This page hosts pictures of past gear and synth studios, and it's for geeks only. It is written in reverse-chronological order, so you might want to start at the bottom.
New house, new studio, more gear changes. The DM-3200 is out again and for good, replaced by a Solid State Logic Alphalink MADI AX and Madixtreme PCI card. The monitoring section is being handled by an SPL Surround Monitor Controller. Also in the rack is a Lexicon PCM96 Surround, which gives me stereo or surround reverb, and a BAE 1073MP "Neve" preamp.
The Voyager is also out, replaced by a Midimoog. This is a conversion of a 70's-era Minimoog into a rack case, done by Studio Electronics in the late 1980s. Compared to the Voyager, the Midimoog is monstrous and untamed. I never really bonded with the Voyager, where the Midimoog just sounds fabulous and alive on everything.
A few items that left my setup in the past are back again. First the TASCAM DM-3200 has returned. Even though I'm not using it as a control surface at the moment, it's a great 32x32 audio interface over FireWire. (Actually, it's the only 32x32 FireWire interface you can buy.)
I also purchased a Moog MiniMoog Voyager. I've always wanted a MiniMoog, this one gives me everything from that unit plus patch storage, MIDI, extra filter and LFO and patchability.
Another return to the setup is the MOTM Modular Synth I built my own cabinet, you can see more on that here. So far, my system has two 300 oscillators, two 800 envelopes, a 190 VCA, a 420 Korg filter and a multiple. In progress are a 490 Moog filter, 440 SSM filter and a 310 oscillator.
The most-notable upgrade is the new Dell 30" Monitor thatI got reconditioned. I decided that the DM-3200 didn't really fit my workflow so I'm without a control surface at the moment. I flipped the desk to another wall and installed acoustic panels on the walls.
I also built a tube guitar amp based on Marshall 18-watt Bluesbreaker and Plexi 100W Super Lead. It sounds awesome, and I managed not to electrocute myself on my first tube project.
I finally completed the studio desk thatI had been planning for years. This was a major upgrade, finally being able to sit and write. More photos and plans for the desk are here.
I've also upgraded to a TASCAM DM-3200 console as my interface and control surface. I use the Firewire card as a 32-channel interface and the console as a control surface for Logic Pro. The whole thing will eventually be wired into the patchbays I installed, but for now I haven't gotten around to buying $200 worth of TRS jacks that I'll need to get it working. Maybe a TT bay would have been a better buy after all.
The MOTM synth is now gone, and I'm back to the FW-1884. This upgrade was all about monitoring. I now use a Presonus Central Station to feed my new ADAM S2A monitors, a huge improvement over the Alesis Monitor Ones and Monitor 1 Actives I had been using. I also picked up a set of Apple Design monitors, the one Bob Clearmountain likes so they're obviously cool. Hit record, here I come.
I also starting building DIY equipment that worked. At the bottom of the rack is a Gyraf G1176 compressor and an API-based mic preamp that I designed myself (with help from API and people at "The Lab").
2005 was the year I sold a bunch of gear, including the Wavestation, to finance my MOTM modular synthesizer. I built all of the modules from kits and ended up with a respectable system:
- 300 Oscillator
- 310 Micro Oscillator
- 390 Micro LFO
- 490 Moog Filter
- 800 Envelope Generator (x2)
- 190 VCA/Ring Mod
- Kenton Pro/2 MIDI/CV converter
I eventually sold the system. I just wasn't cut out to be a modular synth user. I was frustrated that I couldn't save my "patches" and was hesitant to change things around. I had bought this instead of the Minimoog that I really wanted, so perhaps there's a Voyager in my future. [MP3 Sample of the MOTM]
For work purposes I switch back and forth between the FW-1884 controller/interface and using an FW-1804 interface and US-2400 controller. There's also a Lounge Audio PEQ-1 Pultec-like solid state EQ I got for writing a manual which sounds very "vintage" (it makes things fuzzy and lays them back in the mix).
While working at TASCAM, I noticed a Fatar/Studiologic SL-1100controller that was broken and unused. I bought it from the company for$50, repaired the blown power regulator, and I had a beautiful top-of-the-line MIDI controller.
I sold my M-Audio MIDISport 8x8 interface and replaced it with a TASCAM FW-1884. This gave be not only a 4x4 MIDI interface, but a great little audio interface as well.
