How ARP introduced the first synthesizer preset (2023)

The ARP Soloist was the first commercial synthesizer preset, and Tony Banks got the revised version,the professional soloist, in 1973. It was his first synthesizer and he immediately started using it with the Genesis. A few years later he shared with Dominic Milanocontemporary keyboardthat he didn't need a complex synthesizer on stage. "It's so easy to change the tone here," Banks said. “I tend to use [my] Mellotron a bit as the left half of the organ and the ARP as the right. There's no general rule of thumb for this, I just find that ARP gives me a lot more color for the main lines."

In short, therein lay the appeal of a preset synth, which was a rarity at the time. The Pro Soloist was designed by Jeremy Hill, who joined ARP Instruments in 1971, just a few years after Alan R. Pearlman founded the company.

Hill was a British electrical engineering graduate who had worked on airborne missile radar before emigrating to the United States in 1967. While working for Avco Electronics in Cincinnati, he met a church choir director who was very enthusiastic about certain instruments. called modern synthesizers. He told Hill about a new company called ARP. Hill, dissatisfied with his work on military jamming equipment, called the ARP to offer his services. Soon after, the 20-year-old found himself in a new job.

"ARP was based outside of Boston in a place called Newton Highlands, and I loved it," says Hill. “Actually, it wasn't ARP at first, it was still called Tonus, in a very nondescript building on Kenneth Street. There were probably half a dozen of us there and Dennis Colin was the only other engineer on the team when I got there. Alan's wife, Buena, did the bookkeeping and answered the phone. David Friend, who invested money in the company, was there and his wife Margaret did the logos and artwork for the ads. There was also a guy named Manny Mandell who did a lot of jobs."

ARP's first product was the large 2500 modular instrument, which used dies to replace Moog's patch cords. One of the first things Hill worked on was the impressive tracking,el semimodular 2600,it is now considered a classic among early analog synthesizers.

(Video) 01 The Korg ARP Odyssey-Introduction

“It was supposed to be nicer and cheaper than the 2500,” Hill recalls of the 2600. “All the standard connections were hardwired. In other words, he didn't have to use patch cords, but he could replace the standard wiring with patch cords if he wanted to. Otherwise you could just turn it up with the faders, plug things in, and start making music; I didn't necessarily need switchboard cables. More importantly, the 2600 was portable, and that led tothe arp odyssey, sort of 2600 for short. I worked on the technology with Dennis and Al for that as well. It was very wearable, popular too, and became a good seller."

Keep in mind that this was in the early '70s, when synthesizers were relatively complex, user-programmable systems that were becoming familiar to some musicians. If you wanted a synth in the US, you could choose from ARP and Moog, plus a handful of lesser-known brands like EML and E-Mu and outliers like Buchla and EMS in the UK. Korg and Roland didn't introduce their first synthesizers until 1973, followed by Yamaha the following year. Meanwhile, Hill noted that some potential ARP customers seemed taken aback by the seeming complexity of the synthesizers available in those early days.

They came to ARP to see what was going on, Hill recalls, and often asked if 2500 systems could sound like a cello or something. “We wonder why the hell they would want to do that. We felt like we were building instruments that could create new sounds that were much more interesting and different, you know? Who wants to build a beautiful cello? A beautiful cello cannot be built electronically. But still they said they wanted to hear a trumpet or something. Well, yes, we can build a trumpet. And we came to the conclusion, although we didn't find it particularly interesting, that some people wanted a synthesizer that could produce sounds out of the box. Sounds literally instant."

Enter the Soloist, the first preset synthesizer and the model that led relatively quickly to a similar but improved version, the Pro Soloist, which ARP announced in 1972. With a few basic modifications beyond that, you'd have a winner,” says Hill. . “Dennis did a lot of work on the original solo and was very good with the filters. The problem is that he was put together too hastily and built poorly, and I'm sure I must have had something to do with it. He was terribly unstable and out of tune like crazy. There were stories of people throwing it against the wall in desperation."

Steely Dan's Donald Fagen wore an ARP soloistcountdown to ecstasyHighlight "King of the World."

