Thinking of buying your first vintage synth? We run through a selection of the best value analogue options and a couple of top digital alternatives.
Buying your first vintage synth can be a nerve-wracking experience. There are usually no refunds, no guarantees and no promises when buying second hand. Trawling eBay for bargains, buying a 30-year-old unknown quantity and waiting for it to arrive at your door can test anyone’s bravery. The dreaded phrase “sold as seen” might be the ultimate test of nerve in the world of electronic music. Will you get the analogue monster of your dreams, ready to provide basslines on every track you make for the rest of your life, or an unreliable dud with wobbly controls, broken keys and zero resale value?
The experience of cutting open the box and unwrapping the bubble wrap can be a lot less stressful if you’re sure you’ve done plenty of research in advance, which is why we’ve put together our suggestions of ten of the best choices for anyone looking to buy their first vintage synth. From these starting points, it should be easy to narrow down your options and find something to suit you.
We’re going to assume a few things here. Firstly, you’re probably on a budget. Not many people are buying Minimoogs or Jupiter-8s as their first vintage synth. We could recommend all the most classic synths, but there’s not much point if most people couldn’t afford them. Instead, you’re looking for value for money. That means something better than other options – both vintage and new – at a similar price point, something with a versatile sound and, ideally, something reliable. A first synth should also be relatively easy to find. There’s no point recommending an incredibly underrated bargain if it’s going to take you six months to find one.
Buying your first vintage synth can be a nerve-wracking experience. Will you get an analogue monster or an unreliable dud?
On the other hand, there are also plenty of truly classic synths that just don’t make much sense as a first investment in vintage hardware for various reasons. At the cheaper end of the scale, a few years ago a Korg MS-10 would have been a great starting point for anyone making the leap. Now, for around the same price, it’s hard to recommend the vintage MS-10 over a brand new MS-20 Mini.
Even a stone-cold classic like the Roland TB-303 just doesn’t make a lot of sense as a first vintage purchase. The 303 is undeniably iconic, but with that status comes a formidable price tag. For such a one trick pony, it’d probably be foolish to suggest dropping four figures on the real thing as a first vintage synth. By all means buy a 303 if you only make acid or you want an investment that’s likely to appreciate over the next few years. Swerve it if you’re looking to make any other kind of music; chances are you want something a little more versatile for your money.
there are plenty of truly classic synths that just don’t make much sense as a first investment in vintage hardware
So, with all that in mind, we’ve put together our suggestions of some of the best options at various price points. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are lots of other synths worth checking out – but these would be our starting points for anyone beginning the search for a first investment.
We’ve tried not to overlap too much with our previous run-down of the most underrated synths, even though the objective here is slightly different. You can also get a timely reminder of how quickly prices rise by taking a look back at our selections from two years ago. As countless comments section heroes will vociferously inform you, many of those synths we identified as underprices bargains back in 2012 now change hands for much higher prices.
Synths are listed in approximate order of current second-hand value.