One day I was driving and listening to Rush's 'Power Windows', (or maybe it was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Welcome to the Pleasuredome') and decided I really, really needed a Roland Jupiter 8. After a month or two of soul searching, I ended up with a Roland Super Jupiter, later adding the programmer. It has a brassier, more focused sound than the Andromeda and I like it a lot. [MP3 Sample of the Super Jupiter]
The major shift this year was the purchase of a PC to build a TASCAM GigaStudio 3 sampling workstation. My Pentium 4 system gives me 300+ voices of polyphony on a good day. The GigaStudio rig has essentially replaced all of my ROMplers, because why use a 2MB sample when a 2GB sample is available? I have four IDE drives in RAID 0 for 1/2 a terabyte of fast sample memory, and it's pretty much filled up with OEM libraries. I currently use a KVM switcher to select between the Mac and PC systems. I added a second trackball for the PC, and I'll add a second keyboard once I get the room. I use a TASCAM PCI-822 as my audio/MIDI interface on this system, and I sold the Roland sampler to finance the PC.
I also taught myself guitar, evidenced by the Fender American Vintage '62 Strat and Fender Blues Junior amp. I also picked up a Taylor 110 acoustic. These days I mostly use Fulltone OCD, Boss DS-1, Line 6 Echo Pro and Space Chorus pedals.
I built a shelf to go behind my controller keyboard and bought a Viewsonic VP-191bflat-screen monitor. This allowed me to have the sequencing computerright in front of me, instead of hitting record on my desk and runningacross the room. When I first started at TASCAM I brought home a DM-24console for a while and sold the Alesis mixer. However, the DM-24 wasjust too big for my space and I returned it soon after taking this photo. I hope to add a DM-3200 someday when I finish my desk project. My "desk" as I write this is still the controller keyboard.
Changing things around again, I got rid of the big ugly rack and moved a keyboard over to the side of the room. I built some speaker stands so I could listen in stereo as I played, instead of from the other side of the room.The rack holds a new Yamaha TX-802 FM module, bought for plucky harps and marimbas. You can also see the Alesis Masterlink that I got for beta testing, a nice little unit in its day.
Obviously,we painted the walls. I got really sick of white walls as a renter, Ifelt like a hospital patient. So I painted the walls, and I didn't get evicted.
You can see I started doing work for M-Audio by the Ozone on my desk, now on the other side of the room. Also by the M-Audio Delta 66 which was my sound card for a while.
I finally got a digital camera and started documenting my studio again. From the left you can see my Mac Yosemite G3 running Studio Vision, Alesis Monitor Onespeakers (prototypes, since the logos are screened on instead of a sticker). Under the desk are some Thrustmaster rudder pedals for flight sims. On the desk is an Alesis Ineko I was writing a manual for, with rub-down lettering.
On my cool slantedrack, you can see (top to bottom): Amiga monitor for Roland sampler (I traded a Bosendorfer piano bench for this, worst trade ever). Alesis Studio 32 mixer (with terrible intermittant switch problems), Opcode Studio 4 MIDI interface, Q20 multieffects, MidiVerb 4 effects, and the Alesis S4 QuadraSynth sound module, which with the upgrade from the Quadrasynth Plus Piano was the only one of its kind.
The Roland S-760 sampler was a major purchase. I still miss the sound of that thing, something about its filters sounded really solid. Eric Persing's samples and programming didn't hurt either. I had some great-sounding libraries:
- Bob Clearmountain Drums 2 (some of my favorite drums ever)
- Roland Preview Disc (included, a nice library)
- Spectrasonics Distorted Reality 1 (amazing, still unsurpassed)
- Roland Horns
- Spectrasonics Preview disc
- EventuallyI bought EVERY Roland library (Orchestral Family, Africa, Vintage Keys,etc.) when West LA Music blew them out for $30-60 each
You can also see the Alesis Wedge, another great reverb I wrote the presets for. At the beginning of the project I really wanted a Lexicon PCM-90, but by the end I thought the Wedge sounded better. But it didn't sell, and Guitar Center eventually blew them out for $60, I believe.
You can also see my first true analog synth: an Alesis Andromeda. I had been writing a bunch of manuals for Alesis right around the time they were going bankrupt. They weren't paying me for my work – it turns out they weren't paying anyone, since they were flat broke – and they owed me thousands of dollars. So I called a contact at Alesis to see if I could pick up an A6 for my work. He said sure, pick it up tomorrow. I called that guy the next day, and he had been laid off. So I called someone else, sure no problem, the next day I called and HE was laid off.
