Greg Scarth shines a spotlight on some of the most desirable drum machines, the most sought-after synths and the most valuable vintage electronic music gear money can buy.
In February 2008, a violin made in 1742 by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, protege of famed Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, sold at auction for $3.9m (nearly £2m), setting a new record* for the most expensive musical instrument ever sold. The instrument’s price was boosted by several crucial factors: scarcity (only around 140 Guarneri instruments survive, compared to around 640 Strads), quality, and a large number of wealthy collectors actively looking to purchase items of its type. The instrument’s buyer, Russian lawyer Maxim Viktorov, later hosted a special performance by Israeli virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman in order to show off his purchase to an audience of invited guests.
For obvious reasons, market prices of synths and drum machines are yet to reach quite such stratospheric heights. As enjoyable as it might be to imagine a Russian lawyer spending millions on, say, an immaculate Roland TR-909 and inviting Richie Hawtin to give a live Plastikman performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, it seems unlikely.
However, interest in contemporary music memorabilia and equipment is increasing year by year. Rock and pop memorabilia from the 60s and 70s is now big business. In 2000, George Michael paid £1.45m ($2.1m) for the Steinway piano on which John Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’. Interest in electronic gear seems to be following a similar path. Brian Eno’s EMS Synthi AKS recently sold for nearly £17k, much more than double the typical selling price. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that as the teenage music fans of the 70s and 80s grow older and find themselves with greater disposable income, interest in electronic music gear – especially gear with an interesting provenance – will rise to reflect the musical tastes of the typical collector.
Imagine a Russian lawyer spending millions on a 909 and inviting Richie Hawtin to give a live performance at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Just as importantly, interest from musicians is as strong as ever. Possibly even more so. Prices of analogue equipment in particular have been rising since the 1990s as producers increasingly realise that the only way to capture the authentic sound of classic electronic music hardware is to get hold of the real thing. Synths and drum machines may not command the same prices as antique violins, vintage electric guitars and ex-Beatles’ pianos, but they continue to appreciate exponentially.
In this feature we’ll shine the spotlight on some of the most desirable electronic music gear money can buy, including a couple of new pieces along with the vintage goodies. They aren’t necessarily the most expensive pieces of kit – that list would probably be a rather tedious rundown of mixing consoles – but they’re examples of some of the most sought-after electronic instruments in existence. In the process, we’ll investigate the factors which determine a synth, drum machine or sampler’s desirability, and try to address the question of whether music gear really represents a good investment.
* The record was broken in 2011 by a Stradivarius, but charity auctions are a less accurate indicator of true market value.