(Video) The ARP 2600: The Story of a Legendary Synthesizer | Reverb Feature

Steely Dan keyboardist and vocalist Donald Fagen used an ARP lead in the band's early years, but it has not survived. Guitarist Denny Dias told about the sessions for the band's 1973 album.countdown to ecstasy, when Fagen played soloist on "King Of The World", and notably for a four-part harmony attempt of saxophone-like sounds harking back to "Bodhisattva". Dias reported that Fagen became increasingly angry with the poor tuning of the machine and ended up throwing it down the stairs.

“Then he ran after her and started jumping on her,” Dias said. “Some of us joined in with some kicks and punches. Roger [Nichols, technician] got some alcohol in the studio and we started setting it on fire." Apparently, some people from the label discovered the remains of the soloist the next day. "He must have hit a nerve, because they had this twisted piece of burnt plastic framed and taped to a wall with an engraved plaque. I don't remember the inscription, but it said something about Steely Dan, men and machines."

The short-lived soloist gave way to the professional soloist, and Hill says his experience working with digital and servo systems stood out. "The new model was my baby," he tells me. “I put all the electronics in and built it on top of what we had before. Al developed a touch sensitive system for the keyboard, which was new at the time. I think we were the first with Pro Soloist to have aftertouch, so we were able to introduce different sonic modifications: add growl, change vibrato, we could change pitch, change resonance, about six different things you can do with the sensor. control the keyboard.

How ARP introduced the first synthesizer preset (1)

A 1972 ARP Pro soloist.

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One of Hill's most important contributions to Pro Soloist was his oscillator. “I created a really stable oscillator where you can still portamento and slide between notes,” he says. “One of the problems with the original oscillators, like all analog synth oscillators, was that you needed a logarithmic converter because the keyboard was basically a bunch of note-selected resistors and switches in a long linear ladder.”

An exponential rather than a logarithmic system was required of the soloist, which contributed to its instability. "I went with a closed-loop oscillator," recalls Hill. “For the first time I had a digital keyboard on the Pro Soloist and each note was defined by a digital number. It had an F to V converter that very accurately converted to an analog voltage. An analog comparator compared the output to the required input, and a high loop gain compensated for any drift in the simple loop oscillator and log converter.”

Whereas the original Soloist had 18 presets, ARP made 30 available for the Pro. “I introduced a new system where all parameters were controlled digitally: pulse width, envelopes, ADSR, VCF, VCA, and all the switching of the Soloist. system. I had 15 switches for normal sounds like bassoon, piano, and violin and another 15 operated by the same switches but as a different bank, including Telstar, Comic Wow, and Space Base, so I got 30 voices out of 15 switches. ”

Hill worked with ARP Marketing Director Dave Fredericks to finalize the presets. “Dave was great on keyboard and demoed ARP synths very well and was quite successful in selling the instruments all over the world. We worked together on the pro over a few nights to get the sounds the way we wanted them. I used a 64-bit digital word to define each voice, and when we were done, they became read-only memories.

Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks used an ARP lead on "The Cinema Show" from his 1973 album.Sell ​​England by the pound.

(Video) Original ARP Soloist modified by ARP Custom Engineering

ARP described the new monophonic Pro Soloist in 1972 as "easy to connect to any electronic organ", adding that "its simple operation and fantastic instrumental and electronic effects make it a must-have for any keen organist". However, as Tony Banks discovered, it had other uses. Hear his work in the second half of "The Cinema Show" on the 1973 Genesis albumSell ​​England by the pound, where you cycle through a series of professional presets to build your satisfying solo.

Other creative keyboardists saw the appeal of the simplicity and directness of the Pro's preset system, as in some '73 singles: Billy Preston on "Space Race" and Junie Morrison on The Ohio Players' heavily sampled "Funky Worm." And in the still relatively new world of synth-making, ARP's preset innovations led to similar instruments from Moog (the satelite), Yamaha (SY-1 and SY-2) and Roland (SH-1000).

Hill left ARP in 1974 and pursued a successful electrical engineering career in the medical industry. “But the ARP is what I liked best about these synths,” he says, “and I'm most proud of the Pro Soloist, where I was responsible for so much innovation. It was the first truly preset synth where you literally just pushed a button and the sounds were completely different and definable. I also loved being able to regularly see the clear results of my work, being able to see people on stage enjoying my work. I really had a lot of fun, you know?"

About the Author:Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. His books includeElectric Guitars: Design and Inventionmilive london. Tony lives in Bristol, UK. More information


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