The time had come for bold measures. The last guy had told me where in the building my keyboard was. I drove up to the building. You figure the last person you lay off is security, right? So that the other layoffs don't grab everything they can carry on the way out the door? But I looked around, and the security guy wasn't around. I took the elevator to the third floor, and the synth was where they said. I walked into the Marketing Manager's office, explained what I wanted, and he gave me the OK. They wrote up the loan paperwork, I walked out the door with the synth, and peeled out of the parking lot. I was lucky, most people lost a lot of money when that company went under.
I love the synth. It can produce these creamy pads that I've only heard out of the Yamaha CS-80. It's a big, bad American polysynth. Below the A6 are my Wavestation and QS-8 keyboards. [MP3 Sample of the Andromeda]
This is a shot of my post studio, RocketWerks. I worked there part time for a few years then full-time for five years. The Alesis X2 console was actually in my home studio for a while, the kind of thing I could only do as a single guy. I also bought a full Pro Tools Mix Plus system for the studio, running on a PowerMac 9500. You can also see my Alesis ADAT M20 in the rack with an Alesis AI-3, Alesis Q20 and some other toys.
I finally replaced the old QX-5 sequencer with my first computer, a Mac IIsi running Opcode Vision and Galaxy Plus Editors. I could name a track! I could see what notes were recorded! It was a huge step up. Later that year I bought an Alesis D4drum module, since I was sick to death of the Proteus drum sounds by then. You heard that thwacky Proteus "snare" on every commercial in theearly 90's.
I soon got a job at Alesis and started bringing home gear to learn, including a pair of ADATs, a BRC and one of those 1622 mixers whose faders felt like chalk on a blackboard. Eventually I upgraded to an ADAT XT, an ADAT XT20 and an M20 as new models came out.
When Alesis started building synths, I was a beta tester for the 64-voice QuadraSynth S4 module. Later I scored a QS-8 keyboard, my first 88-key weighted controller and a very cool synth in its day, despite the weakest filter ever.
I created a demo sequence for the QS8 Classical QCard called Houndstooth.Today, sound libraries over 100GB in size are not uncommon. Thechallenge of this piece was to demonstrate an orchestral library for an Alesis QuadraSynth that was 8 megabytes in size.
Since you must be a synth geek if you've read this far, I'm including this shot. When E-mu launched their Vintage Keys module at the NAMM show in1993, they rented a pile of analog synths, organs and Melotron for the booth. They had costumes you could put on to pose with the setup, and a guy took a poloroid of you in your best Rick Wakeman pose. I was on the clock when I took this photo.
Is this pathetic or what. I have a picture of a synthesizer on my refrigerator. I had the jones for a Korg Wavestationsince the first time I played one in 1990. The M1 and D-50 had comeout, and they were amazing, but the Wavestation captured my imaginationlike no other synth had. Those dreamy voicey pads that swirled andevolved were just the coolest thing ever, but I was too broke to affordit. Finally, Korg blew them out for $999 around 1992. You know, the piano sound was terrible, and it didn't have a sequencer, so it was a relative flop in its time, even though people still love them today. I remember staring at the Goodman's Music ad in Alesis tech support and showing it to the guy next to me. "$999, that's a no brainer! You have to do it!" Like a drunk asking for support in a bar.
The Wavestation became my controller keyboard, replacing the Mirage that I had been using solely as a controller by now. This one had the great Yamaha keybed from the DX-7II and aftertouch. I loved the fretless bass, pads, leads, kalimba, everything about it. I eventually sold it when saving for my modular synth, replacing it with the Korg Legacy softsynth version. I sold it to a guy in a mariachi band, who was actually looking for an M1 for the accordian, piano and trumpet sounds. I showed him these sounds on the WS, he paid cash, and he was gone. What a cruel fate for my treasured synth. I still miss it. [MP3 Sample of the Wavestation]
The E-mu Proteus/1 was a great module for me. Even though it wasn't very programmable, I got a lot of nice sounds on that thing, especially the 90's string-piano-voice-bell-etc layer stuff that was big at the time. It was 16-bit, a huge improvement over the 8-bit Mirage I had been using.I didn't have a mixer when I got it, but the module had a send and return jack on the back. I could plug the Mirage into the return and mix the two together. This was also my first major credit card purchase, so I'm probably still paying it off. [MP3 Sample of the Proteus]
A Mirage, Proteus, QX-5 and a boombox radio were my dorm room studio (right side of picture). One day the radio got stolen from work. (We were upstairs painting, and someone said "what happened to the music?") My boss paid me for it, and I bought a Roland M-120 rackmount line mixer with the money.
