should tell you something about what the synth has been through. If a machine is fairly new I can understand the idea of "I don't care what it looks like I just want it for the sound" but with a machine that is 30 years old I don't think that that is a wise idea.

As a repairer the best advice I can give if you are going to hand over your hard-earned for a vintage electronic musical instrument of that age is to avoid anything that is not in very good cosmetic condition and that is not working perfectly.
I would avoid the temptation to buy a rough or "fixer upper" machine unless you have electronics training yourself and are prepared to treat it as a restoration project that you want to DIY. It is worth spending the extra money and buying a good machine and then continuing to look after it well. Remember that the mechanical and cosmetic parts that these machines used are generally no longer available so if you buy a synth with broken pots and switches or a corroded front panel you are stuck with it.

There are some exceptions, for example some synths have common and well known issues that are easily fixed such as Juno 106 VCF/VCA modules that should not stop you purchasing if the machine is in great condition otherwise, but a good rule of thumb I think is to take the emotion out of your vintage synth purchases and take a good look at the potential new purchase first with a critical eye exactly the same as if you were purchasing any other piece of very old electrical gear and ask yourself "does this piece of equipment look like it is going to last reliably for the time span that I intend to keep it?" and "Is it worth spending the extra to get a nice example of the machine because when I come to sell it I the buyer will willingly pay a premium the same as I did"?

To sum up I will use the example of a vintage car: Do you want to buy the car that you will drive and enjoy each weekend, or do you want to save money on the purchase and then spend each weekend laying underneath it with a spanner?"

As a service tech I have to say that you should be spending your repair money having the tech diagnose and repair the occasional electronic fault, not spending it having your tech rebuilding clogged sliders and pots, cleaning wasps nests out of the insides, replacing corroded jacks, epoxying smashed keys and repairing boards dissolved by leaked battery electrolyte, it is too common that you finish up spending as much money to buy a dog and having it patched up as it would have cost you to buy a nice machine in the first place.

Just my two bob's worth (FWIW) ;-)

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:41 pm
by wez
Your advice is worth a hell of a lot more than two bob, Steve.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:06 pm
by Manning
And this is why we should start the "Turtlerock" magazine...

Great read, Steve. Vintage synths aren't my thing, but I enjoyed it greatly all the same.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:18 pm
by ChrisW
Great advice.
Except a couple of the things I have are cosmetically poor. And that was the only reason I could afford them.
In the 10+ years I've had them they haven't caused me any tech grief at all.
I agree on the sound production side though. It probably makes sense to buy something that works perfectly to begin with. Vintage gear is always a gamble though. And expensive to put right.
I have a friend who sold all his old synths and vintage outboard for contemporary gear about ten years ago. He's never looked back, and makes better music than me.
I'm still inspired by the older gear though.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:12 pm
by Thirteen
ChrisW wrote:Great advice.
Except a couple of the things I have are cosmetically poor. And that was the only reason I could afford them.
In the 10+ years I've had them they haven't caused me any tech grief at all.

If you get something cheap enough then it's fine to take a gamble on it. The intention of my post was more towards the issue of paying too much money for machines in poor condition just because they are vintage synths. Picking up a beat-up synth for a bargain price can be worth a gamble, particularly if it is a generally reliable model. (or if it has a high parts value due to rare chips etc.)

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:28 am
by Hybrid88
Yep agreed Steve. Though I will add that it is very hard here in Aus to get certain old vintage synths in *any* condition. Namely, PPG's, Moogs, Prophet's, Oberheims, ARP's etc.

There is also a lot of demand for them here in Aus, and due to our isolation, import duties, excessive overseas freight costs, currency conversion and potential for different voltage requirements, getting machines from overseas can be an expensive nightmare. That's even before thinking of getting them repaired/serviced back to spec and indeed upgrading some machines with such modern workflow necessities such as MIDI, quiet/reliable power supplies etc.

It is much easier if you want a Yamaha, Korg and particularly Roland synth, partly because there were many more sent here to start with.

Basically if you want to go the vintage route you have to be passionate about it, because financially things can get out of hand pretty quickly and whilst for some of us the sound makes it all worth it, it's easy to forget just how much modern gear is capable of and perhaps surprising for some how limited and archaic some of these machines actually are to use.

Anyway, just wanted to add a few of my thoughts :)

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:46 pm
by justmull
For me the big appeal in buying vintage was always to get real analogue synths, something that couldn't be had for a reasonable price in the new market for a good 10-15 years. With the current resurgence of new analogue synths in both the upper and more importantly lower end of the markets the vintage thing is a lot less appealing to me now (except to look at and get romantic about!).

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:23 am
by Alastair Reynolds
While not as exotic as a Moog or Prophet or something from the EMS stable, I still thought I should rescue this when it was being thrown away because it was so old and the New D-50 had just come out . I was working at Roland as a tech way back in the late 80s/ early 90s .Very basic , but in remarkable condition for a keyboard from the mid 70's
Roland SH-3A.JPG

Still gets some good Fat sounds with a bit of tweaking

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:31 am
by Thirteen
Another synth that seems to just keep working as long as it gets looked after. Roland and Yamaha built their analog synths to such a high mechanical and electrical standard that they rarely fail even after all this time. They do dislike being left unused though, they last best if run up and used regularly and all of the switches, pots and jacks are exercised.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 1:02 pm
by Sammas
I have a Univox J6 valve synth here from 1949. It is crazy to think that it is still functioning nicely after 60 years!

I doubt it was designed to last more than 10... but here it is.


Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 7:00 am
by seanolyte
Great post Steve. In the past I've made a few not so perfect decisions buying vintage gear, letting the hype and emotion of the product cloud my judgement of a wise purchase. It's always a gamble but it is one I'm willing to take - just a bit more smart about it now.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Sat Mar 09, 2013 11:22 pm
by NYMo
All good advice Steve.
For the record, here is a list of gear of mine that nobody could fix, so stay away from these...
Rhodes Chroma, Voyetra Eight, PPG Waveterm A,
(Obviously this was before you came on the scene Steve !)


Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Sun Mar 10, 2013 11:38 am
by ChrisW
Yeah, but that's all super delicious gear. :x

It's a hard one, because sometimes modern gear isn't the same as the old stuff.
In the end it's probably more about personal needs than the need of the music. I have a friend who mostly uses soft synths and his stuff sounds very good indeed. He's very into programming though, and I find the mouse and qwerty a creative killer.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 9:44 am
by harlequin
Great thread guys!

I'm looking at a roland tr 707 that is cosmetically poor(but cheap). Does anyone have any knowledge on how reliable they are over time?



Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:37 am
by Thirteen
I have rarely seen 707's or 727's in for repair, they seem to be reliable.

Re: 30 years on....

PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 6:38 pm
by Alastair Reynolds
They were pretty reliable and easy to fix when I worked at Roland around 1990,
I seem to remember mainly fixing cracked solder joints or broken pots/faders or things caused by physical damage , never a wierdo fault and don't ever remember not getting one going again.