Zoë Blade's notebook

Korg MS-20

MS-20 tech specs

Korg MS-20
Korg MS-20

  • Released: 1970s-1980s
  • Company: Korg
  • Type: Semi-modular synthesiser
  • Polyphony: Monophonic
  • Timbrality: Monotimbral
  • Control: Hz/Volt CV & S-Trig gate
  • Features: External input; separate highpass and lowpass filters

The MS-20 was a semi-modular synthesiser made by Korg in the late 1970s to early 1980s.[1]

It can be expanded with the similarly styled MS-50 and SQ-10, suggesting the set might have been designed as a rival to Roland's System-100, released three years earlier. Judging by the aesthetics and model names, the VC-10 vocoder was also in the range.

The MS-10 was a cheaper alternative, while at the very top end, their flagship synthesiser was the probably still unequalled PS-3300.

Compared to most classic synths, the MS-20 is idiosyncratic and versatile, and especially suited for making a wide variety of harsh sounds. In addition to making its own sounds, it's also great at mangling anything you feed into its external input. It can even follow the volume and pitch of any monophonic source, such as your voice.

Quotes

It's a marvellous instrument with a big range of sounds, some of which are very beautiful. I can't understand people who look at it and say that it isn't complicated enough, because the field over which it can operate is enormous. I certainly had a lot of fun with mine.

— Hans-Joachim Roedelius, 1984[2]

A beautiful, beautiful instrument... cheap, grunty, and the way you could run things into it, process sounds... we'd have a cassette recorder running into it, muck around with the sounds on it...

— Tom Ellard, Severed Heads, 1985[3]

The only keyboard I haven't changed is the Korg MS-20; I've got three of those. It's a mad keyboard, it's got a great range of sounds, and I like it the way it is.

Aphex Twin, 1993[4]

What can you say?

— Vince Clarke, Erasure, 1993[5]

All the reviews of the single said "there's this spectral guitar effect in the verse," but it's actually a Wurlitzer electric piano, put into my Korg MS20, distorted beyond all piano-ness and filtered live using both the low- and high-pass filters, with resonance set really high to get that extreme distortion. It was a live, kind of organic thing — him hitting the chords and me turning the knobs! Because the filters would sweep back too far, we had to record chords one and three, and then go back and do chords two and four. We disciplined ourselves to do the whole thing live. It's too easy just to go into Pro Tools and take one good one and copy it, and then it doesn't sound as real or earthy.

— Dave Eringa, producing the Manic Street Preachers, 1999[6]

This sound, which is a little gastric, or plasticky, combined with the furry yellow puppet... the combination of the sound and the puppet was perfect.

— Quentin Dupieux (Mr. Oizo), 2019[7]

Notable users

References

  1. The A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers, Part One: A-M, Peter Forrest, 1998, ISBN 0-9524377-2-4
  2. Self-Portrait Electronics & Music Maker, Aug 1984
  3. Talking Heads Electronic Soundmaker & Computer Music, Jun 1985
  4. The Aphex Effect Future Music, Apr 1993
  5. Vince Clarke’s Wall Of Sound Music Technology, Jun 1993
  6. Dave Eringa: Recording Manic Street Preachers Sound On Sound, Apr 1999
  7. Key 1999 Tracks: Mr. Oizo — "Flat Beat" Chal Ravens, 2019
  8. Vince Clarke Sound On Sound, Dec 1991
  9. Front Line Music Technology, Jun 1989

Retrospectives

Downloads

Documentation

Semi-modular synthesisers: EMS VCS3 | Korg MS-20 | Roland System-100