I started studies in the USC Recording Arts program. My first big recording there was "Violins and Violence," a progressive epic I had written the year before as a high school project. We recorded on theSSL 4048 E/G console to a Mitsubishi X850 32-track ProDigi machine in that studio.
The bottom picture shows that I borrowed every synth I could for the session. In the back is a Roland D-20 over my Mirage and QX-5. To the right of that is a Roland R8 drum machine and a Roland D-50 synth. In the racks you can see two UREI LA4s, two 1176 silver face, a Lexicon 300, Lexicon delay (broken, later removed) and Eventide H910.
This session and the ones that followed were a lot of fun. My friend Casey Stone helped me with the console on this one, and today is a a first-call scoring engineer.
I worked an entire summer at McDonalds to save the money for my Ensoniq Mirage.This was a killer sampler in its time and I used the hell out of it. I bought into the hype of sampling, it can produce any sound in the world! Sampling my own stuff was a bit trickier than they made it sound, but I learned about recording from that experience. With my sequencer I started learning about arranging and put together some fun music.
I had about 100 floppies for the sampler. This is me playing with the school rock-jazz band with my Peavey KB-100 amp in the background.
I started with an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer. I needed it for a song that the school's rock jazz band was performing. I entered three pages of complex music in step time, turned it off, and the next morning it was gone. Thinking I had done something wrong, I entered it all in again.The next morning, the music was gone again, and so was the MMT-8. I exchanged it for a Yamaha QX-5 sequencer, which became my recording platform for the next six years. You could only record or edit on track 1, so you would do a pass and exchange it to one of the other 8 tracks. You could only see four tracks at a time on the display, and the 2x16 display wasn't much fun for editing, either. But I could record in real time or step time on the box and recorded some fun synthy music. I had some software that turned the Mirage into a SYSEX storage device so I could save the memory to floppy disc.
Later on I bought the Casio TB-1. I could switch between two controllers for one source, so I could layer synths with a flick of a switch. It also prevented the "MIDI thru delay" that everyone was scared of at the time.
The Casio CZ-101was not only digital, but multitimbral. Of course you only got four mono voices, but that was still impressive in 1986. The CZ-101 could get some fat bass sounds if you built two 2-osc basses and then layered them. It had interesting multi-stage envelopes, too. My setup in highschool bands was layering the CZ-101 with the Poly 800.
My first synthesizer, a Korg Poly 800.What else can I say about this pic except that I wore the CZ-101 on astrap as well more than once. And I never got over my love for Miami Vice, either.
I really dug the Poly 800.I got some brash brass sounds out of it. It sounded best when I had the filter more or less open, since there was only one filter for the whole unit. It had a cool little sequencer, too, which I used live with a few bands. I had a love/hate relationship with the pitch stick, mostly hate but you could wiggle it pretty fast for natural vibrato.
I knew this synth so well that I still use the preset numbers as pneumatic devices. If I have to remember "22," I'll think about the wheezy farfisa sound that was in preset 22. Of course the presets were base-8 (11-88), so this only works if the number doesn't have a 9 or a 0.
Around this time I saw my first synthesizer in an organ store, a Roland Juno-6I believe. I was upset that I wasn't able to play it, since I had forgotten my organ lessons. My sister got the Casiotonein this picture for her birthday, but I stole it from her and taught myself to play. I would set the accompaniment to E flat and improvise using the black notes, and learn the music on Miami Vice by rewinding the Betamax over and over with the Casio in my lap.
I had organ lessons as a kid on my grandmother's Lowery organ. It wasn't a cool tonewheel organ or anything, but it taught me the basics on reading music. I also had the toy organ in this picture, which sounded pretty cool when it distorted.
More pictures, including pics of the DIY projects, are [here].
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All photos Copyright Jeff Laity, not to be used or republished without prior written permission.