Zoë Blade's notebook


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
  • Patch jacks: ¼" TS phone jacks
  • 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.

Just like the lowpass filter, the highpass filter is also both resonant and voltage controlled, something even the Moog 900 Series can't provide.

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.


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 MS-20, 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


  1. The A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers, Part One: A-M Peter Forrest, 1998, ISBN 0-9524377-2-4, pp. 235—236
  2. "Self-Portrait" Dan Goldstein, Electronics & Music Maker, Aug 1984, pp. 53—55
  3. "Talking Heads" Tony Reed, Electronic Soundmaker & Computer Music, Jun 1985, pp. 36—37
  4. "The Aphex Effect" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Apr 1993, pp. 22—23
  5. "Vince Clarke's Wall Of Sound" Ian Masterson, Music Technology, Jun 1993, pp. 76—80
  6. "Dave Eringa: Recording Manic Street Preachers" Sam Inglis, Sound On Sound, Apr 1999
  7. "Key 1999 Tracks: Mr. Oizo — 'Flat Beat'" Chal Ravens, 2019
  8. "Live and Kicking" Andy Crysell, DJ Magazine, 1993
  9. "'Destroy' Aphex Twin studio photo circa 1993"
  10. "Aphex Twin Live in Paris" Apr 1993
  11. "Apollo Four Forty: Ad Astra" Sam Molineaux, Sound On Sound, Nov 1999
  12. "Mixing Lessons" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1988, pp. 40—44
  13. "What's That Noise?" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, Aug 1990, pp. 30—34
  14. "Metal, Machines & Music" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Oct 1992, pp. 80—84
  15. "Metallurgy" Derek Johnson, Sound On Sound, Nov 1992, pp. 54—60
  16. "Machine Heads" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Nov 1995, p. 80
  17. "Vince Clarke" Paul Ireson, Sound On Sound, Dec 1991, pp. 52—56
  18. "Erasure Head" Ian Masterson, Future Music, Nov 1995, pp. 58—65
  19. "Front Line" David Bradwell, Music Technology, Jun 1989, pp. 76—79
  20. "Will Gregory: Recording Black Cherry" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Jul 2003
  21. "Advance Guard" Simon Trask, Future Music, Jan 1995, pp. 46—48
  22. "Synths and Stuff" Danny Wolfers
  23. "Home Electro-Musician" Rudiger Lorenz, Electronics & Music Maker, Aug 1983, p. 69
  24. Obsessive Surrealism Parallel Worlds, 2007
  25. "Parallel Worlds Studio"
  26. The MS-Series Pino & Wildjamin, 1995




Korg: MS-20 | microKEY

Semi-modular synthesisers: 2600 | K-2 | MS-20 | System-100 | VCS3